Vote Kate!

It's time for a little shameless self-promotion. At the behest of my sister, Liz, I checked out something called "A Month of Stuff..." Her friend, Angela, runs the site, and I signed up thinking it might be fun. The site features interviews with different bloggers, posting the responses of a new person just about every day. And folks, today is my day.

The catch with this "month of stuff" idea is that it isn't just interviews... it's a competition. If you know me "in real life" you know that I hate to lose. Especially when I have the chance to do something about it. To win, I need YOU, dear reader, to support my interview by commenting on the entry. It can be as simple as "Kate is Great!" or a similar statement. However, you'll amuse me and show off for my blog if you come up with something fun. Of course, no pressure. It's the number of comments that count, so you can send others over to help the cause. Voting closes at the end of the month, so time is of the essence! I can promise that the more people who comment, the happier I'll be, and the more often I'll blog in return. So, really, everyone wins.

In sum. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Read this. Comment. Be a winner.

This blog, however, will not self-destruct. In fact, normal reflections should resume sometime soon. Thanks for your support!


Peace Train

Whether or not you are a Cat Stevens fan (or whatever he's calling himself nowadays), a member of the NRA, or a veteran of a foreign war, let's establish something: peace is a good thing. It's a good thing for big nations who have struggling economies, and it's a good thing for small nations that have a history of guerilla warfare, genocide, and political instability. No matter if you are voting Democrat or Republican, a Christian or an atheist, you probably agree that the last thing this world needs is more war.

Last week, Thai and Cambodian forces clashed again in a border dispute that has been growing more and more tense since July. Shots were fired, 3 Cambodians died, and the country grew nervous. The Thai side is better equipped, better trained, and better funded, but Cambodians have been fighting in these jungles for most of the last century. This was, to my knowledge, the first time Cambodian lives had been lost over this conflict. Though the border is far from Phnom Penh, we got calls warning us to stay in at night, to avoid traveling unnecessarily, and to be wary of Cambodian attacks on Thai citizens living in the city. A few years ago, Cambodians rioted over remarks supposedly made by a Thai actress that Angkor Wat, the jewel of the country, should be in the hands of the Thais. There is not much love lost between the people of each nation.

Even now, despite a cease fire and a relaxed atmosphere, the threat of war remains. Leaders are meeting to discuss the problem and troops are still stationed at the border. Will you join with me in praying for peace? Cambodia, a nation taught by experience that violence is how to solve major problems, needs to see diplomatic solutions. The people here have had their fill of bullets, mortars, and bombs. It is time for these people to see peace.


Totally Devoted

I don't talk about it a lot, but the main reason I came to Cambodia is not my love for the people, my desire to do good, or my need to live abroad. It is, in a word, obedience. I felt called to come, in a way that was undeniable and inescapable. That doesn't make a lot of sense to people who don't believe in God, and even to some who do. This idea that my life is not my own, that it belongs to Someone Else who intends to use it for a glorious purpose-- well, that's just crazy talk, isn't it?

When I thought about making this move, I also thought a lot about not moving. After all, left to myself, with no other obligations to satisfy, I would be happy to sit in a chair at the beach, working my way through a stack of novels, listening to good music and drinking coffee for most of my life. Occasionally, I would probably eat some kind of Mexican food. Nevertheless, that is not the life that God planned out for me. Instead, I am here, sometimes uncomfortable, lonely and part of something different. In the end, the desire to live rightly before God, to follow the call, and to walk in obedience overrode my selfish inclinations and fears.

It is from this position of obedience that I'm now thinking about that decision again. I don't regret it, I wouldn't change it, and I can't go back. I am already here, already changed, already moving forward. I have been, however, thinking about this idea of "obedience." In 1 Samuel, when Saul is rejected as king, Samuel says to him "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22). This has been a verse that I've thought about a lot over the years. I want to obey, to do right in the eyes of the Lord. I've done that in the big things (and am working on the little ones), but lately I've felt like there is something more.

As I've been praying about some things this week, God is revealing to me that straightforward obedience is not enough. Perhaps that is because, despite obeying, I have done it begrudgingly, expectantly. Although the Lord rewards obedience, it needs to be with a right attitude. Our obedience certainly opens up a host of other blessings, but we cannot obey with that as our aim. Instead, we have to obey for the sheer delight of doing what the Lord says. That, to me, is tough stuff.

When David speaks to Solomon regarding the temple, he says this: "And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever" (1 Chronicles 28:19). We are not to serve the Lord only in obedience, but in devotion. When Paul writes about marriage, he exalts singleness, writing, "I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord"(1 Corinthians 7:35).

There is more to serving the Lord than just doing what He says because we are afraid of the consequences, seeking the blessing, or unsure of how else to live. He searches our hearts, understands every motive. Even our obedience is subject to this scrutiny. I'm not sure I understand yet what it means to be devoted to the Lord. Certainly it will take my life, most assuredly my finances, and likely some other things I am hesitant to give up. God is calling me in deeper, asking for more than mere actions done in service to Him.

Obedience provides freedom; when we are doing what is right, what God has asked from us, we can walk without guilt, without fear, without remorse. Yet, I think maybe the key is how Paul begins that phrase: not to restrict you. Obedience feels restrictive, a code of right and wrong, option A or B. Undivided devotion? In those words I sense the opening up of possibilities, an unleashing of unimaginable options. It goes beyond simply right or wrong and becomes less a choice and more a posture of the heart. Obedience will serve us, but devotion... that serves the Lord.


Holding Steady

It's a busy time for me right now. By the end of the month, we will have welcomed at least 20 visitors to World Relief Cambodia, many of whom are leaders in our partner churches, and 2 of whom are English nobility (no, I'm not joking). In the first two weeks of November, we'll have another 15 people here, and a major leadership retreat for around 80 people. I'm responsible for coordinating a lot of these visits. It's a job I enjoy. I like working with people, telling them about the work we do, dreaming about the possibilities that exist when we collaborate.

Even so, there are more items on my to-do list than hours in the day. And all of these things are work-related, apart from the regular activities that come from maintaining a life (i.e., food, laundry, connecting with friends here and abroad) and being part of a church (e.g., attending Bible study and Sunday service, praying for outreach opportunities, and working with the youth group). I'm trying not to get swamped in the wave of things, and recognizing that it's simply a season of work. There are truths to be gleaned here, in the midst of the activity, if only I can look for them.

In many ways, it is a strange feeling to be so busy. Cambodia, after all, is a pretty laid back place. I think my first year here was really not about "productivity" but instead about being grounded here, learning what it felt like to walk around in this culture, and finding my bearings. Now that I'm more settled, I can actually start to "do" more. It's tempting to start to measure my success here by what is accomplished rather than what I've learned. Despite having a to-do list, I struggle to remind myself that this work, my life, is an exercise not in removing things, but in building a Kingdom-- one that will endure.

One of my favorite quotations has seemed more relevant this month. Richard Foster wrote:
"We may not see the end from the beginning, but we keep on doing what we know to do. We pray, we listen, we worship, we carry out the duty of the present moment."
While I want that time to reflect, to process, to learn, I'm sensing that this is a time to keep moving. Booking hotel rooms and planning meals does not seem to be filled with eternal significance. Yet, in the doing, the serving, the obedience, there is purpose. So I will carry out in the present moment what is required, and do it joyfully and wholeheartedly-- for the most part.


Pchum Ben

It was a holiday in Cambodia last week, called Pchum Ben. It's a big deal in Cambo, especially for the majority Buddhist population. It's a sobering time for Christians, but, apparently a lot of fun for at least one village. If only I'd known about this, I would have used my own water buffalo ride as practice!

The Pchum Ben holiday began in ancient times— it was even celebrated at the time of the Angkorian empire. During this fifteen day lunar festival, Cambodians gather at temples to honor their ancestors. With a prevailing belief in Buddhist teachings (though strongly animistic in their practice), many Cambodians believe in the concept of reincarnation. While many people are recreated into the human or animal world after death, those who have bad karma are condemned to live in the spiritual world— a type of earthbound purgatory. The Pchum Ben festival takes place during a time of the year when these spirit ancestors are believed to be roaming the Earth. It is a time for their living relatives to gather in remembrance and also to offer food to these tortured souls. Additionally, it is a time for those who are alive to meditate and pray to reduce the bad karma of the spirits and help them escape the misery of the spirit world through reincarnation.

For modern Cambodians, the festival takes place over fifteen days, and the final day is the most significant. Prior to this last day, families are scheduled to “host” a service at the temple for their ancestors. Family members gather at the temple, recording an “invitation” list of relatives who must be remembered. It is believed that unless they are invited, spirits cannot receive the offerings. Families prepare special food for their ancestors, and also leave bai ben (sticky rice balls) in the shaded areas of the temple for those who have been forgotten or who no longer have living relatives to offer sacrifices for them. The monks prepare the ceremonial reading and burning of the invitation list— as a notification to the spirits of where to find their relatives. Then the monks lead the family in chants, meditations, and prayers for their relatives. The ceremony is an opportunity for the living relatives to earn merit for those who are deceased.

On the fifteenth day, the temples play host to a large communal feast, as everyone is invited to the temple to participate in the ceremony for their ancestors. It is also a significant day in that the most miserable of the souls, priads, are only able to receive prayers, food, and be reunited with living relatives during this day (traditionally the darkest day). On the final days of the Pchum Ben festival, temples are crowded with people who are sacrificing and praying. Additionally, many disabled or homeless individuals gather near the temples to receive money or offerings— it is seen as a way to make merit to give money or food to them.

For Cambodian Christians, this festival can be a time of difficulty. If their families continue to celebrate the holiday, there can be great pressure to participate and offer to the spirits. This is a time when they need encouragement to stand firm in their faith. As the Psalmist said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. I hate those who cling to worthless idols; I trust in the Lord. I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul” (Psalm 31: 5-7). Pray for our brothers and sisters in the faith to remain true to the only Lord, Jesus Christ.

Part of this post appeared in our WR bimonthly partnership newsletter. If you'd like to receive newsletter updates via email, please click here.