Sunday, October 28, 2012

On Mothers

I want to say something about how amazing mothers are, but I’m not sure where to start. The Khmer word for “mother” madai sounds a lot like madtayh, the word for “red hot chili pepper.” I think that’s a good place to start.  

A couple of weeks ago, I came down with a tiny little cold. Mala immediately prescribed me with a bucket of hot water for my feet and a thermos full of hot water with slices of ginger and lime stuffed in there. The concoction was rather pungent, but I was grateful nonetheless. It reminded me of the honey-lemon-ginger tea my own mother makes for me when I have a cold. Mala has also given me a lot of relationship and life advice, (half of which I understood, and some of which I can follow). She gave me a head massage when I head a headache, and held my hair back when I was puking my brains out into a plastic bag. On rainy days, she brings an extra raincoat to work, because she knows I will probably forget mine, and she makes sure I am full (all the time). She inspires me with her stories and her joyful, compassionate attitude. She reminded me to be thankful for my family. She grew up without one, but I have the best one in the world. 

The maternal mortality rate is high here, and many children grow up without a mother. Even when the mothers are alive, desperation and skewed social systems often cause mothers to neglect their children as they have to go off and work, or they force their children to stand in the roads to beg, or even sell their daughters to brothels. I'm thankful for a loving mother as I look around and see the what poverty can do to the sanctity of motherhood.

I was inspired recently by the story of Mu Sochua, member of parliament and the first female secretary general of a political party in Cambodia, defender of women's rights to the point that she has been threatened with imprisonment, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and mother of 3. Below is a letter she wrote after being threatened by the government for her actions.

As I Walk to Prison--Mu Sochea

Over the years, I have had many wonderful “mothers” who have taken care of me and encouraged me, whether they be the parents of friend, aunties, or college roommates. But none of them have been so great as THE mother:

The one who came to my cross country meets, rain or shine, and stood at the top of gut hill screaming for me to run faster, and then when I reached the top, she would race through the forest to scream as I crossed the finish line...

The one who was on stage when I walked across in my big-girl heels to receive a high school diploma, and gave me a big, teary hug...

The one who always danced along to the terrible music I blasted while she cooked up a feast, even after a hard day of work...

The one who edited essay after essay, listened to me blast my trumpet, and read to me about fantastic kingdoms as I fell asleep...

The one who I call when I am upset, or have a funny story to share, or just need to bounce ideas off of someone, even at age 21, even across the ocean...

The one who…well…birthed me...

And the one who encourages me through the hard times and taught me about standing up for justice and peace and love in this world that sometimes seems to be torching the very mention of those words.

(She also held my hair back for many a puke-fest). 

Mama’s birthday was October 3. Mala’s birthday was October 10. It’s a little late for both of them, but I'm declaring October International Mother's Month. 

If you're reading this, take a moment to be thankful for your mother. Lose the excuses. Do it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


       October 11: On the field with a staff member named Seyha, (pictured below with the backpack). Seyha works for the Mobilization adult ministry team at World Relief, teaching about health, the Bible, and social issues, and holding HIV support groups, for community development.  
       When he was young, Seyha wanted to be a teacher, but his parents forced him to study psychology at university. At first he resented it, but now that he has graduated, (and has worked as a teacher for various development organizations), he appreciates the skills and knowledge gained from psychology classes, saying that understanding research and the way people think and feel helps him when teaching adults and leading support groups. 

        This is one of the cell groups that we visited. Seyha reviewed with the group about the moringa plant, which we all munched on as he talked. (Moringa pods taste kind of like having a sock full of cigarette butts, soaked in honey, shoved in your mouth). He moved on to talk about how HIV/AIDS can be contracted. This village has previously been very scornful of people living with HIV in the past, but the people are slowly learning the reality of how it is contracted and spread. The people were very attentive and kept asking hypothetical questions that I had never considered. "What if a mosquito bites someone with AIDS and then land on my open wound and I smash it and the blood gets on me?" "What if someone with AIDS is cooking and cuts themself and then I eat the food?" etc. They kept asking me if I knew the answers. They asked me "What should we do about the man in our village who also has AIDS, but refuses to accept it? We go to him, but he is always drunk and angry and doesn't want our help or support." Sometimes all I can say is "pray," even if not all of the people in the group are Christians. Even if praying doesn't seem like enough. 

        When they found out I was in university, they were all amazed. One woman finally said, "None of us knows how to read or write, so we are all ashamed." That made me so sad. I told them, "When I came to Cambodia, I didn't know any Khmai, and just last week, I confused the word king with the word for peanut!" They all laughed. The conversation somehow turned to all of my embarrassing stories, which are plentiful. These people are so skillful--they know which fruits are good and how to crack them open, and can build houses or sew clothes by hand, and yet they are trapped in a system of illiteracy, and even shame. I didn't want them to be ashamed of their poverty or illiteracy. 

      At this group, I met Yen Mon (below, left). She has 5 daughters, which is difficult to manage in Cambodia culture, especially with a sick husband, (I think he has cancer). Her oldest daughter got married and had four children in a four year span, but her husband left her. Now Yen takes care of her grandchildren while her daughters work in factories. She said, "I used to be afraid of HIV, But because of what I learned from the teachers, I know I cannot contract it that easily. Now I am more afraid of cancer. But I also know that because of God, I don't have to fear anything." 

      In another village, I met Pola (who didn't want her picture taken). Pola had AIDS, and was very weak. She was delighted to tell me that her daughter had gotten married and moved to France, although she missed her. She wondered if I was French, and had maybe seen her daughter. Pola is extremely poor. Her husband died of AIDS 4 years ago, leaving her with the condition. For a while, the people in the village hated her—they wouldn’t come near her or let their children near her children because they were afraid of HIV. They associated her condition with immorality. It is often related to unfaithfulness, (which is probably how her husband got it,) but Pola was always faithful. The village has become a little less scornful, but she still feels a lot of emotional weight from having AIDS. But she doesn't feel the need to join a group or find a new religion. She just keeps to herself, and lets the WR staff come visit if they want to. 

     At another group, I met Chul (above). She is a village matriarch/ cell group leader. She says she has been around long enough to see  the work of other NGOs and the cycle of WR leaders. She is hopeful about the direction her village is moving in. They are less discriminatory about HIV/AIDS and more open to the gospel and working together as a community. Chul loves to read her Bible and learn about God. She says she is not a fast reader, but she has worked her way all the way from Genesis to Revelations. Her favorite passages are “I am the way, the truth and the life,” in John, and “Have I not commanded you be strong and courageous,” in Joshua.  Chul suffers from problems with her teeth. It may seem like a small thing, but it gives her a lot of pain in her whole head and she can't afford to give it much medical attention. The drugs that a doctor gave her only made her throw up.  Pray for wisdom as she leads her village and healing in her teeth. 

           Seyha loves World Relief, but has dreams of someday starting a Khmer-run NGO for victims of emotional trauma like the Khmer Rouge, trafficking, or gang violence. He wants to make an NGO with integrity of purpose and practice, "from Cambodia to Cambodia." He is an extremely hard worker. There are a few other staff members with similar dreams and desires to serve God and their country, but without the practical skills of forming proposals and reports for their NGOs. So they asked me to hold teaching sessions for them on Saturdays, sacrificing their one their day off, (because many have ministries on Sundays), so that they can learn how to write English reports and proposals for their NGOs. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pchum Ben (National Holiday)

I had Monday-Wednesday off work for a Buddhist holiday in Cambodia, so I went with some friends to the riverside city of Kampot and the nearby coastal city of Kep. 

Kampot is a cute little town, proud of it's giant durian fruit statue in the center of the city. 
We wandered around along the riverside, which is famous for the street vendors who make fresh fruit smoothies. 

Our multi-course street-food dinner was delicious. 

From Kampot, we took a tour of Bokor mountain to see the mountains and ruins 

An abandoned church

Inside the church

A Buddhist temple on the mountain

The temple on the edge of a cliff--had an amazing view
Hannah and I 

The kids were getting pretty excited about something in that truck...

...It was monkeys

We climbed around (and into) a beautiful waterfall

Monument for "Grandma Mao," said to be protector of travelers and give good luck

We went on a boat ride along the river and made friends with the driver's little daughter. 

One night in a bungalow on the beach on Rabbit Island

Trekking through the jungle

Kayaking into open sea from Kep

Our island

Yet another beautiful sunset as we made our way back to the docks

 Cave exploration on our trip back. 

It was straight-up Indy Jones stuff

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Proud Day for Banan

My host-dad has been studying at university while pastoring our church. On October 11, he graduated with a degree in Computer Science!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Come "Cham" With Me

            Feeling on the cusp. You know the feeling I’m talking about? When you’re on the verge of discovering or understanding or reaching something new, but you don’t know quite what? God is there, so very real, right beside you, above you, inside you. He’s speaking, or about to speak, as he struggles to unplug your ears. He has his arms wrapped around you in a protective shield, which is also a disciplining constraint…which is also a loving embrace. You don’t know whether to squirm your way out or to dive deeper in. You’re afraid to unplug your ears, because you know He might ask you to do something you can’t, or don’t want to do, or don’t fully understand.
What if He requires you to be vulnerable and submissive? Or worse: What if He requires you to be powerful and authoritative and maybe even disliked by others? Have I surrendered everything to Him? No. Deep down inside, do I even want to? Have I given the kind of offering that is pleasing to God, or just the runts of my flock, the scraps at my table, and the spare minutes before I drift off to sleep?
Questions fill my mind lately. I know He is with me no matter which direction I walk in, but I can’t help but worry that I’m hopping on a boat bound for Tarshish and kissing Ninevah goodbye with a sheepish smile and some earplugs. As I find myself falling more and more in love with Jesus here, I think I'm in the right place. But what's next? I don’t know where to step yet, so the only thing I can do is wait on the Lord. Cham. The khmer word “cham” means both wait and remember. I think this is just a coincidental language thing. Nevertheless, the connection is interesting to me.
When I think of a period of waiting, one of the first things that comes to my mind are airport layovers and flights--full of motion, yet overwhelmingly still. The stillness isn’t stagnant, however, but very purposeful. Generally, the first half of my journeys across the pacific are spent thinking about what I’m leaving behind, and the second half is dedicated to excitement for what lies ahead. I LOVE traveling, but airplanes are one of my least favorite places to be in the whole world, especially if it means sitting next to a flirtatious, sweaty, tank-of-a-guy, or convincing my ADD mind to stay put for 12 hours. Waiting is hard. But it can also be a time off strange clarity and reflection.   
When the Old Testament says things like “Wait for the Lord; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14), it’s talking about more than becoming a spiritual bean-bag chair. It means looking hopefully and expectantly towards the future. Humans are such impatient creatures. I always think I have a shortcut, or better things to do. I want to mess around in the cockpit or parachute to the ground before reaching the destination, or else just not get on the plane at all. Waiting requires confidence, faith that we are going somewhere and that destination is better than any country delta airlines flies to. 
Waiting involves action and engagement in the process of change and renewal. This aspect actually reminds me of when I was a camp counselor and would take a group of middle-school girls river rafting. I would tell them all to help paddle, but for the most part, I had to sit in the back controlling the raft the whole time, as their paddles swung around flinging water into the raft and tipping us towards rocks. I think sometimes God lets us paddle, not because He is unable, but in order to give us the opportunity. However, it’s comforting to know that when the boat starts careening through the rapids, we can look back and see that He has been sovereign the whole time.
            I think waiting on the Lord might also involve remembering. Cham. We know we can trust in Him to be faithful, because He always has been. We know His timing is perfect, because when we look back on our lives, the pieces start to come together under His plan. Reading through the narrative of Israel, followed by multiple stages of Judgment and prophets, is one big story of how God continuously does great things for His people, but gets freaking outraged at them, because they keep. On. Forgetting. But He is faithful time and time again. A lot of the problems in the Biblical times, as well as now, are related to forgetting what God has done in the past, or doubting what He can do in the future. We don’t cham. We don't remember God's faithfulness and we don't wait for his reconciliation. 
Hosea 12:6 says to wait on the Lord continually. Could it be that we should always be living our lives on the cusp? After all, what is this life if not a taste, a foreshadowing, the previews before true greatness? We don’t have to be moving somewhere or changing our life trajectory to live in this mindset of thankful remembrance, and expectant hope, patiently reaching on and on and on, listening for His messages to us.
            Step out onto the cusp with me. Join me in the wait. Waiting on the Lord is no 747 economy ride. It’s not a boring stagnancy or a nerve-wracking plummet. It is leaning on Him and openly listening to His call. It means entering into the turmoil of human experience, but remembering God’s faithfulness, and waiting in hope for His justice. Come Cham with me.