Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Siem Reap

My faculty advisor for HNGR, Dr. Emily Langan came to do a check up visit this week. We went up to Sien Reap for 2 days to get away from Phnom Penh for a little while. Siem Reap is the home of the famous Angor wat temple ruin, along with hundreds of other temples and attractions. It was a trip full of stunning beauty and crazy adventures. 
You know it's going to be a good day when you see elephants. 

The temple ruins were full of stacks of huge, beautifully chiseled stones. I kept thinking that if my dad had been there, he would have made me try to slip one of the boulders into my purse to take back home for his global rock collection. So I at least got a picture of the beautiful stones for him. As we explored, I couldn't help but feel like I was stomping around on museum artifacts. 

The beautiful view of Angkor wat from Phnom Bakheng temple in Angkor at the top of a mountain Friday night. 

Dr. Langan and I at Phnom Bakheng

Waiting to see the sun set over Angkor. But they kicked us out soon after.

In front of Angkor wat

 Inside Angkor wat--the walls of the outer courtyard are covered in bask relief murals of various historical/ religious scenes that are incredibly detailed and extensive. It is kind of like a game of "Where's Waldo" or "I spy" to figure out the key characters and what is going on/

Dragon and rider in one of the historical battle scenes...reminded me of Tyler and his collection of dragon pictures from all over the world. So here's the Cambodian one for him. 

The original steps up to the top of the tallest/middle Angkor wat tower. So this is for Megan, who likes going for those dangerous jogs. Imagine these stair-climbs every morning! 

Angkor wat tower

This guy was coming right at me. No fear. Reminded me of Jordan. That's his wrestling pose. And he would have been just as happy wrestling with the monkeys as looking at the temples. 

Bayon Temple in Angkor Tom was full of repeated faces of the king who had commissioned the temple. Wherever you looked, you would suddenly realize he was peering out of the stone at you with that sly smile. So this is for Alanna, who I know would have been just as creeped out as I was by the faces all around staring me down, and we would have laughed at the egotistical king as we took off running from his evil grin. 
I couldn't stop her. She had to go for the kiss. Even in the rain. 

Baphuon temple was going to be restored around 1970, so it was taken apart piece by piece. Then the Khmer rouge happened and the restoration had to come to a halt, leaving the temple in hundreds of thousands of pieces for decades. When the country was at peace once again, the workers returned to the job, only to find that the Khmer rouge had destroyed their careful record of which stone went where. For Gerson, the game-lover in the family, imagine this, a 300,000 piece puzzle involving pieces that weigh a ton and are historically protected artifacts. It's slowly being pieced together by historians and archaeologists. 

Our dedicated tuk-tuk driver/ tour guide/ buddy Saveth. 

Some of the temples (like this isolated one in the middle of the jungle called Ta nei) were more ruin than temple. It was a lot of fun crawling around in these places, but seemed a little perilous at times. 

Ta Prohm is a temple that has been somehow taken over by several giant trees and their monstrous root structures. Nature seems to be taking back what man has made in an awesome, breathtaking way. 

These places were just magical. They reminded me of fantastic places like Minas Tirith or Car Paravel that I had pictured in my mind as my mom read me those stories as a child, so this one's for her. It was a fabulous trip with a wonderful professor. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

An old Friend

What happens when you combine revolutionary politicians of Burma, old school rockers from Ireland, and a rapper from the streets of Chicago?

Here is my deep dark confession that most people already know about: I love Lupe Fiasco. I love most of his raps and even his newspaper columns. This column describes what would have been a magical night for a celebration of human rights, when the lady herself, Aung San Suu Kyi, was finally allowed to leave her house arrest and receive the Nobel Peace Prize she had been awarded on the year I was born. The event featured many heroes, including Bono.  In the article, Fiasco puts into words the all-too-common feeling of being a misfit in this generation, but then the realization that he was not the only badass at that event.

Check it out.

I hadn't listened to music in a long time, but early this morning, as the roosters and moto engines called me to rise, but my body begged me not to, I burrowed the earbuds deep into my ears, shut out the world for just a few minutes, and became reacquainted with some old friends. Sometimes that's just what I need after a tough few weeks.

Here's Lupe's manifesto written for his Lasers album.

Ok, the blog wouldn't be a true representation of myself if I didn't mention Bono and Lupe Fiasco at least once. That all. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012


We have all been there, or at least all of us that made it past age 12: The teens. Even after getting through those troublesome years, we still have to interact with teenagers in various ways throughout our life, perhaps as punishment for the problems we caused others when we ourselves were teenagers. Personally, I find a certain joy in hanging out with teenagers, and it was only 2 years ago that I was one of them myself. I remember working with young teens as an older teen in high school when I helped lead a middle school youth group. 

There's a lot of energy there. (You never know when two boys might run at each other with pillows and knock a tooth out). There's a lot of hormones (you never know when a bus full of middle schoolers will turn into a giant game of truth-or-dare, which then turns into kiss-or-kiss). Do you remember the teen years? There's always pain and excitement, competition, and deep friendship, foreign odors and foreign emotions, and, of course, lots of drama in the locker room. 

But what about teenagers living in a village in a developing country? I have attended several of the World Relief sessions for teenagers in these villages, and while these programs are very different from the youth group I helped lead, and the students are a world away from the teenagers I know, in the end, teens are teens.

The World Relief Teenage Mobilization for Life program consists of several groups of 2-4 teachers traveling out from each provincial base to a different village every day to teach on a certain topic and fellowship with the youth in the village. The staff repeats the same lesson in a different community each day, and then returns to the same villages the next week with a new life lesson and biblical principle to share.

Because many of these teens deal with intense social, familial, emotional, and health pressures, the curriculum for these programs reflects this intensity, while still bringing a message of hope and joy with these warnings. Depending on the day, the students may learn about and discuss HIV/ AIDS and other STDs, families and friendships, abstinence before marriage, money management, self-awareness, acceptance of differences, alcohol, drugs, peer pressure, difficult working situations, wise choices, human trafficking dangers, violence, and commitment to their spouse and family. They are just kids, but many of them are getting married or preparing to do so, facing issues of providing and caring for a family, or struggling to avoid the trap of trafficking and harsh work conditions. Some are also learning the hard way about health and social issues related to sex and drugs. These lessons are always integrated with Biblical stories and principles.  I can't imagine how physically exhausting the job must be, but the emotional exhaustion of teaching such heavy topics to a very vulnerable demographic would be even more difficult than the physical labor. 

On a warm afternoon in mid-July, ten teenagers gathered from one of the communities to a typical session held in  Kandal province. They chatted with each other, and made crafts, while their leaders, Yamat and Soheng, circled the village on their motorcycles to greet and gather more students. The road to the village can get a little rough.

There were some obstacles in the way, that made us ditch the motorcycles and carry on by foot, but we made it eventually. 

Soheng provided crafts and games and led them in a time of singing, and Yamat followed this time with the lesson. Both leaders were visibly overflowing with love for their students, and the students reciprocated with fond respect. Yamat shared a story about a family and their struggles, and taught about the importance of being a good, faithful husband or wife, as well as being helpful children and loving parents. He spoke about the many problems that single-mothers have to face and the problems related to sex before marriage, using diagrams, questions, and sincere explanations. He then commended each student one by one, and allowed them to declare their commitment to a life of purity, fidelity, and wisdom. 

Later that day, as the leaders waved goodbye, gave their final bows of respect, and pulled away on their motos, Yamat explained his passion in more depth: “I love teaching the teenagers through World Relief. Because I love Cambodia and the people of Cambodia. I know that I can help the teenagers through my teaching. It makes me happy to commend them to be good parents and teach them about health and abstinence and Jesus Christ, and they can learn to be good people.” He has an acute perception of the issues in the world of a teenager, and desires to address these head-on. “I tell my students that drugs are bad for them, and I teach them about Jesus Christ, and they believe me. And now they can teach their friends about it.” He follows the curriculum that all of the teenage teachers developed together, but also adds elements based on the needs of his particular groups. Yamat is worried about a few of his students who have decided to leave home and go to Thailand to find work, and wants to educate them about working conditions, trafficking traps, and family values, urging them to stay near their families a little longer.

Yamat has a special affinity towards teenagers, because his story of transformation began at that age. When he was 16 and came to know Jesus Christ, Yamat was part of a firmly Buddhist family who did not take to his decision warmly. His father found out about this change, and told Yamat that he would beat him if he ever went to church, but Yamat still wanted to go. His father then told him that he would kill him if he went to church. His father was so angry and saw this rejection of the family religion as a rejection of the family and culture. Yamat was frightened, but still could not suppress his love for Jesus. There was something very special about Christ's holiness that drew him towards Jesus despite the outside influences trying to keep him away. He desperately wanted to follow Him and learn more about Him. He would secretly meet up with pastors and other Christians outside of church to learn about God. 

Some of Yamat's family members are now Christians. Although Yamat cannot go to a Sunday service because his weekends are busy studying to be a teacher at a university all the way in Phnom Penh, and his week is full of work for World Relief, he and his Christian family members go to services when they can, and worship God together in their home.

Despite the fullness and intensity of this program, all of the teenage teachers attack their work with a passion and love that are dripping with God's blessing and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of this program are visibly present in the joy on the faces of teenagers who's lives are transformed by their promise to be faithful spouses, wise decision-makers, safe consumers, and devoted followers of Christ. 

The teenage program goes beyond teaching these teenagers, and empowers them to become leaders themselves. Through the Bong-P'oan (big sibling- little sibling) program, the teenagers learn about important issues that must be addressed and younger members of the community are then entrusted to their teaching and care. The teenagers are given the opportunity to experience responsibility and solid relationships through this process as they become educators, mentors, and guardians for smaller kids. This effects the children as they learn about health and social issues, as well as the adults who see this good example of love and unity within their village. This is the Bong-P'oan training at the Kandal headquarters. 

The leaders of the teenage program at World Relief face each day with compassion for the heartache faced by the youth of Cambodia, and humor to relate to and become one with them. Their passion is contagious, and spreads from the staff to the teenagers, and, in turn, to the communities around them, portraying a beautiful picture God's ability to work through individuals and to penetrate a land of devastation with hope, bringing smiles to weary faces and love to desperate souls.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Moringa--"The Tree of Life"

I have never been very botanically inclined. In fact, plants seem to wither when I come near to them, but I have just learned about one of the most interesting plants I have encountered. It goes by many names, including "tree of life," and "mother's best friend," but here it is called moringa. This cite describes some of it's health benefits, going as far as to call it the "super food."

Moringa is a plant in Cambodia that people are starting to disperse and eat with their food. It does not taste very good, but it contains an unbelievable amount of vitamins and nutrients in each small pod. World Relief is starting to have pastors and other groups farm this plant to bring in an income or mercy fund for the churches, and to help with problems of malnutrition in Cambodia. 

On Sunday, a man was describing to me how to prepare and consume moringa. Apparently it is very bitter, but good with honey. It is so powerful, that it will dry out your mouth and make you feel dizzy and nauseas the first time you try it. You may even feel sick the first week or so of daily consumption. But after eating it for a while, it will result in a much more healthy and energetic life. The man concluded: “It may be very small, and tastes bad, and you can't see results for a long time, BUT it can save lives. It helps the pastors to support themselves, but it also helps the people who eat it.”

It's crazy how powerful the little buggers are. As the man described their function to me, I had two strange mental reactions: 1: Isn't God amazing that he would create something so powerful, stored up in a tiny pod that could be released like an explosion of health? I always thought of plants as kind of lame. (Maybe you still think they are lame). But this was like the white tiger of plants. The beastliest beat there ever was. It is so life-giving. Isn't God amazing?

Secondly, I couldn't help but relate this plant to all of my hopes for my HNGR internship, and even my life as a whole. What I am doing in the world seems so small in the face of all that is happening. Sometimes it is bitter, sometimes sweet. Right now, as I establish my footing here, it's making me feel a little dizzy. But I have hope that greater things will come. I hope, like moringa benefiting both pastor and consumer, that my time can be a time of growth in my heart as well as a shower of God's love on others. Even faith as small as a moringa pod can be potent enough to explode in your mouth, give nutrients to the malnourished, create income for the struggling pastors, and maybe even move mountains. It's not a beautiful plant. It's not a tasty plant. At first glance, it's a fairly useless plant, but within it contains a power that it not its own. It comes from God, and it goes to the people in need. 

Maybe this is just a crazy story about a plant. (I think eating eggs with the baby chick still inside and spiders and snails and fruits that taste like diapers is getting to my head!) But at any rate, my prayer for all of you is that the bitterest, ugliest moments you may be encountering right now would be able to eventually stop making you dizzy, but give you the power and peace you need to face tomorrow. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Poverty of Spirit

I have been encountering very physical, tangible poverty around me for the past few weeks, but recently I was reading the Beatitudes and I was struck by the truth of Jesus' words, which can apply to those of any social status. “Blesses are the poor in spirit,” he said, the spiritually impoverished. Blesses are those with weaknesses, vulnerabilities, fears, failures, and frailties. They don't have to be financial, in fact, many people in fully developed countries with satisfactory incomes experience spiritual poverty.

When Paul complained about one of his weaknesses and short-comings, God replied “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). What if we truly believed this? What if we lived with the joy that our weaknesses are vessels of God's perfection?

We tend to take our images, photoshop them within an inch of their lives, and send out this highly edited version of ourselves to press each morning for public consumption. Social networks (this blog is no exception), are a perfect medium for selectively displaying yourself to the world without being real. We start to believe the facebook profile of our lives, instead of the real thing. We live under a myth that we are competent, but this myth only serves to further isolate us from community and from God. Think about it—the more we are willing to let others see our flaws, the more time we spend with them and investment in them, and they will reciprocate. But when we do not allow others to see our true selves, we become more and more separated from them. Life becomes a holiness competition, which basically resembles two siblings fighting over who's toys are cooler, when they all came from the parents and were intended for sharing. 

Holiness is a gift that is imparted to us within a community. It is not a status created by our behaviour in contrast to our community. Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together about sin and confession: “Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen in the midst of the most pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.”

This fear of exposing sin can happen in the midst of pious settings, (such as a Christian college, or a Christian NGO), perhaps even especially in these settings. We are afraid of the judgement of the “holy” believers around us, not wanting to contaminate the apparent perfection, and therefore, we hide in our sin and guilt, contaminating the community in a deep and unseen way. We are pretenders.

We dare not admit limitations. We dare not be broken. Recognizing our brokenness, and even going further to confess it to others, requires an attitude of humility for individuals and gracious forgiveness in a community. It is not a monologue, it is a conversation of the sinfulness of each of us and forgiveness that we are all able to show because God's forgiveness is so vast. I know I have struggled to be open about my sins and struggles all the time, partly because I am intimidated by piety around me, and partly because of my own reservation and isolation, but the more individuals willing to honestly open up, the easier it will be for others to drag themselves out of isolation as well.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those willing to see themselves as broken, sinful, weak, clinging in desperate dependence to a saviour. Blessed are those who mourn, those who outwardly express the inward state of grief and dissatisfaction in their hearts. With this expression of emotions, people can find healing in the group around them.

To own our own form of poverty, to embrace the blessing of the poor in spirit, means to come before the mighty God with our brokenness, knowing how deep is love is, how vast his forgiveness is, and how his power is made perfect in our weakness. Can we be both saints and sinners at the same time? Can we be in spiritual poverty, but still be blessed? Maybe, in this upside-down kingdom that Jesus came to announce. Only the admittedly broken can most perfectly apprehend the mystery, the meaning, the all-surpassing sufficiency of God's grace.
Ok, that's the end of my ramblings that don't have much to do with anything...but really have a lot to do with everything. Peace and love. Marisa

Sunday, July 1, 2012

When I Think "Tyler"

When I think “Tyler,” I think:
Crazy and genius,
daiku-san and oisha-san,
Caregiver, Caretaker
Carefree, and Careful.

When I think “Tyler,” I think:
Big hands and tiny paper dinosaurs,
Big heart for tiny rodents,
Big laughs at Tiny Timmy,
Big dreams in tiny notebooks.

When I think Tyler, I think:
Silent brooding thoughts
Exploding sound effects,
Unravelling plots
Weaving stories,
Shy with the ladies,
With a dang good woman by his side.

A warrior and a peacemaker,
A pyro and a poet.
A man of paradox.
A man of integrity.

When I think “Tyler,” I think “love.”

...Today he turns 26, so give him a holla!