Pchum Ben-Festival of the Dead

Phnom Penh is a ghost town.  For 3 days, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic while people fled as if a tsunami was coming up the Mekong from the Gulf of Thailand.  Every year at this time, Cambodian families leave to pay homage to their ancestors in their home village. Almost everything is closed, except maybe a gas station and a few shopping markets.  It’s like the only time I can get over 30 mph on my bike – once a year!

Alana visited for a week, and loved it; teaching English at DOVE(Develop Our Village Economy), visiting schoolmates, spending time with her step-siblings, Johnnathan and Yorean. She ate all her favorite Khmer dishes. Then she missed her flight booked through some fly-by-night Chinese Airline; so we got an extra day with her.  Good bye, Kids!  🙁

Three kids and one teen from HOP were integrated back to their home villages yesterday and today. In some cases, this is a good thing. In other cases, it’s a tragedy.  I have lived with and been a part of these kids’ lives for 5 years now. They call me “daddy.” Every time I have been called “daddy,” it startles me and makes me think: am I being a good example of a father? Am I loving them, and encouraging them? My time with them has allowed me to love these children in a way that has eluded me most of my life. Miss Chanta, 12 years old, a tough cookie and a HOP scrapper, knew her time was down to the wire; soon to be shipped out to a distant aunt. For the last week – every day – she escorts me out to where I park my motorcycle, slips her arm into mine and off we go.  Upon firing up the Baja, she hops on the back and I drop her back at HOP. The next day, she waits for me to come home from work and goes through the same ritual. My soul has been shaped (living in a community of children nobody really wanted) in ways that would never happen in a conventional world.

 I am now teaching the “Missional Church” block in ONYX. We are discovering that God is a ‘sending God’ and we, as his people, are a ‘sent people’ – pushed out of our safe and comfortable nests into uncertainty to bring hope to the marginalized and rejected. Local pastors don’t like this block as they are interested in keeping the actions within the church building where they believe: they are in control, there is no risk, discomfort, nor leveling of power. The students are into this concept though and are surprised to find this principle everywhere in the Bible.

It worked out well when most ONYX students joined in an interfaith tree-planting event in the vanishing jungles of Cambodia for four days.  It was truly a holistic mission at its best. I had planned to go but Bophal’s assistant smashed her knee and I got to mind ‘Fort Banchee.’
It has been fun and this 5th-year cohort has been the most responsive to all we do. I love this group as they choose to be vulnerable, curious, fun and open to new paradigms.  We have two from HOP this year. ONYX Phnom is also a very close Christian Community and missional. We’ve got all the right DNA. 

Bophal and I would do well to savor such times as tremendous gifts. The more organic we become and the deeper we go (personally, HOP and DOVE), the more elusive funding becomes. The correlation escapes me.  Maybe recovering our souls is part of the cost issue.  The structures and systems that served so well in the past don’t seem to fit the revived soul.

 

Peace to you,

Brian and Bophal

 

The Final Project

From various churches and denominations, 17-35 year-old Christian leaders study together weekly for the yearlong DOVE’s Onyx leadership program. In December, the Phnom Penh Onyx students presented what they learned in their final graduation requirement from the program using skits and games.
To celebrate their accomplishment, the students from Phnom Penh and Kampong Chhang campuses went on year-end retreat. The retreat was an opportunity for students to reflect on their spiritual and emotional growth, and apply what they learned. The Onyx students faced a real-life “final project” challenge during the retreat.
Ms. Khantey was one of a Phnom Penh student who shared her testimony. Her difficult relationship with her mom made her believe she didn’t love her. The Onyx Five Love Languages program helped her see her mom’s love and care for her. Khantey also learned much from the leadership lessons. Khantey’s teacher who had originally told her she had no ability to lead, later praised her for the great job leading worship music and saw God work through her.

Khantey didn’t get enough sleep so she was tired the next day when we visited a scenic campground 12 miles from the city. We continued to On Long Khiav and hiked the ¾ mile uphill to a waterfall. The others told Khantey that she should rest but she wanted to go with the group. With the help of another Phnom Penh student, she was able to reach the waterfall but felt too weak to swim. Khantey headed back down the trail first with some of the Kampong Chhnang students. She fainted halfway down but they couldn’t revive her. A student and two DOVE staff carried her down as there is no ambulance service in rural Cambodia. They took a motorcycle taxi while a student held her to the nearest doctor 2 miles away. That doctor wasn’t equipped to help her, so we took her to a private hospital 10 miles further where an Onyx student, Mrs. Houng had a relative.

When everyone else got back to the bus, they were worried so they prayed for her. On the way, we stopped at a government health center, where the doctor gave her oxygen, reviving her somewhat and confirmed the need to take her to the hospital. DOVE Kampong Chhnang Coordinator borrowed a truck from the campground owner to take Khantey from the health center to the hospital. Several students also wanted to accompany her. Since it was 5pm on a Saturday, staff had already left the hospital. Fortunately, Mrs. Houng’s relative and two other doctors were still there. We thought Khantey might have to stay overnight. But after we prayed and she received IV electrolytes, she was alert and talking. She rejoined the students at the campground for the evening BBQ.

Through this experience, the students applied the Onyx lessons of love and sacrificial leadership. We were touched by the Kampong Chhnang students’ willingness to serve since they had only met Khantey once before. We praised God for Khantey’s recovery and for the people who helped along the way. In our leadership journey, regardless of good or bad things, we thank God in all circumstances and have learned this is part of God’s reshaping process.

Jesus through the Airwaves

Even through trials, great things are happening in Cambodia. Director Sopheary of Family FM Radio flew to the USA a year ago to be diagnosed with serious kidney disease and started on dialysis. After nine months of health and visa issues, she was able to have a transplant. Miraculously, her husband was able to be the donor. Under the leadership of an interim director, Family FM was able to continue their ministry and grow in confidence. The programming team, who make and host daily programs covering family and community issues, as well as Christian content, are incredibly talented and dedicated.  Here are a couple of excerpts below are listeners’ testimonies:

Mr. Thouern, a pastor, lives in a rural village of Pursat province.  He says, “Before I believed in Jesus, I was a monk leader in a Pagoda. I was a very devoted and strong Buddhist, and so was my family. I tried everything to make myself perfect and hated Christians. One of my aunts is a Christian. Every time I gave gifts to family members, I never gave her anything because she believed in Jesus.  Suddenly, I became so sick. During my illness, I was able to see who my true friends were. No one cared for me except my family and my aunt whom I had always hated. During this time, a man came and told me to go to the Christian hospital.  He said the treatment would be free, and “God would heal me.” I only had 10,000 Riel ($2.50), which was only enough for transportation to the hospital and back. However, I spent $1 to buy food as I was starving.  My health check-up went well and the doctor prescribed medicines too. This was a big problem for I had no money to get back home. I asked for some money, and he gave it to me. God used this simple act of kindness to open my eyes and heart to realize that Christians do love people. Later, I gave my life to Jesus. A pastor came and shared about Family FM with me, so I started listening to it often. It has been such a blessing in my life.”

“Although I believed in Jesus for many years, I had trouble remembering the lyrics of the songs and couldn’t sing. After listening to Family FM, I felt a deep love of the hymns and used to sing along. I can now proudly say that God’s goodness, through Family FM, enabled me to memorize over 100 hymns which would have been impossible for me before. God has changed me, and Family FM has been a big part of that. I have learned to be patient and to control my temper too. God has used me to lead all of my family and even my cousins to Jesus Christ. I want to thank Family FM for being such an important part of our life.”

Wearing a Helmet

Develop Our Village Economy (DOVE)

I went with a team to visit Tong Neak, my home village in Prey Veng last year. I usually suggest we take a short-cut: a bumpy road that is now much improved. We crossed the longest bridge in Cambodia, the 2.2 km Tsubasa on the Mekong River funded by the Japanese government. No need to take the ferry as in the past!

“Where is my bumpy road?” Ray Durr asked. We all laughed. Cambodia has two problems: there are not enough good roads and now, with some good roads, we face another problem – road accidents.

Nineteen students are in Onyx Phnom Penh program this year, including Ms. Chhun Thida. 24-year-old Thida is a dorm leader and an English teacher with a Cambodian Christian organization that empowers garment workers. One Saturday in May, students were heading home after Onyx class. On Street 271 near the Phnom Penh Sports Club, there was a crowd of people stopped on the street.

Mr. Ren Trea, 25 years old and another Onyx student, spotted a scooter lying in the middle of the street. “What happened?” he asked the bystanders. They replied, “There was an accident. The owner of the scooter is in severe condition and she was taken to a hospital already.” It looked similar to Thida’s scooter he thought, so he called her, but no one answered. He kept calling, and at last, it was answered. It was her sister, who said, “My sister forgot her phone at home.” He told her, “I saw an accident and the scooter looks like Thida’s scooter.”

If Thida had not forgotten her phone at home that day, there would have been no answer. She was unconscious after the accident. Her family confirmed the scooter was hers. Then they checked into the nearby hospital and found her there. The hospital hadn’t started treating her yet because there was no one to authorize treatment. If Thida hadn’t been wearing a helmet, she could have died.

In Ephesians 6:16–17: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

In Thida’s case, the helmet saved her life. If Trea hadn’t seen the scooter and Thida hadn’t left her phone at home, nobody would have known where she was.

Ruth, the Moabite, came to glean in Boaz’s field. Ruth was a newcomer to the land and did not know which field to glean and God brought her to Boaz. God takes care of us: every breath and step we take, he is there with us.

Praise God that Thida rejoined the Onyx class in mid-June after being unconscious for 3 days and spending 3 weeks in the hospital.

Olive Branch After the Flood

BY Uon Seila, Director of Develop Our Village Economy(DOVE), BelPres Mission Partner in Cambodia

This time of year in Cambodia is harvest time for the rice crop. In the past, Cambodians took turns helping one another to the harvest crop. My family had only three people to harvest our crop so it took two months before we could finish. If we joined with another family of three, then it would take only one month. If we joined with three families with three people each, it would take just 15 days. This practice is called “provas dai,” which means lending hands to help harvest. I like this practice and I miss it. While working in the fields, each family shared food and ate together. The time under the Khmer Rouge spoiled this sharing practice. Now people hate to work together.

We had friends and supporters from overseas come and celebrate harvest time with us at the Onyx year-end retreat. At the beginning of 2016, some satellite sites suffered from insufficient funding, which was stressful. However, staff remained committed to developing our young leaders and we were reminded of Psalm 126:5-6, which says,” those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Praise God! We now feel joy because friends joined us to harvest our crop. Please report back to people at home how we enjoyed the fruit of this year’s harvest and to please join us to see more fruit and sharing in the years to come.

The church growth rate in Cambodia reached a plateau in 2015. If we do not do anything, it will decline soon. Cambodia is not alone, because churches in Europe and North America face declining congregations as well. This is a global issue that we need to work together to solve. After the flood Noah and his family wanted to get out of the ark but he want to make sure the water really subsided from the earth.

He sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. The dove found no place to set her foot. She returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. He put out his hand, took her, and brought her into the ark with him. He waited another seven days and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. The dove came back to him in the evening. Behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf, so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. (Gen 8:8-12)

We have updated the organization’s vision, mission and core values. We believe that discipleship of emerging leaders is strategic ways to strengthen and grow the Church in Cambodia and bring transformation to the nation. We are excited that this vision encompasses all of DOVE’s programs. Our staff continues to seek ways that our programs can synergize more with each other.

Watch Seila’s Story

A Missionary’s Perspective: Family, Dating, and Courtship in Cambodia

Cambodian young adults

The following is a post written by long-term Cambodian missionary, Brian Maher. Read as he gently reminds us that family is a gift, and a family founded on love is a building block for a healthy society.

One evening while I was going to pick up my daughter from the University of Economics and Finance, I glanced at my watch and saw there was still a bit of time before she got out. So to kill time, I went to a nearby barber shop to have my hair shampooed. In the shop, there was a man in his mid-sixties getting his hair dyed, “Do you have a family?” he asked the female stylist. In Khmer culture sometimes people ask staff about their husbands or wives. “Family,” she said, “Yes, I used to have a family, but I divorced my husband.” The conversation went on and on, and I found out that young lady was twenty-four years old. I knew that this young lady had built her family on the foundation of arranged marriages.

Arranged marriages are still popular in the Khmer culture, especially in the provinces or in the countryside. However, in the city, most people are exposed to western cultural values and customs through globalization via various forms of media, so it seems that the younger generation prefers the practice of choosing their own partner for marriage.

Family is the cell of the society. If the cells have some problems, the whole society will also suffer. Before we talk about the happiness in a family, we should trace the Khmer word ‘family’ to the root word which means, “Father and Mother, I Love You.” Before starting a family, one has to decide to get married first. Before marriage one has to choose a partner. Before choosing a partner, one has to be in some kind of community. What criterion does one use in choosing someone to be their lifelong partner?  Based on what? Love, lust, social status (Hindu cast system), or economics? If we have wrong expectations or criteria, we will never be able to build a good and happy family at all. But rather, I tell you that love is a very important component for building a solid family unit.

During the civil war, which lasted from 1967-1975, Cambodia went through so many challenges and frustrations. The present society is the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge era. During this era, Cambodian couples were forced to get married in a common thatch cafeteria. They got married because of fear, not because of love. Most of the parents of young adults in today’s present society have gone through forced marriages.

“If I lived separately from my mother-in-law, I would not have divorced him at all,” the stylist continued. She let out a long sigh of despair before she continued to share her personal story. It is unusual to hear a young female stylist share her personal story to a customer in her shop like that. She must have really needed to share her grief with someone.

In Khmer culture, the groom has to come live at the bride’s house, and he has to put down a dowry for the bride’s parents. It implies that the groom must buy a wife. But in the Bible, God brought Eve to Adam as a gift. Adam did not pay anything, and his wife was a free gift from God.

The best gift that each parent can give to their children when they get married is independence from the cultural obligations of children to the parents. The best gift to them would be not interfering too much in their personal family business. Older Khmer people still want to live in an extended family situation, not so much in a nuclear family. When a son or daughter gets married, their priority is to their own family – parents have no business interfering in their decisions and choices. “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24)  The husband has to cut any links of unhealthy parental influences from both sets of parents and give full attention to the needs and health of the newlywed couple.

As you know, the family is the cell of the society. In Khmer Rouge time, they tried to destroy the family component. I remembered a saying from Confucius.

 

If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.

If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.

If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.

If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.

— Confucius

 

After Creation, God built the human race through a family. What is a family?  Family started with Adam and Eve. God brought Eve to Adam. That means Adam did not hunt down or choose a wife. He received a wife as a gift from God. But in the Khmer culture, the phrase ‘take a wife’ or ‘look for a wife’ can determine what happens in the future for the couple. Adam did not look for a wife. God knew he lived alone, and it was not easy, so He gave him a woman as his wife. If Adam looked for a wife on his own according to some faulty criteria, and she did not work out the way he liked, he might toss her out and look for another one. Believe it or not, in Khmer culture, because the man has to pay for his wife, he has the right to throw her away if she does not perform or do the job he paid for. A man will look for another one at a price he can afford.  When one buys a phone they like, it isn’t long before a better model comes out, and they toss the old one away and buy a new one. But a wife is not like buying a useful item – a wife is someone you are given as a gift.

In what ways have you placed a criteria on your family? How can you see the ways in which God placed your family in your life as a gift?

As you continue this week, please pray for the missionaries in Cambodia and the strengthening and healing needed within Cambodian families.