Monday, January 30, 2012

Our First Khmer Staff!

So its official! We have just hired our first ever Khmer Staff at Ratanak International (Cambodia). We have an accountant so now it is one less hat that I get to wear!!!Yipee and its one hat I am glad I don't have to wear!! I love numbers (especially if it is to do with stock prices) but accounting, ugh---those debits and credits drive me crazy! Anyway, our new Khmer staff member is named Sathya, a very talented young man who not only has auditing and accounting experience, but he is trained in banking, in microfinance, he is  a tax specialist and also advises foreign investors who want to do business in Cambodia. If ever we set up a business here, we have someone who can advise us of all the necessary documentation and processes. God has given us more than what we ever expected when we hired this young man. He has an amazing skill set and also taught himself English. I had to say him, if I could teach myself Khmer like he has taught himself English, I would be so fluent in Khmer! An added bonus is that he and his wife attend the same English service that I do so it will be a wonderful opportunity to worship together.

Sathya will start on March 1st and our accountant Faith from Canada will be flying over for two weeks to train him. Here at Ratanak, we are not a typical NGO. Most NGOs here focus on funding their own projects but God has given us the privilege of not only funding other NGOs in Cambodia but also He has blessed us and given us much favor that we are able to fund our own projects. And so SathyĆ” will be a busy young man not just monitoring our partner projects to ensure that our donor dollars are being well managed,  but he will be instrumental in establishing our Financial and administrative policies and procedures for our Cambodia operations office and also providing financial oversight to any new Ratanak established projects. We look forward to having him on board!

Thanks to all of you who have been praying for our staff. We celebrate this with you as you have partnered with us in prayer. We are continuing in the process of asking the Lord to provide the right staff with the right giftings and experience for our upcoming project. In the months to come, we look forward to sharing with you how the Lord is continuing to give shape and form to the vision He has placed in our hearts to invest in the lives of those who are on a journey from victim to survivor to more than a conqueror in Christ as they discover that they are not only valued and loved by the King but He has a plan for their lives, a plan to prosper them,  a plan that is full of hope as He puts a new song and a new dream  in their hearts.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Journaling The Soul

This morning in a chapter I was reading called ''Journaling The Soul'" in a book called Embracing Soul Care by Stephen Smith, I read the following:

Writing our thoughts isn't new but today blogging through the Internet provides instant expression to anyone in the world who cares to connect and listen. Long before cyberspace, Christians such as Augustine of Hippo, Soren Kierkegaard, Blaise Pascal and John Wesley wrote journals that for centuries have been read. Through these writings the reader can explore the souls of people who were used by God in significant ways. In the bible we read that the Lord told the Israelites to remember their history so they wouldn't forget what He had done for them. Much soul shaping appears in the pages of the Old and New Testaments. Luke wrote his gospel and the book of Acts as a personal journal to record the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the birth of the church. So journals help us because over time, they offer a road map about where we've been and where we're headed. David the shepherd boy who became king, poured his soul into poems eventually collected in the book of Psalms. David's words can be our words. He rejoices of intimacy with God in one entry and in the next he complains that God seems far off. The courageous outpouring of one man's heart offers inspiration and even revelation into God's heart. 

Journalling then works out what resides in the soul. A personal journal permits the soul to speak about what matters. Whether the pages are bounded by the Internet or bound in leather, personal reflections makes a journal significant.

These reflections by Stephen Smith resonate with me because it is one of the reasons I try to blog as often as time permits for me to do so, as I find it is often therapeutic giving me perspective on what God is trying to say through the situations we find ourselves in here. In many ways it is part of the journey of recounting God's faithfulness to us corporately as we pray and a reminder to me that God is working in the details of my life here. So often it is easy to forget that when we are in the midst of the busyness here or we are dealing with spiritual warfare or we are feeling tired and weary of the journey. But today, these thoughts came to alive in a much sharper way when I read a poem that our Ratanak partner Don Brewster highlighted on his blog. It is a poem of one who has lived through the horrors of sex trafficking and who now testifies what its like to travel the road from victim to victor. As Don says, it is a poem that brings both awareness and hope. We trust that as we share this with you who read our blogs and pray for us that you too will be encouraged and inspired at what our Great God can do in the lives of one who knows what its like to live through the darkness and now walk in the Light! What a blessing it is to have this young woman pour out the deepest pains and struggles of her heart and her life as she shares her history with us. What a blessing to read and be inspired of the hope she has found in the One who is the Source of all Hope.

"In A City With No Hope" 
     by Linzie Joerres

 "There's a girl who's all alone
in a city with no hope
All around her, girls are dying,
she sees it and she's crying
'cause it all started with their trying
to find a better world than the ones they'd always known.

She sits alone on the damp floor in the looming dark.
Her face has gotten hard and dull and painfully stark.
Her heart is growing cold here
as she fights the fear of growing old here,
forever trapped here in these walls, in this cage.
She fights the rage.

She was lied to and deceived
by the hope of something more.
She was tricked into believing
that there was something worth fighting for.

The woman and man,
they opened up their hands to her,
promised life to her dreams,
made her think that these things
were obtainable, reachable,
but as she reached, the shackles came down on her hands,
and all of her plans
went up in smoke as they forced her to smoke
to get her addicted.
Her life thus far has been depicted as

All of her life's gains
are now worthless, pointless.
There's no point to her life,
in her darkness there's no light,
but in spite of the disappointment and pain,
stepping out of doubt's rain,
one flame of hope is sparked
inside her heart
and her mind starts spinning.
Maybe there's a chance of winning
the freedom she's been longing for, striving for, dying for, grasping,

Now she's clasping the hands of a man who's faceless, nameless, 9th man today,
meaningless in this seemingly endless display of insanity.
She's trying to keep her sanity as he's screaming profanities at her
because she doesn't please him.

She doesn't want to appease him
'cause she's frightened
that it will bite her, too,
this bug that's killing the others,
but it doesn't bother
or concern the man who's plan is just satisfaction
from her actions.

He doesn't have to use protection,
there's no protection for this girl in a city
where no one's going to pity her, save her.
She's got no saviour,
just accusers who want to use her
as an object for their pleasure.
She doesn't know that she's really a treasure
that should be guarded, secured, protected.
There's no protection for this girl in a city with no hope.

Her body
 is racked with pain
from thousands of beatings
Scars eating
away at her soul and her back
reminders of the lashes received
When she fought back
rolling and thrashing
around on the floor.
Now weak
She can’t fight this war anymore
She’s trying to think rationally, to think clearly,
But clearly, she’s become
A casualty

There's a knock at the door,
she gets up from the floor,
bracing herself for more.
She wishes it were over and done,
man number 12, the day's barely begun.
But this man doesn't have the same look in his eyes
as all the men who had come before,
all who shared a similar guise, before.

This man stretched out his hand
not to condemn her or harm her,
but to disarm her doubt.
He told her he wasn't there about that.
He was there to save her,
to be her Saviour,
to show her a hope she had never known before.

She falls to the ground in shock and disbelief,
so afraid that once again she's being deceived.
He picks her up off the floor
where she fell down,
then walks out the door,
his voice in her ear
drowns out
all her fears and insecurities.
She finally has security and protection
because this bold man took action.
For her sake, he put his life at stake,
and for once in her life of trying and striving,
she's now thriving,
experiencing freedom and a life of HOPE."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Another New Year

So today is Chinese New Year in Cambodia. Most of the stores and businesses are closed for 3 days. I didn't realize how big a holiday it was here. However, those of us in the NGO world are working.

Prior to the New Year celebration, Chinese families apparently give their homes a thorough cleaning. It is believed that the cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of the preceding year and makes their homes ready for good luck. Yesterday when I was out for my evening walk, I saw many families burning paper. More than likely, they were probably burning Joss Paper which is  also known as ghost or spirit money . These are sheets of paper that are burned in traditional Chinese deity or ancestor worship ceremonies during special holidays. Joss paper is also burned in traditional Chinese funerals.

Even though I look Chinese, our family never followed such practices so this is all a foreign concept to me. Nonetheless, when I was walking today, one of the granny beggars that I often see wished me a Happy New Year! Over here, people are quite confused at my ethnicity. Last week I attended two weddings and was asked again and again if I am from China. I told them I was from Canada but decided it would be too complicated to explain to them that I am 6th generation South American Chinese. Each time I said I was from Canada, they all had this confused look on their face. It got even more confusing when I said I only speak English and now I can speak Khmer! Its actually kinda fun to keep people guessing.

All this to say, my ethnicity also raises questions as to why I would come to Cambodia if I lived in Canada. Most if not all Cambodian view anyone from the West as having a lot of money and an amazing lifestyle so why give that all up. They also find it quite odd that I would leave my job and family and move here as a single person. I have noticed what a wonderful open door this has given me to share of my faith in Christ---that He has called me to live in Cambodia and to leave my family. This is a hard concept for Asians and especially Cambodians to understand given the importance that this is a very community oriented and family oriented culture. They have a hard time understanding why someone would want to live on their own. Even my Khmer Christian friends have found this quite odd because for them, it is normal to live with both their immediate and extended families in one place. Part of the reason for this is that it is just too expensive to live on their own. And so when I explain that many Canadians move out and even some Asians live on their own or share a place with their friend, its amazing to see their reaction. This is just unheard of on this side of the pond but nonetheless, it leads to some good cultural discussions. My loak crew once asked if I was afraid to live by myself and I said ''no, I quite enjoy it, I enjoy the freedom of doing whatever I feel like and if God has called me to live here, I don't need to be afraid.'' He smiled.

All this to say, one of the benefits of being a Canadian Chinese here is the opportunity to talk about Christ. So would you join me in prayer that as I continue to interact with many Khmer and as questions are asked about why I would come here and what I am doing, that God would anoint my lips so that I will be able to explain the hope I have in Him and the hope He wants to give them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend time with some missionary friends who I have known since 2000 when I first met them here in Cambodia. At that time, they had been on the field for just over a year with OMF. It is now 12 years later and they have been involved in church planting in a province called Neak Leung near the Vietnamese border. My friends Hak Hyun and Seung Won are from Korea originally but have studied, trained and traveled in the U.S and also equipped a few Korean churches in Canada.
Hak Hyun and Seung Won Cho
One of the benefits I have had of visiting Cambodia for so many years is the opportunity to meet so many people from different cultures. I value Hak Hyun and Seung Won because they have lived in Cambodia in a rural setting which is not easy because its not like the city where you have some side walks or a gym to go to or a hotel with a pool that you can use occasionally. You are living in a setting that is surrounded by rice paddies and little shacks. In spite of that, my friends do not looked like they have aged for all the time they have been here. They display the kind of longevity and resilience that is to be admired. So yesterday, I had the opportunity to pick their brain on several topics. It is friends like these who I can learn from and glean from. One of their secrets to longevity is caring for their souls as a first priority. It is being intentional about pampering yourself and taking the necessary steps to rest and rejuvenate and to guard your boundaries. It is about being kind to yourself and not feeling guilty in saying ''no''.

 As Church planters, they are given a day off every week ---typically a Monday since Sunday's are always busy with church activities. But OMF also encourages them every 3 months to take time off for 3 days in addition to 30 days of annual vacation. For those who live in the West, this may seem like a lot of time off but the reality is, over here the challenges whether physical, emotional or spiritual is at a whole different level. One is more susceptible to sickness, emotional and mental fatigue and spiritual exhaustion on a regular basis. Just today I was having lunch with a Mission trainer who comes here annually to prepare OMF missionaries for their home assignment. She said ' Cambodia is such a difficult field. Compared to Thailand and other countries, the workers here seem way more tired than the norm. The spiritual climate is very different here and even I feel tired after a short time.'' This statement is so true for those of us who live and work here. The fatigue level can easily set in and can come in waves, if we are not mindful of taking the proper precautions and times to rest.

My friends Hak Hyun and Seung Won  have seen many workers suffer from depression or discouragement because they are so hard on themselves or have not taken the time for personal renewal.  I asked them what they do or where they go every 3 months. Typically they stay in Cambodia and some times they stay at home and close the door so they can have some silence even from their Khmer friends. It is a time where ''ministry'' stops for a brief time and where God fills the and renews their spirits as they take an intentional timeout from all the ''doing''.

This was all a good reminder to me as those of us who are natural doers and "A" type personalities which seems to be the personality type of many missionaries are driven people. It is so easy to be performance driven as we bring our North American attitudes and mindset here. We can easily expect Khmer people or others to respond to us with the same level of efficiency that we are used to at home and when they don't, we can easily get irritated or we bombard them with more emails wondering if they got our initial email. As I am approaching my 6 month here, I am appreciating the value of waiting and not rushing, I am appreciating the fact that God is unwinding my ''A'' type personality as I surrender to His timing in all things and in the midst of this He has been teaching me much about self care and soul care. There are a couple ways I am decompressing and relaxing----one of them is to walk for about 1 hour on a regular basis listening to either a sermon on my Ipod or worship music. Such walks are not so much an aerobic exercise, although they do provide that, rather, it is an exercise to work out what's embedded in the soul. Someone once said, this soul exercise allows us to focus, grow quiet, be curious, pray and hear God's voice. It's another way to experience Immanuel, God-with-us.

The second way I seek to decompress is to go for a 1 hour back and shoulder massage---I wish I could do this everyday but I think that might be overindulgence :-) so I try to go twice a month. Its amazing how a massage can totally relax you. For me it provides a time where my brain can rest.A few times I have almost nodded off during the massage but it speaks much to the importance of finding the right balance of work and play.

Perhaps being in my 40s has its advantages after all. At this age, we can't go as fast as a 20 something or 30 something year old. We have to pace ourselves and as my pastor has often said, ''it is not how well you start, but how well you finish.'' The secret to longevity in such a spiritual climate and atmosphere involves discipline, perseverance and intentionality but above all else, it is learning to abide in Christ and asking Him to give us the daily bread we need to sustain us for that day!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Khmer Wedding

Last summer I had the opportunity to attend a Khmer wedding in a village not too far from Svay Pak. It was under a canopy on a dirt road. But today's wedding was in a far different setting. In fact, the wedding was over a two day period. It was a more elaborate wedding because the groom's family are extremely wealthy. As a wedding gift, the bride-to-be received a brand new Toyota Camry from the groom's parents. Now those of us in the West may not see that as too expensive of a car but when you consider the import taxes of a brand new car, the price of such a car here is probably around US$40,000 to US$50,000. But that was not all, the bride and groom received two Ptay Lavengs (Khmer houses)---one in which they will live and another one which they can rent out as an investment.

The Wedding Invitation
So today, I had the privilege of attending their wedding as I have known the bride's mum for some years now. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Khmer Wedding culture and tradition. Typically most of the guests arrive at 7am in the morning at the bride's home and they carry fruit baskets into the home which is surrounded by a large canopy that covers the road. If you are the next door neighbor, you can forget about entering or leaving your home during the festivities.
The Morning session of the wedding

My friend suggested that I come at 9am so I skipped the fruit basket ceremony. It was an opportunity for me to wear a traditional Khmer outfit. One of the things I love about Khmer weddings is to see all the beautiful colors, designs and styles that the women wear. It is a sight to see. Whether you are young or old, all the women wear these intricate embroidered close fitting blouses and a traditional Cambodian skirt. (see pictures below).

Jaya and her sister
All the guests eat breakfast which is a rice porridge that those of you who are Chinese or Asian background would call ''juck'' soup and then there would also be fruits. Afterwards, there is a wedding ceremony and given that the bride and groom are not Christian, it was more of a Buddhist style wedding. Loud music was blaring as a hired Khmer singer sang a variety of Khmer songs. This kind of Khmer music is an acquired sound, something that I still have not come to acquire but perhaps if I live here long enough I will a greater appreciation for the loud twangs and the cymbals and gongs.  Some of the female guests were ushered to the front as we sat to watch the wedding blessing. For those who just wanted to stay at their tables, there were a few close circuit flat screen TVs to watch the festivities.
Entrance to the home is decorated

One of my favorite highlights was seeing one of the Khmer dances that I have often seen in Svay Pak. It is a flower dance of blessing. The dancers are dressed in balloon like pants but they are ever so graceful. Below some of the dances were getting ready to perform. 

After a while, a hair cutting ceremony started. This is to prepare the bride and groom for their life as a married couple. Their hair is symbolically cut representing a fresh start to their new relationship together as husband and wife. The master of ceremony performs the first hair cut and wishes the couple happiness, prosperity and longevity. Then the bride and groom's parents and relatives take turn all of whom wish the couple blessings.I am not sure on my wedding day if I would want several people snipping pieces of my hair but alas the bride and groom sat through this ritual with a grin on their face. Let's hope they don't lose too many strands of hair in the process!
 The Bride and Groom

My friend Jaya sitting with her brother next to her new son-in-law and her daughter

The morning events lasted until 1pm but I opted to leave before lunch as I had a meeting to go to which was a good thing as wearing these beautiful close fitting Khmer outfits in the heat is not the most comfortable thing especially when one is used to wearing t-shirts and capris all the time. 

The reception was another fair. While the guests are invited to come at 4:30pm, typically most people don't start showing up until 6pm but my friend Catherine and I opted to go at around 5:30pm. This is one of the largest weddings I have ever attended in my life with about 1000 people who were expected to come. We arrived at the convention center and were greeted with the groom's BMW parked outside the entrance to the pavilion.

Both Catherine and myself have known Jaya for several years so it was a privilege to be invited to her daughter's wedding.
 Catheine and Jaya

In the evening, I opted to switch into a more western style dress. In these settings, the older Khmer still wear their traditional outfits in the evening but many of the younger Khmer are now dressing more Western wearing sleeveless dresses or mini skirts. We were seated at our table but then were ushered back out to the front of the pavilion so we could take pictures with the bride and groom. The bride and groom have to stand and take pictures with every single guests as they enter into the convention center---that's 1000 people---that's a lot of photos for this young couple who have been up since 3:30am this morning. Its a good thing they are young and have energy!

One of the things I love about Khmer weddings is that you feel you are attending some kind of royal wedding. The colors and the traditional outfits for both men and women are so elegant and elaborate you feel you are in the midst of royalty.
The Wedding Party

Dinner however is a whole different case. There is no seating plan per se and when you arrive, the ushers seat you at a table with people you typically don't know. Their objective is to fill the table so that they can begin to serve the food. I am thankful for my friend Catherine as she was able to give me some insights about Khmer wedding etiquette and what to expect. Unlike Asian weddings back home where every one waits for the guests to arrive and then the bride and groom enter in and the food is served, here the guests eat at different times depending on what time they arrive and if their table is full. So you can actually be finished eating and still seeing guests arriving. It is one of the most strangest experiences but on the other hand, at least you don't starve waiting for ever. I can't imagine having to wait for 1000 people to arrive before we start eating. I guess one could argue that the Khmer way at wedding receptions is efficient.

 Unfortunately, there are no speeches but instead we were serenaded by a professional singer who was up front on a stage. The table we were seated at were mostly men and my friend reminded me that if I spoke to the men to greet them as ''Loak''---that's the formal name for a male person of high status that one would typically greet a government official. I am glad she reminded me of this as I realized earlier today when I met the father of the groom, I called him ''Pou'' meaning ''uncle'' and I should have greeted him as ''loak'' as a form of respect. But oh well, this is all part of learning about the culture.
Crisp Roast Suckling Pig
For someone like me who is a bit of a carnivore the nine course meal at tonight's wedding reception was a meat lover's delight. We had fish, seafood, pork and a crab soup to name a few of the dishes. The meal ended with the typical Chinese serving of fried rice and noodles which signifies long life. So with that, my friend Catherine and I watched to see if our male table guests would get up first. And just as she anticipated, they were up and out of there and so we followed suit within a 2 hour time frame. As we left, cars were still piling into the parking lot as guests were still coming in and I was told earlier that the Prime Minister's wife was going to be attended. Am not sure where she was but no doubt, it was a privilege for me to be at such an auspicious occasion. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Learning to write in Khmer!

So today was another 'new day'' as I started my first language lesson on how to write in Khmer and hopefully one day I will learn to read. These will be miracles in and of themselves as if any of you have seen the Khmer letters you will know its got a lot of squiggly lines.

So I am blogging about this because I will need a lot of prayers for me to not only decipher this script but to learn to write a sentence that is actually legible not only to me but more importantly to anyone who can read. Its like being a kid all over again in kindergarten learning to write the letters of the alphabet. However, despite the challenge, I am not discouraged. Thanks to many of you who have been praying and the graciousness of the Lord, I have been recently encouraged on a few occasions by the Khmer who have complimented me on my accent and who seem to be quite surprised that I have only been studying the language for 4 months. All I can say is that God is good as I am not one to have any abilities in language but I suppose because I love being here and I am so desperate to learn the language, the Lord is answering in some neat ways so that I am not only able to understand but can translate some basic sentences for non-Khmer speakers.

At any rate, based on advice from missionary friends when I first got here, it was suggested that I learn to speak first and then learn to read and write a few months later. Now with our workload increasing immensely, the challenge is to find the right balance between work, language, study and exercise. It is not easy because so often one may plan to do something one day and then out of the blue some thing else comes up and interrupts your schedule. The other day I met a couple who had been living here for 3 years but have not taken the time to study the language. It was a bit shocking for me personally as if we are choosing to live in Cambodia and we want to bless the Cambodian people, it is so important to make the effort to speak and communicate with them in their language. While I don't know all the reasons why this particular couple has chosen not to learn the language, I can honestly say that one misses out on so much of the cultural dimensions without the language.

So, one area that has been non-negotiable for me in terms of time is to be intentional in learning the language. It is so easy to be caught up in the work but  more and more as time has flown by and my language acquisition is improving, I am beginning to feel more comfortable in conversing in Khmer or at least making the effort to mix Khmer and English. So how does one try to maintain balance between work and study. Well, I am now studying conversational Khmer 4 days a week for 1 hour in the morning (7:30am to 8:30am) and then in the late afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am learning to write in Khmer (4:30pm to 5:30pm). Some of my friends here have encouraged me to give myself some ''margin'' and breathing room given the workload so that I don't burn out so this new schedule allows me to have a day off on Friday from language. its a good thing because now I am getting home work from two different loak crews (male teachers).

My young loak crew Chheut continues to teach me conversational Khmer in the morning and my other loak crew David, teaches me how to write. While I can get a way with doing the bare minimum on the conversational lessons, unfortunately, I will need more discipline when it comes to writing Khmer as I have to practice writing the Khmer script! Yikes!
Loak Crew David
I got connected to loak crew David through my friends at OMF. He has been a language instructor for OMF workers for the past 10 years and came highly recommended. But David is a man of many talents as he also provides cultural orientation and training so in the near future he will come and teach our small Ratanak team about the Khmer culture. David is also good at finding cars for missionaries and so I enlisted him to find the Ratanak car.

Today as I was talking to loak crew David, I discovered how small a world it is. It turns out that his great grand parents became Christians when the first C&MA (Christian and Missionary Alliance) missionaries---The Ellisons were here in 1923. They were the first Protestant workers to enter Cambodia. Loak crew David is a 4th generation Khmer Christian which is almost unheard of in Cambodia since 90% of the church was wiped out when the Khmer Rouge came into power. What was even more fascinating was when I asked if he knew Marie Ens? It turns out that his parents came to know the Lord through Marie and now loak crew David is good friends with Marie's son David Ens. How cool is that? Its so amazing to now have the privilege of being taught Khmer by a Khmer believer whose family was influenced and became believers by the first Protestant missionaries in Cambodia. Loak crew David has asked if I would come and visit his church one day. I am looking forward to doing so especially since Ratanak has been involved in funding a variety of C&MA development projects over the years and as well, since I also attend a C&MA church back in Canada, this will be an interesting link.

Once again, I continue to be amazed at how the Lord connects people. One of the prayers that I have been praying as the New year has began is for the Lord's favor to be over us individually and corporately as an organization and also to establish the works of our hands. God has certainly been providing some amazing Khmer people who can partner with us. Truly, it is so humbling to see how He is sending some of the best people our way to walk with us and to encourage us. As I think of this, it is the verse from Matthew 6:31-33 that comes to mind: 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Truly, this verse has come alive to me in a greater way since I moved to Cambodia. It has been very clear how the Lord is ordering our steps as He has been giving us favor on a variety of levels and in so doing establishing the works of our hands! Indeed as we have been seeking His kingdom, He has been opening doors and providing the right connections at the right time.  He truly is adding everything else that we need.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Whatever You Do For the Least of These

Here in Cambodia the passage from Matthew 25:35-40 is an ongoing theme.  35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ For every where one turns, you feel like you are seeing the least of these. You cannot go far without being confronted with the poverty and with the homeless in your midst. So often this can be wearying on the spirit as in some situations we know that parents often use their children to go out and beg. Often a young child will carry his/her baby sibling who looks totally drugged out (and probably is) so that the tourists would have pity and give. It is another form of exploitation but what to do? It is easy for our hearts to grow cold and become cynical. It is easy to turn the other way, it is easy to just ignore it all.  We don't want to create dependency by just keep giving handouts.

Yet there are some times, when God's compassion takes over and you feel compelled to respond. My Khmer brothers and sisters in Svay Pak continue to display a level of Christ compassion and a level of love and faith in Him that I hope one day I will have. They are teaching me what it means to love like God does, they are showing me what Christ compassion looks like, they are demonstrating time and time again that the marginalized and the outcasts are the least of these in which we see the face of Jesus.I love visiting Svay Pak and visiting my friends there. It is a place of hope for me, it is a place in which Jesus is at the centre. It is place where I come away encouraged because I often see God's beauty being formed in ashes.

Today was an example of these truths for me. My plan was to go and pick up a blouse I was having altered by one of Pastor Chantha's disciples Siny. But little did I know that the Lord had other plans for me in Svay Pak today. As I sat and chatted with Pastor Chantha and Siny, I learned of a 24 year old girl who has 2 little girls and a new born baby boy who is just 18 days old. This young woman used to work at the garment factory and when she was 5 months pregnant, her husband/boyfriend abandoned her and their two young daughters (a 5 year old and 2 year old). Well as time went on, this young woman ran out of money and found herself giving birth to her baby son a few weeks ago in some dirty bathroom. She was kicked out of the room she rented because she had no funds to pay for the rent and was walking in Phnom Penh when somehow, she found herself in a conversation with one of Pastor Chantha's church members----does this story sound familiar! It almost seems that the church members of Svay Pak are becoming God's angels that He places strategically in the path of the downtrodden.

Anyway, as the story goes, this young woman was brought to Svay Pak and one of the Svay Pak church members offered her and her children a temporary place to stay until Pastor Chantha figures out what to do. Well, he felt compelled to help this young woman (more on that later). So today, I had the wonderful privilege of going with Siny one of Pastor Chantha's disciples to visit this young woman and her 3 children. We went to see them at their temporary home----a home that already houses 4 people of one family, was now housing this young woman and her 3 children. Unlike homes in North America where you would expect separate rooms, the home where this young woman was staying was the equivalent of a shack.
The Temporary Home

The ''home'' is in an area where many of the brick factory workers stay which include some of the Svay Pak church members. Its here that 7 people were living in one big room!

The Two sisters in their temporary home
It was a great joy to use the Ratanak car to help transport this family from their temporary home to their new abode. There was not much to move because this mother has nothing except a bag of clothes. She has no clothes for the her baby son nor any food. She is totally destitute. So we did a mini pit stop in the local market and bought some clothes for her new born son.
18 day old baby boy who still has no name!

Two little sisters sitting in the Ratanak car

At one point as Siny and I were in the store, I looked up and couldn't help but take a photo of these two little sisters sitting in the Ratanak car. They had the biggest smiles on their faces as they waited for us. There is no greater pleasure than seeing these little ones smile. 

 Shopping for baby clothes
Baby clothes we purchased

We bought some baby clothes and I was asking Siny whether we should buy some baby diapers but here in Cambodia, diapers are use by the wealthy people because they are expensive.While it would be convenient for this young mum to have the diapers, I was grateful to learn from Siny that the average Khmer uses cloth napkins that can be reused and most of all they are cheap and affordable. 

At any rate, after our pit stop to the local market, off we went down some dirt roads and side alleys into a narrow road to the new home that would house this single parent family for the short term. Our partners at AIM have instructed Pastor Chantha to do what he thinks is best and so he arranged to rent a small room for this young woman and her child. It happens to be at the home of another Svay Pak church member. 
The new home

The room is another little shack but it is spacious enough to house this young family. I can't imagine what it is like to feel so displaced and to have nothing. And yet here once again, we see the soverignty of God intervening in another ''forgotten life'' by intersecting this young woman with one of Pastor Chantha's church members. As I left Svay Pak this afternoon, Bunthan had gone out again to the local market to buy some basic food supplies for the family and an old crib was found in one of the Sanctuary rooms along with some baby blankets...all of these were being sent to this mother for her children.

I am once again humbled by how freely my Khmer brothers and sisters give. They are living out the gospel in such a tangible way demonstrating that the Good News is not just words but includes deeds. God's heart is seen in their heart, God's love is seen in their love. God's compassion is seen in their compassion. They have so little, yet they give so much.

 Matthew 9:36 says: When he(Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. These past few months for this young woman has not been easy for her. She has lived a life where her spirit has been harassed because she has nothing, she has felt helpless because she has no where to turn. But the God of this universe has once again stooped down to show her that she can turn to Him because HE has turned to her. He has reached out to her through the hands, voice and feet of His people in Svay Pak. The Shepherd has gone after this sheep and her little lambs and brought them into His fold in Svay Pak. I can only imagine what He will do next in this young woman's life and her children! The Lord goes to great lengths to save and rescue. How much more will He not restore, rebuild and redeem their lives in the years to come!

Friday, January 13, 2012

It was just a matter of when!

One of the joys of learning a new language is that there will come a time when you meant to say something but instead what you actually said is totally offside or incorrect. Its the perfect opportunity to laugh at one's self and to have others laugh at you. So I knew it was just a matter of time when I would make a language faux pas. However in my defence, I didn't know that two English words could mean a word in Khmer---its interesting the things you discover along the way. So what was my language mistake.

Well, a couple weeks ago after an outreach at a local slum area, I went to dinner with some of Pastor Chantha's disciples. As they are all young people in their late teens and early 20s, I often tease them about all sorts of things. If you have been following the blog, you would know that I have been trying to match make my language instructor with one of Pastor Chantha's disciples. Well, they did meet and it was kinda cute as my little sister 'S'' responded in such a shy way when she met my language teacher that I was a bit shocked as she is usually quite chatty. So it was a good opportunity to ask some cultural questions to my language teacher what is typical kind of interaction between the young men and women. He actually though she was quite pretty and said that it is quite normal for girls to be quiet and act shy. He mentioned that he likes it when the girls are not too chatty.

Of course, when I talk to ''S'' about this with the rest of the disciples, I asked her what she thought of my language teacher and she said he is quite handsome!  When I heard that, I couldn't help tease her some more and so I said ''you see, you are both the same age, you would make a perfect match.' All of a sudden she started laughing. So I thought it was because I was teasing her but she said you think we are the ''same age''. She just kept on laughing. At that point, I knew something was up. So I said to her ''hat eye nyack south?' Which means ''why are you laughing?'' She proceeded to tell me that in Khmer the word for a man's penis is ''same age''---at that point, I was totally embarrassed and then she proceeded to tell all the other disciples the story and asked them if they wanted to marry some one with the ''same age''. You can imagine the roar of laughter that erupted around the table.

I am so thankful to be around these young people. At least my language faux pas was said in their company and not some high ranking Cambodian official!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Ratanak Car!

Well I'm back from my brief holidays in Singapore and today I jumped back into the saddle to make the final payment for the Ratanak company vehicle---- a Toyota RAV4.  Someone once said that buying a vehicle in Cambodia is like stepping into a land mine. You just never know what you are going to get as many cars are imported from the US and the newer the car, the more likelihood it has been in an accident! With that kind of comment, one has to thread carefully as cars here are not cheap. The import tax on a car is so high that the same car in North American can be bought for one third of the price it costs here. So, it pays to have people who are in the know going with you when you are shopping for such big ticket items.
The Ratanak car!
Like everything else I have experienced here, God has been so faithful in going ahead of me and providing the right people at the right time who can help me navigate through these unchartered waters. I think it was Oswald Smith who once said that as Christians we have the largest distribution network but we often don't access it. He is right, it doesn't matter where you go in the world, when you have Christian contacts and connections, it makes a difference in accessing the right type of networks to help sort through all sorts of situations. The Lord has a way of bringing about divine connections at timely moments. Through my missionary contacts here, I got connected with a language instructor who helps missionaries buy cars. He happens to be a Christian and I am actually having him teach me to read and write Khmer given his years of experience in language and cross cultural training. He is like a car agent and goes around and does all the grunt work and then makes a recommendation. Given that he has a good track record, I decided to get his advice.

So after he did all the ground work, I went in test drove the car and then  I enlisted a mechanic that a missionary friend recommended to come and check out the car. Ironically this mechanic reminded me so much of my Dad. The man has a passion for cars and he had some machine with him that literally checks to see how 'healthy'' the car engine is and all the other electronic gadgets etc. But more than that, he takes his time examining the car, crawling underneath the car to see if there were any cracks and test driving it for different things. I think the car dealer was intimidated by him but that's a good thing as my greatest concern was buying a lemon! In the end, he gave his green light on the car.

So today, I went with another Khmer friend to pick up the car along with my car agent/language instructor. It was quite an interesting experience. Since it was a bank holiday, the car dealer was initially reticent about taking my cheque. (Over here you don't have to write a certified cheque). The car dealer had had a horrible experience in which a Khmer man had written a fake cheque and then took off with a car.  The three of us spent some time persuading them that I was not going to do the same thing. This whole incident once again reminded me of how little trust exists here.This is all understandable given the historical context and  so one cannot get upset when situations like this arise.  This brought to mind a comment I read recently in a book called The Culture of Honor by Danny Silk. He said:  Trust is the key to a successful confrontation. Without it, we will discover our limitations quickly. If and when we find a confrontation not going well, the first thing to check is the trust level. When trust is low, anxiety is usually high. When anxiety rises, our priority in the encounter shifts to self preservation, usually by means of seeking to control each other. If we have someone in front of us who believes that he has to protect himself from us, then we will not be talking to his greatness, but instead to his great survival tactics. To have trust, the person we confront must believe that we are for him or her and will protect his or her best interests throughout the confrontation.  And so in the process of negotiating the release of the car, it was fascinating for me to watch my two Khmer friends as they deliberated with the car dealer. They kept their cool, they were smiling and were very calm. They demonstrated this culture of honor, persuasively reassuring the car dealer that we were honest people working for an NGO to help Cambodians. In the end, I gave them a copy of my passport and my business card so that if they had any problems with the cheque they could find me.  Our desire was to help the car dealer know that we really were for them. We thanked them for their support in trusting us and I said in Khmer ''May God bless you!"

With that out of the way, we were suppose to go to get the car registered but the Ministry of Transportation was closed because it was a government holiday so that will be tomorrow's job. Nonetheless, I was most paranoid about driving without car insurance. You see in North America, if one plans to buy a car, the car dealer prepares all the legal documents and works together with the car insurance company to get all the necessary paper work ready. Well, the opposite happens in Cambodia. You buy the car, then you take it to the government ministry to get the car registered and to receive a license plate and then you buy your car insurance. Many Cambodians do not have car insurance---its an option not a necessity although I think that is slowly changing with the increasing amounts of vehicles on the road. Thankfully I enlisted a few of my prayer warrior friends and claimed Proverbs 2:8 for myself this morning as I headed out for today's car dealings---for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones.
Home at last!

So tonight I arrived home safe and sound with the Ratanak car in tow. I took it to a car wash for them to clean the inside and out for a mere $2.50 and then with the help of my friend, we went to another store to get a remote key alarm installed and then finally to the insurance company. So effective tomorrow the vehicle is insured! It feels weird driving around with no license plates but we are hoping to get the car registered as an NGO vehicle tomorrow which is equivalent to diplomatic status so the car has ’immunity” from any potential fines and that includes the drivers as well!

Tomorrow is part 2 of my car registration. If you remember, please pray for the Lord to continue to go ahead of us and prepare the way. Usually government agencies require a lot of documentation and as I am learning a bit more about all the requirements here, I am taking a long every piece of paper that demonstrates not only my identity but shows that I am living and working here---this includes: my passport, drivers licence, rental lease agreement, employment letter, three passport size photos, cheque book and bank statement. Having all of these papers helps save time as it will avoid a potential second or third trip to the government office. So we'll see! 

The Ratanak vehicle will come in handy over the next 6 months as we begin to set up our centre, buy the furniture, have training for staff , participate in meetings with partner organizations and the local church and meet up with the young women who will be part of our program. Pray for God to continue to give us success as He establishes the works of our hands in this land!