Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cambodia, Day 4

The Gospel is all about repentance, and the Bible is full of stories of people getting it right on the second try: Jacob telling his right name to the stranger he wrestled, after giving his father a false name to win the blessing; Judah sticking up for Benjamin after persuading his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery; Peter telling Jesus three times that yes, of course he loved Him. I'm not saying yesterday was a disaster and we need to repent of it. Actually, I think it went reasonably well. But it was the first run, and it was rocky, and many things needed to shake down, from the lyrics of the songs to the coordination of many people's work.

I've been thinking more about the question from yesterday about whether we make any difference in so short a visit. An illustration struck me that clarified my thinking on the subject. Parents are enormously influential in the lives of their children, and no wonder: they have genetics, rulemaking authority, control over resources, and a tight relational bond. But even with all those tools and advantages, everybody, and I mean everybody, gets that parenting isn't done in big, bold strokes that lay entire problems permanently to rest, but rather in little discrete touches, day to day. If that's how parents effect change, then why on earth does it make sense for us to wonder if this work is worthwhile just because we don't see the change in a single day? I mean, I get the bungee-jumping criticism, that we're popping in and out and not investing any time, and obviously parenting is an enormous investment of time. But to me, that's a textbook case of making the perfect the enemy of the good. It's too redolent of Judas grumbling that Mary didn't sell her precious ointment and give the money to the poor. Jesus shushed Judas and praised Mary, because Mary's loving act was more pleasing to God than human angst over our failure to wipe out planet-wide social ills with our own meager resources and cleverness.

This morning, we headed out to another home church.

The original plan was that we would drive about three hours, out to a very remote church that never gets any visitors. But the heat is record-breaking, and it's the holiday for the king's birthday which made road travel even more unpredictable than on a typical day. So instead, we went to the church of Loak Krou Chantou, the pastor that's been driving us around all week. We sang the same three songs as yesterday, and this time the children sang their own songs back to us. They sang "This is the day" in English, which blew my mind, and then "Jesus is my rock" and "I have decided" in Khmer. Loak Krou Chantou's daughter, Otia, is the church's worship and youth pastor, and all the children follow her instructions precisely.
The inside of the church building was the hottest, muggiest place I'd been all week, and the sweat was pouring off everyone, so after Troy finished his shortened message, we stepped outside to play games. There were more rounds of duck-duck-lobster.
And at some point, they got a good hokey-pokey going; here's Sarah turning herself around.

The crafts segment was a bit bumpy. Today we were making cross necklaces with a couple of extra beads, but the hole for the string was so tiny that it was slow going. Chloe used a bobby pin to enlarge the holes, and Otia produced a stick of just the right size to accomplish the same purpose. The inside of the building wasn't quite as hot with about half the attendees outside playing games, but it definitely was hot enough to make patience with a non-compliant necklace even more challenging. Mary Jo held things together inside and worked extremely hard to accomplish that. I'm not sure how many people noticed, but then Mary Jo does a lot of important and loving things that most people don't notice, and Jesus has opinions about that.

In my office back in Oregon, on my desk, I keep a bunch of good fidget toys that students can play with when they come to talk to me, because it helps them think. Right before we left, I threw most of the fidget toys in my luggage, planning to use them to break ice with the kids and then give them away. Today I took my blue and yellow Hoberman switch-pitch ball and started a game of catch with the kids. What worked well about it was that I could include everyone, even the very small ones, by inviting them with my eyes and gesture to catch the ball and then throwing it very gently for them. We played for fifteen or twenty minutes and the game grew to about a dozen kids. Right before we left, I presented the ball to Otia, explaining where I had previously kept it, and that blue and yellow were our school colors. My hope is that when the kids play with the ball in the future, it'll bring up a number of good memories from our visit.

In the afternoon debrief, we talked about the fact that everyone was carrying a water bottle and drinking from it in front of the church members, even though they were just as hot and thirsty, and didn't have water for themselves. Jesus' words about a cup of cold water landed heavily on a lot of hearts. We thought hard about the kinds of selfish acts that aren't deliberate, such as the unintended effects of actions like pulling out smartphones to photograph a child, when the child very likely won't ever be able to afford one.

After that, we headed out to Phnom Sampov, a temple on top of something roughly the size of Skinner Butte. It was one of the last holdout bases for the Khmer Rouge, and there are still artillery pieces on site.

We took the stairs up the hill, a thousand steps of climbing. At the top, we took team pictures in a couple of spots, then made our way back down by the road to watch bats emerge from one particular cave for a night's feeding. The bat exit took almost twenty minutes; I've read elsewhere that they estimate the cave's population at five million, and that the locals call the bat swarm "the dragon."

And as we watched, we made a friend.

Annie was in hog heaven at seeing monkeys all over Phnom Sampov; she counted sixty-one of them. In particular, we spotted one that was quite pregnant, and several youngsters playing king of the mountain on a prayer flagpole. We also saw a food cart operator drive a monkey away from his food with a very hard salvo from his slingshot. The monkey didn't like that at all, and for a second it looked as though there might be a fight, but the monkey stalked away and sulked instead. The little guy in the picture above was fairly sedate, but we kept our distance, as mom was only a few feet away. She didn't watch carefully, but we knew it wouldn't take much to trigger her protective instincts.

The strangeness of the place is wearing off. The heat and humidity haven't gone anywhere, but managing them is now a known quantity. People have adjusted to using facial expressions and gestures when the language barrier breaks down completely; it now happens a lot more smoothly and instinctively. Today was better than yesterday, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

No comments: