Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Floating Village

A few kilometers outside of Siem Reap, on the Tonle Sap lake, an enormous body of freshwater in the region, there is a community that lives unlike anything most of us have ever seen or even heard of. They live entirely on the water. From what I understand, it was originally founded by Vietnamese immigrants who were unable to afford land in Cambodia and started a fishing community of boats that has now grown to a "village" that moves with the changing levels of the water and conisists of Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Thai families who all live as fishermen. When the lake level is at its highest, they pull their village in and dock against the treetops.

Yes, those are tree tops.  In the low season, they move out into the big lake and tie themselves together as a big village floating among the waves.  Here's a view of the big lake as we saw it that day.

We were there because they have learned that their conditions of extreme poverty can be lessened if they allow tourists a glimpse of their way of life. That said, it was a bit disturbing to be the tourist who was riding on a boat just watching them live their lives. I mean, it was fascinating to see such a different way of living, but it was also very sad to see the conditions they live in. Let's focus on the "fascinating" part as I share some photos with you, ok?  :)

She is fishing from her house with just a stick and a string.  Like I said, fascinating, huh?  Who needs our technology because as you will see below, it works:

After catching these small fish (which I called anchovies) in the nets, they would sit in there and beat the net with what looked like small rackets to get all the fish to fall off into a hole as the nets were rolled back up to be used again.  This seemed to be their main way of life as it was going on at about every third boat we passed.

Some more homes and boats looked like these:

Complete with pets (poor dog!)


Laundry station

Place to get boat (maybe house too) batteries refilled/recharged


Police station


Basketball court at the school

Students in school

even a farm
Pigs on a raft

And kids will be kids anywhere:

It was a day I'll never forget. 

 "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Luke 6:20


Monday, March 19, 2012

My Current Struggle

I had a really hard time concentrating in church this week.  I’ll tell you why in a minute. 

From what I heard, the pastor was talking about John 3:16. You know, THE verse. The one that most of us can recite by heart? Even many people who aren’t Christians know that verse. This pastor was talking about the different kinds of love God has – love for the world, for the trinity, for his creation, and so on.  It was a great sermon, I’m sure. I just couldn’t concentrate. When I finally got my focus back on his message, I tuned in to him saying that we all have to share our faith with the world using words. And we have to share it by sharing our struggles and our joys. Again, with words. 

So I’m going to share with you one of my current struggles.

Starting with why I had trouble concentrating in church.

It was the girl in front of me. She had a nice, cold, perspiring cup of iced chocolatey coffee sitting under her chair. I wanted desperately to take it from her.

I haven’t had coffee in 25 days. That’s over 600 hours that caffeine has been out of my system and it has been so much harder than I ever thought it would be. If you are about to tune out I urge you to stay with me since I’m supposed to share this struggle with you – according to the only 5 minutes of preaching I heard this week. 

When Lent started this year people were talking about what they were going to “give up” and I honestly just didn’t want to participate. Growing up I always saw it as a Catholic thing and I wasn’t Catholic, but since then I’ve been part of Protestant churches that have participated in the Lenten season too. I haven’t ever really done it. I mean, what’s the point of giving something up for 40 days just to start again when it was over? And why should I give anything else up this year? I mean, hasn’t my family done enough giving up already by moving to this country with just a few suitcases? What else, God? 

Then one morning, the day after Ash Wednesday, so, Thursday, I went up to my husband’s office to join him in prayer time. I don’t go very often but sometimes I like to feel close to the IJM family so I wanted to participate that day. The office director led a devotional that day talking about how much more we can appreciate Jesus’s sacrifice if we undergo a bit of the temptation and testing He underwent in the desert as we approach Easter.  Oh, yeah, that’s Lent again. 

I strongly sensed God was telling me to participate this year. But there wasn’t anything that I would be seriously tempted or tested with. I could easily give up facebook or sweets or my favorite sandals or something like that. It had to be something more, God was saying. Something that would in fact be a daily temptation, both physical and emotional. The one and only thing that fit that criteria was caffeine. So right then and there I gave it up. And not just for Lent. Forever. I don’t want to be addicted anymore.  I may someday be able to have a cup here and there but I was done with the everyday need.

Life has been so hard since then.

I knew what awaited me physically.  For a couple days (while my wise and lucky husband was out of town) I suffered intense headaches, shaky limbs, blurry vision, and irritability that my only God saved my children from with a husband away. 

But I had no idea what it would do to my head.  I was clueless to the fact that just a mere 5 minutes after I made this commitment I would be in the ONE restaurant in all of Cambodia that makes a decent glass of iced tea. A nice cool glass that doesn’t have some weird lime or pineapple or orange juice mixed into the tea. I wanted it so badly and it was so tempting to give up right then and there.

I didn’t know I would go out to Bible study a week later and as the ladies I met with ordered coffee, I would spend the entire Bible study envisioning kicking the table so hard that their mugs would fall off and break, spilling the coffee all over the floor.  Yes, I did see this happen in my mind and it was beautiful. 

I had no idea that I would sit in church nearly a month later and not be able to focus on the preaching because my mouth became so dry I started coughing as I yearned for the coffee of a girl in front of me, a girl I barely knew yet wanted to steal her coffee and drink out of her straw get every last sip even if it made that loud sucking noise in the middle of church. 

Wow. I wasn’t doing this Lent thing right.

I had emptied my body of coffee and caffeine, but I wasn’t filling it back up with Jesus. 

One of my friends emailed me recently “My time with God needs a shot in the arm.” Boy, do I know how she feels.  The beautiful thing is, that when we ask Him, He fills us up. Every single time.  Jesus says in John 4 that if we drink his water we will never thirst again.  He will, however, continue to fill our hearts to overflowing with his Holy Spirit every time we ask. We do need to ask, though.

I guess what I’ve learned - what I'm still learning - from my current struggle is that If I’m going to continue living without a caffeine addiction and try to move past all the crazy psychological stuff happening to me, I’m going to need to ask Jesus for some of that living water, whether it tastes like coffee or not And it might be good for me to ask Him to refill my cup every single morning. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Loving the Poor

Dear friends, picture this: You go out to lunch with a bunch of your favorite friends and as you sit there a woman walks up and asks if she can join you. What? It’s your lunch! They are your friends and you hardly ever get to see them! Especially with no kids around! But then you remember, oh yeah, we’re all Christians and we’re supposed to love other people and all that good stuff. She looks nice anyway, and after all, she’s wearing a super cute dress and you are curious where she got that handbag she’s carrying. Maybe that will come up in conversation. “Okay, sure, join us. What’s your name?”

Rewind. Now imagine that you’re having that same lunch with those same friends and a dirty, poor woman in rags comes to you and asks to join you. She doesn’t have her lunch because she can’t afford to buy it but she wants to sit with you anyway.

It was hard enough to welcome the first woman, the one we can relate to, but the second one, well, that seems nearly impossible. If we do welcome her, how many of us would do it purely out of pity?

This scenario comes from James 2, though I adapted to a scene I could more easily relate to as a woman, a friend, a mom. James talks of a rich or poor man coming into our church. It’s a bit easier to be welcoming at church, but even there, in the midst of worshipping our almighty God, we can still get lost in materialism and prejudice against the poor.

I talk about life in Cambodia here on this blog. I joke about the silly cultural things that I encounter on a day to day basis. I laugh about things because sometimes I have to laugh about them to survive and not cry for home. Please don’t think for a moment, though, that I don’t deeply love this place. Oh, the year round supply of fresh fruit at a small price and the weather that gives me a great tan and a reason to find a pool to play in as much as I can are great, but it’s the people that I love.

They are beautiful and I love them and I hope that the things I say about their cultural differences don’t ever make anyone think differently about my feelings for them.

As a nation, Cambodia is very poor. Out of the 225 countries listed in the world on the CIA factbook, Cambodia is at 183 with the average income per family being just over $2000 per year. How many of us make that in one paycheck? As anywhere, there are rich here, too, but overall it is composed of very poor families. There are a huge number of families that don’t even make that much in a year.

That’s why so many of them sell their own children into situations that they may or may not know lead down a road into sexual slavery. It breaks my heart. It breaks God’s heart.

God has a heart for the poor, and as I study Beth Moore’s bible study on James while living amongst the some of the world’s poorest people, I feel as though He is giving me a glimpse of that part of Him. Why does God command us over and over again in His word to seek out the poor and care for them? What do you think?

I think it’s because it humbles us. He doesn’t just tell us to send money to the poor through some random organization (though this is a great first step!). He commands us to care for them. Caring for the poor usually means getting uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable at times. It means going to their homes and truly meeting their needs. Their home might be in a part of our hometown that is dirty. It might be a part of town that is what we think of as the “bad part,” which is dangerous. It might be smelly. Have I ever mentioned that the city here in Cambodia has open sewers? They are basically little creeks that run through the middle of town and the sewage pipes drain into them. The poorest of the poor live among these places.

Caring for the poor is not comfortable, but it is commanded.

God chose the poor of the world to be rich in faith; to inherit His kingdom (from James 2:5). Loving them more means loving Him more. I mean, isn’t that what Jesus did? He left the beauty and riches of heaven to live among us, as one of us, facing trials and temptations just like we do, humbling Himself by leaving his throne at the right hand of the Father to become a helpless baby, born in a manger who grew into a man who was beaten, bruised, and crucified though in his life He never sinned. He chose this way because of His great love for us. For you. For me.

We need to love others more. All of us. He isn’t asking us to become poor. If we were all supposed to sell everything and live on the streets ourselves, then there would be no one to follow God’s command of serving the poor because we’d all be poor.

We all want to be more like Jesus. If serving those living in poverty whom He loves so dearly brings us closer to Him and helps families who are in need of food, clothing, shelter, and some of the sweet, saving, love of Jesus, then what are we waiting for?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Just Chatting

Just feel like chatting today with my keyboard and you, if you are interested. Grab a cup of coffee and let's chat.

A couple weeks ago I was walking to a Bible study group and as I was going down the street a guy drove past me on a moto dressed in full camo head to toe. This would not really be that strange because you see all sorts of strange fashion statements in Cambodia, but he was also wearing a gas mask. Yes, a gas mask. Wearing it. This too would be only mildly concerning, but about 10 seconds later I saw another guy that looked exactly the same, also wearing a gas mask. At that point I froze, wondering if I should return home or continue on about my day. Upon seeing no more gas masks, I continued my little walk. Since it was a couple weeks ago, and I have yet to suffer from any symptoms related to some sort of gas being released in Phnom Penh, I’m going to guess that everything turned out ok. Wondering what in the world that was about, but okay.

Speaking of Bible study, one of my friends went home to the US and brought back Beth Moore’s new Bible study called James Mercy Triumphs. I’m doing it with a random group of ladies from all over the world and loving every single word of truth in that study. I love it. And oh, the joy of seeing a group of women from Europe and Australia and Asia experience Beth Moore for the first time! So fun. They talk about her outfits, her hair, and her accent of course, but mostly we all agree that she is wise, and we love this fresh insight to a book of the Bible we all feel like we can relate to so deeply living in a place where we see poverty first hand.

Today we went to the boy’s center to play with the sweet kids. We visit with 2 groups while we are there. One is made up of younger kids, under 8 or so, and one is the older kids. Today the older group only had 2 kids. That means the bulk of them were at school during playtime. Praise God for that! But it also meant my kids got to play with all sorts of things in the playroom.

Here’s my boys, with my little one in a dress. Why a playroom for boys even has dresses baffles me, but it’s cute. He said he was Jessie from Toy Story. Anyone notice the ears, too? I love these kids – my two and all the others not pictures at that place!

A friend of mine here mentioned a prayer request yesterday that I’ve been burdened to pray for because I can’t stop thinking about it. Get ready for this. She has snakes in her house. Yes, you read that right. She said it so casually, too, even pointing out that it’s not that different than ants or roaches (and my goodness, we all have gigantic roaches and oodles of ants). Oh my goodness, though, snakes? She’s a superhero to me now. A real life super mom. She says the ones in the house aren’t dangerous but she did find a 4ft long cobra in her yard last week. Seriously. She has 3 little girls and a baby and I can’t stop praying for her house to be snake free. She’s my hero now just for battling that and doing it so strongly. She doesn’t even know how many notches she just went up in my book. Or how much I'm praying for her family and her house. And, I love you, God, and I trust you, but please, please, please, don’t test my faith with snakes in my house. Pleeeease.

On the little critter note, it’s funny how I can walk down the street and a rat can run across my path just inches away from me and I don’t even jump anymore. Did I say funny? Or is that disturbing? Gross? Weird? I don’t know. Different than life in the US, that’s for sure. There’s a construction zone next to our apartment and the workers just throw out trash so it brings rats who occasionally scurry across my path.

So much to be thankful for, right?

I mean, I can get 2 kilos – 4.5lbs for my non metric friends – of mangoes for $2 and 2 pineapples for $1 in the middle of February, or now March. That’s pretty cool.

Yes, I’m thankful.

It’s an adventure. Such a joy sharing it with you.  Thanks for the chat!