One Year

I'm taking a break from skyping with my sister, planning ESL curriculum, and checking facebook to do a bit of reflecting. Despite the fact that it feels alternately like I've just arrived and always lived here, the truth is that I have been in Phnom Penh for 1 year and 8 days (hours and minutes just seem tedious, and really, I'm not keeping track or counting down). Some days, I feel like those 373 days have been the most extraordinary of my life, and other days I still wonder what it would have been like to spend them somewhere else, in a different hemisphere.

I have to remember, though, that I chose this. One year and 10 days ago, I got onto an airplane with three suitcases and a whole lot of fear, with tear stains on my face and a sniffly, red nose, and officially decided that my life would be different. I consider everything up to that point—packing, selling my car, even buying the ticket--to be an unofficial decision.

I gave up on a dispassionate view of poverty and moved in down the street from people who can't fathom the wealth I have. I left behind conversations in which I feel understood and validated, choosing instead to navigate the inconsistencies and frustrations of second languages. I jumped over the international date line, and learned that phone calls are something I treasure, simply because it means that for a few minutes, I am connected to someone on the other side of the world. I left easy friendships for times of solitude, I gave up religion for faith. It's been a weird year.

I was with a friend a few weeks ago, and we were joking about how we can tell who is new to Cambodia and who has been here for awhile. She remarked, "It's all those people who step off the plane so ready to change the world, sure that they are going to turn everything around." We laughed and agreed it took about six to eight weeks for reality to intrude and these people to realize that it's simply not that easy. Of course, that initial optimism is something inherent in all of us working in ministry here... it's only the expression that dies out. We harbor the hope-- secretly--that what we are doing is making a difference, that the aches and pains in our souls (and sometimes bodies) are a part of something bigger, better, and transformative. For the most part, it is. That is why we stay.

I've turned down marriage proposals (made half in jest) and become comfortable with being the object of fascination. I learned how to make rice in a rice cooker, and that bread goes moldy in about 3 days here. I've explored the healing power of American snack food, and marveled at how many tasty fruits God made (Eve was clearly tempted by a mango). I am used to seeing far more temples than churches, to the smell of incense instead of air freshener, and the sound of horns honking and monks chanting. I have hated and loved Cambodia, been exhilarated and frustrated by it. In other words, I have lived here.

The experiences have changed me-- how could they not? Yet, I am not sure the time is right to mark those changes, to declare myself wholly altered. It has, after all, only been one year. A year so fraught with change that I've woken up in the night wondering where my good friends are and why I haven't seen them in so long. A year in which I have realized that the faces and smiles of my coworkers and (new) friends are so inexpressibly precious to me that I wondered if I could leave them behind; at the very least, I discovered I will never forget them. A year of struggle and triumph, of transition and tears, a year in which I never quite knew where my heart was. A year which has ensured that the rest of my life will look different-- though just how is still not clear.

I've done something I thought was impossible, which was leaving. Then I did something even more unlikely, which was staying. And I didn't break or fall apart, lose my mind or my senses. I grew to love Cambodia, for its beauties, in spite of (perhaps because of?) its faults, and certainly due to the potential here. I love how Cambodia has cared for me, nurtured me into a new worldview, how it is a place that God had planned for my life, even if I didn't know it 3 years ago. I love how God has demonstrated His sovereignty, His power, His love and even His purposes for me here. I love who He’s made me to be—and that He’s put me here to be that person.

373 days. Sometimes I still feel the way I did on that first day, when I wrote in my journal, “I can’t believe that this morning, I woke up in Cambodia.” I can’t believe that I am part of something bigger, better, and transformative—and that that something is my life.



After hanging out in ancient temples, walking through markets filled with wooden statues, and watching people sacrificing and worshipping false gods, I can't seem to shake this scripture from my mind.

"All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing? He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy. The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint.

The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man's fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it.

Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire." From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god."

They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, "Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?"

"Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you." -- Isaiah 44: 9-22

I think that sums it up better than anything I can think to say.



Too often, I think about what "the church" should be, or how the church isn't what it could be. There's lots of people who've been hurt by church, who don't understand it, who don't know it. But over the last couple of days, I've remembered why I love the church:

1. The church can be poor. It does not have to be a financial powerhouse. My church in Cambodia is small. It ran on $9,000 last year, and gave away $2000 of that in outreach. My pastor does not receive a salary, and while we currently under-give as a body, God provides each month for what the church needs to keep running. This week, we were able to be thankful that one of the Cambodian women in my church got a good job with an international school that will enable her to give. Her testimony was especially moving as only a few months ago, she was out of work and feeling quite hopeless about the situation.

2. The church is global. Last week, we had a pretty serious tragedy impact our staff and volunteers-- a traffic accident that killed two, wounded many, and (briefly) imprisoned the driver (one of the staff members I totally admire). The response in prayer and giving from American churches has been overwhelming. It is such a great reminder that we are not alone in Cambodia, but others are walking with us... even in the midst of tremendous suffering.

3. The church is active. In the midst of this tragedy, we have heard stories of how volunteers and Cambodian church members have been praying continuously and even traveled some distance (on meager budgets) to encourage and uplift those who are injured. They are truly ministering to those who are in need, even when it requires sacrifice.

I think this issue is doubly relevant as tomorrow I will embark with my siblings to Siem Reap, home to Cambodia's famous Angkor Wat temple (along with many others-- including one featured in Tomb Raider). Climbing over these ruined temples, forgotten and collapsing religious sites of years ago, I will remember that the church I am a part of is--first and foremost--alive. It isn't held in place by a building, a statue, or two hundred tons of stone. No, it is outward-focused, relevant to everyday struggles, and in pursuit of something precious. Despite the fact that it can be broken, sinful, and selfish, the church is trying. Just like its members.



Deanna (my roommate) just yelled to me that the current temperature is 91 degrees, and with the humidity, it feels like 107 (literally. She found it on a website). With the fan blowing on me, I've cut a little of the heat away, but I can tell it's likely building up to a heavy rain in a couple of hours. When that happens, it will be nice and cool. Until then, my hair is up and I am in a tank top and shorts (not okay for outside, but definitely okay at home), drinking a lot of water.

Why, you might ask, was Deanna yelling to me, when I am approximately 5 feet away from her (though, technically, in the other room)? Well, the daughter of my landlords is getting married tomorrow, which means that today is the cho rho, or blessing by the monks. The family comes to this portion of the event, and they have put up pink and gold cloths all over their house, to welcome guests and bless the couple. There is also music and singing blaring through the house from a loudspeaker set up outside.

There is a huge tent in front of the house where they will place tables for the meal tomorrow, and for the ceremony in the morning. The festivities will probably begin around 4:30 or 5 in the morning, with a procession of fruit at about 7. Then, while Deanna and I are at work, they will do the actual ceremony, with lots of breaks for eating. I've been invited to the evening meal, which starts at about 4:30. The Khmer have a much different approach to weddings than in the US. Whereas we come up with budgets and guest lists based on what we can afford, they invite as many people as possible, and no gifts are accepted. They want cash. So my invitation is quite strategic on their part. Even though I live upstairs, they don't know me very well. However, they know I have money, and they are expecting a pretty big gift (at least $20). The goal is to have the cash gifts cover the cost of the wedding, with whatever is left over used to make purchases (say, a new motorbike?) the couple needs.

It is going to be an interesting two days. We'll be going to bed early, in preparation for our 4:30 wake up call. Oy. To my knowledge, this is the last unmarried daughter.

In other news, the countdown is on. In t-minus 5 days, my brother and sister will arrive in Cambodia for 2 weeks. They are the first in a string of visitors lasting until approximately August. When they leave, a friend from college is coming for a couple days, a summer intern should arrive in that time frame as well, and during the first week of June, our summer ESL teams begin arriving. This means lots of trips to the airport for me (not too bad, since there's a Dairy Queen at the Phnom Penh airport... and when it's 107 degrees, ice cream is a pretty good thing). I'm excited to have friends and family here, and the prep is underway for all the teams. It is always interesting to see people's first impressions of Cambodia, especially now that I have been here for so long. Things I have started to take for granted regularly surprise or shock visitors. It reminds me to keep things in perspective and to continually examine Cambodia with fresh eyes to better serve those here for a short time.

So that's "the happs" on this side of the world. With the dulcet tones of wedding music in my ears, I'm off to find more ways to cool off. This might mean relocating to an air conditioned location. I'm also wondering where I can find ear plugs here.



So I've started and stopped 3 different posts in the last two weeks, and all because I got distracted while writing. The remedy? You get two pictures of things I find funny in Cambodia.

Exhibit A:

Yes, he's riding on the roof! We don't see that as much anymore (for awhile it was outlawed), but during Khmer New Year last month, it was not uncommon to see 5 or 8 people riding on top of a van, headed to the province. Not all of them, like this gentleman, are napping, though!

Exhibit B:

This is the friendly neighborhood ice cream man! Okay, really, he's selling shaved ice. He "shaves" the ice on a metal board on the top of the bike, puts it in a cup, flavors it, puts a stick in it, and hands it to the kids. They were eating green and purple ices when we were there. I have no idea what flavors those are... but probably not apple and grape. Could be anything (they have corn flavored ice cream in the market. Yum.).

Also, happy International Labour Day!