Monday, June 30, 2008

Aisle 12.

Josh and I are coming up on our two month anniversary, both of getting married and of moving to Cambodia. We have been out with teams fairly consistently within this time frame and are now settling into a week and a half "break" before the next team comes. This time will involve normal office hours, evenings to ourselves, sending out wedding thank-you's, and exciting date nights to places like The Pizza Company (perhaps I love it too much. As if this would be possible). Our first official "break" activity occurred yesterday after church and lunch. We had dreamed of this activity prior to our last team, spoken of it often, and anticipated the day it would actually happen.

We drove into town, made our way into a parking garage, and excitedly entered the vast air conditioned haven known as "Lucky Mart." It is the Phnom Penh equivalent of a Safeway or Albertsons, and since Josh and I often sit and dream aloud of walking the aisles of Target (I will admit here our unhealthy addiction to it. no shame.), we have found that Lucky Mart is the closest thing to this in Phnom Penh.

We made our way down every aisle, regardless of what it contained. We bought the staples like bread and Skittles, batteries and chocolate chip ice cream. It's amazing how the seemingly small things of life can bring a great deal of comfort when living over here. People had told me to anticipate this and now I am seeing it firsthand when I genuinely look forward to things like folding laundry, organizing our room, and splurging for an iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk (the condensed part means it's healthy...don't try to tell me otherwise).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Happiness never melts.

So, I had a date night tonight with Josh and Emily. We whisked Emily away to our favorite Phnom Penh getaway, The Pizza Company. I have no words for the emotions and joys that come as a result of constructing the perfect salad bar creation (small bowl, a limit of one trip through, creative results), drinking from large refillable Coke glasses, and savoring a double pepperoni pan crust pizza. Heaven.

We all had seen our teams off to the airport today, Emily had picked up her incoming team who will head out tomorrow, and we simply enjoyed being together and talking. The point of this specific blog entry though is not only to review the finer points of The Pizza Company (there are many. I will e-mail them all to you if you'd like), but to say that Josh and Emily would have a similar forum to this one if they weren't the ones planning for each of the teams to come in :) It is amazing to see all that goes into each project and how hard everyone works to make it happen, both prior to, during, and after. I feel fortunate that I'm allowed the time to connect with people back home through this blog and to of course communicate on Josh and Emily's behalf :) I feel this might be my calling in life, speaking for other people.

So, all that to say, I will occasionally offer insights from these two for friends and family back home who hopefully can get a little glimpse into life over here. My first insight is this, Josh has taught me that if you want to beat the Cambodia sun, you have to get up at 5am to run before it gets unbearably hot. I applaud him for this as I roll back over and go to sleep. Emily has taught me that soda water is the healthy alternative to actual soda. And her bravery in the face of occasional ridicule for this is admirable. :)

It's Emily's mom's birthday today, my mom's birthday tomorrow, and Josh's mom's birthday next month. In light of these momentous occasions we picked the most appropriate gift we could find in all of Cambodia. We love our moms. And Swensen's ice cream shop.


Deuteronomy 31:6 “For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Josh and I just finished up with a team that came in from California to go work at an orphan home in the town of Snule. We had the opportunity to paint the home, the cafeteria and the bathroom, along with building a brick wall for the front of the home, laying a cement walkway from the bathrooms to the cafeteria, beginning a fence that will enclose the yard, purchasing tables and chairs for the cafeteria (they had eaten their meals on the mats at the home previously), and getting the chance to connect with an amazing group of kids and adults who call this building home. The team did crafts with the kids each afternoon, which was a huge success, and at the end of the week the time culminated in a carnival that included face painting, balloon animals, a fishing game, bean bag toss, and lots and lots of candy (and free tooth brushes).

Josh and I commented often on the fact that we really enjoyed this team (especially if any of them are reading this now..) as we got to really connect with them throughout the two weeks, find out more of their stories, what brought them to Cambodia, and most importantly share the Cambodian delicacy of durian cake together.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of or experienced durian, it is a fruit with a spiky outer shell (as if this alone shouldn’t be enough of a warning against consumption) that is outlawed in most all hotels and guest houses in Cambodia. Why? Because the smell is so rancid that a law had to be passed to protect innocent people from it.

The first hint of our horrible encounter with the illegal delicacy came when I’d taken my first bite of cake and heard my husband whisper to me “I think the frosting is made of durian….” Shock and awe. Word soon spread throughout the table and mayhem ensued. Or maybe some people still ate the cake and others made elaborate gagging gestures. Either way.

And perhaps it wasn’t quite this dramatic, but that’s how it lives on in my mind.

This team brought with it not only new experiences but also new questions and new ways to be challenged. It’s an interesting task trying to navigate this Teams Coordinator role with Josh while still largely feeling like I’m the one on the missions trip. I think I allowed this fact to frustrate me initially, wanting to be an expert cement mixer, brick layer, painter, leader, etc right from the start. I will eventually (hopefully sooner than later) learn that this is not a terribly reasonable (or wise) expectation.

I had some good time to reflect on my first 3 teams during my time in Snule as I prayed that the Lord would help me see things not only from my perspective of someone who has chosen to live in Cambodia serving with multiple teams throughout the next several months, but to see through the eyes of people who are here for a much shorter time. The people on these teams have prepared, raised finances, attended meetings, given of their time and energy and normal routine to travel across the world and serve the people we are called to love (widows and orphans). That is powerful to me. More so as we all sat around on Thursday night during our beach time and shared some of what the Lord had done in us during the trip. It was a good reminder to me that simply because I live and work here does not mean I am free from the temptation to let moments slip by. It is easy regardless of where we live and what we do to see a full calendar and equate that to busy-ness, check lists, early mornings, and occasional exhaustion. :)

I felt challenged to approach the current and upcoming calendar with a sense of expectation of what God will do in my own brief time here. I want to be concerned with His schedule rather than my own.

I also wrote in my journal during the trip that I want to be changed. This is no small request. I've discovered that it is easy to be the more ideal version of me when I am sitting on the bed at the end of the day, my iPod on, Bible open, journaling lofty goals and ideals for growth and change. I find that these moments of isolation tend to thinly veil my aversion to the messiness of real life, of interacting with people, until I realize that it's through these exact moments that growth occurs. My last journal entry ends with this, "I like to hope that the switch in my brain will suddenly turn back to its original state, that I'd be able to operate the way I was intended to, not easily offended (Lord help me), not afraid to change, to be honest, to lead, to serve, to love, to walk in the image I was born to reflect, rather than shudder at the one I too often embody."

Here are some pictures from this past team, along with a special shot at the end of my first 8 legged meal in Cambodia (in all reality I only ate one of the legs...).

Halfway through painting...

Completed painting.
We killed many spiders to paint the inside of this bathroom...

They call this the "sno-cone" technique. Masterful.

Carnival day.

Sunday morning church service.

The kids all received new outfits and stuffed animals.

R&R time at the beach in Sihanoukville.

Cambodia rain gear.

Shannon's birthday! "ooooooooooooooooooooo! aahhh" (-Baby Mama)

Dolphin Watching 101

Monday, June 9, 2008

The blue pumpkin.

I am sitting at a table across from my husband in a restaurant called The Blue Pumpkin in Siem Reap. We just finished the work portion of our second team and now have a day to relax. And relaxing it is :) I am enjoying a large iced vanilla coffee in the air conditioned upper level of the restaurant as I attempt to gather some of my thoughts regarding the past week.

We had a team of five come in from Iowa who ventured out with us to do a construction/painting project at one of the orphan homes in Kompong Thom. We finished up yesterday working beside a contractor to help raise the floor of the home's cafeteria (to prevent flooding), and to repaint the entire home. The two teenage girls from the Iowa team and I sat at dinner last night talking about the fact that we would never again be able to look at a wall with chipped paint and not want to grab a tool and start taking off the paint, following that up with some plaster, sand paper, and finally a fresh new coat. We haven't quite devised the most effective way to carry all of the supplies around with us.

Our days last week would begin at 7 each morning, and we would find our way back to our rooms somewhere between 7 and 8 each night. It was a glimpse into what my life will look like for the next several months :)

We worked hard and saw a great deal accomplished in our time there. The cafeteria floor got finished and we scraped and painted more than any of us ever had before. We also interacted with lots of amazing kids who jumped in at any opportunity they saw to help with the work going on. They didn't seem to mind the fact that the sun allowed us no escape, or to notice the feelings of exhaustion that can potentially set in after carrying bucket fulls of rocks and sand in the afternoon. They smiled, they laughed, and they served, free of the notion that maybe the work shouldn't be so hard or that they should begrudge what they were doing because it didn't fit with what they wanted to be doing at the moment.

I tried to ignore the fact that my inner attitude and energy didn't always align with what I saw these kids convey. I also tried to not pose too many "are you sure you meant for me to do this?" questions to the Lord as I attempted to bring my vast painting and construction knowledge to the efforts of this team...

This will be a stretching season I have quickly discovered :) I will wake up to many long days, consume hundreds of bottles of water, encounter countless new people who I will connect with briefly during their time on foreign ground, learn how to speak Khmer flawlessly (or at least enough to understand some of what's being said in the church services), get attached to a lot of smiling kids, step into leadership opportunities, learn the Cambodian way to mix cement, attempt to steal away brief moments of quiet and solitude, learn how to have a God-honoring marriage with an amazing husband, see things in me that the Lord wants to change, and (hopefully) agree to let him do so.

Luke 17:33 "Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it."

Luke 12:48 "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

Luke 14:11 "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

"Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real." - Thomas Merton

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Where hope doesn't belong.

Josh and I went to church this morning at the center here. If I haven’t said this in an earlier post, we’re volunteering for an organization called Foursquare Children of Promise that sponsors over 100 orphan homes throughout provinces in Cambodia. Our job is to coordinate teams who come in from other countries (mostly the US) to do construction work, painting, dental and medical clinics at these homes. The beauty of FCOP and what I appreciate about it most is the fact that it has at its heart the goal of raising up Cambodians to be the ones who extend the love of God to other Cambodians. It is not simply a Western methodology (and theology) imposed on a separate culture in hopes that they will embrace it. The church services are all in Khmer, with worship leaders singing songs in Khmer and pastors preaching to the congregation in their own language. A perk for me is the fact that many of the songs we sing are ones I have known for years that have been translated into Khmer. :)

FCOP does offer English language learning in the homes for the children (which the kids pick up easily from my encounters with them), and the center here in Phnom Penh also has the capacity to teach the children music, computer skills, and other practical tools. The center is currently building on a new medical clinic that I toured for the first time today. It is incredible. It will be a huge asset to the home and surrounding community.

The newest (in process) addition to the center is a women’s dorm that will house local women for a very reasonable rent while offering them safety and fellowship, along with the chance to be discipled. I am excited to see what the Lord does through this.

This all leads me back to this morning when Josh and I drove to the center for worship, knowing we’d have to leave a bit early to go pick up the team that was coming in from Iowa. After the worship team left the stage, a group of maybe 6 little girls entered wearing angel costumes with halos. I will preface any further thoughts by saying that I am not usually one to be enamored with children’s performances (sorry). I think kids are cute and that it’s fun for parents to see what their child has learned, but my emotions don’t go much beyond that normally.

But today was different. Today, as these girls came out on stage, music playing from a nearby speaker and the evidence of their rehearsals found in corresponding hand motions and gestures, I had to fight to keep my composure.

The reason for this wasn’t based solely on their performance but on the fact that these girls are living in a place where hope doesn’t belong. They have inherited a history robbed of hope, not entirely, but nearly. I learned more about it specifically today as Josh and I picked up the team from Iowa and went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum housed in what used to be a school house. It was turned into a prison created for the purposes of interrogation, torture, and eventual extermination of anyone who opposed the Khmer Rouge. What remains in the museum today are remnants of the time: chains, barbed wire, torture devices, and rows of pictures of people who went from living life to living in a literal hell on earth. It is unfathomable to read about the conditions of the people, many of them former teachers, officers, business people, friends, daughters, mothers. It is sobering.

And it is a history that seemingly could never intersect with 6 young girls dressed in angel costumes dancing to music on the stage of a church, smiling, giggling, confident in knowing that they are loved, that they are worthwhile, that hope showed up where it was least expected and made its home where it didn’t belong.