Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Core Group: Ratanak Volunteers

Some of our Ratanak volunteers in Toronto

Normally I am writing posts about experiences in Cambodia but today, I'm back in Toronto for a brief time to participate in one of our supporting churches missions conference. So today I had the opportunity to spend time with some of my favorite people---the Core group which is a name we gave to our Ratanak volunteers here in the Toronto area. Not everyone could attend today's meeting but nonetheless, these guys are our unsung heroes. This group started about 6 years ago and has evolved with different people from different churches and different denominations who desire to be a voice for the voiceless.

Over the years, the Lord has brought us so many talented and gifted volunteers who once a month give up 3 hours of their time to come and pray for Ratanak and our partners at AIM, Chab Dai, Daughters and Hagar in Cambodia. In addition, they brainstorm about fundraising ideas and support one another and our work in Ontario by speaking, by doing fundraising, by hosting Ratanak booths at events among a variety of things. It was a joy to see some old familiar friends and faces. People who have spent time reading and learning about Cambodia and praying for this nation on an ongoing basis. People who give of their time and talents---engineers, teachers, therapists, adminstrators, homemakers, students, ---I could go on as they are a small cross section of those who participate. Seeing so many  different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, I am reminded this is what its going to be like in heaven. It was a special joy to meet two Khmer volunteers who attend my home church and to have the opportunity to just practice my Khmer with them.

 As I think of our volunteers, I am thankful to God for each of them. They demonstrate to us ''committed obedience'' to God's purposes and the Lord has so honored that by enlarging their heart for His work in Cambodia. Some of them have had the opportunity to visit Cambodia on previous short term teams and vision trips and others are waiting to go.  We remain grateful for their support for they are the ones who pray faithfully and act as a spiritual covering for all of us who serve in Cambodia. We could not do it without them. They are part of the army that God has raised up on the home side to enable us to keep persevering and pressing forward. By their efforts they too are building God's kingdom, they are taking a stand for the broken and marginalized as they regularly offer their 5 loaves and 2 fish and ask Jesus to multiply their efforts!
Joy bringing a hand delivered home made grilled steak to the Core Group Meeting

This morning one of the volunteers Joy who was on one of our previous teams knowing how much I have been craving meat since a good steak is hard to find in Cambodia, made a freshly grilled steak for me. And in case you are wondering, yes I ate some of it and shared it with others who were salvating nearby! Another volunteer brought my favorite Korean BBQ ribs otherwise known as Kalbi. Nothing like some good protein in the morning to get your juices going! Who needs protein shakes when you have the real protein in front of you! It is these small gestures of generosity that not only reflect the Lord's love but they are a tangible expression of the care and support and thoughtfulness we receive from these who are God's hands, voice and feet to us who work in Cambodia! We praise God for these unsung heroes who work so diligently behind the scenes and we pray that as they have walked with us, carried and shared our burdens and refreshed us that they too will experience the refreshing hand of God, recalibrating their spirits and blessing them in ways they never anticipated or imagine!

For those of you would like to know more about getting involved in the Ontario Region, please contact our Toronto Reps Jessika Mak (jessikamak.rep@ratanak.org)  and Paul Wan (paulwan.rep@ratanak.org) or Peter (peterphillips.rep@ratanak.org) & Sherri (sheriphillips.rep@ratanak.org) in Cambridge:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In Transit

Its a strange feeling as I sit here in Seoul waiting for my flight to Toronto for a quick two week trip thanks to one of our supporting churches who invited me to participate in their annual missions conference. Before I left Phnom Penh, late last night, I went for my customary evening walk and was feeling quite sad. Its so strange to be heading to Canada, a place that was my home for all of my adult life and while I look forward to spending time with family and my friends, I was thinking much of our Ratanak Cambodian staff and our recent conversations. Am already missing them! We are a small staff, but the Lord is knitting our hearts together as He has started to take us into deeper level conversations.

We had an unplanned tea party yesterday as Samnang our driver who does more than drive as he helps out with some of our admin stuff surprised with a cake that he had bought from another Christian organization here. So Sathya, Samnang, Nary and myself sat around for our first ever communal tea break with cake and we found ourselves discussing inter-racial relationships. I always enjoy learning what my Khmer brothers and sisters think about this especially since they are of the younger generation so I feel very much like an older sister listening into a new generation here in Cambodia and their perspective on life and culture. We had a few good laughs. I can already see subtle changes and differences in thinking from the older generation. The older generation are more apt to be less vocal about their personal views and less likely to think outside the box.  These 30 somethings are more open to discussing their feelings, more open to share about what they see in society, what they are concerned about personally and about their culture. I value these conversations because it is an opportunity for each of us to know the other's hearts, its an opportunity to talk beyond work matters to heart matters! God has begun a good work with this team. Thank you for your prayers for us all. We can already sense the huge difference it is making even in these early days in the Cambodian office!


Monday, April 23, 2012

New Staff

Today was another special day as we welcomed some of our new staff who will be working at the Ratanak Achievement Program(RAP). Our Operations Manager Nary, our social worker Sereyrom and our counselor Soklin.
Soklin, Nary, Sereyrom

Soklin and Sereyrom don't officially start till next month but they came in today to sign their employment contracts so we took the opportunity to have all our Khmer staff just share a little bit about themselves.
Sathya, Soklin Sereyrom, Nary and Samnang

It was a wonderful time hearing them share in Khmer...although I confess I didn't understand every word but enough to know that they are all very special and gifted people who we are very blessed to have working with us.  I honestly believe the Lord has blessed us with some of His best people. They all have such beautiful hearts and beautiful spirits and while that may sound a bit cheesy , for me, I count it a privilege to be here and be part of God's unfolding plans for Ratanak in Cambodia and to be able to serve these Khmer brothers and sisters and to work along side them.

As mentioned, we each took turns sharing and when it came to my turn, I decided to speak in Khmer (with some partial translation from Nary) sharing about how the Lord had called me to Cambodia and to be part of His work in investing in the lives of former trafficking victims. When I started talking about the suffering of the Khmer people during the Khmer Rouge era, I found myself in tears and had to try to compose myself as I shared how the Lord had broken my heart for the things that break His heart for this nation. Its interesting here we are 12 years later when I first laid eyes on this land and yet thinking about its people and their suffering still brings tears to my eyes. I hope that never changes.

Now you have to understand, in Khmer culture it is unusual for people to show emotion, much less the 'leader'' of an organization to shed tears in front of her staff, but I am learning that being vulnerable even among my staff is a good thing for as we learn to be vulnerable with each other, we begin to touch the heart of God and the compassion of God within each of us. It is as if deep is speaking to deep as we open ourselves to each other, we trust the Lord will knit our hearts together.  Just yesterday at church a Canadian pastor and his wife were visiting the Khmer church that we are partnering with and I felt God had used him to give me a prophetic word. He said ''God will use your vulnerability to speak into other peoples lives, so be open to being vulnerable, don't hold back." So today I guess was one of those days in which that prophetic word became a reality. At the rate I am going, I may have to walk around permanently with a box of Kleenex. I am looking forward to seeing how the Lord releases His vulnerability in and through each of our staff as we spend time together learning and growing in the One who has called us to work together for His purposes.

At the end of our time together this morning, I had the privilege of praying a blessing over our staff. It is our desire that when the rest of our other staff joins us in a month's time, we will have a time of praying and anointing each of them individually. We feel this is an important step in setting them apart for the work that God has called them to do in and through Ratanak. For us, we are not just hiring staff to do a job. We want to ''commission'' them as we believe the Lord has called them to be a part of building His kingdom by serving the least of these and lifting up those who are broken and downcast.

So will you join us in praying for our staff. Pray that the Lord will release more of His love, compassion, joy, strength and power in them. Pray for His protection over each one of them that each day He will fill them with His spiritual wisdom and discernment so that they will know His will and live a life worthy, pleasing and honoring to Him and bear much fruit for Him and grow in the knowledge of Christ and being strengthened by  His glorious power! (Colossians 1:9-10) For apart from Him, we can do nothing, but with Him, we know that anything is possible!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hot, Hot, Hot!

We are now in the hottest month of the year and it definitely is hot. Recently the daily temperature seems to be hovering around 100 degrees with the humidity. Typically each morning at around 7am I like to open our front office doors to the balcony to get some fresh air but today I got a whiff of humidity instead. It was like stepping into a sauna. In the evening it doesn't really cool down either and the heat generated during the day, means a hot house during the day time.

One of our staff told me that Khmer New Year is deliberately planned around April because the hot temperatures make the land so dry that the farmers stop working, and end up sleeping and eating during this time because its too hot to do anything else. Not a bad strategy at all! Then, when rainy season starts again, they will start to plant their rice. I can see the logic in this because at these temperatures you only need to be walking outside for about 5 minutes and you are sweating and it is easily to feel physically fatigued.

The heat here is debilitating and while we are thankful to have an air condition office and I have the option---now a ''requirement'' of using the air condition in my bedroom, not many people have such choices. The Khmer who live out in the rural areas are subject to blackouts during this time so even if they had a fan, there is no electricity. So with no lights, no fan and no power how does one stay cool when it is so hot. Some of my Khmer friends pointed out that they will wet a towel and hang it over their windows because the wind apparently changes direction after 12am and so the breeze against a cool towel creates a cooling effect in the room.  This is just another example of how creative the Khmer people can be with what little they have! My language instructor has a different plan. He keeps cool at night by getting up at 1am to have a shower and then going back to sleep again!

Recently my friend Marie Ens told me don't sacrifice for the sake of sacrificing. Many missionaries here have limited funds and so do not use the air condition at night because the electricity cost is high. However, as Marie said, ''for the sake of longevity, rest and refreshment if you need to use the air condition, use it because if you don't get sleep what's the point, you can't function properly and it will affect your work.'' She's right. I'm thankful that the Ratanak office apartment is located in a part of the city that has less blackouts as we are near many UN offices, government offices and NGOs.We tend to have rolling blackouts during this time of the year because Cambodia uses far more electricity than it can provide for its people. However, some areas of the city are subject to more blackouts. One of the reasons that may be so is that there is no one important living in that area.

So as you think of the Khmer people who do not have the benefit of air condition and that is really the majority of the population, pray that the Lord will preserve them and keep them cool in the midst of these scorching temperatures and the blackouts. For those of us who have the privilege of living and serving here in such weather conditions, it is my life verse from Isaiah 58:10-12 that I find myself claiming for all of us: 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Indeed we are living in a sun scorched land but we trust that the Lord will not only satisfy our needs and strengthen our frame but in the midst of this heat and humidity, He will enable us to be a well watered garden each day!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chaul Chnam Thmey - Happy Khmer New Year

These past few days we have been celebrating Khmer New Year (April 13 to April 17th) . It’s the equivalent of the time we in the West celebrate Christmas and New years in December.  Cambodian New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey typically falls on April 13th or April 14th which is actually the beginning of the harvesting season when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labors before the rainy season.

In my neighborhood, one home owner had decorated his house with a slew of lights to celebrate the new year.


There are also a lot of sales on as people are busy buying clothes or all sorts of items either for themselves or for their loved ones. One of our staff said that even though things are discounted 70% it may not always be a true discount as the stores some times mark up prices and then advertise massive discount to give the impression that you are actually getting a good discount. Nonetheless, I found some factory outlets here that give a new meaning to discount. Quite a few of the American stores have their factories here ----for example: Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi Strauss, J.C Penny to name a few, and for my Canadian friends,  clothes from Joe Fresh are also made here. The clothing deals that one can find here are incredible and all of these are exported to North America where we pay a huge mark up. But here, I am finding clothes that are about 10% of the price that I would pay at home for the same brands. It gives new meaning to shopping at factory outlets!
 Stores selling Gift baskets for Khmer New Year
Anyway, as part of Khmer New Year, one will see many stories selling all sorts of gift baskets to give away. On Monivong street, not too far from our office, there was a slew of stores selling all sorts of gift baskets which have an assortment of food items and alcohol.  I got one of our staff to get a fruit basket made to give to our landlord as they seem to have taken a liking to me---perhaps its because I am living alone, as every few weeks I end up receiving a bag of fruits. They have discovered that I like mangoes and since its mango season, well I get my mango supply from them. But also on our property, we have a tree that grows Champoo---not sure what this is called in English but its another fruit that is red in color and white inside like an apple. So now and then the landlord gets their helpers to pick a bunch off the tree and sends me a bag. Suffice to say, I will not starve!

During this time everyone heads out of the cities and goes back to their provinces or home towns to spend the 4 or 5 day holiday with their families so I thought I would take advantage of the mini break and head down to the coast to meet a friend who was already there. Enroute, I couldn’t help but snap a few photos. 

One of the local markets I drove buy, had a section selling meat. Knowing my carnivore appetites, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of all the meat hanging at the local stalls! What a wonderful sight that was J

Another common sight that one tends to witness on the roads is groups of people hanging out at the back of trucks as they head home. This gives a whole new meaning to road safety. Along the way, I noticed mini buses packed to the hilt with people jammed in like sardines all making their way home for the holidays with all sorts of items. One guy had 4 cases of beer on a moto bike. Some of the women were dressed up in their traditional Khmer outfits as they were either heading to the Wat or Pagoda or returning home.  This is the time when Buddhists will go to the temple to make an offering. It’s also a time however when people get drunk in the midst of their New Year’s celebration and according to one of my Khmer staff, there can be a lot of violence as youth from Phnom Penh go to the provinces and may stir up trouble showing off all that they have.



I arrived in Kep, a place that used to be known as the Cambodian version of the French Riviera before the Khmer Rouge period. It is a quaint and quiet seaside town and if you are a seafood lover this is the place to be. They don't really have a beach per se but do have a wonderful walking path along the water. 
 Lunch with Christine
I met up with Christine who is a Country Director of another NGO here in Cambodia  involved in helping former trafficking victims. She is the female equivalent of my boss Brian McConaghy as she was a former police investigator in Australia working in forensics dealing with violent crimes and child sexual assaults. Her stories about different crime scenes and her gathering of forensic evidence reminded me of the TV series CSI. My life as a banker is so boring compared to one who is worked in law enforcement as I had a wonderful opportunity to learn much about psychopathic behavior, assessing perpetrators, and hearing about some horrendous crimes and crime scenes. 

We stayed at this newly opened hotel called Rock Royal Resort that has a beautiful view of the ocean. Unfortunately the hotel is still sorting out its teething problems so we had no internet access which was probably a good thing for me as I think the Lord wanted me to rest from technology!  One of the interesting encounters we had was at breakfast time as Christine asked for some milk with her coffee. It’s interesting how things get translated, but the waitress asked her if she wanted sweet milk or breast milk! Sweet milk of course is condensed milk. It took us both a few seconds and then I asked the waitress in Khmer if the breast milk is another name for ‘animal milk.’’ She quickly said yes and was on her way to fulfill the order. Phew! We had to laugh and of course I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the ‘’breast milk’’ which was served in its original packaging! J

Coffee with 'breast milk' :-)
One of the unexpected surprises was bumping into a pastor and his family who was visiting Kep and staying at this hotel with his family. He happens to be the pastor who discipled our new operations manager so its quite a small world.
Pastor Vannak and his family

During this time in Kep we took the opportunity to go Kayaking along the coast and then on Sunday as part of our sabbath rest we discovered a hotel nearby that offered a 25% discount on massages and the use of their pool and facilities. Given our desire to just rest we discovered a wonderful outdoor canopy that looks onto the water. 
 Outdoor canopy 
View of the pool
A view of the sea from the canopy

It was great to spend the whole day sitting in the canopy reading, napping, eating, chatting and just relaxing. This gives a whole new meaning to member care. There is something to be said about sitting near the water and enjoying God's creation. It really does refill and renew one's spirit.

Today our final day in Kep, we decided to go hiking up one of the mountain trails. The scenery from the higher elevation is amazing but so too is the vegetation.
Cactus Flower in Kep

The hiking trail was a bit confusing and an 8km hike turned out to be a 15km hike as the signs were not clear. Nonetheless, when one is hiking with a former cop who has trained to be observant I learned the importance of walking through a forest with one person looking down at the path and the other looking up towards the trees for possible snakes. Sure enough, on one of our pit stops, we saw a large snake hanging from a branch and a wild monkey nearby. They seemed to have marked out their territory so we stayed far away and I found myself praying all the way down the hiking path:-). 

Khmer New Year is now about to end as people are heading back into the city. It was great to get away for this mini break and to enjoy some of the beautiful places in this country.
Kep

Monday, April 9, 2012

He is Risen! The Tomb is Empty!



Yesterday Easter Sunday  in Cambodia we had a wonderful joint church service at ICA (International Christian Assembly) with different denominations ---folks from the Anglican church, Catholic church and ICF (International Christian Fellowship) all came together to celebrate Easter! It was the start of a great day, singing some old familiar hymms and contemporary music.

Christ indeed is risen and the tomb is empty! Praise God that we have a Savior who is the Living God that walks with us each day on our journeys.
David, Melanie & Patty Ens (left), Stacey & Jeremy, Marie, Catherine, Vidya and Elena
Later in the afternoon I went with my friend Catherine to Biek Chan to visit Marie Ens who had invited us along with her son David and his wife Patty and their daughter Melanie for Easter Sunday dinner. Dave and Patty work in student ministry with the CMA. Marie also currently has 4 short termers (all from Canada) staying with her who are at Rescue teaching English. One of those teachers is also one of our Ratanak volunteers from Toronto and also a friend and fellow church member of mind--Vidya who will be teaching English at Place of Rescue for a year.
A View of Rescue from Marie's Veranda
Catherine and I spent some time walking around Rescue as she was one of the first English teachers here many years ago and yesterday she had the opportunity to re-connect with some of of her students. For me it was also special to see Theary, my sponsored child who is now 10 years old and to communicate with her and her family in Khmer. I also met up with another young teenager Samnang who has been at Rescue for years. He is now a grown young man, a foot taller than me. It was great to know that Samnang and 13 others will be coming to Canada from Rescue for the second annual  Rescue dance tour and one of the places that team will be visiting will be in Toronto in the early Fall  months!

Another little special friend I visited is now almost 3 years old. This is a little girl who was so close to death's door in 2009 when her mother gave her up for adoption. You can read her story in the blog titled Bayana When she came to Rescue, Marie gave her a new name called Neang Rua which means ''life''---how appropriate that is, for in Christ, she has been given new life and He has lifted her up from her own miry pit and now sets her in a place where she is showered with His love. 12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. 13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. 14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight (Psalm 72:12-14). Neang Rua is still small because she is unable to walk since she has spina bifida but her caregiver was telling me she eats a lot and smiles all the time. 


As I think of Neang Rua, I'm so grateful to the Lord that He has risen for in Him, we see love and compassion lived out in its purest form where the abandoned are chosen, the weak are made strong, and the dead are given new life.   “Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for HE shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders. (Deuteronomy 33:12). Indeed in HIM, all of us who are God's Beloved can rest secure as He shields us and gives us His shoulder to lean upon. Thank you Lord for choosing Neang Rua and for using her to teach us that no life is expendable, every person is made whole in you, every person is a precious treasure in your sight! 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Khmer Christian Wedding - Same, Same But Different!

Its wedding season here in Cambodia because its the hot or dry season so everyone plans their weddings around this time. Today I went to my first ever Khmer Christian wedding and as the title of this blog says, √≠ts ''same, same but different'' when I compare it to weddings back home (more on this further down). The wedding today was that of Channa who is one of the teachers at the Newsong center whom I have known for a couple years. It is such a small world for her husband happens to be the brother of our most recent staff hire, our Center/Operations Manager for the Ratanak Achievement Program (RAP).
Channaroun (groom)and Channa (bride)


Channary (our new Operations manager- Left) 
and her younger sister who works at Newsong center as a counselor
Both the bride and groom come from very strong Christian backgrounds as their fathers are both pastors and long time friends who have planted their own churches. So the wedding began at 7am in the morning---this by the way is normal here. Thankfully the venue is very close to my home and so when I arrived I met the groom's family.
Parents of the groom and some of his siblings and his nephew

 The fruit and vegetable bowls
Looking for your fellow ''partner'' for the procession
In traditional Khmer style, there are gold plated bowls of fruit and vegetables that the guests have to carry in a processional into the building. Everything is provided by the bridal party so we lined up outside. I didn't realize however that you needed to stand next to someone who had the same fruit or vegetable...I suppose its all about matching pairs so I had to find my ''partner'' who was carrying the matching ''cabbage'' that I had. Thankfully I ran into one of the Newsong teachers Vichny who explained this all to me before I committed a cultural faux pax!
Newsong teacher Vichny and her husband

Because the wedding service starts so early, there was an initial introduction and then it was time for breakfast which consisted of Cambodian ''baw baw'' otherwise known in Chinese circles as Seafood congee (rice soup). The fruit bowls we had carried into the wedding hall were then passed out so each table had their fruit and baw baw! I typically eat Cambodian baw baw on this end if my stomach is off as it is quite tasty.
 Baw Baw

Unlike North American weddings where typically the service is held in a church, here the entire wedding is in a reception hall which probably explains why we were allowed to throw fresh flower petals as confetti as the bridal party marched to the front to the song ''Here comes the bride!''

The bridesmaids are also in white

The flower girl and page boy!

Similar to Western weddings there was a time of worship which was composed of both an older choir and a younger choir as the soon to be married couple watched on.
 Choir #1
Choir #2
It is refreshing to attend a Khmer wedding because you see an array of beautiful colors unlike the Asian weddings I attend at home in which we are all wearing black! Here, the bright colors against a sunny backdrop is quite regal and beautiful. But, as I think of Khmer history where black clothes were the norm during the Khmer Rouge era, it seems so appropriate now that Cambodians are making a statement against those times as the women wear an assortment of colors. 

Based on my limited Khmer understanding, the vows seem similar to what we would say in the West and when the bride and groom had each finished their vows and exchanged their rings, the crowd cheered them on with a round of claps. It was a visible demonstration of affirmation! But perhaps the most touching scene was seeing this young couple kneel before their respective parents and to watch as both parents laid their hands on them and prayed a blessing over them! How special is that. I think we in North America have some thing to learn from our Khmer brothers and sisters in Christ!
The bride's parents praying over the newlyweds

Three and half hours later the morning portion of the wedding was complete and like typical Western weddings, everyone goes home and comes back later for the evening festivities. This is when most of the people attend and these days, traditional Khmer dresses are exchanged for more longer flowing gowns. The bridal party changes their entire wardrobe as well.
The Bridal party!

Some of the staff from the Newsong Center


Hanging out with the Director of House Mums from the Newsong center --- Srey Mom! 
In a typical Khmer wedding, the bride can change her clothes several times. I believe we are looking at about 9 different outfits. But I have heard some brides change about 12 times. That's a lot of outfits and alot of changing but then again, the bride is up at 4am and so its a long day. One cannot be seen wearing the same outfit for the entire day. Below are some pictures of a couple more of Channa's wedding outfits.

Channa with some of the other staff from Newsong

The wedding today was much different than the one I attend last week in Svay Pak. Here there was more joy and a much different spirit said one of the other volunteers who had also been to the wedding last week. Perhaps it has to do with the simple fact that the Spirit of God was allowed to flow freely in this place while in Svay Pak, the parents of the bride only wanted a Buddhist ceremony.

 For me personally, I had the unexpected pleasure of sitting on a table with some of the older Khmer pastors...ironically I bumped into some of the pastors that I met yesterday. Christian circles are small regardless of where you go. One man I sat next to told me an interesting Khmer tradition where many years ago if a young man was serious about marrying a girl, he was required to live with and serve her family for 3 consecutive years. If the girl's family approved they could get married and if not, oh well, out he went. Some families actually took advantage of this tradition and just before the 3 year term was up, they would tell the young man, they were not satisfied with him and so he was no longer eligible to marry their daughter and then they would recruit another guy. What an interesting tradition that is, what a test of commitment as well.

All this to say, Khmer Christian weddings are indeed same, same but different!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday Encounter!

Today while many people will be attending Good Friday services in North America and in other places, reflecting on the cross of Christ and the sacrifice that was made that we might have life,  I found myself in a meeting with the Field Director of the CMA (Christian Missionary Alliance) in Cambodia---David Manfred who has been in Cambodia since 1995 with his family. As we were having lunch, one of the unexpected divine interruptions was the arrival of several Khmer pastors who are part of the Khmer Evangelical Church(KEC) of the CMA. For me, it was pure joy meeting these older Christian men who survived  the Khmer Rouge era, some of them former Khmer Rouge soliders but who are now pastors and elder statesman in the Khmer church here.

I looked at them and found myself tearing up as I thought once again of the faithfulness of God and how He preserved such a remnant in this nation in the midst of all the atrocities in which 90% of the Christian church was wiped out during the Khmer Rouge Era. Now here we are some 30 plus years later, huddle together, was a former Khmer Rouge soldier who is now a pastor, sitting along side those who themselves endured much suffering under that regime. They entered into their Good Friday for 3 years, 8 months and 20 days during the Khmer Rouge Era, they entered into a level of suffering that we in the West will never fully understand. But this suffering perhaps is the unique ''gift'' God has given the Khmer church and the Khmer people for today as I saw these brothers in Christ, I couldn't help but think they are living testimonies that we are called to enter into the suffering of Good Friday, but it is not the end, for Easter Sunday awaits and we rise again in His resurrection power where new life and new hope is born. Their lives reflect the power of the Gospel, its power to forgive, its power to reconcile, its power to heal, its power to restore, its power to redeem---this is the power of the Cross,  that brings sinners of all sorts together and unites them as one in Christ. Jesus who knew no sin, bore our sins, bore their sins and nailed them to the cross once and for all. Their pain, their suffering, their sacrifice is a small glimmer of what He endured for us all and yet as I look at their faces, I left thankful today for this Good Friday encounter as I thought of their lives, I thought of His life and was reminded by the words in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him, scorning its shame and now He sits at the right hand of the throne of God! 

What a Savior we have! He is risen and so too these Khmer pastors have risen from their own graves and now experience the joy of living a resurrected life in Him!

Monday, April 2, 2012

For I Know the Plans I Have For You

Yesterday morning I attended the Svay Pak church. Its been a few months since I've been to a service here and to my joy and amazement, I saw a whole new choir --- instead of the disciples that I knew, it was the youth group who were leading the congregation in worship. They all range in age from 13 to 16. They are the next generation of young people that pastor Chantha has been discipling and the older disciples are also mentoring these. It was such a wonderful sight to see.

I continue to be in awe of how the Lord is raising up a whole new generation of worshippers in this community. Recently Pastor Chantha shared that his older students are now writing their own worship songs and dramas. Who could have imagined just 5 years ago, God would be transforming a generation of young people in this place in such a way. Perhaps one day, a worship album will be forthcoming from our young friends in Svay Pak!

One of the young people who has become a regular in this group was ''Theary''. I blogged about her last September in a blog titled: Not Forgotten. No longer is she out of place, she is in tune, in step with the dance moves and totally enjoying it all. As I watched her yesterday worshipping her Lord with her eyes closed oblivious to all around her, tears came to my eyes as I caught a glimpse of the banner that hung on the wall behind the group. It was a banner we at Ratanak had given the church here a couple years ago. It reads from Jeremiah 29:11 ''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. 12Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. How true are the words of this scripture for Theary's life. God found Theary and He brought her to Svay Pak, for His plan was to prosper her. She has been calling on Him ever since her arrival in September. She has discovered hope in Him, she has discovered peace from Him. Yesterday she was telling me how much she loves to worship the Lord and how much she loves to pray to Him. She is one who is earnestly seeking Him and while He found her first, she has been captured by His love. A while back Bunthan asked her if she wanted to get married. She smiled and said, ''maybe one day, but now I am so happy, I have a mother and father who love me (Chantha and Bunthan) and I have food to eat and I have a God who loves me and provides for me so I do not worry about my future.'' To say that Theary has found contentment in the Lord is an understatement. She exudes it for to know her is to see the gentleness and tenderness of Jesus. She is soft spoken, with a gentle smile and quiet spirit. Indeed, the Lord has good plans for her.


So too as I sat and watched my other young friend ''S'and her new husband ''H'' participate in a ring ceremony saying their vows to one another and lighting a unity candle. It was a touching moment to see ''H'' share that this was the first time he had been back to his homeland since he left in 1997. He was overwhelmed with emotion wiping away the tears as he shared how welcomed he felt and the kindness he received from the Svay Pak church family even though they did not know him. The love of Christ in and through this community continues to touch the stranger who visits this place.

As I saw and thought of this young couple again Jeremiah 29:11 came to my mind. For their marriage has many challenges ahead as he is an American Khmer living in the U.S. They will be together for 3 weeks before he heads back to the U.S in the hopes of one day sponsoring ''S'' over. We entrust them into God's care and hold on to the very truths of these verses in Jeremiah 29, that they will both intentionally seek Him and in so doing discover His plan for their lives together as a couple despite the distance.