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!

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