Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Old Friends

In 2002 I had the privilege of co-leading a 13 person team to Cambodia to run an English camp for high school students. Ten of us lived in a 5 bedroom home for 3 weeks and joining us in that home was 16 Khmer high school students. Can you imagine 26 people living together in close quarters, with no air conditioning and working together in teams to cook, clean and eat. It was a cultural experience on both ends. While the Westerners had the bedroom upstairs, the Khmer students who love sleeping together huddled together in two bedrooms---one for the girls and the other for the boys. This is a classic picture of Asian communal living. One of those students who attended that English camp was a young man named Davin.
Davin and I at the Ratanak office
Over the years as I visited Cambodia annually, I would meet up with Davin. He was not yet a believer at that time but as time went by and through the work of OMF missionaries, Davin came to know the Lord and started attending a well known spirit filled church on this end. Fast forward now 10 years later and Davin is 28 years old, married and with 2 young kids. Today, he was in Phnom Penh for some meetings as he is currently living in the port city of Sihanoukville and so we met briefly at the Ratanak office. It was an opportunity for us to catch up in person as he is looking to move back to Phnom Penh in the next two months.

One of the things I appreciate about Davin is his honesty. One of the first things he told me was that he was not living an abundant Christian life. He goes to chapel daily at the Christian university that he works at but he has not gone to church for several years as he was taking classes on Saturday and Sunday. This is one of the challenges of the younger generation. How do they balance their time when they are faced with economic hardships, educational opportunities and family demands.  Davin shared about the challenge of finding the right balance of financially supporting his parents and siblings and also supporting his wife and kids. Many young Cambodians long to get a good education in order to secure a well paying job. Many of them work during the day and attend night classes in order to get their university degrees so that they can get a good job and provide for their families. My tutor Chheut is in a similar boat and so is my tuk tuk driver James.

Family obligations runs deep in Cambodian society. In Davin's case, being the oldest son of 5 kids, he is financially supporting his younger brother as he attends university.  One of his other friends Chakrey---another young man I hope to connect with soon as he also was part of our English camp has chosen at this point to stay single---why? Because he has to financially help his family but his financial obligations will soon end and then he will have more freedom to pursue his own interest.

The level of sacrifice that is embedded in this culture certainly challenges our Western mindset of individualism. Here in the East, the family is the priority and decisions take into account the impact on the family. I discovered that recently when I invited one of my little sisters in Svay Pak, Siny to stay with me. Her family home was completely filled with water because of the widespread flooding that Cambodia has been experiencing. Her pillows were floating around and her bed was also under water. But while she thanked me for the invitation, she said 'I can't leave my family, I need to stay and help them. What would they think if I left and they are there dealing with the flood. I need to think about their needs as well.' A light bulb went on in me---she was right? I was thinking of 'one person' in my Western mindset, but she was thinking of 'the family.' It is admirable on one level to see such level of commitment and sacrifice to one's family but it also has a downside. For while honor and obligation are steep in cultural tradition here, the enemy has taken this and distorted the truth such that children feel obligated to sell themselves in order to provide for their families. In other situations, it is the parents who willingly sacrifice their children selling them as sexual commodities to feed their gambling, alcohol or drug addictions. We know of two families in the brothel district who are doing this and believe that it is acceptable to sell their 6, 9 and 12 year old daughters. Individual rights are sacrifice for the 'benefits' of the family.

This is no easy task to change such a mindset. It is Christ who has to transform hearts and minds and to breakthrough in such a cultural milieu. It is Christ who has to teach us all the right balance between individual freedoms and family responsibility. As I was praying for Davin this afternoon, it was the verses from Jeremiah 29:11-14 that I shared with him: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. These were the words that Jeremiah spoke to many who were in exile. In Cambodia today, they are many people who are living in exile. They do not know that God has a hope and a future for them. They do not know that God has a plan to prosper them and not to harm them. They do not know that He wants to free them from captivity---from ancient practices that appear to be well meaning on the surface but which ultimately keep them imprisoned.    

1 comment:

  1. Praying this Scripture today:

    "This is the covenant I will make with the people of [Cambodia]
    after that time,” declares the LORD.
    “I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
    I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
    No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
    because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
    declares the LORD.
    “For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

    (Jeremiah 31:33-34)