It is Sunday which is truly one of my favorite days anywhere but there is nothing like church in a place where you have heard about their outstanding odds. If 98% of Cambodia are Buddhist I feel like I have been privelaged to meet the … Continue reading Day 17
This trip has been full so many surprising encounters and today will be another proof of that. I always tell people that real ministry is normally seen in funerals and weddings. So today I get to attend a wedding of one my favorite young ladies in Cambodia. I am told they start early so we arrive around 6:40am to the spot which is nearby our hotel. Already there a surprising amount of activity. The bride and groom picture is framed by the gate where we enter to a couple acre property full of decorations. We are welcomed quickly and elevated to the front of the line to see the Bride who looks stunning as I expected. The traditional fruits are brought in and we begin to march down the street holding our offerings for the wedding, mine was oranges. We eat breakfast together and I’m seated with the Father of the Bride. Following that is the ceremony which was very God honoring and sweet. So many of these traditions are foreign to me that I appreciate the simple exchange of vows and rings. Then there is mohori music played by an excellent band with entertainers who immediately notice the vulnerability of the western folks like me. They are surprised when I respond to their Khmer question but eventually they figure out I am kindergaten level in my learning. They make me dance and enjoy the spectacle they make of me. I try to be a good sport because they are really funny and talented. The hair cutting cermony is after this and we are again asked to partake in what seems completely different to me. It is all
worth it for this girl who has been a big part of our life in Cambodia over the past years. We are happy for her and wish the best as we leave for our next destination. We are visiting Kompong Tom with H. E. Thavi Nemh (His excellency) and he has arranged to pick us up at big hotel in Phnom Penh. That is what Cambodia always seems to be, stark contrasts; extreme wealth or destitute poverty, the Aeon Mall or a stilt house at the end of the river where no one has ever visited. The midde class which does exist is harder to find here in the Kingdom of Wonder. We are picked up and speed off down the road for Kompong Tom to visit the Bronze Lake Resort. Our purpose is two fold; to witness the beauty of this place and tell others, and to see the baseball team that Thavi is President over. Our drive which should have taken 3 takes about 2 hours thanks to our efficient driver and the comfortable vehicle (first of the trip I might add) and we arrive safely in Kompong Tom. This province is not touristy at all so the retreat center is unexpected. My first thought was that I had arrived in Jurrasic World minus the Dinosaurs. It is the brainchild of someone with the backing to buy it and the vision to see it through. The resort is a beautiful tapestry of Cambodian plants and trees amid classicly styled Khmer architecture. Tree houses on the lake surrounded by water flunes and eateries encased in rich lush gardens. It is the employer for 70 some employees in the off season and many many more part time vendors and support staff in the on season. It is exactly what I was hoping to see as possible place to retreat with the folks that I do ministry with in the future. It’s a place to getaway and focus in serenity and peace if that is something you want. All of that on top of the only baseball team that Thavi hopes will eventually become a craze in Cambodia. They have many needs for these 15 guys who are age teens to 30’s. They have big dreams for these kind guys who are hoping baseball may be a way out of their simple farm town lives. For a guy who really does not care about sports I do care about the hopeles in Cambodia and I would love to see someone pour into these guys with such tremendous potential. Another cool aspect is that the United States Navy has a troop of Sea Bees touring Cambodia and helping rebuild areas of need. I am proud as a former Navy man myself to see my branch faithfully serving in the country of Cambodia and I am filled with pride for my shipmates! We retire for the evening in our hotel room under a thick pasture of stars in the tranquil night all the while reassured that God is good.
I have been blessed by the friendship of Pastor Dear Souem for several years now. Because of that I like to see what his churches ared doing and how they are growing. In the last couple years he has had a goal to see 1,000 children reached in 5 years. I’m happy to report that they have reached around 300 between the churches that he oversees out in the Battambang province. Today we are visiting two of the churches that I have visited before and one that has just begun. Our team today is Kevin Kane, Daniel Payne, Narith Iv, Toni Roeung, Pastor Souem and myself. We pass by way of large hills which I would call mountains and the huge dam built during the Khmer Rouge in which many suffered and died. Now it is a source of beauty and tranquility with cozy hammocks spread out under the cover of thatch roofs along the shore. We arrive at the first village which already has students learning when we arrive. The children sing for us and we share a bit about us and sing some as well. Toni delivers a lesson to the kids about Joseph from the Bible followed by passing out coloring book sheets. She is a born teacher, you can tell because she is doing so on a retreat away from her normal day job of teaching children. After we give them bread, snack cookies and soda (Tduk Krooit – literally means water orange) and they seem to enjoy it. We are off to the next church which is the main one and the one that Soeum preaches in every Sunday. This church has a busy school and one dedicated teacher who has been there a long time. It’s interesting because there are so many families who have abandoned their children to go work in Thailand or maybe do not return for five years. Either way this community has reached out to these children as a church and as a school who wants them to learn. We share all of our music and messages again with laughing and praising all included. The church is surrounded by big open fields and distance between any other buildings. It’s a big pretty and stark contrast from the streets of a Phnom Penh or even downtown Battambang for that matter. Their needs are a mp3 player with batteries because the teacher admits he is challenged in teaching them but he is the only one who can or is willing to teach. He could use recorded lessons if he had the mp3 player and it would be accurate for the students. I pray that God gives him longevity and faith in himself to be good for the students. We say goodbye and leave for our final stop in the villages. This particular home has been started as one of the many cell groups and become its own church. This place has been untouched by westerners in fact we are the first time many of them have ever seen a westerner. This is the second trip of our mission so far that we have been the first western visitors at. Although they don’t sing the songs we know in Khmer or know Bible stories like the back of their hands one cannot get the feeling of hope that we are reaching the untouched people of the world we talk so much about. I pray that God fertilizes the seed that these good people have started. Maybe in a couple years we can visit and this church will be full of faithful and flourshing believers. As we return on the long and bumpy road we stop in front of the dam to eat under the shelter by the water. Reclining in hammocks and eating on a bamboo mat. We enjoy each other’s company joking and laughing. Once we are back we visit YWAM’s headquarters here in Battambang. They boast an impressive facility with young people of all nationalities learning and being prepared to be sent to the field. I stumble upon my first guitar class in Cambodia. It is very encouraging to see them learning in the same kind of ministry I soon will be doing. Our dinner time will be spent at a restaraunt where I see an old friend from my early years visiting Cambodia who is now working and doing well. It is very refreshing to see her and I end my day encouraged
Today we are again going out into the distant province to minister and serve in the community. I love these kind of treks that give us an opportunity to see the real Cambodia. We go by way of Takhmau and pick up bread again from a local bakery. I get my sesame seed sweet bread and we buy bread for the village by the baguette. We have to take a small ferry boat that pulls up on the side to the dock so it can load up to four vehicles on it, each time moving down as a vehicle loads. This process is enlightening because the Khmer people are so engineering by spirit and will make a way for something to happen. The boat engine is loud and vibrates everything as we cross over the river. Once on the shore we pay and head out to our first church. It’s a small riverside village with much water activity and mohori music playing eloquently in the background. Such a beautiful group of people here teeming in and out from behind the stilt shacks made of bamboo and thatch with an occasional tarp or aluminum sheet roof. The children and families are here expecting to hear the gospel and recieve help by means of rice and bread. We begin our service with introductions, laughs and song followed by a message and gifts to the families. Photo opportunities serve also as proof of a gift here in Cambodia, so we do that as well. Then we have lunch on a bamboo floor about 7 feet above ground, looking down at the folks moving about below us. We eat fish which they brag is organic and natural (from the river, the same river which we later see them bath, brush teeth, and relieve themselves in) alongside a bed of rice and sour soup. This is pretty much customary in the countryside almost like fatback and grits in the south where I’m from. Then we say our thank you’s and goodbyes before boarding a slim wooden boat that will take us ten miles to our next location. Through stilt houses and lotus blooms we zip through the river on our way. It is like a mall for people watching only without, well without any of the material things at all. They are a simple people who fish, eat, work and sleep and not alot else. But it is beautiful to watch and I’m again captivated and in awe and wonder here in the Kingdom of Cambodia. As we trudge up through muck and mud we hop off to hear the loudspeaker of the local monks who have commandeered a tuk tuk and speaker to ride like an ice cream man through the village in search of their alms. Because they are difficult to contact out here the man was unaware that we would be here so he began to summon the group. This was a very different feel, much less experienced with the gospel and quieter. Which led me to believe we were actually reaching a new group, one who needed to feel the hope of Christ. I am handed a naked baby and encouraged to kiss her little cheek as if my kiss has some kind of holy power (it does not!) and then the man takes my hand and rubs it against his own face. All I surmise is that he is thankful we have come and I feel appreciated. We do it all again but this time like I mentioned it is different. We dissappear from the village the same way we came. I leave thankful that they have a pastor who has awareness of their needs and is trying to meet them so very far away in the province.
Staying in Toul Tompong has it’s benefits and one of which is convenient location to things like the market and coffee shops so today I’m determined to have a good americano to energize me for the day from Browns Cafe. Once that is accomplished I can now be excited for the day ahead. We begin the short journey to Arey Khsat which is a ferry boat ride across from my original Cambodia Hotel from the old days. It’s much more developed now than back then of course, but still a special place to me. It’s at a split where Tonle Sap River and the Mekong meet. The ferryboat is full of motos and bicycles mostly maybe a car or tow and our tuk tuk. One man ferociously cleans his face with the water being purged by the boat in his hand, drinking and washing. I don’t know that I’ll ever be that acclamated. I sit and talk with Sokary while Kevin and Daniel go up top. Once we are ashore it’s immediately a rural landscape like we were dropped off in the Battambang outskirts. Dirt streets and vendors occupy the horizon in the view. We arrive at the school where I meet Tony a female teacher who is our friend Nick’s cousin. She is a teacher at the school to 13 preschoolers. I am really enamored by this because my wife would be in her happy place here. We will be giving gifts to the children provided by Nick from the states. After watching class which incidentally would be a great place for me to finesse my Khmer, Kevin introduces me to Tonet their older brother and Chenla the younger brother and Pastor of their church. Both are great guys with vision for their community doing whatever work they can to bring those folks to Christ, and especially focused on men. We distribute the gifts to the children one of which really tore my heart out a little. She was half english and Khmer. When we asked about her parents they said the Dad has another wife in the states and married this woman here and had a child with her. The beautiful little girl who looks American only speaks Khmer. It just really got under my skin that he was a polygamist and taking advantage of the culture but I suppose I will have to bury my divine wrath for now. I did meet the mom who upon talking to her daugter I asked incorrectly “Mdai boh Kyom” or Mother of mine instead of saying “Mdai boh Nyeck.” After I made everyone laugh at my mistake we continued giving gifts. I really like this island, it gives you the benefit of the country with immediate access to the city by taking the ferry. We visit a guesthouse where I could consider staying for the month once I move over and in that time I would be able shop places to rent. It would only cost $300 per month to rent.
Our evening plans are very interesting indeed, dinner with a Senator who used to be a pastor of a church, and who has been very successful in the United States as well. We are invited to a very nice restaraunt to meet him so it is apparently off putting for the workers to see us come out of a tuk tuk with our driver to eat. They kind of brush us off as if we are drifters hanging out as we wait for our host. Once the Senator arrives they are bubbling over with smiles to us as we walk by to our private room to dine. Nothing I’m not used to, I used to get that treatment more when I had long hair in the United States. Our conversation is mainly about baseball which limits my input, the Senator has also become the President of the baseball league in Cambodia and really would like to see it take off. He is inviting and honoring a pastor who has been coming to Cambodia for ages and spreading the gospel here and in the United States. He would like him before his health declines anymore to come and see the work that God has done. If he does come it would be in February and their would be probably 20 churches represented. He has built a baseball park and retreat center which we will visit later in our trip to stay. This sounds like it will be a great place to eventually take students of our ministry to retreat and vision cast. We felt very blessed to have the time with him and he is very helpful. Happy to know that there are Christians in the government in some way.
We had breakfast at Green Pastures with Kevin before heading out the dusty trail to Takhmau. We have been invited to Sattyha and Nimol’s (Kids Club Staff) engagement party. I
have been anxious to do these kinds of regular ministry things while we are on this trip. To me that is what you see lots of in ministry, life happening and you being involved in the daily joys and celebrations. We arrive at Kids Club early before 8:00am and the family is up and getting dressed. There are some westerners that we don’t know staying at the Sath house. It turns out that they are The Trotter family (another missionary in Cambodia, Jonathan Trotter is their older brother) It is one young man named Andrew who is 18, a sister Audrey who is 19 and then twins Jamie and Sarah who are both 21. They have all been involved with the Sath family since before Kids Club was around way back when they were kids themselves. This was a Christmas gift to them from their parents, and one they seem to love, a week in Cambodia with some of the best people. We play games with the boys outside for a while before leaving for the party which is in the same province. Arriving, we meet the Freedom Salon girls and many others as we load in decorated fruit plates from a truck. They will be given as a sort of visual dowry for the brides parents. Sattyha is in a yellow silk jacket with the family under the porch of a wood house which has been converted for this day as a party place. They sit around the fruit and the ceremony begins. After we take photos and meet and spend time together over a meal. In classic form our buddy Poe starts playing dance music and we end the party on the dance floor.
In the afternoon we all load up and take Jonah and Mary all the way into town to see a movie at Aeon Mall (against my will I might add) Theara is enjoying her downtime from work and is just wanting to have fun with friends and family. She has that blurry line like I do where your family and friends are still your job a bit. Nonetheless we enjoy each others company alongside the Trotters.
Our evening will be spent eating Gco la Phnom (Cow eats on the side of the mountain) which is a hot pot that you grill your own food. We are meeting a fellow missionary and his family Luke and Lindsey McFadden. Luke is letting me borrow his local phone for my time here. We arrive at the restuaraunt and the cooking begins. As one of the girls noted we looked so intensely at times as we cooked one might think we were surgeons. We sat on the floor on triangular cushioned mats
where you can never get comfortable. But we laughed and enjoyed our guest the whole time. Nice hearing from Luke about all of their family transitions over the past six months since taking the leap with his young family to move to Cambodia. They are here to serve Rapha House in whatever means needed.
Sounds like a full day already but we have one more party to attend. Barbara Heng (Kalaty’s brother) has invited us to his one year anniversary party at his house. They are calling wondering where we are as we head back from Phnom Penh. We show up and have missed dinner, but we are definitely not hungry. Instead our task is apparently to entertain with silly dance all those wedding classics we have come love. We fill the dance floor with fun until about 10pm when we can fun no more and retire to the hotel, my beloved Tranyka Hotel, for the night.
My last formal evening of ministry at church was Christmas Eve. Than night I was reunited with and old friend, Mikayla Simeral (formerly Winner) She sang a song called “Noel” by Lauren Daigle. The song is powerful and Mikayla delivered it with such intensity. It was my favorite part of Christmas Eve for many reasons. One, I was getting to play music with one of my close friends, whom I did the wedding for this past summer and who now lives in the D.C. area. We have a great history together, she used to lead worship before at our church before I came, but I really had the privelage as her worship leader to see her become all that God had in store for her over the years. Two, the evening was special because it was bittersweet knowing I was leaving and yet I still love these people so much. But lastly, the lyric of the song, “Noel, noel, come and see what God has done.” I am enamored by the wording of that! Come see what God has done. As I stood in the midst that night of some of what God has done it became more obvious that He has more yet to do. You know it is not never easy following Christ, but when you get to sit back in your seat a bit and survey the perimeter you see that it is actually incredible what God can do through simple sinners like us.