Monday, December 28, 2009

Memories

The last couple months have been filled with amazing experiences and memories that I will hold tightly to for years to come. Just thinking about all the memories that I have created makes me realize the importance of being able to have good memories to cling to. Living in Cambodia I realize how many people’s lives are filled with haunting memories. Although the vast majority of the population here is young, there are still those who survived the Pol Pot Regime and remember how horrific it was. They remember getting only a cup full of rice porridge each day for sustenance. They remember working in the rice paddies, harvesting heaps of rice, but watching it all be shipped to China while their stomachs rumbled with hunger pangs. Then, there are those whose horrors are more recent…or are still ongoing. There are those who are forced, either by a parent or a pimp, to beg at the riverfront. There are those who are locked in a room and forced to “service” more than 10 “clients” per day. There are those who are kidnapped from their families, brutally raped, and then rejected in a place they know nothing of.

Those are all miserable memories. And truthfully, I know nothing of what it means to have memories such as these. I so badly wish that I could take away these memories from the beautiful Khmer people that I have fallen so desperately in love with. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. The only things I can do are continually pray for God’s healing and restoration in this nation and her people and create beautiful memories with those I have the honor of knowing personally.

Today I tried to help create some beautiful memories. I went with the girls and some of our staff to a water park. Now, this was not exactly what we would have labeled an impressive water park in the United States, but I think it might have been just about as much fun as I have ever had at a water park. I went racing down water slides with twelve-year-old girls. I caught six-year-olds at the bottom of slides. I pushed a four-year-old around on a raft, listening to her giggle uncontrollably. I went swimming wearing all of my clothes because that is the way the Khmer people do it. I sat in an inflatable tube with a thirty-year-old Khmer woman and screamed with her as we flew down a water slide.

(So, I "borrowed" this picture from another blog I found online, and the park must have been nicer when they went because the slide on the right was out of commission today...and the walkways look quite a bit cleaner. And, this was not the entire park in case you are wondering. There are a few more pools with other slides and sprinklers and things.)

It was a pretty fantastic day, and my prayer is that the girls will remember this day. I pray that it will be a day that they will remember fondly and that it would replace some of the nightmarish memories that have been lodged in their memory banks.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Happy Khmer Christmas!


For a Buddhist country, I was remarkably surprised by the number of Christmas decorations around Phnom Penh. There was even a giant-sized artificial tree (I am talking a couple stories high) outside of one of the shopping centers. And, most everything says, "Merry Happy Christmas," which just makes me smile.
Just in time for Christmas, I received some packages from home! I got 2 boxes and a card all on Christmas Eve. And, it only took me about 45 minutes of running around the city and going to 2 different post offices to actually get my packages! But, it was so exciting to get mail. I felt so loved and blessed to have such wonderful family and friends, and I know there is still some coming (as long as the Cambodian post has not lost it).
Here is all the loot that I received in my package from my home church, a package from my parents, and card from my sister and her family. I was totally overwhelmed by the abundance of goodies!!!
And, best of all, I got Grandpa's peanut brittle!!!!! I thought I would have to go without peanut brittle this Christmas, but no, my amazing Grandpa mailed a container right on over to the other side of the world! Thanks, Grandpa! You're the best!
Now, Christmas day wasn't quite as much fun as I had hoped. I was really looking forward to spending the day with the girls...opening gifts, playing games, eating ice cream sundaes. Instead, I spent the entire day in bed. I spent all morning nauseous then had a splitting headache all afternoon. Quite the bummer, but ain't no devil gonna get me down!!! I just took advantage of the time to rest and felt great today (the 26th)! I spent all day with the girls playing games and receiving handmade cards from them all. They are amazing!!!
This was my gift from our Khmer staff. It is a beautiful, very Khmer bag, and I LOVE it!
So, regardless of the fact that I spent Christmas day in bed, I have had a great and memorable Khmer Christmas! I hope all of you have been blessed this Christmas season as well. My prayer is that you would reflect upon what the season is really about--the greatest Gift we could ever have received in Jesus Christ!

Christmas baking?

Sure, I'll try that.
Well, I decided I would attempt to make some Christmas cookies here in Cambodia. Now, I wasn't about to try anything to fancy, so I opted to just make some plain sugar cookies rolled in some colored sugar.
This is what I had to work with...

I managed to find all of the ingredients I needed (though all of them are not in this picture), but I improvised a bit on the kitchenware (note the saucepan, which was used as a mixing bowl).
This is the oven I had to work with. Pretty fancy, huh?
These were my measuring utensils. That is a yogurt container that I saved from my breakfast and washed, and a regular teaspoon (it's close to the right measurement, right?).
I used the yogurt container to estimate my flour.
Some baking soda.
Some baking powder.
Some sugar and butter.
Cream that together using some good old manual power.
Add an egg and some vanilla. And again, use some good old manual power to mix it together.
Add the flour mixture gradually while still using your manual mixer.
Ta-da! Sugar cookie dough! (It was a bit crumbly, so I think some of my measurements were probably a bit off.)
Colored sugar the good ol' fashioned way...sugar in a bowl with some food coloring. So, I was hoping to do red and green, but the only food coloring I could find was pink...so pink is festive, right?
Sugar cookie dough balls on the cookie sheet.
Here is the final result.
The first batch that went into the oven got charred on the bottom. No good. So, I put foil over the cookie sheet for the next batch and turned the oven down a bit. Still charred on the bottom. Third batch I formed the cookies a bit differently, still used the foil, and turned the oven way down. Some of those were not too bad, but several of them were still charred on the bottom. Overall, it was not a very successful first baking experience, and I wasn't about to make anyone eat these sugary, charred biscuits. But, I am not deterred! I will bake again, and I will conquer!!! Stay tuned until next time!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bloom!

These are some of the most beautiful cakes I have ever seen. And, they are some of the most delicious cakes I have ever eaten!
A wonderful woman named Ruth Larwill, along with her husband Murray, have started Bloom Cafe and Training Center in Phnom Phen. At Bloom, they train girls who have been rescued from a life of trafficking and sexual exploitation to make beautiful cakes such as these and make all kinds of delicious coffees. They also train them in hospitality. It is an amazing organization, and last Friday, they graduated their first class!!! Now, the girls who were trained will become employees of Bloom, and the cafe is set to open in February 2010.
The cakes in the above picture were actually leftovers from the big graduation, and Ruth graciously gave them to the girls at SHE. Needless to say, the girls and staff LOVED them! I encourage you to check out Bloom's website and see all that they are doing!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why wouldn't you?

I recently met an amazing man of God here, and though I don't know him well, he simply exudes the love of Jesus. So, I just wanted to relay a story that was shared with me about him. Through the week he works in the city, but each weekend he ventures out to his hometown in the provinces. Why? Well, he hosts a home church in his village because he so desperately wants people to know Jesus. Some friends of mine were talking to him about this, and they said something about how great they thought his sacrifice was and how amazing they thought it was that he would open his home every week to people. With the utmost sincerity and his heart in his eyes, he responded with, "Why wouldn't you? They don't know Jesus. They need to know Him."
That's it, folks. Why wouldn't you?
So, what stops us? What stops us from opening our homes and hearts to those who don't know Him? They need to know Him...

"The Lord does not delay and is not tardy or slow about what He promises, according to some people's conception of slowness, but He is long-suffering (extraordinarily patient) toward you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance." ~ 2 Peter 3:9

Thursday, December 17, 2009

History Lesson

I thought I would just give all of you a little bit of a history lesson and some background information on the nation that is my home for the next several months! Cambodia is in Southeast Asia and has been wracked with poverty, war, and genocide over the last several decades. The nation is really just beginning to establish herself and bounce back from some of the destruction she has faced.
In 1975, the Khmer Rouge overtook the capital city of Phnom Penh and forced her inhabitants to flee the city. The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, sought to destroy all educated people and all attempts at a democratic government. Their goal was to create a "pure" Cambodia. Thus, people were taken to camps where they were forced to labor and live communally. Money became worthless, religion in any form was banned, and basic human rights and freedoms were suspended. This, of course, only applied to those who survived as hundreds of thousands of educated, middle-class people were tortured and murdered. Many others died over the course of the next few years due to starvation, exhaustion, and disease. Estimates vary as to how many people died in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, but a reasonable range is between 1.5 to 2 million people.
That is the short version of the story, but I encourage you to do a little research for yourself if you aren't familiar with this historical era.
This week I went to the Tuol Sleng genocide museum. Tuol Sleng was the former security office 21, created on orders of Pol Pot. It was designed for detention, interrogation, inhuman torture, and killing after confession from the detainees were received and documented. In 1979 after the Khmer Rouge was overtaken by the Vietnamese, all the evidence in S-21 (Tuol Sleng) was collected, including photographs, films, prisoner confession archives, torture tools, shackles, and 14 victims' corpses, which had not yet been disposed. Now, all of this is on display at Tuol Sleng.
These are the graves of the 14 victims that were found in 1979.
This is taken from inside one of the cells. There were rows of these cells on three different levels of a building. The first floor was cinder block like this one, but as you went up to the other floors the cell walls were wooden and became considerably smaller. This one was probably about 6 feet by 4 feet.
This is a torture room with a bed and some of the tools of torture.
There were rooms and rooms of photos of all the prisoners who were marched through Tuol Sleng, tortured and murdered. Faces get to me. I looked at all these pictures, and my heart ached. These were sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, neighbors and friends, who had done nothing to deserve this treatment except pursue rights that we take for granted daily.
And, this was their fate. This is a photo of only a tiny portion of those who were executed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
Someone wrote this on the wall outside one of the rooms, and though I don't condone defacing property like this, I do agree with the statement.
Walking through this museum and looking at all the photos, the shackles, the blood-stained tiles, I was tempted to ask, "God, where were You?" But, I know where He was. He was right there. He was in those torture chambers. He was in the dark cells. He was holding the prisoners. And, I believe He was asking where His people were. God, I don't ever want You to wonder again where Your people are and why they aren't doing something to fight the injustices of the world...
"Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me." ~ Isaiah 6:8

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sometimes ice cream is in order


Sometimes when you have a crazy day...or a crazy week, you just need to treat yourself. And really, what better treat is there than having ice cream for dinner?
This was amazing! Thank You, God, that there are ice cream sundaes in Cambodia.

High Tea

Last week I had the opportunity to go to High Tea. There is a vocational training program here that does both beauty training and teaches the girls how to have a tea party! So, a group of ladies got together for tea. It was really fun!
Some of the goodies! Those are cucumber sandwiches on the left (it wouldn't be high tea without them, right?) as well as some slices of baguette with roasted veggies and cheese. There are a variety of spring rolls on the right.
Some of the amazing treats! The Christmas cupcakes were delicious. There are also rumbles, passion fruit tarts, ginger tarts, and a few other tarts of various kinds.
This is Lida and I. Lida with her husband and daughter were here doing some work with the SHE home. Unfortunately, they had to leave a few weeks early due to some health concerns.
This is lovely Lida and her lovely daughter Karien.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Workin' It!

video
This is aerobics done Cambodian style. I love it! The guy in the pink pants with the white shirt is the instructor. He has a headset on and shouts instructions in Khmer while they work out to the music. On any given morning or evening you can find multiple groups going at any park. This particular one is at Olympic Stadium, and the group is really just starting to form. Sometimes there will be 50-100 people all in a group doing it. I am definitely planning to join sometime!

Olympic Stadium

I have made a couple trips to Olympic Stadium on Saturday afternoons just to hang out and enjoy some relaxing time. There are all kinds of vendors around the "concourse" there, and you can get quite tasty ice cream for about $0.25...probably cheaper if you are Khmer.
This is the diving platform and pool.
This is the regular Olympic swimming pool. You can swim for about $1.00, I think, but I haven't gone.
This is the stadium, which is just opposite the swimming pool. There was a soccer game going on last week, but often people will be running or walking around the track or around the seating areas.
I'm not sure who was playing, but there wasn't much of a crowd.

Lessons Learned

So, I went on a little trip outside of the city on Monday. I got to see some of the countryside as I headed out to some villages in one of the provinces. My company was entirely Khmer, so my conversations were limited for the day, but it was beautiful. I learned some good lessons along the way, so I thought I would share them with you.

Lesson 1. Never leave the city without a scarf. It gets dusty, and you won’t be able to breathe…and the Khmer people will just laugh at you through their masks and scarves.
Lesson 2. Tire irons can snap in half. Always make sure to break down close to a bike shop or something so you can borrow one if need be. (Flat tires are a given when there are potholes that would make even Muncie streets look good!)Lesson 3. It’s best not to think about what your food looked like before it was cooked. When you don’t think about the fish staring at you from the frying pan or the chicken feet floating in the soup, it all tastes really good!Lesson 4. Don’t finish the heaping pile of rice on your plate unless you really do want more. Saying “no” is not an option because they will put another heaping pile on anyway.
Lesson 5. Just smile and act like you know what's going on, even when you don't.
I apologize for the poor quality of these photos. They were all taken from the inside of a moving van, so all things considered, I don't think they turned out too bad!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

the riverfront

I was out last night with some friends. We went to the Night Market, and then we went walking along the riverfront. It was a busy night along the riverfront. There were people eating at cafes and restaurants all along the way. There were a lot of Westerners out and about as well as locals.
There were also a lot of children. A lot of naked children sleeping on the sidewalks covered with just scarves. There were children selling books. There were women carrying around their infants and begging. There were men sitting on the sidewalk holding up plastic bowls, hoping for just a little bit of cash. There were amputees pulling themselves around on carts. There were women inside "massage" parlors waiting for customers.
This is the less than beautiful side of this country. The empty rows of chairs along the entrance of karaoke bars that earlier in the night held young women dressed in silks with caked on make-up rarely mean that the girls have gone home for the night.
This is where I live now. This is what I see. This is what breaks my heart. This is why I am here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Inherit the Kingdom

Songs have a way of speaking to me in ways that nothing else can. I heard this song a couple years ago, and I immediately fell in love. I love Sara Groves' music because she has a way of writing exactly what I feel in my heart. This song is no exception.

When the Saints by Sara Groves
Lord, I have a heavy burden of all I've seen and know
It's more than I can handle
But Your word is burning like a fire shut up in my bones
And I can't let it go

And when I'm weary and overwrought
With so many battles left unfought

I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard
I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars

And when the saints go marching in
I want to be one of them

Lord, it's all that I can't carry and cannot leave behind
It all can overwhelm me
But when I think of all who've gone before and lived a faithful life
Their courage compels me

And when I'm weary and overwrought
With so many battles left unfought

I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard
I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars
I see the shepherd Moses in the pharaoh's court
I hear his call for freedom for the people of the Lord

And when the saints go marching in
I want to be one of them
And when the saints go marching in
I want to be one of them

I see the long quiet walk along the Underground Railroad
I see the slave awaken to the value of her soul
I see the young missionary and the angry spear
I see his family returning with no trace of fear
I see the long hard shadows of Calcutta nights
I see the sister standing by the dying man's side
I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor
I see the man with a passion come kicking down that door

I see the Man of sorrow and His long troubled road
I see the world on His shoulders and my easy load

And when the saints go marching in
I want to be one of them

"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Matthew 25:34


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's her story...

I just wanted to take a little bit to explain her story, and why it is hers to tell. You will not see any pictures of the 21 beautiful girls I am working with, nor will I share their names or pictures of the home where they are residing. Why? Well, as much as I know you may want to see photos of them, it is for their own protection and dignity. You see, these girls have been through a lot, much more horror than many of us will ever experience in our whole lives. Their story is one of the few things that they have left that is truly theirs. Who am I to take that away from them? And, really, it doesn’t matter one bit where these girls have been, but instead where they are going. I assure you that these girls are going places. They are brilliant and talented. They have opportunities available to them that their parents and grandparents did not. But, in order for these opportunities to remain available and for these girls to fulfill their dreams, they need to be protected. They need to remain in a safe place where they are loved, respected, and continually being healed by Jesus Christ.

As humans we want our good deeds to be noticed. We want to see tangible evidence of the difference we are making. Thus, I completely understand that people would want to see photos of these beautiful girls, know where they have come from, and see where they are going. However, I don’t really think any of that matters in the kingdom of God because our good deeds are not supposed to be done in an effort to give us a warm, fuzzy feeling but rather that people are brought into God’s kingdom. I assure you that God is working in this place, in this nation. There is still much work to be done, but He is here. I hear Him in the sound of little girls singing “Jesus loves me.” I see Him in the beautiful smiling faces of women who survived Pol Pot’s genocide and now want to give the next generation what they never had. I smell Him in the exhaust while riding in a tuk tuk driven by a man who is rising above the standard to be a Godly husband and father. I feel Him in the hugs and kisses of young women who will one day own their own beauty parlor. I can taste Him in the fried banana chips that someone brought from his village just to share. Believe me, God is here, and He is working, but because I know it is difficult to understand what you just can’t see (I think that’s called faith), I will post pictures of what I can and give you periodic glimpses into the world as I see it.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

“But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” Matthew 6:3-4

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The earth is the Lord's

Psalm 24:1 says, "The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein." This Scripture has become quite the living word to me. The world really just isn't that big of a place when it comes right down to it. You can get anywhere you want to go in the world in just a matter of hours. There are so many things that are universal--from smiles to pain.
I am now in Cambodia, and I love it. It feels as much like home as any other place I have ever been. As strange as it may seem, any time I have ever left the USA to go to another country, I have never felt that I was somewhere foreign. The food may be different. The language may be different (and I may not understand a word of it). The people may look slightly different. The streets and traffic may look different. I have come to look at myself as a global citizen rather than a US citizen. It is not that I am anti-American, but it is rather that I am pro-God's Kingdom. Because really, the earth is the Lord's. And, as God's child I want to bring other people into His Kingdom regardless of what their passports or birth certificates say. The only citizenship that really matters in the end is being a citizen of heaven. God holds the entire world in His hands. He knows every person that has lived, is living, and will live on the face of the planet. Even though I only occupy a tiny corner of the world on a microscopic dot within the continuum of eternity, I don't want to limit myself in the ways I can expand God's Kingdom.
I have been asked countless times over the last several weeks where I am from (country, state, town, etc.). This has forced me to think about my place in the world--where I came from and where I am going. Who would have thought that a girl from a small farming community in Indiana would be traveling to the other side of the world to actively fight against sex slavery in a country that is fighting to battle back from years of war and genocide? How are these kind of connections made? Quite simply the answer is God. God orchestrates our lives to bring fullness to His world and His Kingdom if only we listen and are obedient to His call. So often I think we doubt God's calling to us because it doesn't make logical sense or He seems to be calling us to do something that we are clearly not trained or equipped to do. It is those times that we forget that the earth is the Lord's. How can we ever dare to doubt that the God who holds the earth in the palm of His hand is able to use us in spite of us?
This has been quite random, but I will try to convey my point simply. The same God who created us in His image with a purpose also created the earth and holds it in His hands. My challenge to you is to look at the world with God's global eyes. I assure you that when you do, your perspective will shift and with it a deep love for those you may never have met who live on the other side of the world.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jesus doesn't want us jaded

I don't want to live my life jaded.
However, I realized the other day that in some ways I have been. I am speaking specifically in regard to the Church. Until I came to Australia, I hadn't realized how much I had allowed many of the negative things I have seen within churches to cloud my perception of the Church. Honestly, I am a pretty difficult person to offend, at least I have become that way thanks to the grace of God, but I have seen a lot of ugliness in churches over the years. What you may ask? My response: it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what I have seen, what I have experienced, or how it all happened. Over the last couple years God has really done a work on the inside of me to really think about what it looks like to live sold out for Him, to take the Bible and live it. The Amplified Bible translation of Luke 9:23 reads, "And He said to all, 'If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse, and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to my example in living and, if need be, in dying also]." Those are some pretty powerful words and require some serious self-evaluation. If I really want to follow Christ as I claim to, I have some real work to do. It is my heart to examine how Jesus lived His life and to follow in His footsteps, to live as He lived. I really can't do any less. But, I have realized over the last couple weeks that for some reason I have come to expect less of the Church. Somewhere along the way I have made allowances for the Church to fail at being Jesus to the masses, even though I may not have given up on being Christ-like myself.
I had allowed myself to become jaded and without expectation for the Church. Maybe it was some sort of defense mechanism to avoid pain. I am really not sure, but I do know that it isn't right. Jesus does not want us to be jaded or dulled or apathetic. He wants and expects us to be earth-shakers, world-changers, mountain-movers, barrier-breakers. He wants us to love radically and live justly.
I have become tired of hearing people saying that they admire what I am doing and they wish they had the courage to do something like that. Why? I don't deserve to be admired anymore than the next guy. I am simply being obedient to do what God has called me to do. I can do no less. When people ask me why I am doing what I am doing, I simply think, "How can I not?" I was created for such a time as this...and so were you. No, maybe you were not called to hop on a plane and fly halfway around the world to serve. But, you were called. God has called each and every one of us. It is our responsibility to choose not to live jaded, going through the motions in a humdrum life.
My hope in the future of the Church has been restored not because of any massive movement or revival but because I know how much God wants to reveal Himself to this world, and I am choosing to have confidence that His children will rise to the challenge. So, if you haven't heard it before, here's your call! "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9 Here is your opportunity to take any blinders off. Here is your opportunity to find out where God wants to you to be and to do it full on! Whether that means that you invest yourself wholeheartedly in raising God-fearing children, in educating the next generation with Godly truths, in stocking the shelves of your local food pantry, in providing a family-less child a family, in using your business smarts to bring finances into God's kingdom, in baking cookies for your neighbors, or even flying around the world to help others find the wholeness that comes in Christ. You are never too young or too old. If we are doing God's will, He will never fail to equip us.
"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it." 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Wrapping up my time in Australia

First of all, I apologize for my lack of updates over the past few days. I have been away from Internet for the past several days, so I have been unable to update. So, I will give you a bit of a picture update to show you how I have been spending some of my last days in Australia.

I sampled lamingtons, which are an Aussie special. Lamingtons are sponge cakes that are dipped in chocolate and then rolled in coconut. They are quite delicious.
I went to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary last week with my friend Dani. It was so much fun!!!! You can get super close to the animals, and it was beautiful. I even got to cuddle a koala!!!
So, that is not the greatest picture. I was talking to the koala handler. I have a much better picture that the professional people took, but this gives you the idea. This koala's name was Pepsi, and she was lovely (and she even sneezed all over me!).
How cute is this?!?!?
This is a sleeping wombat.
Yes, I got to pet and feed the kangaroos and wallabies. This is a footyoung (a baby kangaroo that doesn't get to go into the mommy's pouch anymore).
This is a big red kangaroo. I love that he is laying like a person and just hanging out.
This is the beach at the Gold Coast. It is gorgeous!!!! It was voted one of the best beaches in the world, and I can see why.
This is the view from my hotel at the Gold Coast. I was on the 15th floor, and it was beautiful.
And, this is Milo cereal, which is delicious. I am a huge fan, and it is somewhat like crack in that it is quite addictive!

So, there in a nutshell is what I have been up to for the last several days! More to come soon...