Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cambodian Christmas

"Same Same, But Different." These are the words from a t-shirt design that is popular here in Cambodia (as well as some other places in Southeast Asia I've noticed). It has "Same Same" printed on the front, "But Different" on the back. I can't help having these words pop into my head as I experience my first Christmas in Cambodia. There are Christmas trees here that look much like those one would see in the U.S. as well as tinsel garlands and other familiar decor, yet the overall composition usually has a Southeast Asian flair. In church there were Christmas songs, all in Khmer, some having familiar tunes, while most did not. There was the Christmas story which I got to see represented in two different church services, my own church today, and the church of one of my Khmer co-worker friends who invited me to go with her last week. In each there was the inclusion of some comic elements, something I don't generally see when watching the Christmas story re-enacted in the U.S. (at least not intentionally, though children's programs often have some unintended comic elements).

So, it's not like being home for Christmas, but I'm making Cambodia my home for now so I'm learning to appreciate the differences. I thought it would be fun to give you a little taste of the church service from today at my Khmer church, Gospel Commission Fellowship. I only got a few clips before I ran out of battery so you won't get to see any of the Christmas story re-enactment in which Mary cries out  in Khmer, "my stomach hurts, my stomach hurts," as Joseph is trying to find room for them at one of the inns. (I hear this is a common feature of Khmer Christmas plays). Anyway, hope you enjoy!

On Tuesday I am going to spend Christmas day out in a rural village with one of my sweet Khmer teachers. It is her home province and her mother still lives there. It should be another fun adventure!

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Local village woman fishing
A home in the village

Now that my period of intense language study is past (though I am still taking classes and will continue to actively engage in language learning both formally and informally), I have been getting progressively more involved in my role as project manager for the CIF disability program. I am getting more and more glimpses of the joys and challenges that lie ahead and yesterday was pretty significant in that regard. It's been a long time since I've had the opportunity to go out to the village and I was really itching to get out there. The Children in Families office is in Phnom Penh, where I live, but a lot of the children and families we serve are in a rural village two hours away by "taxi." This trip often involves sharing a Toyota Camry with 5-6 other people including the driver (actually 8 if you include the 2 small children that were in the car on the way back), a ferry ride across the Mekong river, and at least a couple of stops for snacks (Cambodians love their snacks on road trips). I do have to confess that this time around I paid double to have the front passenger seat all to myself. I felt a little guilty about it on the ride back to Phnom Penh, since the driver was sharing his seat with one of the other passengers, so I offered to give up the privilege but the offer was declined. After the 2-hour taxi ride it takes another 15-20 minutes by motorcycle to get out to the lead family's home on a road that is currently impassible by car. Once I had gotten into the taxi to leave Phnom Penh it was a day of full immersion into Khmer language and culture. Our national director, Ravy, was with me so she did help me out in a few spots, but for the most part I was fully engaged in the Cambodia experience in this piece of countryside where the English speaker does not have the safety net that tourism and hosting development workers have provided in Phnom Penh and elsewhere. (The pictures above were actually taken when I visited the village in 2010, but I included them to give you a visual glimpse of what it's like. Also, the video about Sam Ang in my last post was taken in the same area.)

One of the encouraging things about this trip was that I could speak and understand a LOT more Khmer than the last time I was in the village. Of course one would hope that this would be the case, but I was quite pleased to recognize that there was a noticeable difference. Thanks be to God!! On the flipside, I still have a long way to go and there is still so much more that I want to be able to share with families than I am currently linguistically able to do. Another significant feature of the day was that I learned an important nuance about the meaning of a Khmer word that really helps my understanding of Khmer culture. In Khmer class I had been taught that the Khmer word pronounced kind of like "a-nut" means "pity" in English. It's been a hard word for me to get used to because the word "pity" in English has kind of negative connotations - no one really wants to be pitied. In places where we Americans feel bad for someone's circumstances and would tend to say something like, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," it doesn't work to say the equivalent in Khmer. If my Khmer teacher has a cold I shouldn't say, "I'm sorry," I should say, "I pity (a-nut) you." Well, in the village, Ravy, told me that "a-nut" meant "to have compassion for." What a difference such a subtle word shift can make! Pity and compassion are fairly synonymous, but the difference in feeling that each one evokes, for me at least, is significant. Ravy went on to tell me that, in Cambodian culture, compassion is understood to be a stronger force than love. Wow! What a valuable insight! I'll never think of the word "a-nut" the same way again! Goes to show how complicated language and culture learning can be and how presumptions can lead to unfortunate and inaccurate conclusions. Another encouragement for me was being able to provide some practical support to a few of the children and their families. At the same time, I was faced with the challenge of a meeting a particular child whom I found delightful, though significantly impaired, and later learning that his family is having a hard time accepting him. One elderly relative is currently caring for him but she fears that he is more than she can handle and no one else seems to want to step up. I will be consulting with my Khmer colleagues to work out a plan for how to encourage this family both through practical help and through demonstrating a Christian worldview on the value of this precious child. Clearly we are dependent on the Spirit of the Living God to work significant, positive, and lasting change in families and societies.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."   2 Corinthians 1:4

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Beautiful Story

I've been wanting to share this video for some time and, as I was preparing to include it in this blog post, I started thinking about how wild it is that I get to be involved with this family's story through Children in Families. Please watch this video and then read on.....

I've had the privilege of meeting Sam Ang and he is such a bright, charming, delightful little boy. I thought this video captured the best of what CIF is about. What struck me today though, is that when God first planted a seed in my heart to pursue the kind of ministry I'm doing now, one of the things He used was a television feature I saw when I was in college (I think it was 20/20) about the problems experienced by orphans in Romania who had been placed in overcrowded, understaffed orphanages. Some of these children went into the orphanage with very mild disabilities but became profoundly disabled because of the lack of stimulation, love, and affection they received. They were given food and water and not much else. I was struck with the need that existed for physical therapy services in other parts of the world and felt compelled to prepare to one day use my chosen profession as a means to love children with disabilities with the love of Christ. I am marveling that in my current role I am not only using my background and skills to show the love of Christ to children with disabilities and their families in a place where there is great need, but I get to do it with an organization that is actively working to reduce the institutionalization of children in all situations through family based care. Our organization is not perfect - we are constantly learning and growing - but Sam Ang's story is a great example of what God is doing through CIF and I think it's awesome to think how God has been connecting lives, weaving people like me and Sam Ang into His big beautiful story.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


"Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: 'Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.'" Rev 12:10-11

Last week at the house church I attend on Friday nights the subject of testimony came up. We talked a little about how among some Christian circles everybody gets excited about a "great testimony" where someone has been delivered from some wild past and that person gets put up on a pedestal while the kids who had grown up in church and never strayed too far outside the fold are made to feel like God hadn't been doing much in their lives and maybe didn't plan to. Funny, I think it's a pretty good testimony to have been captured by the love of God and kept safely in His care in a world that is so full of potential pitfalls! Really, is testimony about us, or is it about an amazing, redeeming God who works in a variety of ways to seek and to save the lost?

Well, here's my testimony (condensed version): I am a sinner. When I was 12 Jesus broke through to my heart with the realization that everything I had learned about him through my church and family growing up was really true: despite the fact that I am a sinner He loves me so much that He would die a horrendous death on my behalf so He could have me with Him forever. I was overwhelmed to think that the Creator of the universe had such great love for me at a point in my life where I was feeling rejected by many around me. I placed my faith in Him, believing that He died on a cross and rose from the grave three days later. On the basis of His sacrifice, all of my sins past, present, and future have been forgiven and He has reserved a place for me in His eternal kingdom. From that time on He took hold of my life (though really I think He had a hold of it all along). Sometimes I cooperated well, sometimes not. But even when I resisted, He always persisted! He has tenderly guided me as a loving Shepherd and has promised to never let me go. Because of His great love for me and His Holy Spirit at work in me I have the capacity to love Him in return by seeking to live my life for the sake of His glory, following His example. I continually fall short, but His grace is always sustaining me and encouraging me to press on. His love makes me long to hear Him say, "well done good and faithful servant."

I'm sharing my testimony in part because I need to overcome the adversary, the accuser of the brothers, because I do fall short. I struggle with temptation and sin. I struggle with idolatry - looking to insufficient substitutes to fill me up when I am feeling empty, alone, and insecure. But I will overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of my testimony, proclaiming all that He has done and continues to do in my life and His unending faithfulness.

I share it also because I think it helps all of us to think on these things. I know when I talk to my Khmer teachers who are at varying stages of the development of their faith in Jesus Christ I am so encouraged because I see God at work in their lives and I know He is continuing to draw Cambodians to Himself.

Speaking of which, here's another exciting testimony recently reported in the Children in Families newsletter.  Click here to read it!

Friday, July 27, 2012

"Can't We All Just Get Along?"

I've heard that question posed many times and it seems like, as often as not, it's applied somewhat sarcastically. As in when, following a discussion about some issue over which there are strongly opposing views, someone mockingly concludes with "Can't we all just get along?" In this context it is intended to disparage the "simplistic" view that there can be, if not reconciliation, at least peaceful co-existence, between two camps having such widely divergent viewpoints. To be honest, in the past I've used it in this sarcastic manner myself, but more and more I feel the need to put it out as an earnest plea. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that I often see these days via email, Facebook, and the media in general such an alarmist, attacking, polarizing, vitriolic approach to communication, and this is just as prevalent in the Christian community as it is from secular sources. Sometimes it is the Christians pitted against secular society, sometimes it is Christian against Christian. This certainly comes to the fore as election time draws near. Another catalyst to this post was a blog post I recently saw on Facebook written by a woman who I think really nails it. Like her, I sometimes feel "caught in the middle" and, while I don't line up with all of her theological positions, I agree wholeheartedly with her approach and her admonition to the body of Christ (and that's kind of the point - I can acknowledge that we don't see eye to eye on everything and still appreciate her as a sincere sister in Christ). Here's a link to her blog post - it's worth a read. "Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught In Between"

But what makes me even more earnest to speak up about this is that I've been spending some time in 1 Corinthians lately. The Corinthian church would be viewed by some Christian circles today as way too liberal, by some Christian circles as way too charismatic. But, what I see Paul addressing the most in his letter to them is their pride and divisiveness. It's worth noting too, that despite the fact that the letter is filled with exhortations to correct their thinking and behavior, he starts it out including these words:
"I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Corinthians 1:4-9)

Despite their having some really significant problems, demonstrating some very un-Christlike behavior, and many of them even exhibiting a profound lack of respect toward Paul and all he had done on their behalf, he still appeals to them as brothers and sisters in Christ and lets them know he is thankful for them. When we look at ourselves, the way we sometimes deal with issues both within and outside the church, how do we measure up to Paul's example and to the principles he taught?

(Regarding himself and the other apostles) "We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly...." (1 Cor 4:12-13)

"Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Cor 10:32-11-1)

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Rom 12:18)

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." (Rom 14:19)

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."  (Eph 4:1-6)

"Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." (Phil 4:5)

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Col 3:12)

Dear brothers and sisters, we are at war, but it is not with each other, with the government, or with the lost people of this world - it is with the enemy of our souls, and when our words and actions are characterized by bitterness, anger, defensiveness, and one-upmanship we are playing right into his hands. How does a lost world see Jesus in us if we are not like Him? How are we like Him if we are more concerned about changing the religious and cultural climate through winning arguments than we are about winning human hearts and drawing people closer to Him?

I love theology, I love seeking and sharing God's truth. I do believe that principles and convictions matter and I am not promoting an artificial peace at all costs (and, of course, neither did Paul). I just grieve over the way we are alienating people who need to know the Savior and how we so often tear each other apart. I like how Rachel Held Evans put it in the blog post I mentioned above, "I have no problem with Christians arguing with one another. Really. We’re brothers and sisters, for goodness sake!  Of course we’re going to argue!  We just need to learn to do it better."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bridge or Barrier

The Kizuna Bridge which spans the Mekong River in Cambodia
So far my main "job" since coming to Cambodia has been language learning. As many of you know, I have frequently requested prayers for my progress with language learning. Well, over the past few weeks I've received some fresh motivation. While my colleague, Cathleen, was away for a previously scheduled trip to the U.S. something came up which required me to take on some extra responsibilities for Children in Families. This involved being a part of a number of meetings conducted primarily in Khmer. Now, after just four months of language classes, I was not under any illusion that I was prepared for this level of language competence - there just was no other option given the nature of the situation. There were a couple of times that I was able to arrange to have a translator, but there were several other times where there wasn't time to arrange for that and I spent a good part of the meeting feeling lost. I would catch enough to have a general idea about what was being discussed, but not enough to have the clarity that I really needed. Language was definitely a barrier for me. I felt blocked out, excluded, unable to engage in situations where I really wanted to have a voice and really needed to understand. In an environment that was already stressful in itself, this barrier was sometimes excruciatingly frustrating.

I've long been a believer in the importance of language learning for effectiveness in missions. My recent experiences did not reveal much that I didn't already know. They did, however make an impact on me experientially. I felt what it was like to be on the outside of a great chasm between me and the message. This not only was a barrier to the message, it was a barrier between me and the messenger. When people are able to speak the same language it becomes a bridge, not a barrier. A common language brings people together, rather than keeping them apart. Oh, how I want this! When I talk to families about what they can do to help and empower their children with disabilities, when I encourage them about the love and courage they are displaying in doing this, and when I have opportunity to share with Cambodians about the wonderful hope that I have in Christ, I want to have a solid bridge by which to deliver those important messages. I want a bridge that puts us on common ground and does not create confusion, frustration, or feelings of alienation. As much as I am anxious to get plugged into the work I came here to do and to start building into these children and families' lives, I am reminded again that this time that has been set aside for language learning is a vital investment. I have a bridge to build. Please continue to pray for God's blessing in that process.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."  John 8:36
My friends and family in the United States just celebrated the Fourth of July last week. I love the way my little home town of Inwood, Iowa celebrates this holiday with its small town parade, games and lunch with neighbors in the park, the demolition derby (go ahead, laugh), and their great annual fireworks display. Americans love freedom, and the Fourth of July is a great time to celebrate the freedom that our nation enjoys. I was thinking recently of a different type of freedom, though - the freedom I am longing for so many to experience here in Cambodia, the freedom that we who have trusted in Christ get a taste of here, but will fully experience at the end of time when Jesus returns and makes everything new. While we wait for that day, we have the incredible opportunity to participate in demonstrating for this hurting, enslaved world glimpses of what that freedom looks like. What a privilege it is to partner with Jesus to "loose the chains of injustice" and to "set the oppressed free" (Isaiah 58:6). I was thinking back to a chapel at DTS where guest speaker, Michael Frost, spoke about creating "little foretastes of the Kingdom." It was a memorable message anyway, but had an even bigger impact on me because the example he gave was of a young Cambodian pastor who responded to God's call by proclaiming His kingdom in action as well as in words within a slum community outside of Phnom Penh. It is a beautiful testimony to the amazing things God can do through our willingness to be His agents of freedom. It was refreshing for me to listen to it again because it can be so easy to get discouraged by "the system." How could anything I do be more than just a drop in the bucket within an endless sea of need? But there are stories everywhere of how one life committed to the purposes of God can make an enormous difference, and the story of Abraham Heng as told by Mike Frost is one such story.

"Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God." 1 Peter 2:16

I hope that you will listen to this message and be encouraged to use your precious freedom to fashion little foretastes of the Kingdom for those whom God loves, those whom He desires to live in freedom as well.

If you'd like to hear the edited (i.e. shorter) audio version of this chapel message click here.
If you want to see the unedited video of this chapel message click here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

And now for something completely different...

Some of you might remember that line from old Monty Python sketches. It seemed an appropriate title for this blog post because, for one thing, this post has virtually nothing to do with what I am doing in Cambodia, and for another, I fondly remember the subject of this post's doing his fair share of Monty Python impersonations back in college. I've had a lot of things on my mind here in Cambodia recently. Some of them I've already blogged about, some I'm still wrestling through how to blog about. Most relate to the challenges I see ahead as I move closer and closer to the role that I've anticipated having here in Cambodia. But one of the things that has been on my mind a lot is the ongoing battle of  my college friend, Charlie Kurtz, to recover from a brain aneurysm he sustained a little over a month ago.I was shocked and so very, very sad when I first heard about it. Probably only a month prior to that I had received such a warm, encouraging, and spiritually sensitive e-mail from him. It was extremely painful to suddenly hear that he was fighting for his life. I signed up for his CaringBridge website and have been eagerly following every journal post. I knew Charlie to be a warm, funny, engaging guy who loved and served Jesus with a passion and this became very clear to all of the hospital staff involved in his care and everyone watching his journey of healing. I almost expected that God might just do something really amazing, in part, because of how Charlie and his wonderful friends and family were putting Him in the spotlight. I know that God is faithful in tragedy as well as in triumph and I prayed for His comfort for Charlie's sweet family and friends whatever the outcome. It's just the beginning of a long slow journey, but it appears that the Lord is really bringing triumph out of tragedy and what I'm so impressed about is how Charlie just exudes Jesus Christ, even while he's still battling memory deficits and confusion at times. It has only been recently that Charlie has regained the ability to talk and it is clear that Jesus is one of the foremost things on his mind. Wow, do I ever want that to be true of me! One of his statements to his wife was, "is God using us right now to magnify his name?" Yes, yes, my friend, an emphatic yes!!! I can't thank God enough for you and the encouragement of seeing your love and faithfulness to Him and vice versa. Whether alive and well or on the brink of death I want my life to shine for Jesus the way yours has.

There's a long way to go, but Charlie appears to be making really wonderful progress and I pray that he will continue moving steadily forward. Please pray for Charlie and his family as he continues the hard work of rehabilitation while clinging to the hand of his Savior and boldly proclaiming His name. Pray for his emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being throughout the course of this journey.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Couldn't have said it better!

The purpose of this blog is primarily to share with my friends and family about my journey as I seek to partner with the Lord in what He is doing in the world, particularly in the little part of the world to which He has called me - Cambodia. Recently, I've been focusing a lot on what He's given me opportunity to learn about the situation faced by numerous children worldwide who are separated from family due to a variety of factors. I've been alerted to the reality that so many of these children would be able to remain within their families and communities if those of us who are looking to help their situations would reconsider the approach we take to doing that. In several of my recent posts I've tried to articulate some of these realities. Recently Children in Families received several video segments produced by an Australian ministry which is concerned about promoting family and community-based care. The following video is an interview with one of the families that we are serving and this mom says it much better than I ever could:

Monday, June 11, 2012

So, what are you doing about it?

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing." - Psalm 68: 5-6

Since I've been writing lately about what I've learned in recent weeks about the problems associated with many orphanages here in Cambodia and extolling the benefits of family/community-centered care, I thought I'd share a bit about how the organization with which I work, Children in Families, is helping to address this need. Children in Families was started in 2006 by Cathleen Jones who recognized the need to move away from institutionalized care for children in part from her own prior experience as an orphanage director. Currently we are helping over 200 children to live within safe, nurturing, family environments through our kinship care and foster care programs. Kinship care involves providing support to extended family members such as grandparents or aunts and uncles when a child does not have a living parent willing or able to care for him or her. Foster care involves supporting couples and families who wish to provide a good home to a child who has no living relatives willing or able to care for him or her. In both scenarios families receive assistance for food and school expenses for the children, as well as regular follow up from our Cambodian social work staff, including access to ongoing family education. When a child is referred to CIF (generally by government agencies, NGOs, or local officials) a CIF social worker investigates to determine if the child has any living family members potentially able to care for him or her. The child is placed into an emergency care family while his or her particular needs are assessed and, if family members have been identified, they are counseled to determine if the child can be successfully and safely reintegrated into the family framework. If the child is a candidate for kinship care this is preferable as it allows the child to remain connected with those already a part of his or her life. If not, the child is placed in a carefully screened foster family. In either case the family has a contract with Children in Families which outlines expectations and responsibilities. Children in Families has worked to develop good working relationships with local government officials and is in compliance with national standards of care. There is a lot more to be done and we partner with other organizations which have the same commitment to promoting community and family-based care in order to collaborate and maximize our efforts. We would like to grow in our capacity to reach more children and families and to facilitate the development of other similar programs all across Cambodia.

If you would like to find out more about Children in Families and/or how you can help to support community and family-based care in Cambodia please click here to check out our website. There is some good information about family-based care on the Resources page.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's the big deal?

This week I passed along an article on Facebook that a friend of mine had posted. It was entitled, "Voluntourism: 'A Misguided Industry.'" (Click here to read the article) I did wince just a bit, because I know I have friends who have done this with a genuine desire to make a positive difference and I don't want anyone to feel that I am pointing an accusing finger. I have also been involved in similar activities in the past. I have experienced some recent revelations, though, that have caused me to re-think what is really in the best interest of children and I want to encourage others to give it some thought as well.

A page on the Friends-International website describes the situation really well:
Myths and Realities about orphanages in Cambodia 

Let me sum up a little of why I feel like this is such a big deal:

1. I want people to realize there are alternatives. It really is more cost-effective as well as generally much healthier for the children and families involved to help families access the resources they need to stay together. These programs are being developed, but if the bulk of the resources continue be poured into orphanages they will continue to draw children out of families who want to care for them but feel that they are unable to do so.

2. People have many misconceptions. I know that a lot of my misconceptions are being blown away as I learn from the people around me. We may think that if families "abandoned" their children in the first place then to reunite them only puts the children at risk. We don't take into account the lack of support systems available to these families. I'm getting to see that just getting what they need to make it through a crisis can sometimes be all it takes to keep a family together.

3. Children need love and stability. The best orphanages are those which operate as a placement of last resort and who make attempt to reunite families or refer them to alternative services whenever possible. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation in Cambodia issued this statement: "The principle that institutional care should be a last resort and a temporary solution has not been fully engrained in the general mindset in Cambodia, where the number of institutions and children living in residential care continues to rise each year. The increasing trend of opening and placing children in residential care facilities is of great concern. International research demonstrates that institutionalization of children impacts negatively on social, physical, intellectual and emotional child development and that non-institutional care is recognized as providing children with a range of benefits compared to other forms of residential care. Moreover, institutionalization of vulnerable children when family and community-based options have not been explored, does not comply with the Royal Government of Cambodia 2006 Policy on Alternative Care for Children." (From With the Best Intentions - A Study of Attitudes Toward Residential Care in Cambodia 2011)

I am not a Pollyanna (okay, maybe sometimes I am a little bit), but I can see that community based care works because it is what CIF does!! Where we have had the opportunity to be involved, kinship care and foster care have been working well!! I'm longing for those with the resources available to effect change to see how much better we can do for these valuable images of God. How? Start with the recommendations listed by the Friends-International page and, if you are currently supporting an orphanage, ask them about their policies to see if they are serving the best interests of children in their care. If you would like to start helping children in need, please look for organizations which value community-based options.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Praying in Tongues

Last week one of my Khmer teachers asked me at the beginning of my class if I knew how to pray in Khmer and, when I said that I didn't and that I wanted to learn to pray in Khmer, she taught me a simple prayer. I hadn't posted any clips from my Khmer lessons in a while so I thought it would be fun to post this one.

In the clip she walks me through, filling in words that were new for me. If you wonder about the long pauses where I am repeating the is because I write each word in a phonetic alphabet that I learned at the PILAT language acquisition training I went to in Colorado before I came. So helpful! As you can hear, some of their sounds are a little different from ours!

So here is a translation of the prayer:
Lord Jesus, I thank You for today, that you have blessed me with this very good opportunity to learn Khmer here. Lord, please bless me with strength and wisdom. Help me to remember more. I thank You, Lord, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

(Disclaimer: Khmer does not really transfer word for word and I think I got the meaning of all of it but I may not be quite 100%)

Want to hear it? Here's the link:
Learning to Pray

It's really such an appropriate prayer and I appreciate that my teachers recognize, as I do, that I do need the Lord's help for this task.  Please "aht ti tahn" (pray) for me to continue to press on with diligence and in the Lord's strength.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Celebrating Mothers (& Families)

Happy Mother's Day to all of you wonderful moms out there! I'm so very grateful for my own incredible mom as well as for dear friends and a dear sister who are working hard at this critically important job. I also have friends who have lost their moms and I think of you on a day like today as well. I hope that you are comforted by good memories of those special ladies.

Moms are so important. Families are so important. That's why Children in Families exists, to support families here in Cambodia in meaningful ways so children can grow up in a loving home rather than in an orphanage or worse. Many people do not realize that many children in orphanages here in Cambodia, as well as in many other developing nations, are not truly orphans. Why in the world would a family put their own child in an orphanage? Well there can be a number of reasons and some may surprise you. In one of our CIF staff meetings recently I heard of one reason. There is a mother who desperately needs to work to support her family, but child care for her children would eat up almost her entire salary, leaving too little to meet the family's needs. We might be shocked at the idea of leaving young children unattended, in the care of an unsafe person, or dumping them into an orphanage, but sometimes families just don't know what to do. It may surprise you to know that well-intended donors from the West actually may be contributing to Cambodian parents' choices to "abandon" their children. Many people from the West support orphanages because they feel like they are helping kids, but families are then inclined to believe that their kids might be better off in an orphanage than staying at home because that's where all the resources are - food, medical care, education, etc. By supporting orphanages well-meaning people are sometimes actually, in a sense, creating orphans. We can and should help children in Cambodia and around the world in Jesus' name, but we need to explore how to help in the best way possible. How can we support families and improve their lives in order to improve the lives of their children? I am glad that a number of people are starting to recognize the need to address this question. Please pray for, support, and encourage organizations which are addressing the real needs of families and working on sustainable solutions for people in need around the globe.

Click here to read a really good post about this issue from another blogger. I don't know this lady but I've gone through a number of her posts and she really "gets it" with regard to this problem.

Click here to read an article about the investigation of Cambodian orphanages due to concerns expressed by UNICEF, including the fact that nearly 3 out of 4 children in Cambodian orphanages have at least one living parent.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


You may or may not have noticed that if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page there is a link that says, "More Pictures." I finally posted some Cambodia pictures on there, including pictures of our apartment and of the construction going on nearby. There are currently several big apartment buildings being built right next to ours, a couple of them literally a stone's throw from our back balcony, from which I took the photo above. Since our kitchen windows have only screens (no glass), there is construction noise echoing down our hall throughout most of the day. When I saw how closely the buildings are being built I thought, "Wow, we're going to have some neighbors living really close by." What somehow escaped me back then is that we already have neighbors living just outside our back door. I had noticed that people were sometimes washing clothes or rinsing themselves off back there, but it didn't occur to me that they were actually living there. Often building projects employ people from the rural provinces. Since these people have left their homes in the province they have to make themselves at home in the unfinished buildings while they are working on them. In this picture if you look down at the bottom, on the right side of the corner are a couple of cooking pots over an open flame. To the left of the corner there is what appears to be a kind of a cot for sleeping. It's kind of wild - we live so close, yet we live so differently from one another. It reminds me that entering into their world requires a lot more than just entering their country. God grant me the grace to continue work toward entering in.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Good Shepherd

This drawing by Katherine Brown is one of my favorites. I think she captures the tender compassion of the Savior, as well as the confident trust that we, his beloved sheep, have every reason to exhibit. Well, I wish I could say that I always exhibit that confident trust - I sometimes fret, sometimes pout, sometimes feel overwhelmed, but He is always faithful, and I love to testify of His faithfulness, if nothing else, to help me remember it! Okay, so here's another example for you. There was a church that I had been wanting to visit and I finally found out last week the location of their meeting place. This morning I headed over there on my bicycle and was on the right street, but was having trouble finding the church. I saw a lot of shops, but nothing that said Gospel Commission Fellowship (they have recently moved and apparently have not yet put up a sign). I was scanning for some kind of clue, praying for help, and wondering if I had already gone too far or needed to keep going further up the street. Just then I saw a familiar face. It was Lois, my mentor from my first trip to Cambodia. I asked her where the church was, knowing that she was probably heading there too. I had just passed it by a few feet! As it turned out, she was the only person I recognized there, apart from the pastor, and I likely would have given up finding it if she hadn't been there right at that precise moment. I realize this is nothing earth-shattering, it wouldn't have been the end of the world if I had had to give up and turn back for home, just a bit frustrating. It was just another one of those little tenderness-es that He continually shows to this quivering little lamb of His to remind her that He is always caring for her. Stay close to the Shepherd, He won't let you down!

I'm not getting any compensation for this, but since I am using a digital copy of her print, I thought I'd provide a little free advertising for Katherine Brown. If you want a copy of this print you can purchase one at:

Sunday, April 22, 2012


I've been doing some thinking about the concept of trust. There are so many instances in all of our lives that require trust. When a loved one is sick we trust that the doctors and other health care providers know what they are doing. When we fly in a plane we trust that the pilot is sober and skilled. We know that people are not always trustworthy, but are continually faced with situations requiring us to operate on a certain level of trust. As I currently encounter a variety of new situations where I am dependent on the compliance of others I recognize that ultimately my trust has to be in the Lord. Recently I was stuck across town with a flat rear bike tire. As it turned out, I needed more than just a little air, I needed a new inner tube. A local repair guy offered his services. He had no shop, just an air compressor under an umbrella on the side of the road and some tools. It was the kind of situation in which I feel really vulnerable. I had no idea what a normal price would be or if this guy would do a good job since he's never seen me before in his life and may not see me again. I could have called a friend to come rescue me, but I decided to go ahead and trust, realizing that whatever happens, I have a trustworthy Shepherd who is watching over me and showing me abundant mercy as I attempt to make the best decisions I can in learning to face new situations in my new homeland.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Happy Khmer New Year!

Or, as they say in Khmer, "Rek-ree-ay Chaul Chnam Thmey!" (It's a little difficult representing Khmer words in print because they use a different alphabet and I have to do the best I can to represent it phonetically.) The Khmer New Year holiday lasts for three days and today is the first day of it. My Khmer school had a party on Wednesday for all of the teachers & students. They explained a little bit about the background of Khmer New Year and the way it is celebrated. We played a few traditional games, danced, and ate. I wanted to find out a little more so I did some internet hunting. Here are a couple of sites that seem to have pretty good information about it if you're interested:

During Khmer New Year most Cambodians travel to the rural province where their family is from and my neighbors down the street invited me to go with them to their province. I thanked them very much but declined as graciously as I could. As much as I appreciated the offer and would love to accept it, I don't feel I have enough of a handle on the language yet to be able to tactfully decline participation in some aspects of the celebration for reasons of conscience, and I don't want to burn any bridges with this family!

Here are a few of the games that I got to play at the party:
"Chol Chhoung (ចោល⁣ឈូង⁣) " A game played especially on the first nightfall of the Khmer New Year by two groups of boys and girls. Ten or 20 people comprise each group, standing in two rows opposite each other. One group throws the "chhoung" (a Cambodian scarf knotted into a ball at one end with a tail on the other) to the other group. When it is caught, it is rapidly thrown back to the first group. If someone is hit by the "chhoung," the whole group must dance to get the "chhoung" back while the other group sings.

"Leak Kanseng (លាក់⁣កន្សែង) " This is like "Duck Duck Goose" but with a twist. The participants sit in a circle. One holds a "kanseng" (Cambodian scarf/towel) that is twisted into a rope & walks around the circle while singing a song. He/she secretly tries to place the "kanseng" behind someone in the circle. The person behind whom it is placed must pick up the "kanseng" and the twist is that, instead of chasing the person who dropped the "kanseng" he/she uses it to beat the person sitting to the right while that individual tries to escape by running around the circle.

I don't know the name of another game we played but it involves throwing large brown pods from some kind of tree at the pods that the opposing team has set up in mounds of sand on their side. If you knock the right ones down your team wins but if you knock the wrong one down you lose. The winning team takes the pods so that they click against each other and hits them against their opponents bodies, usually on their knees.

The following video is kind of a "staged" representation but I thought it would be fun to include it so you can hear some Cambodian music and see some Cambodian dancing (one of my Khmer teachers was trying to teach me how to do the same kind of hand movements). Also the games we played are shown, although I don't think any Cambodians would really be playing them all dressed up like this. The dresses worn in this video are very much like the dresses that people wear here for weddings if they can afford it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Getting Mobile

Today's world is into mobility. One of the biggest challenges for me in adjusting to my new setting in Cambodia has been a loss of mobility. No longer can I jump in my car and conveniently go wherever I want on a moment's notice. For most of my first couple of weeks my options for getting around were 1. walk, 2. bum a ride off of a friend (whether that be by car or motorcycle), or 3. hire a tuk tuk. I am grateful for these options, but they sometimes feel very limiting in comparison to the freedom that I was used to. It gives me yet another opportunity to depend on God, however, and He has graciously been providing for me. Last Monday a friend took me bike shopping and I found a bicycle - used, but in really good shape. Additionally, God answered my prayers about my transportation needs by helping me to find a great tuk tuk driver, one who is kind, honest, and dependable! I can't begin to express how thankful I am for this - it allows me to get a lot of things done that would be much harder to do otherwise while feeling relatively secure. Since for now I will be using my bike the most, I do ask for your prayers for safety as I am learning how to navigate the traffic here with my bike. I feel quite stressed when I am in a lot of traffic, which happens fairly often, and I did have one kind of scary incident which shook me up a little. I know it will improve as I continue to practice getting around this way.

If you want to get a little taste of what riding my bike in Phnom Penh is like, you can click here to see a video of part of my route from my language class back to my apartment. Sorry it is so jumpy, that's what happens when you mount a camera to the handlebars! The little carriages you see pulled by motorcycles are tuk tuks. (Note: this is light traffic, not the kind that scares me, despite the fact that I had to pull over in the last part of this video to avoid hitting an oncoming motorcycle, saying, "Some toh," which means "Sorry" in Khmer.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Taking the Plunge

With my Khmer language teachers, Srey Roat & Thary

One of the things I love when reading Bible stories is seeing how patient God is with His servants. When I look at guys like Gideon, Moses, and Jonah, and how God uses them despite their struggles with trusting Him, I know there’s hope for me. A few days ago I experienced one of those instances of God’s tender, patient provision for me in my weakness. During language acquisition training at MTI, we were exhorted to of dive in right away, start practicing our new language in our communities, view language learning as ministry, etc. all of which sounded wonderful and exciting to me at the time. I don't think I take myself too seriously in general. I'm willing to be laughed at and I really love people, so what would be the problem? Then I got here and, while part of me wanted so badly to take the plunge just as they had encouraged us to do, another part of me really struggled with it. I've had one full, intense week of one-on-one Khmer lessons (2 hours/day for 5 days) but getting out to practice was harder for me than I thought it would be. I knew it was time to start pushing myself further out of my comfort zone. So, one morning as I was heading out the door (a little later than I had intended) I just started praying and confessed to the Lord my fear, asking Him to direct me to the right people in my community to help me practice language, the people He knew would be able to encourage me, and with whom I could possibly develop relationships and eventually share His good news. I made my first stop at a little cafe very close to my apartment. The place was empty except for two employees, a man and a woman. I ordered a frappe and then started practicing some of my conversational Khmer phrases with the young lady. There was one word that I was mispronouncing that she tried repeatedly to correct me on. After numerous tries I finally got it satisfactorily, but by that time I felt like they must be thoroughly frustrated with me so I took my drink and sat down at a table. To my delight, the young woman came and sat at a booth next to me to continue talking. She was very friendly and expressed willingness to help me in the future. I was so encouraged by this very immediate answer to my desperate prayer just minutes earlier. It made it so much easier to talk to a number of other people afterward and I'm seeing more and more opportunities open up, including another young lady who is a school teacher and lives on my street. She and I talked tonight and are going to meet tomorrow so that she can help teach me Khmer and I can teach her a little English! 

If you'd like to hear a little of my fumbling with my new language from one of my Khmer lessons click here

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Fabulous Family

We made juice toasts in fancy glasses

Lots of fun - but good-bye is still hard!

Last week, as I walked out of the house to head to the airport a little after 4:00 on Monday morning one of my family members said that the gas was low in the van so we were going to have to take another vehicle. In my groggy state and without my glasses on yet, it took me a minute to realize that the vehicle they had in mind was the 10-passenger limo they had rented so we could all ride to the airport together in style. My first ever limo ride! It was such a fun way to be sent out and I'm so grateful to my family for making it such a special and memorable event. When people hear about my being a missionary I often get asked, "Is your family supportive of you?" Well this is just one little example of the wonderful love and support my family has shown me throughout this process of preparing to go. I'm so very thankful for them and I ask for your prayers for them. While they do support my going, it's not easy for any of us to have me so far away. Missionaries' families pay a price for their missionary's call, so please remember to lift them up as well!

Friday, February 10, 2012


Praise the Lord! I'm now fully funded! The last commitments are still being processed so I haven't been able to purchase my ticket yet, but I anticipate being able to do that any day now. I'm so grateful for all who are partnering with me financially to make this happen and for all who have been faithfully praying. Keep sending those prayers up! I've gotten all of my medical stuff done but I still have a lot of other loose ends to tie up. And lots of PACKING!! Very exciting times but sometimes a little overwhelming. Still hoping to leave February 27!