Saturday, October 8, 2011

Contextualizing a Birthday Celebration

Catherine celebrating her 51st birthday

This seems to be a week of birthday celebrations. First it was Marie Ens's birthday and today one of my good friends Catherine celebrated her 51st birthday. She is a missionary with OMF and also happens to be a great cook so she invited all different groups of friends---OMF colleagues, church friends and work friends from World Hope for an afternoon tea with desserts and salty foods that she made. For me it was a wonderful time of reconnecting with some OMF missionaries that I knew from 2002 who helped our short term team run an English camp in the suburb of Tuol Kork.

It was a 'women' only party and so the husbands were not around but it was a mix of single and married missionaries in addition to Khmer friends. What I loved about this celebration is having this multicultural gathering of people from all over the world (Swiss, German, English, Malaysian, Singaporean, Filipino, American, Canadian and of course Cambodian) and the best part is that they are all fluent in Khmer as they have been here any where from 1 to 10 years. So we began by each introducing ourselves in Khmer and as the party games began, every thing was explained and spoken in Khmer. It is a great example of cultural sensitivity and how westerners and international workers adopt the cultural norms of the local culture despite the fact that the majority of those attending were all from the West. Instead of staying in our 'Western huddles' everyone was mixing and talking with different groups.

One of our first ice breaker games was one that I had played years ago when we did our English camp. A bed sheet was placed in the middle of two individuals and when the sheet was dropped, they had to guess each other's names. The first one to guess right, wins the round. It's a great way to get to break the ice and get to meet new people. Catherine had invited Bunthan and Siny (my friends from Svay Pak) as well and so for them it was an introduction to a new kind of environment with western food. One would think they might feel out of place being with all these westerners, but quite the contrary, they were in the midst of conversations talking Khmer with all the missionaries, feeling at home and finding it quite interesting and amusing that these 'white folk' speak their language so well. For me, being in such an environment is something that is quite energizing because of the opportunity to practice my Khmer but more than that, it is an opportunity where we really all feel part of God's family regardless of whether you are from the west or whether from Cambodia.  It is times like this that I am reminded of the scripture from John 17:21-23  Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Some of the OMF workers are social workers and counselors, one of whom works at our partner agency Daughters. Many of the girls from Daughters go to an OMF church plant located in the heart of their brothel district of Stung Meanchey so the circles here are very small. I hope to meet up with these OMFers later on as they have worked for years as trained counselors and social workers in Cambodia and so they can provide valuable guidance and help as we set up our training for our future staff. As one of them shared with me today, training is an ongoing process with staff as head knowledge is not enough despite the fact that Khmers love learning theory but there needs to be ongoing practical examples that have to be incorporated into the training. It is little tidbits of information like this that I find so beneficial as the Lord gives shape and form to the programs that we are seeking to develop. Once again, I see God's hand  providing and directing our steps through the networks He has given us both individually and corporately.

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