Why am I even here!?

It’s Sunday, and I feel crap. 3 days of being sick and not stepping outside of my room is not my usual way of being. My head is fuzzy, nose completely congested, and my body feels weak even though all I’ve been doing is sleep. I hear a knock on the door, and it’s the pastor’s wife and another Om (auntie) from my Khmer church. Hearing I was sick, they’ve come to pray for me. As they lay their hands and pray out loud, I am thinking, “I should have been the one visiting and praying with you, especially during this time of hardship with the 6 boys’ imprisonment!” But when I voice this concern, thinking that me being sick is nothing compared to the seriousness of injustice that’s affected my pastors’ family and my community, they told me this:

“Chami, you’re far from your own family. But we’re family in Christ. We’re blood family. This is what we do, when there’s suffering or sickness, we pray and encourage each other. That’s all we can do, and that’s what we do. You’ve come to serve Cambodia. We have seen how our foreigner friends have served. Now we want to serve you and others.”

I sat there, blurry eyed, thinking, “Why am I even here?” If it’s about receiving God’s grace and mercy, then yes, this is where I’m supposed to be. But if it’s about making a difference, I feel like there’s no need for me to be here, because there are amazing people of peace that God has already placed here. For today though, I am overwhelmingly thankful that I am here, to be cared for, prayed for, and to be served in my time of weakness.

In Their Language

During my university, I struggled with the concept of teaching English, even though I was getting my training in Linguistics and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). English becoming the language of globalization, English taking the native language away, English becoming the dominant language, a new “empire.” And I vowed to myself that if I ever teach English, I want to be able to teach in the student’s native language as well, to validate who they are and the beautiful language that they speak. English may be convenient, but it is costly to lose your own language and identity.

Today, I sat next to a 13 year old girl who could barely read. As the rest of the homework club was humming and buzzing and doing their own homework, I sat with her and started with the basic Khmer alphabet. What’s this consonant? And the vowel? Put together and you get… And it was a moment when I knew that coming in with a learner’s posture was important and was worth it, worth the many hours of reading and writing. I can’t teach Khmer to kids that are already fluently reading, just because my Khmer literacy isn’t that fluent. But I could help someone learn their alphabet, step by step, like I did, in their language. Khmer language. Khmer people. Cambodia. The nation that God dearly loves…

Sing Out My Soul~2012~

Sing out my soul, sing of the holiness of God: 

who has delighted in a woman,

lifted up the poor, satisfied the hungry,

given voice to the silent,

grounded the oppressor,

blessed the full bellied with emptiness,

and with the gift of tears

those who have never wept;

who has desired the darkness of the womb,

and inhabited our flesh.

Sing of the longing of God, sing out, my soul.

(Janet Morley, based on Luke 1:39-53)

Mary’s magnificat. As beautiful as it is, since few Christmas’s ago, it had disturbed me that I didn’t have any blessing in this since I was not poor and hungry, oppressed and down trodden. Back then, my conscious choice was, I want to be able to walk with and celebrate with friends that are poor and hungry and oppressed. This morning, though, as I read this version of Magnificat, it hit me: the blessing of the full is that they will experience emptiness, and only then can they receive Christ. To eyes that have never wept, tears releasing the longing, the longing for an embrace…from the One that came to be one of us.

Looking back on 2012, with many tears, with many empty moments… I am profoundly grateful that Jesus, you were the one that filled my empty heart and wiped my tears. May you be born in me again this Christmas.

 

The Constitution of Japan

I worked at a high school once that really valued peace. The Japanese constitution is quite strong on peace, and so the students studied about it quite a bit. Now I wish I’d paid more attention, because as I am reading the current constitution and also the parallel reading of the proposed amendment, I am amazed at how beautiful and good our constitution is.

“We, the Japanese people… determined that we shall secure for ourselves and posterity the fruits of peaceful cooperation with all nations and the blessings of liberty throughout this land, and resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horros of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people… government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people…”

“We desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship…and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.”

“We pledge our national honor to accomplish these high ideals and purposes with all our resources.”

What strong declaration of the absolute importance of peace, for all people. I joined a march on International Human Rights Day (Dec. 10) where people’s rights to express themselves were denied by the police barricading the pathway that led to the main road. There were many women around me who had unjustly suffered eviction, and they were pleading with the police officers, “Honour our human rights! Please recognize our rights!” I frantically sought the face of Jesus in all of this, both in standing in solidarity with the people of Cambodia and also in trying to love the human in the police officers as well; I prayed that God’s justice would reign in this nation.

In light of this recent event, plus all the other things that I encounter here in Cambodia, that the government exists for the people, that we all ought to strive for peace and banishment of tyranny and slavery and oppression as an international community, resonate strongly with me. I am also very scared of what Japan may become, with the proposed amendment which takes out many elements that focus on the rights of the people and peace, and try to instill words like “public order” and “honour for the nation.” It gave me chills reading what the amendment may be, recalling Japanese history of 20th century, and also with all the stories of injustices here in Cambodia. Japan is well received in this nation, often thanked for its building work and right now doing flood mitigation work. If we can actually stand in solidarity with Cambodians on this matter of peace and human rights, as we wrote about so beautifully in our constitution… I think wold be powerful. And for that to happen, the constitution must not be amended.

And it’s midnight and I end my political schpeel.

On Homecoming

It’s been two months since I last wrote. There’s been many things that I want to share about, yet it is so easy to mask that with everyday busyness. And then all it takes is one person, one word, to open up that deep longing, so acute that you don’t know what to do but to let it spill out of you. So here it is. Saturday morning, reading Enuma Okoro’s blog (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/enumaokoro/2012/02/coming-home-to-where-youve-never-been/#comment-1309) and my heart was undone.

Homecoming. I’ve found many homes, have lost many homes, looking for Home. No matter how much I think I’ve “dealt” with this issue, I think it is the theme of my life. I recently came back from a friend’s wedding in Seattle. The Pacific Northwest is where I have been reborn, in many many ways. Encountering Jesus in the darkest places of the city, encountering Jesus in the darkest places of my heart. Finding light. Choosing life. It is an area filled with beautiful friends that walked beside me, encouraged me, spoke into me, challenged me. And there I was, celebrating the richness of relationships I have, feeling at ease grabbing awesome Seattle coffee from fun local shops, enjoying the North American way of being that was around me and within me as well. Yet there were those moments, when I’d stop and feel the cells within me that somehow didn’t fully belong. The other places that also have made me who I am as well, the other friends and relationships that have shaped me to be who I am now.

Some days, I am filled with gratitude for all those pieces that make up who I am. And some days, I am overwhelmed, constantly trying to negotiate the the sensation of feeling like I belong and yet not at the same time. It’s like feeling hot and cold at the same time; your body doesn’t quite know how to place itself. Then sometimes, something really grounded and everyday happens and it blows those feelings away: sunsets seen between crowded roofs, a snotty kid walking down the street, the hearty laughter of my Cambodian auntie. Those are the moments I fully belong, body soul and mind. I wish those moments were forever… but then that’s probably what heaven will be for me :)

 

 

Meeting Khmer Jesus on Friday Afternoons

I’m pretty wiped by Friday afternoon, after a full week and a team meeting that happens in the morning. But at 3pm, there’s a cell group that happens at my house, so I usually drive back home in time for that gathering. It’s usually just my Auntie that I live with, few young people from my church, and maybe some neighbours. Today’s session started with my friend telling vividly about the car accident that happened near her house at 3am last night. A car came crashing into a tree on the road side, dragging a moto along the way and killing 4 people total. She heard the sound and went outside, where people were trapped in cars or had been dragged along the road and dumped on the roadside. Several ambulances came, but none took them since either some were already dead and the ones that were alive didn’t have family to go to the hospital with (i.e. someone to pay the money). This was a discouraging but not surprising news to hear, with increasing accidents on the road and hospitals that don’t take people in if they can’t pay. I was already pretty heavy from thinking about so many issues going on in the country, from violation of human rights to family issues in the neighbourhood, neighbours not helping each other in times of hardship, and this accident was added on top of the list of feeling pretty hopeless for Cambodia.

We shared prayer requests and prayed for a while, then starting singing the song that goes “When we worship you, let you be enthroned, and may You come and be our King.” As I led us in that song today, the words were powerful. As we sing these words, we are welcoming Christ to be the King of this country, as disfunctional and corrupt as it may be (simply because we human beings are). Sometimes it’s so easy to be caught up in the things that we can do to change the world, and yes, these works are important. But it is only Christ our King that can change our hearts, and it is Christ our King being enthroned already here in this nation, and us remembering that helps us to have hope once again.

It’s happened several times. During Friday afternoon cell group, God speaks to me clearly, through praying in Khmer, sharing in Khmer, worshipping in Khmer. Though usually I don’t feel up to it, God meets me there… through my Khmer friends, a Khmer Jesus.

The Circus

Last Saturday, I went out for an evening of Phare Ponleu Selepak circus show (www.phareps.org/). It was really well done, using Khmer instruments and live music for the entire show, while the acrobatic, dance, contortion, juggling etc. was part of a story. It was an outing with two “big sisters” from my Khmer church along with two “little sisters” from my community, as part of a mentoring project run by a different organization. The two little sisters were all giggly and excited for this evening outing, as we went on a tuktuk ride away from our neighbourhood and across the city with lots of light and activity. I’m so glad that we all had fun together, but I couldn’t help but notice how they just took everything in on the road, all the fancy places, big cars, tall buildings, things that do not exist in their community. I know where they live, in their makeshift shack with sticks and tarp, because their houses are now flooded. I know that they work hard in the evenings to sell vegetable at the market. I want them to not be stuck in poverty, I want them to be able to get education. I want them to have fun and know that they are cared for. But I don’t want them to think that they need the glitz and the fancy things to be happy.

That night, as I promised their mothers I would, I walked with them past my house and back to their neighbourhood, across the now muddy field which is being filled with sand and will soon be completely vacated, walled off. It’s dark except for the moonlight, as they pick across the field with agility, trying to find the less muddier spots. The community is half asleep, with some around in their mozzy nets, while some are still up playing card games and gambling. I drop off the girls at each of their little shack, and once again pick my way across the muddy mess, almost losing my sandals. I knew that I shared some of everyday life because of where I lived, close to their neighbourhood, away from the glitz of the city. And yet I didn’t have to walk thru the sticky mud every time I wanted to get home either. It was a night of a reminder, of how precious these relationships are, but simply the vast difference in the everyday life that these girls have, compared to the rest of the city, and compared to me as well.

Becoming What We Worship

It’s Sunday afternoon, I’m probably exhausted but I can’t sleep. I open up Psalms after much tossing and turning, and this is the passage:

 

…Their idols are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, and noses but cannot smell. They have hands but cannot feel, and feet but cannot walk, and throats but cannot make a sound. And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them. (Psalm 115:4-8)

 

Two thoughts wonder into my fuzzy brain. First is that we become what we worship. And that image of an idol who can’t speak, see, hear, smell, feel, and walk… well, that’s the opposite of how I want to live. I want to be fully alive, in all my senses, be grounded, engaged, real. And I don’t want to become that idol. So what are the idols that tempt me to become that?

 

And the second is that, Jesus is very human in that he spoke into peoples lives, he saw sorrow and shed tears, he heard the groans of those who were outcast, he saw right through people’s hearts. He touched, he healed, he went everywhere calling no place home. As I think about my neighbor grandma dying, leaving 5 great grandkids she’s been caring for, I desperately cling to this Jesus, this man that I worship as God, crying, “This is the God I need! One who is able to come and be amongst us.”

 

This coming week, as I visit, listen, encourage, and pray with people, I want to be attuned to this Jesus who goes out and about with me, lest I become de-centered and follow other things that do not live, the idols that call me to become the self I do not want to be.

Can you trust your doctor?

Recently, my Cambodian pastor was hospitalized after a minor heart attack. He was in the ICU unit in the Cardiology department, and seeing him hooked up to a machine and all worn out and sleeping made me cry as I sat beside him and just prayed. God…this man who has been serving you for years. Barely serving financially, yet knowing abundance in sharing. Will you touch and heal? Those were my only prayers. It wasn’t about “you will get good things when you believe in God” or health and wealth theology. It was simply desiring for healing, knowing how he does live his life for God and others.

Now, he is out of hospital. But as I talk to him and his wife, I realize the complex situation with the medical system. His wife said she begged the doctor to let her husband out, after being in the ICU unit for 3 nights. The reason? They couldn’t afford it. The bill kept going up, for each test, for each night, for each drip, it was added. In a country with no health care system, what can you do but to pay? But to make it worse, sometimes you don’t know if the procedure is necessary or if the hospital is trying to make money. The doctor said he needed a test, but he also overheard the doctors talking, saying that he was “normal.” So why does he need a test? It’s easy to start doubting, it’s simply a money grabbing scheme.

To not be able to trust those that are supposed to help you medically. And to not know what is wrong with your own body. It’s another reminder that poverty isn’t simply about your financial standing. It’s also about the lack of information. The lack of power to choose what you would like simply because you don’t know. And so empowerment should be much more than having a house and a job, though these are important as well. It’s also being empowered to know, to understand, to make a choice.

Please pray for my pastor, and other that go through the medical process in Cambodia, that they will have enough to access what they need, and be given the information they need to be able to make good decisions.

Capturing Those Moments

I am starting my third year here in Cambodia. After having been here for two years, plus having faced some unexpected tragedies both here and in Japan, I realized that it’s gotten harder to see things that are life giving. Things that jumped into my heart when I first came are still there, it’s just that I’m not finding it. During my time away from Cambodia for the last bit, I was really challenged about my lack of thankfulness. Not in a “Christians are supposed to be thankful so we say nice things” but that I’ve ceased to look up at the sky and be amazed at the bigness of this world, and the smile that gets exchanged between the seller and I when I walk past the stall. And not seeing those things could ultimately kill me, taking the life out of me. It’s finding Jesus in the places where He is, as the author of good things, beautiful things. So here are some things that I’ve been reminded of, of things that are I am thankful for, both big and small:

-the blue sky and wind as I drive down the bridge on my moto in the morning

-the coolness after the rain, reassuring me that heat won’t last forever

-the sound of birds that manage to find their ways into my neighbourhood

-sunset as the smell of home fill the streets

-a dear Khmer friend that holds my hand while we talk

-kids that shout my name and jump on me

-a friendly and helpful seller at the market

-my lovely family that tries to feed me watermelon right before I go to bed

I am writing this out to build the altar. To remember. To come back to. To be encouraged when I feel down. And to walk with Jesus, faithfully each step, day by day during this year simply because He has been faithfully walking with me from the start. Here I come :)