Monday, January 31, 2011

boy, oh, boy

There have been so many times over the past year that I have seen and heard things and wondered how these things could be happening and why people could realize they were happening and not do something. One of these big areas are the numbers of boys I regularly encounter who are at risk and being abused. The reality is that many organizations who say they work with "children" really mean that they work with "girls." They help girls who are sexually abused and exploited, but they forget about the boys who experience the same violence and exploitation.

Last week, I heard a man that I greatly respect, a man who advocates for the rights of ALL children, say something very poignant about the world's deficiency in assisting boys and young men who are victims of sexual violence. He said that secular organizations are afraid to help male victims for fear that they may be labeled "anti-gay" while faith-based organizations are afraid to help for fear that they may be labeled "pro-gay."

Meanwhile, there are boys suffering unspeakable things.

I am honored to work with these boys alongside others who don't care what the world thinks but instead just want to love like Jesus loves.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

horrors

Last night I attended a film screening for Enemies of the People. It is a film about a Cambodian man's journey to understand how and why the genocide took place in Cambodia from 1975-1979. Nearly 2 million Cambodians were killed during those few years, including the filmmaker's father, mother, and brother.

It was an incredibly powerful film, and the filmmaker was present to answer questions following the screening. While I watched the film, my heart ached for the people who spoke of losing family members, the sight of mass graves, and the guilt they carry for sins they had committed. Then, my heart was broken after the film when several Cambodians who were present spoke of their gratitude to Thet Sambath (the filmmaker) for sharing this with the world. Some of them spoke of their own experiences. Some of them spoke of how they have tried to understand what it must have been like for their parents and grandparents. And, they cried...

Emotions, especially for men, are generally viewed as completely unacceptable in Khmer culture. There is a saying in Cambodia that boys begin hearing from the time they are very young. "It is better to bleed than cry." Displays of emotion are not acceptable, and many times this does not even translate into tears, it translates into faces of stoicism. These men cried...in a room full of strangers...over the horrors in their past...about the nightmares they have had nearly everyday since.

God sees their tears. And, my hope is that they will now let Him wipe them away...

*Note: Though I do not know when, this film is supposed to be shown on PBS in America sometime this year, so continue to check your local listings because you do not want to miss it! Also, there are some screenings in the coming weeks, which are listed on the website, so if you live nearby any of those places, check it out!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

hello?

I stumbled across this article today. And, it provided a bit of humor for me, so I thought I would share it with you.

For those of you who will not go and read the article, it talks about the hilarity of cell phone usage in Cambodia. It is hot market, folks! And, since the article does not go into great detail as to how cell phones work here, I will explain a bit more as it is much different from America.

Basically, one purchases a cell phone and a SIM card, which is attached to a phone number. Then, you purchase phone credit. Phone cards look similar to scratch off lottery tickets...and used ones are littered everywhere! You purchase phone credit in a variety of increments ($1.00, $2.00, $5.00, etc.), scratch off the back of the card, and enter the code that appears. You can then make phone calls and send text messages to your heart's content...or until the money runs out. But, the beautiful thing is that you do not have to have credit on your phone to receive calls or text messages. As a general rule, most Cambodian people that I know do not regularly have credit on their phones, thus you should not expect phone calls to be returned or text messages to be replied to. Sometimes they will use the glorious "missed call" to let you know they need you to call them or have arrived at your house. In that case, they call you, let it ring once and hang up before you answer so there is no charge. The other interesting thing is that many Cambodians change SIM cards as often as they change clothes. Based on no scientific research but only my own observation, I would surmise that most people have a minimum 2-3 SIM cards that they use interchangeably, in addition to borrowing from whichever friend they are among who might have a few cents of phone credit. Oh, caller ID, how useless you have become...

Cell phone usage is but one of the areas that has thrust Cambodia into the modern world. Cambodia is developing and changing at a frightening pace, and the influences from other nations are not creeping in, they are storming in with bells and whistles. Today is not the day that I will discuss the multitude of reasons this is dangerous for the nation's future, but please do pray for Cambodia. And, next time you see that fool with 2 cell phones clipped to his belt, just remember the orange-robed monk attempting to have simultaneous conversations on three phones while his other five sit in a pile beeping with alerts of received text messages.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

humbled

I just finished watching At the End of Slavery. It is a documentary put together by International Justice Mission, or IJM, about the work that is happening around the world to combat modern-day slavery. It is a well done, informative, realistic picture of modern-day slavery.

I sat humbled.

As I watched the pictures flash across the screens, I recognized my home, my city. They talked about realities in Cambodia. There was footage of scenes that I see daily. There were streets pictured that I drive down regularly. This is where I live. This is where I work. These are the people that I love.

And, I am humbled. Every. Single. Day.

I am humbled that God allows me the privilege to be a part of the work that He is doing in this nation and in this world. I am humbled that He trusts me with His message of hope, love, and freedom.

I don't deserve it. I don't understand it. I haven't earned it. But, I suppose salvation is just like that, too. I don't deserve it. I don't understand it. I haven't earned it.

But, it's mine...

Friday, January 21, 2011

ah-tee-tahn

Language learning and I have a love-hate relationship.

I love being able to communicate with both friends and strangers in their native tongue. I love being able to explain myself and what I want. I love to be able to show people that I care enough about them that learning their language is important to me. I love being able to have precious moments with people that involve more than just confused glances and hand gestures.

But, I will be honest. I hate studying. I hate homework. I hate feeling overwhelmed with the vast amount of language that I do not know. I hate that I have been studying Khmer for a year and still struggle to have basic conversations most days.

A couple months ago, my "neyeck crew" (teacher) began praying with me before each of my lessons. She would pray for me to be able to speak well, to have good health, to have wisdom, and other things depending on the day. Then, she would ask me if I understood what she prayed. Generally, I would understand some of it but not all. And so, my lesson would begin.

Time out. I will take this moment to share a little about the Khmer language. There are many ways in which Khmer is a simple language. It does not have tones, which many other Southeast Asian languages have in abundance. It has a simple grammatical structure. There is no conjugation of verbs. But, it does have a few different vocabularies. The set of language used with families and friends is completely different than the vocabulary used with monks. And, that is different from the language used to speak to, of, and about the king. The king's language is also the vocabulary used to talk about God. So, understanding "church talk" is really difficult for me because the words are completely different from those that I hear on a normal basis in everyday conversation. Time in.

After a few weeks of my teacher praying for me, she then turned the tables. She taught me proper address, proper "prayer language," and proper prayer ending. The first few days she let me read my prayer from my notebook, but one day she left me with this warning, "Tgnai praya-hoah bong aht ahn ah-tee-tahn" (Thursday you cannot read the prayer). So, when that Thursday came, I fumbled through a prayer with my teacher's promptings. Since then, she has continued to challenge me to pray for new things, to expand my prayers.

Ah-tee-tahn. It seems so simple. But, I cannot tell you what it has done in my heart to pray in Khmer, to be able to pray for my Khmer teacher in her native language. In the past week, I have found myself thanking God in Khmer, agreeing in prayer with my Khmer brothers and sisters in Khmer. The more I learn, the more I connect, the more I fall in love with my God and with Cambodia. Awkun Preah-ong. Thank You, God.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

unto us a child is born...

Christmas is over, I know, but I thought I would just share a little about what my Christmas in Cambodia looked like. First, it was certainly not white, but there were no lack of Christmas trees, tinsel, and inflatable Santas. I had hoped to escape the inflatable lawn decorations when I came to Asia, but alas, they have found their way here. I saw snowmen and snow globes and penguins on a see-saw and Santas that rose three stories high. In a nation that loves any reason to have a party or celebrate, they have risen to the occasion.
Sadly, many people do not understand the meaning of Christmas aside from a fat man in a red suit with a white beard. Along with my friends and teammates, we set out to make sure that the children we work with knew the true meaning of Christmas. We had been sharing about the story of Jesus' birth all leading up to a Christmas party!
We played games!
We ate snacks, including delicious Christmas cupcakes!
And, we performed the Nativity with costumes and all!
It is hard to see in the above picture, but we work with children in a public park, which means that anyone can listen in or watch our daily activities. On this particular day, we drew quite the crowd as we draped ourselves in sheets, donned pipe cleaner halos, and carried about sheep made from paper plates and cotton balls. The children gathered around to listen to the story of Jesus as they sipped their orange fanta and licked the cream from between their sandwich cookies. And, the street beside us began to clog with moto-taxi drivers who were sitting on their parked bikes watching the group of foreigners and Khmer dress in silly costumes. It was so much fun to share with the kids, and they all had a blast!
It is amazing what joy you can communicate with an aluminum foil-covered star and paper bags tied with ribbon brought to a baby (who might be a 21-month old baby girl) by girls with blonde hair and blue eyes.

The bottom line is that unto us a child is born. Thank You, Jesus!

Friday, January 7, 2011

victory

Today is Victory Day.

On January 7, 1979, Cambodia celebrated as the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge. This was the end of nearly four years of starvation, torture, and genocide. Nearly two million people were killed in violent, unspeakable ways during those years. People were forced from their homes. They were forced to labor in fields of which they were never able to eat the fruit. They were beaten with sticks and garden hoes. They were poisoned. They were tortured. Children were brainwashed and told to kill their families. They were thrown into mass graves.
And, much of the world was silent, unaware, deaf to the cries of the Khmer people.

But, January 7, 1979, that was a day of victory. Regardless of the disputes Cambodia may have with Vietnam and the battles that have continued between the neighbors, Vietnam helped Cambodia find a glimmer of hope that day.

Cambodia's history is ravaged with war, with poverty, with hopelessness, with fire, but somehow she is rising from the ashes. If ever there was a day to celebrate the truth of that, January 7 is it.

Revelation 12: 11 says, "And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die." I pray that one day the whole of Cambodia will realize true victory in Christ Jesus. They already have an amazing testimony if only they would accept the blood of the Lamb...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

racing

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently ran a half marathon. On December 5th my friend Kara and I ran a half marathon around Angkor Wat and the other temple ruins in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is about 200 miles from Phnom Penh. We headed up there on a Saturday and finalized our registration, receiving our extremely large t-shirts and bib tags. Then, we spent the night with a friend who lives and works in Siem Reap, ate huge plates of spaghetti, and turned in early for the night. We had to leave for the race at about 5am in order to get to the starting location before the gun went off. After months of training, we were excited for the race to be over! Here is a picture of Kara and I pre-race.
The course was absolutely beautiful! This was my second half marathon, and the scenery for this one was much more fun than my first race. The course wound around temple ruins, through trees and past lakes. Whole villages of people came out to see the runners, and the children lined up for high-fives as we ran past. There were plenty of runners who used the opportunity to capture candid shots near the temples while I kept my eyes on the finish line and counted down the kilometers to the end. I will admit that I was in MUCH better condition for the last half marathon that I ran about a year and a half ago, but I finished with a time of 1:58:42 which I was happy with. Some friends had come up for the weekend to cheer me on as well, and they met me at the finish line with water. It was so awesome that they came all that way just to watch me run!
I will admit that I was feeling a bit like death after the race. I was dirty. I had blisters. My legs were stiff. I was tired. But, I made it!
And, after a shower, Mexican food, ice cream, and a nap, I was feeling much better. Kara and I even wandered into town in the evening for some great street food.
a plate of fried rice with soup-$1.25
a chicken skewer with salad-$0.75
a sense of accomplishment at completing a half marathon-priceless

Monday, January 3, 2011

excuses

"Jesus replied with this story: 'A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, "Come, the banquet is ready." But they all began making excuses. One said, "I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me." Another said, "I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me." Another said, "I now have a wife, so I can't come." The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, "Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame." After the servant had done this, he reported, "There is still room for more." So his master said, "Go into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet."'" Luke 14:16-24

Excuses.
"But, I can't put the dishes away. I can't reach the cabinet."
"But, I can't take the trash out. It's raining."
"But, I didn't have time to do my homework."
"But, I am not any good at math."
"But, I forgot you asked me to clean my room."
"But, why should I be nice when she is so rude to me?"
"But, I am too busy to do that for you."
"But, I just couldn't do what you are doing."
"But, I don't want to..."

We learn pretty early how to make excuses, how to shift blame, how to absolve ourselves from responsibility or guilt. As I read the above passage of Scripture, I was reminded of the danger of making excuses. You see, God is preparing a banquet, and I desperately want to be in attendance. There is a place card with my name on it, and I don't want to forfeit my seat. I want to dine with my Savior. I want to break bread with Almighty God. I want to be with Him, to live in awe of Him for all eternity. I know that there is plenty of room at His table, but I also know that in order to get in the door my name has to be on the guest list. I don't want to get to the door and merely offer an excuse, something like, "But, I was really busy, and I just forgot. Can't I come in anyway?" God is clear about what the answer will be, and I never want to be too busy for Him. Instead, I want to be the one who is so excited about my invitation to the banquet that I am searching the highways and hedges looking for more people to present with invitations.

I am determining that this will not be a year of excuses but a year of choosing to honor my Lord in all that I do.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

time

2010.
Where did it go?
I feel like 2010 was one of the most amazing, most challenging years for me, filled with mountains and valleys. I am not even sure how to sum up the year, so I will try to pick my top ten from 2010 (seems appropriate, right?).

1. I officially made Cambodia my home.
2. I visited Vietnam, Thailand, and Australia (including my uncle and cousin), as well as several Cambodian provinces.
3. I was blessed with two new nephews (love you, Aden and Caleb!)
4. Logged more hours than I can count behind the wheel of a car in order to visit as many people as possible while I was in America for 9 weeks during the summer.
5. Had my heart officially stolen by the children of Cambodia.
6. I ran a half marathon around Angkor Wat.
7. I learned enough Khmer to carry on conversations with people (and I am still learning!).
8. I celebrated my Grandpa's 85th birthday with him. I love you, Grandpa.
9. I made many great friends, said good-bye to many wonderful friends, and welcomed new friends into my life.
10. I purchased a motorbike and joined the chaos of the streets in the Penh.

I feel like this list is terribly inadequate in trying to share a glimpse of my life. So many things have happened, and God has been faithful through it all. He never changes. And, I am excited to see what He has up His sleeve for 2011.