Sunday, January 9, 2011

Catching up...Part II

"What color should I make the hands?" one of our English library workers asked me during one of our help-us-decorate-the-English-library-for-Christmas-days. He was coloring a paper cut-out manger scene and wasn't sure what color skin Joseph was supposed to have. I told him to color it brown because Jesus and His family were from Asia. He thought that was funny and asked me if Christmas was American or Chinese (interesting!) I told him Christmas is for all people which led to an interesting chat.

Christmas in Cambodia was not like any Christmas I've ever experienced. The tropical weather and the noticeable lack of Christmas music playing everywhere made it very difficult to remember to even celebrate. For me, it was more of a discipline to celebrate than an expectant awaiting. That truly threw me off, but also forced me to take a deeper look at the relevance and eternal implications of the incarnation. You can't see in the photo, but on the map on the wall we placed a little star by the Mediterranean Sea with a the words "Jesus was born here". Putting Christmas into context, and particularly a Cambodian context, seemed to make the snow, the jingle bells, the reindeer and even Santa Claus himself all gloriously melt away. Christmas is a true story that can be shared in any culture, language and climate. The silliness of the extra things we tend to add to "Christmas" become all the more obvious in a culture that doesn't naturally relate to any of those things we often associate with the Christmas season.

I think my favorite story sharing event we did was watching "The Nativity" movie in the library. We projected the film onto the wall so it was nice and big. As we began watching it with a small group of students, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the dialog was very slow and easy to understand. I also didn't realize until watching the film again how close Khmer culture seems to be with ancient Jewish culture. There were a lot of parallels between agrarian lifestyle, arranged marriage and even living under the rule of a king. Cambodia is a story-telling culture and the students really seemed to enjoy seeing the story of Christmas come alive in a way that made more sense to them. I'm so thankful we had that as a tool to share the Good News.

As far as personal decorating, we were able to find a Christmas tree for our apartment. Our good friend graciously helped us shop for a tree and decorations. It was a bit of a challenge, but we managed to produce a decent looking tree that Java had no trouble posing under. Next year I plan to pull it out of the box and put it up much earlier! Maybe I'll bring a few Christmas carols with me next year too so I don't accidentally almost miss out and forget to rejoice in the celebration of our Savior's birth!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Catching up...Part I

I have quite a few stories and photos to share! I will try to be brief and let the pictures do most of the talking...Enjoy!

The biggest recent change is that I am now living with two Khmer (Cambodian) housemates! They are a sweet newlywed couple and related to our team leader, Vandenn. It's a lengthy story of how it all came about. The short of it is, we were repeatedly being targeted by night prowlers (since we are three foreign females) and Jennifer understandably decided to move to another safer location (where she is very happy). Olivia and I decided to stay after some prayer and discussion because we felt called to stay in this particular neighborhood. We had the idea to ask Ravy and Lakaena to move in where Jennifer was living (in the downstairs portion) and they were very eager to!

The day before they moved in they invited us three girls to Lakaena's parents house in the province (i.e. the countryside). It was our first time outside of Phnom Penh since we got here (besides the team retreat we took to the beach in September). Lakaena's family is extremely sweet and it was such a refreshing and enjoyable time spending the day getting to know this gentle family. Lakaena's older brother shared an interesting fact with us about his parents. They were married during the Khmer Rouge when the soldiers had the men and women stand in lines and then pointed one by one, ordering "couples" to get married. Despite the difficult circumstances, they seem to be a couple that fits very well together.

One of the best things about our trip that day was that our dear "Boo" agreed to be our driver. We call him "Boo" because that is what you call older men in Cambodia (it means "uncle"). He is a tuk-tuk driver (the vehicle we are riding in pictured above) and lives in our neighborhood. He has been transporting us through crazy adventures ever since we first got here. He is a very kind (and shy) man who loves his family and we were so happy that he we got to spend the day with him!

That day we also learned that we would be getting two more unexpected housemates. Lakaena's younger sister, Sreylin is taking university classes during the week and was needing a place to stay in the city. Lakaena was able to offer her sister a place to stay with them, which made her parents feel much more at ease! Sreylin also had a 2-week old puppy delivered to her that day and asked us if we would want to take care of it. When we saw him we both said, um..yes please!! We named him Java and since we brought him home, the kids in our neighborhood visit us at least once a day to play with him. We are so thankful that the Lord blessed our decision to stay in this house. The whole day in the province really felt like Father was confirming our decision and blessing us with new relationships to pour into.

Here are more photos from our trip that day...

"same same, but different"

Our "chariot" (tuk-tuk)

Lakaena's father is the Principal at this elementary school

rice fields...according to my students, you can't live without rice!

Lakaena's brother feeding the fish at their family farm

Boo joining us for lunch

P.S. Since Ravy and Lakaena moved in, we haven't had any attempted break ins, praise the Lord. Ravy is better than having a guard. He is always on the alert like an overprotective older brother (in a good way). The other day he even showed up at our door with a meat cleaver in his hand because he misunderstood a text I had sent them while they were sleeping! I promised to be more careful with my text messages in the future.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sua s'dey! (Hello!)

Phnom Penh is currently recovering from some minor flooding that took place this weekend. A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking that the rainy season was coming to an end soon, but riding my bicycle underwater the other night proved me wrong.

(flooding at our university)

As I look back on these last 6 or 7 weeks, I marvel at how Father has provided and protected us in our transition. From falling off of my bicycle numerous times in the middle of traffic, to having night "visitors" come to our home while we are sleeping, to setting up a home from scratch, to beginning to learn a language and an entirely different way of doing even the simplest things, He has helped us every step of the way.

(entrance to our neighborhood market where we usually buy our fruits and veggies)

Right now, strangely enough, we haven't begun teaching our classes yet! While we were in Vietnam for training, we learned that this would probably be the case due to the fact that the school system in Cambodia is still very "broken" as they are trying to rebuild an education system that was completely wiped out only 35 years ago. Also, Cambodia has so many holidays, that when one is ending, it seems another one is beginning. These holidays can typically last for 2-3 days (or more) and often require people to go home to their province in order to fulfill some type of religious duty. The most recent holiday, called Pchum Benh, took place last week. Phnom Penh was almost deserted for 2 days because everyone went home in order to offer rice and other food to their dead ancestors. The belief is that during this time, the gates of Hell are opened for 15 days, where ghosts can roam the earth looking for food in order to ease their suffering. The more food a family gives to the pagodas, the better chances their ancestors have of finding food. Offerings can also be given to atone for past sins. All over the city wats (temples) there were lotus flowers being sold to offer along with the food. Every time I see a lotus flower, I think how sad it is that this gorgeous flower can not be used for anything but to give to a god who cannot see or smell its beauty.

So, if we haven't been teaching, what have we been doing all this time? After we got set up in our apartment (a long story in itself), we were each assigned a language tutor to come to our apartment a few times a week. My language tutor is very sweet and I've enjoyed developing a friendship with her over the weeks. But it was difficult in the beginning because Khmer is not like any other language I have studied before. And she had never tutored anyone in Khmer before, so she was a bit nervous to be my tutor. But I believe Father put us together for a reason, and I felt called to stay with her as my tutor, despite the rough start. She'll be teaching full time soon, around the time I start teaching. So we won't be able to study together as much, but I'm thankful for this time to learn from her and get to know her better.

(meeting some of Mindy's friends at a birthday party)

In addition to language study (and taking time to learn the culture through shopping at local markets, learning traffic patterns as we ride around the city, getting to know our neighbors, etc.) we have spent quite a bit of time on our campus. During registration week, we set up a table advertising a new program that Mindy will be teaching as part of a new major our school is offering (through an International Relations degree).

(Yes, those are our faces on a giant poster made by Vandenn!)

Thankfully, there seemed to be a lot interest from students. They are excited because the entire degree will be taught solely in English (Mindy will teach 2 semesters of an Intensive English Program to prepare them for this). This weekend we will test the students who have signed up so we can see what levels we're dealing with. We're hopeful that this program will grow over the years and become another way that we can serve our campus. Mindy is busy right now developing the curriculum she will use with these students! The rest of us will teach the 1st year students of Law and Economics, who will most likely begin classes the first week of November.

Another project we have taken on is renovating the English Library (which is also our office). It's turning out to be a lot of work, but we're loving the challenge. The ELI teachers have had the blessing of this library/office for about 10 years, and we think that perhaps it hasn't really been cleaned in 10 years either! Well, maybe it has, but since we decided to repaint and redecorate, we've realized how dirty it really is. The challenge has also been trying to figure out how and where to buy supplies. There is no "Home Depot" that you can just walk into and say, "I would like this color paint, please". After much troubleshooting and God's grace, we found a shop where a very nice lady sold us primer and the tools we needed. But for the actual paint, we had to order from a place that delivers from Siem Reap (where the famous Angkor Wat ruins are located). They delivered the paint to the school yesterday on a moto, despite the fact that the school was flooded! Its definitely been an adventure and has taken about 4 times longer than it would have taken in the States. But we feel it is worth it to go through all this effort. The purpose of the library is ultimately to bring glory to His name. We want to create a place where students can come and not only practice their English, but can be part of visions that we have of different outreaches. Or simply just a place to have conversation and friendship. Since there are no dorms on campus, its difficult to find ways to spend time with students. We are praying this will be a natural place to build relationships and share our lives.

(The finished product with 2 of our library workers and their first day on the job)

I've also been trying to keep up my guitar practicing. (Olivia, my roommate says I'm improving!) I'm thankful that I decided to bring it in the end. Perhaps I can get good enough to bring it to class sometime or play when we have class parties this semester.

Thank you for all your prayers and love. Please continue to pray for us as we get ready to finally start teaching that we could make the most of the short time we have with our students this semester. Also, we really desire to become proficient in the language so that we can one day share the truth in Khmer. This will take a long time, we know. But we keep at it in faith, step by step. Pray that we would have endurance in the learning and preparation season.

Akun (thank you),

Friday, July 30, 2010

And so it begins...

On Monday when I arrived in Colorado, the first thing I noticed (besides the Greenpeace folks trying to get me to join their group) was that I was not sweating profusely. I think the last time I experienced not drowning in my own sweat everytime I stepped outside, was several months ago (maybe during that "snowstorm"?). And after I leave this place in a few days, I probably won't experience that relief again until February when we are in "chilly" Thailand! So I'm thankful for this warm, dry air that we get to walk in everyday as we head to our orientation sessions, sweat free.

We are staying at the very beautiful and very "green" Colorado State University campus. Since its pretty large, its taken awhile to be able to navigate our way around without getting lost. But the long walks from our dorm to the meetings have been great for some exercise (since we're basically sitting all day), as well as being able to process through a little bit of what we're learning. Through our walking and talking, its been interesting to see the personalities of my teammates and other teachers coming out. It's such a privilege to become part of a group of people Father has called for a unique and similar purpose. This time of training is a great opportunity for us to bounce ideas off each other, and receive feedback as we try to anticipate the cultural and spiritual twists and turns of the road ahead.

At the beginning of each days session we spend time in worship and hearing from the Word. Everyday, Father has been showing me something pretty significant about Himself. The first day we all met together as a group (about 50 of us), the president challenged us to reexamine John 21 where Peter is asked that penetrating question "Do you love Me?" After answering three times in the affirmative, Peter realized he didn't have any tangible evidence to prove his love, only what was in his heart. Its tempting for us as teachers to want to point to the things we've given up in order to go to Asia as evidence of our love. "You know I love You, I reduced my life to two suitcases and said goodbye to my family and friends and everything familiar." But that's really not answering the question. The challenge we were given was to ask ourselves, "am I willing to get on that plane for no other reason but out of my love for Him?" If we get this answer correct, then the rest will fall into its rightful place and with an open-handed gesture we can simply answer, "yes, You know I love You."

It's a bit sad to be leaving friends I have made this past week. A handful of teachers will be joining Olivia, Jennifer and me in Vietnam for the next 3 1/2 weeks, but the rest will head to Beijing. In addition to our daily cultural and administrative sessions, we have each had the chance to share our story with the group of how Father brought us to this point. Its hard to maintain dry eyes, listening to testimonies of His faithfulness and realizing that its not just me anymore that's going to Asia. I'm going with a group of people who love Him, and we're being sent by an organization that is passionate about His glory, and we are each individually sent by people back home who love us and support us. There is something really powerful and strength giving in that.

Tuesday morning we'll all head to the airport. Please lift us up as we attempt to lug many bodies and bags over many, many miles of land and sea. Remember especially the young families with kids (there are quite a few in the group). Thank you for your sacrifice and the significant part you play in this plan. I am beyond excited to start this journey.

Can't wait to update from Hanoi!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Home is where His heart is

I don't like to do "countdowns" because they make me sort of nervous, even if I'm counting down to something I'm really looking forward to! But I can't help but notice that July 26th is literally just around the corner...

I'm trying to take advantage of this short time before I leave to see people and places that I will miss over the next two years. This past week I had the chance to go home for a little bit. The last time I had seen my family was this past Christmas, and the last time I had been on the Cape was about a year and a half ago. It felt like I had been away a lot longer, though.

Alicia is 15 now...the same age I was when she was born! Amelia is almost 5. When I come back next summer one will be driving and worrying about college, and the other one will be learning how to read and continuing to make up songs about any random word that you throw at her.

While I was home I was also able to speak at my parents' fellowship. They were incredibly gracious to let me come and share about what Father is doing in Cambodia and what He's doing in my life. This whole process of raising support is very humbling because I've found that it's almost as difficult to receive as it is to ask.

Who among us is worthy enough to receive large sums of money from hardworking, regular folks? As I've been watching Father provide over such a short period of time, I've been struck several times by an overwhelming sense of "unworthiness" to be on the receiving end. The only thing that has given me peace about accepting the generosity of others is knowing that these gifts are really not for me, they are for the Lord, and He is worthy to receive everything we are willing to give Him. It also encourages me to know that those who give and lift me up will be blessed to be part of His work. Not in a virtual sense, but in a real, physical sense.

I was recently introduced to a quote that I think will really stick with me during my time in Cambodia. A woman who was reflecting on her experience raising support said, "I am carried on the shoulders of those who cannot see the landscape I describe. I owe them far more than my weight." I think this is a beautiful picture of the relationship between those who are going and those who are sending. As the one standing on the shoulders of many faithful saints, it is my responsibility to paint a picture of the landscape that I will have the privilege of viewing every day so that those who are helping to carry me won't feel like they are just staring at a wall. What a great reminder to me not to be "dead weight"!

Currently, Father has brought me to almost 80% of what I will need for the 1st year (that June 15th goal that I mentioned in my last post was met right on the dot)! There is no doubt in my mind that I am being led "sovereignly". Being home this past week has made me start to feel a little nostalgic and perhaps there's that small part of me that would like to stay. Things always seem sweeter to you right before you leave. But I think that's the way it should be if you're in the Father's will. He'll bless you with sweet memories before He calls you to a new place...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Door Stands Open...

If you are reading this--my first attempt at a blog--it is because you have been used by God in some way, shape or form, to bring me to this place that He has ordained in His loving plan. You probably are already aware that the Lord has called me to serve Him in Cambodia through the avenue of teaching English to university students and building friendships that will hopefully, lead to opportunities to shine the Father's light in dark places. The door stands wide open before me, partly because of how He has used people, just like yourself, to inspire me, convict me, encourage me, support me, pray for me, teach me, hold me accountable, and walk with me in this temporal life. I hope that this blog will bring glory to His name and encourage your heart to continue following after Him!

On July 26th, 2010 I will, Lord willing, fly to Colorado where I will meet the other new team members (two single girls) and begin some initial cultural training. That training will be followed by an ESL training course which we will do in Vietnam. When that is finished, my teammates and I will join the rest of our team in Cambodia. Currently there are two couples and one very cute baby.

My Team Director, as it turns out, is an excellent photographer! He graciously allowed me to post some of his photos here in order to give you (and me!) a little taste of what's to come. I'm sure you'll enjoy the photos as much as I have. *Thanks, Vandenn*

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. I will be living, teaching and serving in "PP" for two years.

I love this photo. The palace is in the background, an afterthought. God loves the rich and the poor equally.

All I can say in response to this photo is, "Hmmm, okay. Good to know, good to know!"

Christmas time at one of the local fellowships. I like the costumes!

A bit of French colonialism architecture coming through.

Cutest wedgie ever!

I can't wait to meet my students! I'll be teaching English at a university for two years.

If you would like to lift me up, my greatest needs right now are:

1) To meet the 70% of my support deadline by June 15th (which comes to roughly $13,000)

2) Staying focused and diligent in my preparations, turning neither to the left nor to the right (or just not going at all!)

3) That He would give me His eyes for the people of Cambodia

Thank you for partnering with me in this journey and joining in this blessing. I look forward to seeing and reporting all His great works!

"I know, O Lord, that a man's life is not his own. It is not for a man to direct his steps."