Final post for Maclellan Scholars in Cambodia

It’s Monday, May 23, and Kathleen and I are on board our flight to Singapore.  The students left in three waves yesterday – one early morning to Hong Kong, seven late afternoon to Bangkok, and three late evening back to Atlanta.  We now have the privilege of writing the final posting on this Maclellan Scholars in Cambodia blog site.

Here’s the short and sweet summary:  What a wonderful trip!

First, to bring the travelogue to a close:  Our trip back to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap was uneventful, except for another delicious lunch en route.  After settling into our hotel (the Royal Palace), where we had stayed our first two nights in Phnom Penh, we enjoyed a marvelous dinner at the home of Steve and Noit Hyde (Steve was traveling in the U.S. during our trip).  Steve and Noit are the founders of this large ministry enterprise, including not only Words of Hope and Imparting Smiles but also Antioch Institute, a training school for Cambodian pastors and ministry leaders.  After living in difficult circumstances for fifteen years, Steve and Noit were blessed with the gift of a large, inviting house, paid for by one of their primary supporting churches.  It’s immediately evident upon entering that this is a home where the aroma of Christ is thick and beautiful.  Noit hosted a lovely dinner of spaghetti, spare ribs, seafood soup, rice (of course!), fresh fruit, and an array of delectable desserts.  We were also delighted to meet the Hydes’ two children, Paul (age 12) and Anna (age 5 – and, as she eagerly told us, soon to be 6).

After dinner, we gathered in another room with Dan and Heidi Groves, Elisabeth Brooks, and Noit, and the students took turns telling our hosts how much and in what specific ways they had come to love and appreciate them.  It was a beautiful thing to hear your daughters and sons speak so personally and explicitly about what it’s been like to watch and learn from them and to aspire by God’s grace for hearts like theirs.  Our students could not have given them a more precious gift.

We also said a loving goodbye to Matt Gorter, who departed for the airport at 6 a.m. Sunday.

On Sunday morning, just after breakfast, our group spent a little while expressing appreciation for one another – you can imagine the combination of humor and seriousness as we spoke to and about one another and the unique blessing to the group that each one had been throughout the trip.  I’ll let your sons and daughters give you the specifics.

Then we attended Gospel Commission Fellowship church, part of the PCA’s church planting enterprise in Cambodia.  After some great singing, the Cambodian founding pastor preached from James 5 on waiting patiently on the Lord, and we enjoyed meeting a number of folks from the community – including a former Covenant student now teaching English in Phnom Penh.

After church we headed to the Russian Market for lunch and some final shopping before the Thailand travelers headed for the airport.  Those remaining enjoyed one last meal at the Hydes’ home – pizza and KFC(!), as well as jackfruit, passionfruit, and mangoustin.  A bit later the Atlanta-bound group left for their 11:20 p.m. flight.

So how to sum up our time in Cambodia?  A wonderful group of humble, hard-working, and ministry-minded students; a sense of true partnership in the work of Words of Life in Kracheh; deep admiration for our hosts, whose words and actions consistently demonstrate the reality of the gospel and their passion for the calling into which God has led them; and joyful expectation for how God will use this time together in this place to prod these students on in discerning God’s particular callings for them.

Because Kathleen and I didn’t teach the Character and Leadership course this past fall, we had not had the opportunity to get to know this group of Maclellan Scholars as we have past groups.  In our weekly meetings throughout the spring semester, we began to connect with them and to learn about gifts and interests and personalities.  But the long trip to Cambodia via Korea, followed by working and eating alongside them day after day, from early morning through evening, provided unique and fairly in-depth perspective.

And we can say this:  We have seldom seen a group of students, diverse in many ways as they are, function with such mutual respect and patience and cooperation and positive spirit.  They worked hard, with children and cement, without hesitation or complaint; in fact, they embraced their tasks as God’s good gifts both for them and for our ministry hosts.  They did things without being asked; they ate what was put before them; they willingly rode for hours on bumpy roads; they delighted in the sights and sounds and tastes and smells of Cambodia.

Most importantly they loved the Cambodians – the children at the children’s center, co-workers at the bamboo house, the small congregations at the house churches we attended on Sunday, and other folks along the way.

There were a few minor injuries, from scratches and blisters to red ant bites, and some, well, digestive issues (Dan Groves quoted his Cambodian doctor saying, “If you eat in Cambodia, you will get sick”).  But God was gracious in many ways, and this group just kept going strong right to the end, finishing all that Dan had planned ahead of schedule.

Prior to our trip, we had discussed several major goals, one of the most important being to encourage our hosts.  As we received feedback from Dan, Heidi, and Elisabeth, both during and at the end of our time, we were so grateful to hear the overwhelmingly positive comments they offered about the blessing our students were to them.  At that gathering in the Hydes’ home, Dan said, “We didn’t know much about Covenant College, but with students like you it must be the best college in the country.”

Kathleen and I count it a treasure to have had these days with Caroline, Hannah, Holly Anne, Matt, Jake, AK, Taylor, Wilson, Rebekah, Alexander, and Austin.   Thank you, families, for being part of our trip through your faithful prayers and enabling support.  God was surely pleased to multiply all that you did for our good and the good of those whom we served.

Now may he be pleased to multiply the fruit of this trip for the sake of the work of the gospel and the church in Cambodia and for his future plans and purposes in these students’ lives.

So one final sign-off on behalf of the Maclellan Scholars in Cambodia –

Blessings to you all!

Our time in Siem Reap

Friends,

When reflecting on the day’s events, our team spokeswoman, Hannah Copeland, observed, “This has been the most exciting day of the trip,” then quietly added, with a look of pure pleasure in her eye, “This might have been the most exciting day of my life.” Whether or not this is actually true, our day was chalk full of action and adventure. 

Now as you can imagine it will be difficult to encapsulate all of the days emotions and stories into one post, but i will attempt to record some of the more significant events and stories that contributed to our extraordinary day in Siem Reap.

Our day began with a visit to the temples of Anchor Watt (I’m pretty sure that’s not how you spell it, but then again it’s a Cambodian word so I can spell it however I want as long as I get the sounds right). Despite any discrepancies in spelling, the temples themselves were truly amazing to behold. Words are simply inadequate to describe the beauty and grander of the place.  Even pictures do a poor job of carpturing the experience that we had while we were there. The sheer size and detail of the place was stagering. Not only did the temples stretch hundreds of feet into the air, but they were also covered with intricate carvings and designs. Usually, I am amazed by the engineering and innovation that is required to build such large structures without any modern tools, but with these temples it was the skill and detail of the carvings that were the most impressive. Almost every square inch of the main temple was covered with writings, artistic designs, or pictures of Khmer history and myths. Even the entry ways and outside walls were decorated in the same fashion. Not a single part of the temple was a bland or boring. Every part of every temple we visited was full of beauty and history. 

After visiting the temples for most of the morning we enjoyed a leasurely lunch punctuated by a massive rain storm and a quick trip to the market. After lunch, parents will be excited to hear that the group boarded a rickety old boat and set sail towards dark clouds in search of a small fishing village in the middle of a huge lake. Fortunately, we did not get struck by lightening or stuck in the middle of the lake, but some of us still managed to endanger our lives by handling large snakes and taunting crocodiles. This is where our friend Jake enters the story. 

The group landed on a large house boat that was geared towards tourists. They had all sorts of souvenirs and trinkets and even had fish that you could feed and crocodiles that you could look at bellow the house. Our friend Jake used his well developed logic skillz, and came to the conclusion that the fish must be for feeding to the crocodiles. After pitching his idea to our host and watching the ensuing negotiation with the Cambodians over price, Jake was handed some fishing line, a hook, and some bait and told to catch his own fish. After he did this, they provided a metal pole and a string that could be used to lower the fish into the crocodile pit. Jake took these instruments and went to work. A few seconds later there was a large crowd of tourists from all over the world filming Jake, taking pictures of the fish, and screaming at the spectacle. One lucky Korean whipped out his iPhone 4 and excitedly asked Jake, “What do you feel?” to which Jake responded with a thundering, “This is AWESOME!” And that’s about the only way to describe the situation, awesome. 

Of course the rest of the day was pretty uneventful compared to our adventures in the fishing village, but it did end on a good note. Mexican food. We were able to complete our day as tourists by enjoying the best Mexican food in Asia. Now i dont claim to have tasted all of the mexican food in Asia, but I have experienced my fare share of Mexican food over the years, and I definitely give that place my Texan stamp of approval. it was an excellent ending to an excellent day.

This would also be a good time to note that during our first day in Siem Reap we visited a silk farm and ate a cultural dinner. Both of these things would take another post to cover in detail, but as a whole they definitely helped complete our trip to Cambodia. 

Finally, I want to leave you with my take on the temples at Angkor Wat. It was so sad to see such such beautiful temples that took years of hard work and dedication be built for anyone other than the one true God. However, even in the midst of blatant idolatry God’s beauty and truth  still able to shine through. Redemption is such a strong force that even pagan temples cannot help but reflect the beauty of God’s creation. Nothing is beyond God’s reach and we can find comfort in that fact. Common grace is what the bible professors call it, but you see that theological concept in a completely new way when you are observing the temples at Angkor Wat. 

Thanks for reading, and God bless you.

In Christ,
Alexander Weir (and others)

P. S. GO MAVS!

Last days in Kratche

Hello all!

Sorry for the delay in getting our posts up! The last few days have been wonderful but have been incredibly full so I apologize that I am just now putting this up for you all to see! Regardless of it being a few days late, here is a brief recap of our last day in Kratche and some of the things I have been processing in regards to the day’s events. So without further ado, I give you Kratche Day 8:

We began the day slightly later than usual with breakfast together at a nearby restaurant where we enjoyed pancakes and other delicious food. We then got our work gear and headed to the “Bamboo House” to work there for our final time. We worked for the entire morning finishing up several of our projects: digging drainage ditches, washing the exterior of the house, cleaning up our supplies from our week’s work, and of course dominating some killer fire ant hills and playing with a few scorpions in the process… You know. The usual. We were able to finish everything up and then we stepped back and took it all in for a few minutes before heading to lunch. Thanks be to God for the work that was able to be accomplished there over the last few days and for the way that work is preparing it to be a place to help nurture and raise up the next generation in Cambodia to love and serve the Lord and be well-equipped in their education as a part of that. I am so thankful for the opportunity that we had to serve and work alongside those that we will be investing in the ministry at this house long-term. It is a joy to know that this behind-the-scenes preparation is a small part of the Kingdom work God has in store for the Bamboo House. I am so excited and expectant about all that He will do there in years to come!

After lunch we headed to The Center for our final time. We spent the entire afternoon and evening enjoying time with our friends there and continuing to strengthen relationships made over the last week. Rather than teach lessons like we have all the previous days, we just simply spent unhurried time together laughing, playing, and enjoying one another’s company. The afternoon’s festivities included basketball and volleyball games, playing on the playground, many games of tag, playing music, painting, and, of course, lots of laughter and conversation. After a full afternoon of play we had dinner all together with the kids outside at the center and enjoyed a delicious meal and wonderful fellowship. After eating, we cleared all the tables away and brought speakers down and set up a sort of dance floor. We spent our final hours together with all the kids and staff having a superb dance party in which we were taught alot of new traditional Cambodian dance moves which we were terrible at but had a lot of fun trying our best to imitate. It was a blast to dance and laugh and jump around with all our friends at the Center on our final evening together. We then closed our time together with group prayer. We all prayed for one another and thanked God for His work in all of our lives and for allowing us to be brothers and sisters united in Him. Then, with much sadness, we gave hugs and said our goodbyes. There were tears shed and much sadness at saying goodbye, but there was a deep sense of joy underlying it all. We have such great hope and joy because of Christ, the God of the Nations, and it is because of Him that we have had the opportunity to build relationships here over the last week, with brothers and sisters in Christ who are growing and learning in Cambodia. And although it is sad to say goodbye,  we can have joy in the fact that we have been entrusted with these relationships and that no matter if we ever see each other again this side of Heaven, we will be spending eternity together worshipping Him and enjoying Him forever. And THAT is truly worth celebrating! I am sad to be leaving The Center and our new friends there, but I am so overwhelmingly grateful for the seeds that He has planted over the last few weeks, both in the hearts of the kids and staff here as well as the hearts of our team. I know that fruit will come as a result of those seeds and that the Spirit will see the growth through until completion in all of our lives who are trusting in Him. Praise Him for His faithfulness and presence with us as we have served here over the last few days! To Him be the glory for all the work that has been done, is being done, and will continue to be done at the Center, in Kratche, in Cambodia, and around the world! He is so worthy to be praised!

These are only several of the lingering things on my heart and mind as I reflect on today and they surely don’t do any of these events justice, but I just wanted to simply share them with you. Thank you so much for your prayers over the last few weeks and your continued prayers as we finish out our trip! Excited to tell you more stories in person when we all get home! Hope you are all well and sensing His nearness to you today wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Love to you all from Phnom Penh!

In His Joy,

Taylor Kelly and the rest of the Crew

Joshua 1:6-9

Krache: Day 7

Hey Folks,

As I type this, the hotel staff is watching some Cambodian karaoke channel on the T.V. directly above my head. Not really sure what the draw is, but I just thought I’d let you know in case this post seems unduly random and somewhat disjointed.

It’s been an interesting couple of days in Cambodia. Several of us have become more closely acquainted with the local strain of stomach-bug causing bacteria than we ever wanted to. But, before any mothers reading this begin to worry, let me reassure you. The diarrhea and vomiting seem to have subsided for now. Everything is, at least on the digestive side of things, quite well.

Before I continue with chronicling the day’s activities, I think that I will take some time to do something similar to what Matt did yesterday. But, instead of introducing people, I’ll try to describe to you the two locations at which we have spent the majority of our time – the Bamboo House and the Center.

As HollyAnne mentioned earlier, the Bamboo House was recently purchased by Words of Life and will most likely be used for some new endeavors in Kratche, such as hosting computer classes and also kindergarten. Like most other houses in Cambodia, it stands on stilts and is constructed of wood. By Cambodian standards, however, it is quite a large house. It is situated on about an acre of land and the entire lot is surrounded by a high concrete wall.

When we first arrived at Bamboo house, the driveway and the area beneath the house were just dirt. But I am very pleased to say that now, after several days of very hard work, we have finished laying a concrete slab underneath the house and today we completed the driveway. I must mention that when I say “we”, I am not just referring to our team but also to the Cambodians who have worked alongside us. In all honesty, a lot of them have worked harder than any of us. Or, at least harder than I have.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. The Center, where we have also spent a considerable amount of time, is located in a rural area about ten minutes away from our hotel. The Center is primarily composed of the Big House (a large Cambodian house, similar to the Bamboo House), a kitchen building, and four “houses” (sort of like dorms or bunkhouses) where the kids sleep. There is also a fantastic playground, a volleyball net, a field used to play soccer in, and a few other buildings. A lot of the tutoring we have been doing takes place in/underneath the Big House or in one of the surrounding buildings.

I suppose I should at least try to get to more of what actually happened today. In the morning, I went with the group that worked at the Bamboo House. As I already mentioned, we finally finished laying the last section of the driveway. It is quite a relief to be done with it. I’m not sure if we’ll ever be entirely rid of it, though. Despite multiple showers, my arms are still gray from all the concrete dust. Besides completing the driveway, some of us also dug drainage ditches and mounted a rickety scaffolding to scrub mildew off the sides of the house.

After lunch, I went with the afternoon group to the center, where we continued tutoring. I’ve spent the past few days helping some of the kids with reading English using Hooked on Phonics books. It’s really cool to see how eager all of them are work and how much effort they are willing to put into it. Tutoring also tends to lead to uniquely amusing moments. One such moment occurred today, while I was working with Srei No, a shy and adorable little girl who’s about seven years old. We were working on spelling a few simple words using cards with letters written on them. When I asked No to spell “shut”, she began sifting through the pile of letters. Finally, with the peculiar and great gravity that little children sometimes exhibit, she confidently spelled out her word – but with a “i” instead of a “u”!  I did my best not to explode in laughter. While we certainly have been doing our best to expand the kids’ English vocabularies, I don’t think this was quite what any of us had in mind!

Finally, after heading back to the Bamboo House and eating dinner there, we finished off the night with a group devotional and then took a walk to the nearby Hor Bunny Hotel, where we got some ice cream and other snacks.

So much of what we have been doing in Cambodia has been phenomenally joyous. But, there have also been frustrating things. Strangely, I’ve found one of the biggest sources of frustration to be one of the things that I have simultaneously loved the most – tutoring. Even though I know that it’s really incredible that these kids can read English at all (I don’t even want to think about how difficult it would be for me to learn the Khmai script!) I still find myself getting impatient with them when they make mistakes. I’ve really had the hardest time with one boy in particular, named Yaw. He’s extremely eager and very excited to have someone tutor him, but he has a hard time retaining what we go over and we end up repeating material again and again. I really hate having such a bad reaction like that. I guess, ironically, I am frustrated by my frustration. I shouldn’t be having this problem! It has been a bit of a disheartening reality check for me.

But in all of that, I think God might be trying to teach me something. As I was mulling over some other things that have been frustrating me this morning, I sort of out of the blue recalled something G.K. Chesterton had said. A newspaper reporter once asked him what he thought was wrong with the world. Chesterton simply replied, “I am.”

On the typical short-term mission trip, the focus is usually on taking the  gospel to a broken world in some way. But I am broken and am in need of the gospel too. So please pray that I, and the rest of us, would remember that and be humble. And that we would keep renewing ourselves in Christ.

Well the T.V. has switched from karaoke, to Robocop (subtitled in Chinese), back to karaoke, and now finally off. And the guy behind the hotel desk turned the lights out in the lobby. So I guess that means I should be signing off now and heading to bed. Thanks so much for reading and praying.

All for Jesus.

- Wilson Ricketts

Krache: Day 6

Sues’dai, faithful readers!

At the end of yet another long but very memorable day, I am happy to share a few thoughts and observations with you.

First of all, I feel the need to introduce our incredible hosts a little more thoroughly, as they have put in so much time and effort to serve us and everyone else around them. We have been primarily working with three American missionaries: Dan, Heidi, and Elizabeth. All three have done anything and everything they can to make our trip run smoothly, from translating to delivering bottled water to driving us around to bandaging up scraped knees. Dan and Heidi are a young married couple who have been here since 2007, working with Words of Life Ministries. They truly give their all to the children’s center here in Krache. Their heart for the Lord shines through in their complete surrender to His plan for their lives, and especially in their humble desire to serve. They live in a single room off of a boys’ dormitory at the center, taking cold showers, with the only electricity being drawn from a generator between sunset and 9:00pm. They work alongside a small Khmai staff to care for the 70 children that live there, beginning around 5:00am each morning. In the midst of all this, there is absolutely no hint of a complaining attitude from them. Rather, the beautiful joy and love for the Lord and people which they emanate are truly contagious. Despite their quiet demeanor, they are full of incredible, often heart-breaking stories of the people here, as well as testimonies of God’s redeeming work in the midst of the darkness.

Elizabeth is a wonderful sister in the Lord who performs so many thankless administrative tasks behind the scenes, while simultaneously providing much cheer and laughter to our group every day. She is the administrative assistant of the Words of Life missions team here, and she has also served as our go-to person for any need we have along the way. She’s a constant encouragement to us. She has spent less than a year and half actually in Cambodia, but it is clear that she has fallen in love with it. She speaks the Khmai language impressively well (as do Dan and Heidi), which is just another evidence of her dedication and drive to serve wholeheartedly where God has placed her. Not only is she fun to be around, but she is genuine to the core, especially in her love for Jesus Christ. While one minute her jokes make us all laugh, the next she eagerly sparks up a meaningful conversation about our relationship with our Saviour and friend.

Our Cambodian hosts have also been fabulous, including Noit, the wife of the team leader, Bit, our driver, Sotie, our amazing cook, the staff of the Center, and, of course, all of the children who welcome us with open arms and smiles every day. All that I have just said has not been the result of a sense of obligation to provide acknowledgments, but rather is the true overflowing of my heart as I reflect on our stay so far. Our gratitude to these people goes far beyond what I’ve been able to express in writing, and several of us were talking about how one of the most valuable things that we will take back from this trip will be what we have learned from the examples of these amazing people.

Eventually, however, you will want to know about our day. As usual, after a delicious breakfast, we split into two groups, one to the Bamboo House and one to the children’s center. All the hard manual labor that has been poured into the Bamboo House is paying off with visible results. More importantly, however, is the fact that working hard alongside our Khmai friends has provided a brilliant opportunity for building relationships and for sensing the deep bond between us, born from a mutual love for the Lord and belonging to the same Body. Yong is just one example of a friend I’ve made through this experience. He is 19 years old, in 10th grade, and is eager to practice his English. Between lifting countless buckets of rocks and sand, we talk to him about everything from corny jokes to worship to dating and marriage. A couple of us have also had the pleasure of riding with him on his Moto down muddy, rut-filled village roads.

At the Center, we had a blast with the kids from beginning to end. Nothing melts a heart like pure love from a child. While learning and remembering their Khmai names is a struggle, every one is precious to us. Today was my first day of tutoring, and I spent hours playing “Math soccer” with the kids. While I started with just one boy, we were surrounded by at least ten kids by the end! While I taught them some simple arithmetic, they taught me how to count to 29 in Khmai! They motivated me by clapping and jumping when I got it right, and shamelessly pointing and laughing when I mispronounced a word. We quickly became friends. After studying, we played a variety of games, most of which I had never played before. Their lack of both electricity and money inspired great creativity in their play, which was really cool to me. Every member of our team was surrounded by eager and loving children by the end of the day, and we relished it! Having been given the opportunity to spend just a few days with these children gives us such an incredible appreciation for the work of the Dan and Heidi and the Center, which provides a type of haven for these kids from rampant disease and sex trafficking, which take such a staggeringly large number of children from this area.

In the evening, we split into small groups and ate at three different restaurants, giving Sotie a well-deserved break. The discussion in this smaller group was really meaningful and exciting, as we shared some of our testimonies and how God has spoken to us throughout our lives.

Please continue to pray for physical health and energy as we finish out our trip. Thank God with us for this opportunity and for all these wonderful people through whom He is blessing so many people, including us! Be praying for them to feel God’s pleasure and powerful hand in their work here. Pray also for our team to have humility, unity, and focus on the One by whom and for whom we live each and every day. Finally, pray for the country of Cambodia, as it is stands in such need of real hope in the midst of darkness, suffering, and confusion.

You are all such a blessing, and God is responding very tangibly to all your intercession on our behalf! Thank you SO much.

Your fellow servants and brothers/sisters,

Matt Gorter (and the rest)

Krache: Day 5

I could begin this blog by rattling off the highlights of our first Sabbath in Cambodia, but instead I will give you a story. This story begins with a young Khmer Rouge commander whose job it was to burn down entire villages in the Kracheh province. This officer knew the taste of human flesh and regularly encountered death. After years of bringing about turmoil and destruction in Kracheh, at age 40, this man became a Christian. He chose to spread the Gospel to those same villages he had burned down as a commander and was responsible for planting over one hundred churches in the Kracheh province. Six years after becoming a Christian, this man died suddenly in his sleep at only 46 years old. He left not only a wife and children but a host of Cambodians whose lives had been touched by the love of Christ due to his fearless evangelizing.

This morning, we were given the privilege of attending several of the churches started by this former Khmer Rouge officer. Churches in these parts are small and most often meet inside someone’s home, so it was necessary for our team to split up for worship. The first group went to a village about 20 minutes away, the second group went to a more rural village about an hour away, and the third group went by moto to a village about 45 minutes away. Each church had between 6 and 15 adults plus a handful of smiling children. The churches were an intimate and personal way for us to see the beauty of the global church.

After church and some down time, Dan, Heidi, and Elizabeth took us for a swim in the Mekong River. Some of the older boys from the center came along. The swimming experience was much different than anything I’ve seen in the States. We walked across a long dock that spanned the Mekong and stepped onto a series of covered wooden rafts that extended from it. From there, we lowered ourselves into the water and had extremely strong currents pull us down the river until we could grab onto one of the rafts near the dock. While not the most calm swim, it was certainly refreshing and fun on a hot sunny afternoon.

The highlights of the day don’t stop at the swim. Shortly afterwards, we went to the center for a time of worship with the kids. After being welcomed by our usual hugs ands smiles from the children, we went up into the main house to sing worship songs led by some of the high school students at the center. I have rarely worshiped in a place with so much spirit, dancing, and joy. It was evident in the twirling of the little girls and the fervent clapping, singing, and praying of the older kids. After the singing, we were able to provide the lesson with Dan and Heidi as our translators. The story was the Good Samaritan, and the lesson consisted of a skit and a short talk given by HollyAnne. The children seemed very receptive to its theme of love. While we have been bonding with the kids and the workers at the center all week, this time of worship seemed to seal our link as brothers and sisters in Christ.

As I worshiped, I looked forward and saw “Jess,” the son of the former Khmer Rouge commander that Jake talked about, beautifully playing the keyboard. I looked to the left and saw Jess’ sisters singing with the sweetest little smiles on their faces. I looked right and saw his brother jumping up and down in praise. While my heart has been grieving for these children who no longer have their father all week, I realized during this time that the children have a Heavenly Father, a Father who heals and forgives and comforts. It is my prayer that these children would be like their earthly father who fearlessly preached the Gospel to the people of Kracheh and that they would know their Heavenly Father who is holding them in His hand all the way. This is my prayer for them and for all of us, too. May we know Jesus like the many people of strong faith we have interacted with today.

-Rebekah Taft

Krache: Day 4

Well, now that I’ve scoured and scrubbed the grime that comes with a day of cement laying, English teaching, and soccer playing, I have the privilege of updating you on our day’s activities. Today, our group continued in the pattern set yesterday– one-on-one sessions at the children’s center in English, piano, violin, and guitar; laying cement at Bamboo House throughout the day;  large group English classes in the morning and evening; and playing with the children afterwards (a huge highlight for all of us). We also delved deeper in our explanation of Cambodian cuisine tonight by trying balut. Balut is a fertilized duck’s egg, hard boiled and eaten with lime juice and pepper. Not exactly appetizing at first thought, but eventually most of our group succeeding in at least trying the balut. A few even professed to like the taste, although a considerable number have also admitting to feeling rather nauseous tonight. Balut is just one of the plethora of new foods we have encountered over the past few days. It has been a full day, but a good one. We continue to be blessed by our brothers and sisters here in Cambodia.

We have been taking advantage of the state holiday (the King’s Birthday merits four days of no school- despite the fact that no one seems to be able to recall his name) to hold English classes for the high school and middle school students at the center. I, along with Rebekah, have had the joy and challenge of teaching the class of high school students in the afternoons. Many of the students are older than we are, in fact the oldest with an intimidating 24 years to his credit, so we weren’t quite certain what to expect. I am happy to report that we have an eager and engaged group of students.  The students have consumed the word lists we have presented to them and show evident delight in their new vocabulary. The students take English class at the local high school, but it seems rare for them  to have the opportunity to converse with native English speakers such as ourselves. Topics we have covered include several professions, types of food, national holidays, weather, animals, parts of the body, and words relating to sports. Speaking of sports, I feel that I would be justified to include that we (the men of the trip) successfully redeemed ourselves on the basketball court today after yesterday’s debacle on the volleyball court. (Sorry, that’s  my attempt to give you fair and balanced coverage that may have been lacking in yesterday’s post.)

One thing that has struck me over the past several days is the true universality of the church. It’s easy to talk about these things at home in Lookout Mountain, and I certainly wouldn’t have limited God’s power to my narrow experience before this trip. But almost a week of living, eating, working, learning, playing, and praying alongside my Cambodian brothers and sisters has lent me a new love for the global church.  Tomorrow, we will be worshiping together with in three house churches spread throughout the surrounding area.  We would appreciate your prayer as we continue to build relationships with local believers.

Today at lunch, President Nielson told me a wonderful story he heard from Dan (one of the adults at the center.) The father of four of the children at the center had been an officer in the Khmer Rouge, and had burned several nearby villages as part of his duties. This man later became a Christian, and is largely responsible for evangelizing much of the local area (including several rebuilt villages whose burning he had led!). He died several years ago in a dengue fever and malaria outbreak.

One of the older boys in my afternoon English class found himself digging for an American name without success during our introductions yesterday. I suggested the name of my younger brother, Jess. Since that time, “Jess” and I have had spent time getting to know each other, both through playing volleyball and through laying concrete. He is very intelligent and enjoyable to be around. I believe he is 18 or 19 years old.

This afternoon, I had an epiphany: “Jess” was the eldest son of the Khmer Rouge officer whom President Nielson had described to me earlier that day. This was followed by another wonderful thought- Jess, the orphaned son of an officer in the infamous Khmer Rouge, is just as much my eternal brother as Jess, the son of a businessman in Hagerstown, Maryland is. God is truly glorified by the diversity in his global church.

Your prayers are much appreciated.  Pray that we would be fitting ambassadors of the church in our attitudes and actions. Pray that we would continue to support and love each other in the days to come, as we will be living and working in close quarters. And finally, pray that God’s Kingdom would be strengthened though all that we do here in Cambodia.

-Jake Groenendyk

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