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

 

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