Saturday, May 14, 2016

Cambodia, Day 6

Getting from place to place is a big part of each day, and a big part of the entire experience. The truck in the second picture down in Day Two has come to feel like home, because we've spent a lot of hours in the bed of it. There are benches on both sides running the length of the truck bed; they're padded, and there's also a padded back rest, but some of the roads put the suspension to the test, particularly the dirt roads. It's no exaggeration to say we've caught air a few times. It means just the trip by road can be pretty physically taxing, and when we get back from the day's events, it sometimes feels as though the drive was the most tiring part. And Delia and Calvin both have old injuries that have spoken up about all the jostling. But here again, what perspective is showing me is how spoiled I am on the simple logistics of my daily commute. I don't ride in vehicles very often these days, but when I do, I travel on smooth roads in an enclosed, air-conditioned passenger compartment. What folks here accomplish, both as far as their work and the condition of their hearts, they accomplish in spite of obstacles and complications that wear me out after just a few days' experience.

It's also the case that drivers pass one another in a fashion that in the United States would look unbelievably reckless, but here is accepted and routine. I don't really mind that, though: I haven't felt unsafe at all. I wouldn't want to drive here, without a long period of observing and then practicing, but being a passenger is fine. God has well and truly kept our going out and our coming in, and I'm thankful.

Time in the truck bed has been a good opportunity for me to listen to Sam a bit. Sam is at Hope Bible Institute, and has been coordinating visits along with Pastor Troy, as well as translating for us. He's told me a good deal of his story, how he came to trust Jesus, his view of the work that needs doing in Cambodia, and even some of his opinions about the United States. When I told him I didn't own a car, he was quite shocked, and so were the other Cambodian staff who were along that day. I mentioned that Eugene is very walkable, that walking is good for my health, and that cars are expensive, and I think it's the last reason that surprised them the most. 

I've noticed a few times that they take it for granted that Americans can draw on bottomless affluence for whatever we need. They don't explicitly think that; intellectually, they know that money is tight the world over, but their quick first reaction to a number of conversational turns reveals how they imagine America. Not Sam, necessarily; he lived in the United States for many years. But it's true of some of the other folks. I told them about how my former student Nick directs a nonprofit that raises funds for other agencies, while employing homeless people, and they assumed I meant outside the United States. I then mentioned that my former student Peter turned aside from his college major and trained to become an ASL interpreter, and again, they assumed that if Peter was working with people in need, it must be outside the United States. I think they can think of Americans as being homeless or in need of ministry, but it takes effort, in much the same way I can think about Cambodian pastors, scientists, businesspeople, but it's not the first picture that pops into my head. But that's a failure of my own perception, and being here is helping.

This morning, we went to Hope Bible Institute's church for Sunday worship.
As we'd done on the home church visits, we introduced ourselves, and we sang "I can count on God." In yesterday's post, I neglected to mention that Troy forgot his iPad and speaker in the truck, so we just sang it a cappella. That went well enough that today we did it a cappella again. The youngsters joined in on the motions, but so did the parents and elders, which was fun to watch. After that, Chloe, Joe, Delia, Annie and Sway performed "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)," with Annie signing the lyrics.

(Chloe's not in the shot because she was playing the keyboard, and a big fan blocked my view of her.) When they finished, Pastor Troy delivered the message.

His passage was Mark 9:33-37. He talked about playing Superman when he was a boy, with a towel tied to his neck for a cape, and went from there to Jesus with the towel around His waist, washing the disciples' feet. At one point, Sway, who speaks and understands Khmer, started laughing, and couldn't get himself under control for a minute or two. Afterward, he told us that when Troy said he used the towel as a cape, Sam had translated it that Troy hung himself with a towel. Not quite.

When the service ended, the church invited us to stay for lunch. And I think God read my post from yesterday, because this was a pretty good corrective for all the feasting we've been doing.
The upper left corner is a frog leg. From there, clockwise, there's a mess of crickets, a number of silkworms, and a few beetles: all perfectly edible and full of protein, and all reasonably tasty. As a former finicky eater, I feel downright proud of how much I enjoyed this meal. They did also serve us mangosteen, as well as fresh papaya that they grew right there on the institute campus. And they had a wonderful curried pork, too; it wasn't solely a John the Baptist meal. But the insects were an experience, and a good one. The best part was that it was a meal around the table with a church family, cooked up by Loak Krou Chanthou's wife and several other church ladies. It was sharing food as an expression of togetherness and warmth, and it took away at least a little of my disquiet at all the lavish restaurant meals.

After lunch, Loak Krou Chantou shared his testimony with us. 
He was forced into a work camp by the Khmer Rouge and fed only a single can of rice which was split up among the entire work crew. He escaped, and rose to the rank of commander in the Cambodian Nationalist force. But he didn't come to know the Lord until one day his unit was hopelessly outnumbered in battle, and his soldiers were terrified. His wife had always said to him, "Put your faith in Jesus," but he had never paid attention until he was cornered and facing almost certain death. He and his soldiers prayed out loud, asking Jesus for help, and they survived the battle, in some cases with miraculous near misses. At one point, Chanthou bent over, and a shot went straight through the space his head had just occupied and hit a tree. After the battle, all the soldiers under his command chose to be baptized. 

Today, Chanthou pastors a church and works with Hope Bible Institute. He and his wife raised nine children, the youngest of whom is a razor-sharp eleventh grader. She has a Khmer name that I'm sure I'd misspell, if it even has a definitive transliteration, but she goes by Elizabeth with English speaking friends. She's traveled around with us for the past three days, and she's delightful: kind and thoughtful and possessed of joy. Chanthou's family has blessed us in many ways, most of which I'm probably overlooking, and I'm going to miss them when we depart Battambang for Siem Reap tomorrow.

By the way, we're leaving Battambang for Siem Reap tomorrow.

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