Monday, September 24, 2012

Re-Entry Reflections

Its been a few weeks since I have blogged anything partly because we have been so busy preparing and developing policies at the RAP home and my brain was too tired to write. But also, I am now back in Toronto for a mini-break for both a holiday and also a time of reconnecting with some of my supporting churches and friends. Its strange returning to a place that was once my home and no longer isn't. My room is still the same, my Mum still loves to prepare an endless supply of food so as soon as I finish one dish, there are 3 more in front of me. She's so Asian that way, I laugh. I think she thinks I am starving in Cambodia but that is probably because I have lost about 10 pounds from a year ago. Living in a third world country is great for losing weight. One does not need to go on a weight loss plan. Just walk in the 90+ degree temperatures and you'll find you eat less and besides the food is more organic in some sense without many of the preservatives we use in North America and so you tend to actually eat healthier and smaller portions. But toss in a few bouts of diarrhea and well you have an involuntary/natural diet plan. :-)

So here in TO as we Torontonians like to call our city, I am greeted with Fall temperatures...the cool crisp breeze and bright sunny skies makes for a refreshing change. I've only been back here one week and one of the most obvious differences between Phnom Penh and Toronto is the noise level. You don't realize how noisy a city Phnom Penh is until you go out of the city. Its extremely quiet here in Toronto. No monks chanting, no dogs barking or cats fighting, no cars honking, no motorcycles or at least a few here and there, everyone is driving orderly---something I have to get used to again----there is a peacefulness to both this city and even to my surbubria surroundings of my mother's home. I love the silence and solitude. I never realized how much I miss this and how good it is for our souls to be recalibrated in such serenity. Yet through this, I am reminded of why living overseas is not easy at times---the heaviness that is evident from the external factors of our environments can press in on our spirits and manifest in fatigue and other ailments.

Yet one of the challenges of re-entry is to find the right balance between one's personal soul care---entering into periods of solitude to recharge and spending time reconnecting with friends, supporters and churches. Its a strange kind of feeling and one that I have had some familiarity with for in previous short term trips to Cambodia, I used to hibernate for a month after I came back home and not talk to anyone but just spend time with the Lord after work. Unfortunately, I don't have the same luxury to do that as the tables are reversed and I'm not here for a long time, only for 5 weeks (well now 4 weeks) and so I'm listening to the rhythm of my body at the moment and it is saying stop, sleep, do nothing, have no agenda, rest, go for walks. My brain even seems to know its time for a holiday---it has gone catatonic on me---it just doesn't want to think about anything! :-)  So with that kind of mindset, my first two weeks I have intentionally decided to ''turn off'' so to speak although I'm sure my staff in Cambodia would laugh at this as they are still getting a round of emails from me each day---but that's because they are emailing me as well!  Nonetheless, the need to be intentional in slowing down and just spending time in solitude is something my spirit is craving. Now and then I meet up with friends for some casual dinners  when I have the energy but for the most part, the greatest joy during this past week has been the joy to just sleep in although given that I am a morning person, my sleeping in habits have moved from 5am to 7am.

But why is silence and solitude so important as part of our re-entry into our home cultures. For one thing, it is an opportunity to be still from all the striving and for those of us who love what they do, that ceasing from work is harder because the boundaries are blurred. When one is working in their area of passion, its hard to know when to just top and relax because its not work for us, its some thing we love to do all the time so its much harder to turn off. Yet if we are not careful our passions can also become our idols. And so it is the words of Henry Blackaby that ring in my ears these days ''what is most important is the quality of your love relationship with the Lord.'' In solitude and silence, it is an opportunity to reconnect with our One and Only Divine love. Stephen Smith in his book Embracing Soul Care describes how I feel at the moment:

Something happens in solitude that cannot happen in community. Something happens that does not happen at any other time. In solitude, we experience only ourselves. Community offers us companionship. With friends, we share our thoughts, dreams and disappointments. Solitude extends the invitation only to God and we share only with Him. Solitude invites
 us to experience  the ''oneness'' that Jesus prayed for in John 17:22, when he said ''that they may be one as We are one.'' There is a ''giving up'' when we practice solitude. We give up others and our dependency on them. We give up noise and our fascination with what we hear. We give up our tendencies to be trivial and obsessed with our manic pursuits. We learn to receive what only silence and aloneness can give. When we practice solitude, we open our hearts and hands to finally receive. In our everyday work and life, we're tempted to make a fist to prove our point. Solitude relaxes the palms, prying them open to God's gifts. In these quiet moments we are like a beggar who receives whatever is placed into his hands. In these moments of being ''with God' we find that He becomes the Immanuel who is truly ''with us.'' Solitude replenishes the soul. This is why Jesus made solitude a regular and necessary part of His lifestyle and relationship with God. He detached from people so that He could attach to God. Solitude allows us to be stripped of others so that we can be covered with divine love.

Pray with me that as I detach from others at this point and attach to God in these times of solitude that He would replenish my soul and fill me up up where I am empty and dry and download fresh vision, fresh energy, fresh power, fresh strength for the road ahead. But more importantly, that it will be a time of cultivating a deeper intimacy and closeness to Him so that I can share His heart with those whom He is connecting me to. On September 30th, October 4th, 10th, 13th, 14th, 15th, I will have the opportunity to share at different venues around the city. I am thankful to God for these wonderful opportunities to give testimony of all that He is doing in Cambodia through our work at Ratanak. Yet in order to be prepared for those meetings, I need Him to download to me what He would have me share for apart from Him, I can do nothing. I take heart in the promises of Isaiah 40:29-31 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,  and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sex Education - Cambodian Style

Today is one of those days when you have conversations with both Khmer and expat missionaries and realize this would make a good blog comment :-) It all started with a discussion on Khmer culture where a friend of mind was sharing that when people have been married for a while, they stop having sex. Of course, this got my curiosity so I couldn't help but ask a few more questions. I am told that some Khmer women  once they have fulfilled their motherly role of having children,  feel that there is no further need for sex!

As I thought about this a bit more and asked a few more questions to a variety of people today, an interesting picture was taking shape. I have mentioned previously that sex education is not taught in the school system here at least not in the recent past but that may be slowly changing at this point. As a result, young people are growing up in this culture looking at pornography to learn about sex and for young men, their experimentation can lead them into more degrading behavior where they gang rape a young woman. All of this further devalues women and reinforces the Cambodian proverb ''men are like gold, women are like cloth.''

What fascinated me with this conversation was the implication of what happens when a wife refuses her husband. I am told that even within marriage there can be sexual abuse and rape as some husbands---even Christians believe that since they are the head of the home, their wives have to do what they ask of them and if the wife refuses, well the husband will force himself on her. So often here we read in the papers of domestic violence and as one of my Khmer friends said, part of that violence is related to sexual frustration as the wives refuse to give into their husband's urges. Furthermore, with the lack of sex education, men are more interested in fulfilling their own desires then blessing their wives. So sex is not mutually enjoyed. It seems Khmer women do not seem to find it pleasurable but rather a duty they have to do. One of my Khmer friends told me that even when people get married, some may wait for a whole month before they consummate the marriage. For other husbands, their wives refusal makes them involuntarily celibate and so their response is to look outside the marriage.

This all had me thinking why we hear stories about Khmer men having multiple girlfriends and why adultery sadly is becoming a more common event here and why divorce is on the rise. Hence, it is common to see Khmer men out with their buddies at the beer gardens and karoke bars. Those venues provide an opportunity for the men to feed their unmet sexual appetites. It also explains why some of my single female Khmer friends do not trust Khmer men for in their experiences, they have repeatedly had married men proposition them on a regular basis.  They have not witnessed a godly male role model and they begin to believe that Khmer men in particular,  cannot be trusted.

All of this points again to the fact that the Khmer continue to suffer from trauma that infiltrates all areas of their lives. When the moral structures are broken, when sex education is not taught in an appropriate environment, women are viewed and are treated more as objects rather than human beings. There is much healing that is needed in this land. Pray for a healthy perspective on sexuality and healing for both Khmer men and Khmer women and for God to raise up godly marriages that demonstrate and model His heart and His love!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Celebrating Small Victories

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to share my testimony with some very special young women --- they are not just trafficking survivors but they are now on a new journey of integration into their communities. For these who have lived through and endured horrendous experiences that most of us will never have to face, time spent with them is always precious. They are living reminders of the transforming power of Christ who can do far more than we can ask imagine.  They have come on a long journey from victim to survivor to overcomer!

What does one possibly say to such young women who to me are my heroes. For their stories, their lives, their testimonies inspire me because they demonstrate that there is no body so broken, no spirit so crushed, no life so shattered that the Lord cannot heal, cannot restore, cannot redeem!

I began my testimony by telling them that while I have been a Christian for 22 years, I only discovered a few years ago that it is one thing to call Jesus our Savior but another thing to call Him our Lord. As our Savior, He has forgiven our sins, cleansed us, died for us and has risen again that we might have new life in Him, but when we accept Jesus as our Lord, we are surrendering our lives to Him, we are allowing Him to lead us and direct our steps because we believe that His plan, His way is always the best no matter what challenges we face. When we acknowledge that He is our Lord, we are trusting Him completely in all areas of our lives. For many of these young women, the issue of Lordship is a challenge especially in the areas of family obligation, finances and commitment/obedience to His ways. And so I shared from my own experiences how this all played out when God called me to move to Cambodia. I pray that whatever seeds were planted, that the Lord will water the seeds. After all He promises in Isaiah 55:11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty,but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Each morning when the girls come to work at this store, they have a time of worship and then there is a time for morning devotionals. Following that, there is a time to play a game before the store opens. That day when I attended and my sharing time had ended, the girls began to play a form of ''floor hockey'' using a ball and two long soft shaped stuffed noodle sticks. They were placed on separate teams and the object of the game was to score a goal using the 'noodle' as a stick to move the ball around. Can I tell you, I have never heard such loud laughter and shrieks in my life. The competitive juices came out and so did the smiles and laughter. It was quite hilarious to watch these beautiful young women smile and laugh from ear to ear when they scored a goal. The screams echoed through the building and as the director of the business said, our neighbors might  be wondering what we are doing with the girls for 15 minutes everyday, because they are always screaming and laughing so loud. Watching these young women laugh and grin is truly satisfying to see. We learn to celebrate such small but important acts of joy because in this ministry, the road to healing is not easy nor straight. There are many twists and turns and just when you think a young woman is doing well, some thing happens and she is taken back into old patterns of behavior. But despite the roller coaster of emotions that we can so easily encounter in walking along side our young sisters, we are blessed by their journeys. For through their lives, we learn to depend on Christ in ways that we never have, we discover the power of His healing touch in their lives as we intercede for them, we see the truth of the Gospel come alive in ways that we never have experienced before, for Christ indeed has come to set the captives free as He restores beauty for ashes, a garment of praise for the spirit of despair and the oil of gladness for mourning. Through their lives, I see the words of Isaiah 61:3 come to pass---they are becoming oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor!

This truth became even more of reality for me later that afternoon when I was out in the brothel district for a meeting. I was pleasantly surprised to see a young face whom I first met 3 years ago. She is now fully reintegrated. Many of us have prayed for her and 5 others who are dear to us at Ratanak for their story was the catalyst for our entrance into this ugly world of sex trafficking.  Seeing her and having a chance to chat with her in Khmer even though she responded in English was encouraging. She is doing so well, learning English and is enjoying her new job. She was full of smiles and remembered our previous meeting a few years ago. Spending time with her was another cause for celebration! It is a reminder again what a privilege it is to walk along side these little lambs, to share in their sufferings, to celebrate their victories, to encourage them to dream that they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them! It is a long journey, but one well worth it despite the obstacles, despite the challenges to see what is possible when faith, hope and the greatest of these, love is poured into such precious lives! He is more than able to move their mountains and give them all they need to achieve a new life of wholeness as they walk with Him and in Him!