An Intentional Siesta

Every March and April, I wonder why I live in Cambodia. It's the hot season, so it feels like the whole country is an oven set to preheat, slowly warming as the sun reaches its zenith. By the afternoon, we're well onto the broil setting, and it's uncomfortable to be outside, to move too much, and sometimes even to sleep.

My life has felt this way a lot in the last month as well. I've been back in Cambodia for nearly three months now, and it seems like the hectic pace that existed when I arrived has only escalated. The gears of my work and life are turning faster and faster, there's more to do, and more to worry over. I'm sure many of you feel it, too, maybe in relationships, your children's lives, or your own work.

In a job where it's easy to feel essential to "serving people" or "helping others," it's hard to stop and rest sometimes. I have trouble during these times taking the Father at his word: Be still, and know that I am God. How am I supposed to rest when there is so much to be done? Of course, God is faithful in His response, and I have to learn to trust that as well: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord will accomplish His purposes—with or without my help—and my responsibility is to pursue stillness, rest, and trust.

In Cambodia, it's common for people to take a siesta after lunch, which is typically the hottest part of the day. When things are most oppressive, that is when it is time to stop and rest. It's a lesson for me to take to heart, that when my life feels like it is too hot to handle, then it is time for a brief rest. It's also the time to remember the end of Psalm 46: The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. We really can trust the Lord with our times of rest, to be our protector, and to work everything out.

I started this reflection before my vacation, and since coming back, it has felt even more true. Before I left, I was tentatively planning on having a volunteer here to help with a lot of the busyness that always comes up in May as we prepare for the ESL teams that come in June. But while I was gone, I received an email saying that she felt that God had other plans for her, and was directing her away from Cambodia.

While I refuse to be angry at someone for being obedient, it's still a bit difficult to accept on my end. I took my rest this month thinking that God would provide for me in ways I expected, and that His will perfectly coincided with my own. I'm a bit at a loss now, both wondering why it is that the Lord would not provide something that would allow me to rest more easily, and struggling to choose to rest in Him when I feel like things just got much harder for me. It would be very easy for me to believe that God doesn't want me to have any help right now, to be shortsighted in how I regard God's ability to provide what I need in the next few months.

A good friend prayed these verses for me yesterday: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength… Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!" (Isaiah 30:15,18). Today, I'm taking comfort in the truth of these words: that my strength comes in trusting a just God, in waiting for His grace in this situation. And that only by truly resting in Him, can I witness his compassion and provision in my life.

I guess, in a sense, I'm choosing to take my siesta, my rest, even while the hot sun is beating down on me.


A Worthy Cause

True confession: I watch American Idol.

I've only started watching it since I've lived in Cambodia, which seems a little paradoxical, since it's not actually televised live, nor can I text in my vote from this side of the ocean.

(As an aside, no one voted for this blog. No one voted for Tim either last week, so he got kicked off. See what happens when you don't vote?)

Anyway, this week was a Very Special American Idol; it was Idol Gives Back, which is a giant fundraiser of a show, replete with heartwarming stories of global and local change, spotlighting worthy organizations and international issues.

(As a second aside, not once did anyone on the show mention Asia. That made me sad.)

At the end of the show, they announced that something like $15 million (US) had already been raised for their causes. There were some great organizations spotlighted on the show, Save the Children; Malaria No More; The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Each one of these groups is doing great work to meet physical needs around the world, to help children, and to keep people in developing countries (and the United States) alive and healthy. They are, as was repeated multiple times this evening, saving lives.

There's nothing wrong with saving lives. I'm all for it, obviously. But the longer I watched the show, the more I wondered: who gives money through American Idol?

Here's why I'm curious: if you're a Christian, what's the allure of giving through a TV show?

(If you're not a Christian, I totally get it, and way to go you. I'm not so concerned about how much or why you give. But you should keep doing so, if you can.)

If you are a Christian, and you attend a local church, do you feel as happy, as excited, as gratified by giving to your local church, by tithing?

(Perhaps your answer is yes.)

If not, why?

Do you really feel like you're a part of something bigger by texting in a gift to American Idol (or a celebrity telethon to help Haiti)? Does that matter to you?

I'm not trying to come down on campaigns like these; I really respect how groups are able to mobilize and raise money, to help people care about something they might not worry over otherwise. They do good work, and that work means people in need have food, shelter, medication, education, a whole host of things they might not have without these groups.

And I'm really not trying to give anyone a lecture. Whether you give, how much, and to whom you give it, that's between you and God. I don't want to get in the middle of that, and I'm not concerned with your giving habits. I have enough to worry about with my own. I just want to explain something that I've come to realize in the last few years.

This is what I've discovered: if you give to your local church, you are a part of something bigger, a cause, an international issue.

No one stands up in a tuxedo on Sunday mornings and says thank you. Not many celebrities get up to the pulpit and tell you it's worth your time to support the local church. It's far less sexy to tithe to your church than to text in your donation to Idol Gives Back.

But the church has something to offer that a glitzy fundraising show doesn't. And church-supported organizations (like World Relief, World Vision, IJM, Food for the Hungry, etc.) have something to give that these other major organizations don't.

We don't just care about saving lives today. We care about saving them forever.

Yes, in some cases we do the same things: we're working on making sure people have malaria nets, or AIDS education, or to prevent trafficking. But we're also sharing with people in need that we believe they should be healthy, educated, or safe because Jesus loves them and their life is worth something, both on earth and in heaven. We are building up local churches that can meet the needs that will be there when we can't be. Needs like compassion and companionship, prayer and support.

I say this because it took me a long time to realize that there are two kinds of poverty: financial poverty and spiritual poverty. We can give, and give, and give, host telethons and bake sales, send all that money to big charities and never once address the issues of spiritual poverty. A malaria net doesn't ease a broken heart.

But local churches can meet these needs. They can meet them in rural America, in inner cities in South America, in slums in Asia, in the deserts of Africa. Your local church, the one that you attend every Sunday can do this. So can mine, here in Cambodia. And our tithes are worth something then—and believe me when I tell you that it multiplies, maybe even on a crazy scale.

Here's how: you give $25 to your local church. Other people give $25, too. Let's say that money goes to a church-supported organization, somewhere else in the world. It pays a salary to a national worker, who passes out bed nets, or teaches children, or rescues women from brothels. Hopefully, some of them come to know Jesus Christ as a result, start attending a local church, and share their faith with others. Meanwhile, the original worker goes to his own church, and tithes a portion of his salary. That tithe goes to grow his local church, helping them to reach out to other people in need in their community. Those people join the church, share their faith, and the cycle continues.

Your gift has just saved lives, on a temporal and eternal scale.

(And this doesn't even consider how offerings you give to your local church can help build your own communities, or how gifts like your volunteer time in mentorship or service can be a blessing to others.)

Individual transformation, community transformation, national transformation. When we give, these things become possible, for ourselves and for others.

And these things are so much more exciting than a night of good television.


The Busy Life

I'm not sure that it's entirely appropriate to thank globalization for my slow Monday morning, but I'm going to anyway. There's a volcano in Iceland, with a very Icelandic name (and I thought Khmer was difficult to pronounce), that has freed up my week. We were supposed to host a team from the UK, but their plane couldn't take off, thanks to volcanic ash, so now I'm sipping a cappuccino, catching up on emails, and reviewing photos from Laos. It's disappointing not to have the team here—I was looking forward to meeting them—but there's quite a few other things that need doing as well, so it's great to have time to focus on them.

There was a lot going on in the weeks leading up to our trip, and then vacation itself, which wasn't really a time that I used for writing any kind of reflections. Mostly, we played in the Mekong River, in various waterfalls, drank fruit shakes, and laughed. Which was a pretty good way to spend a week.

In any case, since I'm not feeling very reflective at the moment, I've decided to put it to a vote. I'll list some things I want to blog about in the next few weeks, and you (various readers) can indicate which you want to read the most. It feels pretty democratic, and ensures that I won't forget things (which I'm likely to do). Here we go:

  1. Laos Travelogue: What we did, where we stayed, fun things about our trip (including a bonus Lao corruption story!)
  2. Field Trips: People I met and stories I heard when we recently visited some villages where WR works.
  3. Celebrating Easter in Cambodia: Why it's different and what I learned this year.
  4. Hot Season Reflections: While I'm sweating, what I'm learning.
  5. Staff Retreat Pics and Stories: Kampot is a cool place, and the things we learned there.

By the time I write five new blogs, I'm sure lots of other things will have happened that I'll want to share. So… vote now, so I'm motivated to start writing!

The picture is of sunset on the Mekong River, only a few kilometers into Laos. Just to prove we really made it into Laos, with the car, even.


Lost in Translation

Everyone was confused by language today. I started learning the Khmer alphabet (yikes!) and our staff translator brought me yet another translation riddle. How would you describe the following phrase?

"Affordable Kitchen Solutions for Quality Living"

When I told him that the phrase was essentially meaningless, and correctly guessed that it was a slogan of some kind, he said, "But how do I translate it into Khmer?"

Our best effort was:

"Not Very Expensive Ways to Solve Problems in Your Kitchen That Will Make Your Life Better"

Of course, there's no literal Khmer translation. And I have a sneaking suspicion that those "affordable solutions" are not really affordable at all.


Over the River

I'm traveling to Laos next week. I visited Northern Laos in 2007, but now I'm headed with friends to Southern Laos and a place called Si Phan Don (literally "Four Thousand Islands"). We're all pretty excited about the chance to get away for a week and see somewhere new. However, we've had to get visas into Laos, which took some effort-- photos, applications, cash, dropping them at the embassy-- and we ended up with a 3 month visa (not a 30 day visa like we thought).

The other hitch in the plan is that we want to drive a car over the border. We asked someone who did it before, and he told us they would allow only three days for the car before it had to come back into Cambodia. Which is great, but we're staying for a week (hopefully, with the car). So that wouldn't work so well for us.

Someone else said that he was only allowed to drive a certain number of kilometers (mainly into the DMZ, or No-Man's Land) before having to turn back. Also not great, since we want to go a lot farther into Laos than 8 km. Namely, we'd want to stay in a hotel. And actually go into Laos.

When I asked at the embassy, I was told that it was no problem to drive the car across, and we didn't need a permit. Which flew in the face of all this other advice. So today, when someone picked up our visas, I sent him with an official letter requesting permission to take the car across. He came back saying that the embassy staffer told him it would be no problem. Somehow, this seems too good to be true.

I must have looked chagrined over the whole episode, because the staff member next said, "Kate, it's okay, I'll tell you what you should do." He continued, "You find the Cambodian guys at the border and you talk to them about what to do. You just bribe them, and they will help you."

So I guess this is the new plan. But, if I'm not back and blogging by the end of the month, I might be checked into a Laotian jail on corruption charges. Or cruising the Laos highways in our car, putting my 3-month visa to good use. We'll just have to wait and see. A little suspense is a good thing in life, right?