Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Most Christians are Too Nice and Very Boring

I go to the same mega-church almost every week. It has all the right doctrine, both evangelistic and social justice outreaches, a preacher with a PhD from Stanford in literature, and 5 services per Sunday with attendees numbering 4000. The music is excellent and professional and you can pick between a traditional (choir) and a contemporary service with a live band. I have always appreciated the pastor’s sermons and I am being mentored by the mission pastor. I also attend a divorce recovery workshop there. And, I don’t have to fight too violently to get my kids to come along. The only thing I miss is community. I don’t know anyone there and no one knows me. No one says hello to me except the greeters and I say hello to no one because I don’t know anyone either (accept the pastor, the mission pastor, and a few mission elders). Since I don’t have too many friends here who aren’t super busy, I crave for human community.

Once in a while I pop into a pub on Mercer Island where you might say the less polished rich people frequent, or those who have been rich and lost their millions, or for those who drive school buses but inherited great wealth from their parents on the Island. It’s a bar for the rich who lost their way. As with frequent clients of bars, many are loudly opinionated. The less they can back their opinion, the louder they are. I usually go to watch the game and just to be around people. After a while of being a bump on log type stranger, people will begin conversations with me. White bearded old Lou Summers an 80 year chap that looks like he stepped out of a geriatric form of an L.L. Bean catalogue was the first one to make my acquaintance. He tells me stories of growing up in Seattle while he whittles away at his martini and sometimes spills it on me. He loves to talk of his time as a marine when he fought in Korea. Born a Lutheran, he lost his faith when he saw American priests giving last rites to American Soldiers who were sent into unwinnable battles with the Chinese and North Koreans. He is often brought to tears as he recites the many war atrocities he witnessed on both sides. Whenever I engage Lou on philosophical or religious issues he will stop to ask me if I am writing a book on the characters in the bar. I say, “No, I am not writing a book. “Are you sure” he asks me? “I like you, but I think you’re up to something. You’re the one person in this pub who is not looking for somebody or something to save him.”

People tend to avoid Lou because they’ve heard all his stories before so when I enter the bar a shuffling of chairs takes place and suddenly the only chair left at the bar is next to eighty year old Lou. Behind me is Ward,a six foot seven, former Canadian Football player and millionaire who drives a hummer and is throwing darts with Burke. Ward never gave me the time day until he found out I was a dyed in the wool Neil Young fan. I sort of avoid conversation with Ward as he is a handsome male athlete in his mid 40’s who uses his spare time to drink and engage in the conquest of women as a hobby. I am not sure he would appreciate my perspective on that. Burke, his dart-loving friend, on the other hand is another large man but much more rotund and graduated from High school in 1971. Balding on top with salt and pepper stubble and the sides, he is handsome man who is in the construction business but has no work going at the time. His wife divorced him and took everything. Ward took him in and he camps out on Wade’s couch. Burke is a Catholic and goes to church. He is especially open and friendly with me because he grew up in Stamford and I in Darien. We both grew up Catholic. He attends church and has an appreciation for God but has few Biblical values, or least conflicting ones. His habits with women and alcohol consumption don’t seem to conflict with his faith values. Maybe he holds them in tension well. He would be right smack dab with the conservative right if it weren’t for the abortion issue. What he has going for him is that he is a good natured fellow who is quite likable.

On occasion, I will get a spot next to Van. Van is about 70 and was Special Ops for the Russian Navy. He is brilliant pool player and understands culture and world politics very well. The bulk of my in depth conversations take place with Val. He served in Afghanistan in the 1980’s and had many stories tell. For special Ops, he is a gentle man who likes to discuss religion. He told me, if anyone could possible convert him to the faith, it would be me. His atheism is dissolving.
Behind me would be James, former US Secret Service. He orders his glass of house wine and talks a seat at a table in the back and just observes. He rarely says a word unless someone joins him at his table. He was the one who told me the pub was owned by the Chinese Mafia!

The Barmaid would be Tracy, who is now about 27 but immigrated to America when she was 7. She is totally acculturated and she is beautiful and her pop culture quotient outweighs any other knowledge she may have about anything other than mixing drinks, pool, or pop music. She works hard and has fun too, even takes the occasional sexual harassment like water of a duck’s back.

Bruce, sporting dirty blond hair and always a day’s growth of stubble comes in about 5 pm, riding the bus from Seattle wearing a trench coat with the Seattle times under his arm. He’s a brilliant man who was born wealthy but somehow lost all his wealth along the away. Now he works for a large hotel chain doing IT work which he does not enjoy as people younger than him who are over him treat him like he knows nothing. He travels around the Seattle on a trivia team as a hobby when he isn’t playing pool in pub. He and I have had some deep conversations, many times around Christian ethics and values. He parades his values as compassionate but I challenge him that his cynicism is a mask just to protect his real indifference toward the plight of the world. He often says, “Why those #%$#X&@)* Christians, blah, blah, etc., when he is actually referring to the Religious Right and their abuse of the abortion and gay marriage issues to cloud other important issues of unjust wars for oil, poor education, 13 million American Children living in poverty, poor health care, no insurance for many, the poor and the working poor, and the plight of the poor in other countries, and the marriage of corporate conglomerates and the government. He has a good point here but misses the fact that abortion needs to be included in the quality life argument too, even if it used unwisely as a smoke screen at times.

The fun apart about the pub is I can talk deeply with people about critical issues of faith and culture. I can’t find a venue at church to do that. I have two great landlords that fall on the side of the being very conservative religiously and they change the subject when I ever get to close to a ‘liberal’ or ‘moderate’ agenda. In the pub, if I approached a sensitive topic with some friends, they might curse and swear but the conversation would continue. Other than having a couple beers, I have not compromised my integrity and at times have even given inebriated customers a ride home.

By no means is a bar going to become my new church or regular group therapy but it may become some sort an occasional community where I can explore in depth issues of faith and politics which is taboo in many churches.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

ABC's of Brian's Year Review

Alana enjoyed her tour of duty at Mercer Island High School and desires to graduate from the exclusive M.I. High next year (Obama’s mother graduated from M. I. H.S.).

Brian was divorced on Aug 17th but continues to see the kids as often as possible. He attends First Pres. Bellevue, has been doing tree work, and leading short term trips into Cambodia.

Cambodia calls out to me and is still on my mind. I miss my friends and tight community that I enjoyed so much there. God Bless Cambodia!

Divorce has taken its toll on me but I am very thankful to God and to close friends who have sustained both me and the family through the last two and a half years of very tough time.

Eugene Maher, my dad passed away in early December. I was glad to have been there when he passed to be a support to my mother and spend time with family and friends.

Funeral- My dad’s funeral went very well. I did the eulogy which seemed to go well and the service was accompanied by Darien Firemen and we had an escort to the grave site by fire truck. Dad would have been very impressed.

God is very present in hindsight as I can count and identify the evidence of his presence each day but He seems to be silent concerning the future. This is perhaps the greatest struggle for me.

Humor- I was just checking out (did not join) E harmony on the internet and I left it on my screen and Jordan said, “Dad, your new E harmony wife won’t like the fact you don’t have a job!” I am re-reading all my Patrick McManus books again which make me laugh out loud.

International- I am still having difficulty segueing into American culture when I am international at heart. That’s my niche and I still feel like I am a fish living out of water.

Justice- I pray daily for trafficked children, the poor, marginalized, the oppressed, child laborers, and single mothers, for all is not right in the world, even during this Christmas Season.

Kingdom Realities- “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, as earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom is here now and will be fully realized when Jesus returns to usher it in. “Fear not,” Jesus said. Good news for a country that manipulates its citizens through fear (even religious authors).

Loss- I have lost a life partner, a ministry, a cohesive family and my dad this year.

Matthew graduated from Sammamish High School last year and is taking a year off. He is going to Cambodia in January and will start at Bellevue College next fall.

Neil Young turned 65 this year. Doesn’t that make you feel old?

Older- I am 53 and still climbing trees. This too, must end.

Power outages on the Island all week long due to high winds.

Quintessential Christianity takes care of the poor, orphans, the fatherless and the widows.

Recovery- I went through a 6 week divorce recovery workshop which was very helpful
Salvage-since the theme of the bible is restoration, reconciliation, reclamation, and redemption, I am waiting on the Lord to put me back on line but the wait is excruciating.

Theological Studies- I have one more course to go in order to finish my MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller. In this job market, that and 50 cents just might get me a cup of coffee.

Unbelievable Pho! Every week end I take Alana to have Vietnamese noodle soup in White Center where the Pho is the best I ever had. One plus for the Seattle area!

Vancouver. I have been traveling to Vancouver BC on occasion to do some training on Cross-Cultural Ministry with 10th Ave Church. I usually drive across the border.

Worst drivers in the US and worst traffic in the US are found in Seattle. I didn’t say worse than Phnom Penh.

X-My ex is doing well. She has a job but not well paying. She is looking for a real job so keep her in your prayers.

Ya’ll –Thanks for your prayers, encouragement, emails and financial support. We would be in dire straits if it weren’t for you.

Z-in the Greek Alphabet, is Omega, or the end. This ends my year in review

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Forester's Perspective

Dr. Terry Tatter, renowned professor of Arboriculture and wood science at U-Mass, and author of the books I used to study for my Connecticut Arborist license was called as an expert witness in the law suit over a tree from Calvary Baptist (my church) falling on a woman’s car and bruising her in the incident during a freakish summer storm. He said, “This Arborist, Brian Maher is responsible because his pruning cuts are what led to the decay that caused the tree to crack and fall on the car and injure this woman!

Tatter brought in all sorts of blocks of wood cut up from the tree in radial and tangential sections to display to the court (most of the stem of the tree was removed before he arrived on the scene). “This simple Arborist does not have the experience to know how defects and decay affect the interior integrity and structure of the tree. “ Little did he know that when I was a forester, part of my on the job training was to spend hours watching how logs opened up on the saw mill. I was to study how exterior defects manifested themselves on the interior of the tree in terms of rot, decay, shake, twisted grain, knots, etc. There weren’t too many trees native to New England that I didn’t see sawn out or peeled on a veneer knife. I remember watching with fascination as the veneer knife peeled off wood like pulling toilet paper off the roll. You could follow the history of the tree from clear wood all the way down to the knots. Tatter lost the case and the later appeal as well.

As a forester I sometimes bid on standing timber so I had to learn what exterior defects looked like on the inside of a standing tree and what they did to the quality of the potential lumber. My company did not want me to waste their money on rot, crook, stain, sweep, decay and ring shake. While looking at a stand of timber I was going to bid on, I would check the stumps from logging operations in the years gone by to see what they looked so I could get an idea what was going on with certain species. In stands where there appeared to be no past harvesting of timber, I used a forester’s tool called an increment borer. It was like a hand drill bit that you drilled into the center of the tree and before you backed out the bit, you extracted the core. This could tell you how old the tree was, whether or not the tree was hollow, healthy, fast or slow growing, and whether it had ring shake, tension wood, or compression wood, etc. All this affected the quality of veneer or lumber. It wasn’t as if I could cut a tree down on someone else’s property and look at the rings to see how fire, drought, insect damage or too much rain affected the growth of the tree but it was still a good indicator of health and quality. But, it is much more interesting to track the history of tree or the stand by examining the annual rings on the stump vs. and increment borer.

I know we humans don’t have annual rings but I assume we have something akin to spiritual annual rings. I once did an assignment in seminary where I was to chart what affected me positively or negatively in the psychological, social, emotional, spiritual and physical realm for every year of my life. It really was like examining the annual rings of a fresh stump. I could track my personal history and see how I came to struggle with the issues that plagued me when I grew older. The point was to see that no matter how many bad life experiences we had, God’s grace, whether meted out directly or through persons, was an active constant in our lives. I saw on my annual rings those years when I had some grade school teachers in public school that shamed me publically a number of times in front of the class. By the time I hit fourth grade I had no self-esteem or sense of self-worth. My annual rings were compressed signaling a lack of personal growth and trauma. Rings in the following years showed growth as God sent mentors into my life in the form of teachers, coaches and scoutmasters who found something worthwhile about me. My spiritual annual rings will show floods, drought, fire, insect infestation, etc, or in human terms, trauma, crises, and undesirable events as well as periods of significant growth and health. As one unravels themselves in this light, it is like examining annual rings on a stump. When you try to unravel the life history of someone else, that is when you need an increment borer, especially if they are unable to examine their own annual rings (and that should be done by a counselor).

I remember the guys who operated the veneer knives bringing me blocks of wood containing horse shoes, axe heads, spikes, saw chain, etc, that the tree had grown around and compartmentalized when the tree was just a sapling. Those items shattered the knife. I hope they weren’t blaming me because there was no way I could’ve found any exterior defects signifying their existence. It’s like when some people seem perfect and have it all together with no outside indicators that their lives are anything but in perfect control and stability until knife hits that chunk of steel embedded deep in the interior of a person’s character. That has happened on occasion to me I must confess and it was the only Great Physician who could set things right again.

Back in the fifties a man in New York State had a coon dog who took off one night chasing a raccoon. He never came back and the man always wondered what became of the dog. In the late seventies he had his property logged and the logger bucking up logs on the log landing was bucking up a hollow tree and cut into part of a petrified dog that was way into the top part of the tree. It was the man’s coon dog.

The point is we all have defects. Some of us have defects so large a dog could climb into them, and others of us have a few burly knots or an axe head buried down deep under some clear wood. Some defects are obvious from the outside and some are not and they are ones that might require a little probing with an increment borer, but they are there and they can affect our lives. It is not our job to be defect detectors in others but Grace detectors. Counting anyone’s spiritual rings will reveal a history of God’s grace diffused through the annual rings, such as Oak wood which is ring porous. God’s grace is there in our lives so it might be good to stop striving, especially during this Christmas season and examine the myriad of ways that he has been present in our lives from the beginning.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Tribute to Lou

“G1!” “What is G1? I said. I was told it stood for Glenbrook 1, Troop 1 from Glenbrook (Stamford, Ct) of Alfred W. Dater Council that used to meet in Union Memorial church during the late sixties. Anything was better than old “Droopy Drawers,” our current scoutmaster who had us working on some sort of oscillator. I didn’t join scouts to build oscillators, whatever the hell they were. Actually I don’t even know why I joined but here we were in February of 1969, getting a new scoutmaster (thank God!).

But he was from Stamford! Mr. Lou Pape, curly hair on the fringes, balding in the front and sporting a chrome dome in the back, called the scouts of Troop 50 to attention. He wore black rimmed coke bottle type glasses. I, being only a 12 year old snob at the time, was wondering why someone from the neighboring ‘city’ of Stamford had to be imported to lead our Darien Troop. Mind you, Darien is a bedroom community of commuters to New York City, an island for the white and wealthy. Who was this character, I thought? It wasn’t after too long that one learned that Mr. Pape was no light weight, and you didn’t mess with him. After a few months, and a mass exodus of scouts, Troop 50 began to take to shape, a good shape. Finally, I began to realize why I joined scouts. Mr. Pape chucked the oscillators and begin to train us is in actual scouting skills, leadership and outdoor skills.

Mr. Pape was not a guy who looked hip by any means but he had a cool early 60’s Volkswagen van which he slept in on campouts when we weren’t backpacking. He switched over to sleeping in a tent because it was actually colder in his white VW van. Plus it didn’t do hills to well.

I remember one of our campouts that first year; it was a camp-o-ree in Woodland Park in Darien, sometime in 1969. We hiked from the Andrew Shaw Scout Cabin near Ring’s End Lumber Company to Woodland Park on the Stamford line. The camp-o-ree was made up of Alfred W. Dater council troops, all Darien and Stamford. Back in those days, when scouting was more popular, Darien had about 12 troops and Stamford, maybe 40 troops. Close to 25 troops were in attendance at this camp-o-ree. The scenario was that a nine year old girl was lost in Woodland Park and 25 troops had to find her. Zoomies were flying over lending suspense and credibility to the operation. 40 minutes into the operation, Mr. Pape had us comb an area a Stamford troop had jus finished searching. Our Assistant Senior Patrol Leader and captain of the Darien high School wrestling team, Doug Hanum spotted a large log buffered by leaves. He had us pull all the leaves away from under the log and low and behold, there was the girl. We followed our first aid training, built a stretcher from poles and our kerchiefs, and used our stretcher as a backboard to carry her out. Troop 50 one first place in the camp-o-ree that weekend because Mr. Pape’s training paid off. May this character from Stamford was alright. He sure knew his scouting stuff.

Early Campouts were a fiasco, so to speak, trying to whip the troop into shape from the slack days of old Droopy Drawers. On simple ten mile hike, after about hour you would here from the back of line; “Mr. Pape, how many miles?” He would casually reply: “Two more miles, Bubby.” This went on until we finished our 11 mile hike.

There is no age that seems to exhibit the epitome of thorough and unmitigated tomfoolery than that of the junior high school aged boy. His age, around eleven or twelve is precisely the age where he is allowed and even encouraged to sign up in the local scout troop. If it weren't for the older scouts who kept the silly tomfoolery of the younger ones to a manageable level through the use of the evil eye, cutting remarks, condescension, pranks and beatings, this age group would have their fathers pulling out their hair.

The Pound Ridge Reservation is a small State Park just inside the New York State border, not far from Southern Connecticut. If any place stirs up old memories of early scouting days, it is this place. Late March, in '69, perhaps twelve brand spanking new scouts, all dressed in their shiny new polyester scout uniforms, neckerchief slides and belt buckles gleaming sporting their wool checkered jackets or winter Parkas, occupied one of the three existing lean-tos that the illustrious troop 50 of Darien reserved for a weekend wilderness experience. Weekend warriors they were at best.

Earlier in that overcast and chilly spring day, our Scoutmaster Lou Pape had led us all on a ten mile hike around the park. There went the saddest looking bunch of scouts you might well have ever laid your eyes on. Joey B. had pots and pans haphazardly tied to his state-of- the- art Yucca pack, clanging and banging his away down the trail, looking more like an old prospector than a boy scout, scaring away any remote possibility of spotting any real wildlife. Even a crow would have been a welcome sight after a while. Then there was “Gills” Callahan who couldn't walk ten yards without hiking up his sagging drawers. Gills, was the lad who took too much abuse about his weight but always took it quite well and otherwise kept a low profile.

While Jim von K was complaining of chafing his tender thighs raw with his unchallenged, untried, brand spanking new polyester scout pants, "Saigon Elly", a derivative of his actual name (Dick Sagonelli) which resulted from Mr. Pape's intentional mispronunciation, brought up the rear - not to be confused with Callahan, who was continuing to bring up the rear quite literally.

Every now and then some tenderfoot would summon up enough courage to cry out; "Mr. Pape.....how many more miles"? The response never changed - "Two more miles, Bubby". That had always puzzled the best of us tenderfoots but since most of us were not Einstein types when it came to math, except for maybe the Toumey brothers, no one ever challenged Mr. Pape. But there were one or two of us who could put two and two together. For instance, if on a 10 mile hike we had been walking only an hour, and some loon asks the inevitable question and gets the standard, "Two more miles, Bubby" response, then it seemed to us that something wasn't adding up logically. But on the other hand, Scoutmasters never lie. This was a moral dilemma. And since scouts are encouraged to be honest and trustworthy, then we must assume our leader was the guru of trustworthiness. Thus, he would never lie. So, there we were, trapped between a rational rock and a moral hard place. It was only till we were able to read maps and notice trail signs that we had it figured but by then it was one of those nuggets of revelation you kept to yourself.

Stream crossings were always an event to look forward to, especially just after the ice thaws. The older scouts, most specifically a few who were on the High School wrestling squad would take bets on each tenderfoot who came up to take their turn crossing the brook. Gills Callahan lumbered up to ford the stream, hiking up his pants and shifting his pack around till he got comfortable. All bets were on. Gills got about a third of the way across the raging brook when he stepped on a slippery moss covered rock and down he went like a ton of bricks, face first into the stream. His pack had slipped up and was holding his head under the water. When the money was collected and the laughter died down to a dull roar, Assistant Senior Patrol leader, Michael Metzger grabbed the boy by the collar with one arm and pulled him up out of the brook in one swift motion.

There he was gasping for breath, soaked to the skin with his wet hair matted down on his head. Due only to his obesity was his pack and its contents able to remain up out of the water and somewhat dry. Gills immediately checked to see if the sweet tarts in his pants pocket were dry. So to accompany Joey's pots and pans a clanging, a 'squish, squish, squish' now beat out a new tempo to Joey's rhythm. In between the clanging and squishing was the sound of the occasional tenderfoot tripping over a root. It is just amazing where they put those things, right on the trail, no less. They called it, 'pulling a Smith'. Smith seemed to be able hone in on roots like he had radar. His name was personally etched on every root on the trail or so it seemed anyway. I must confess that I found my share in the early days, too.

Arriving back at the campsite, the tenderfoots of Coyote, Buffalo and the Cobra Patrol were indeed tender. Blisters, chaffed thighs, sore backs and aching shoulders where the straps cut into their tender skin under weight of their brand new gear, had this rag tag bunch lagging behind, limping, moaning, whining and complaining. They dropped their gear in the lean to, argued and fought briefly over which prime real estate they wanted and then sat on the nearest available object. The Toumey boys, Ken and Don, stood out amongst them like Mr. Clean on a linoleum kitchen floor. Not a hair out of place, or a speck of dirt or mud anywhere. How did they do it?

As the tired and sore bunch of wilderness novices took inventory of their personal causalities, the Senior Patrol Leader, Hawkins, came to remind us it was about time to rustle up some firewood to cook dinner. It began to drizzle at about 3 pm when we were putting our pea brains together to make a plan to cook up a complicated culinary delight - soup. Some rocket scientist noticed that in our lean to, unlike the others, lo and behold, there was a fire place built in the inside corner. Hey, great, we won't have to get wet! Tenderfoots, no longer in spotless shiny polyester but thorn torn, wet and mud stained, went out to select some choice firewood for a blazing inferno that would take the chill out of our bones on this cold, dank, drizzly late afternoon. Joey, Smith, Louie, Jim, Mark, Kern, Saigon Elli, Don, Ken and Gills Callahan went out to gather up some wood.

Tom Deppen otherwise known as “Bedpan,” and I stayed back to build the fire and brew up some soup. Louie offered us the use of his famous knife which had every attachment from a normal fork to a belly button lint remover. The scary thing was it had never been cleaned. Maybe it was a survival technique. He could have lived for a few days off the crumbs that were stuck between attachments and the green slime that was growing on the various implements that a wipe on a pant leg didn't totally do the trick. If you poured just hot water into his mess kit cup, you'd have a combination of instant Hot Chocolate, oatmeal and tang. So we declined his kind offer of using any of his mess implements. Three hours later and a quarter of cord of unburned green wood, we all settled down to some lukewarm soup. Smelling like we'd lived out our last five years in a hickory smoke house, we abandoned the idea of a roaring bonfire to dry us out. Who needed one anyway? When Mr. Pape came to check on us he took one whiff, and while looking around through the blue haze lingering in the lean-to, he spotted the green wood smoldering in the fire place. I vaguely remember him scratching his head and looking down at his boots, perhaps searching for the right words to say, and then giving us a short lecture on the undesirability and the drawbacks of using green wood vs. dry wood but one thing I do know is that the story of the "three hour soup" still lives in infamy to this day.

Shortly after, darkness fell and with it the rain poured down in buckets. We must have had 12 scouts jammed into that lean-to. Since it was raining so hard, our normal campfire program was canceled. We were all settled in our little jelly rolls, dodging cold drops of water that never seemed to spring up in the same place twice. It was only 7 pm and as the temperature dropped, occasional flashlight beams sliced through our warm breath which was clouding and rising in the cold night air.
Before everyone got settled into their little jelly rolls, there was a frenzy of rummaging going on.
"Shoot, gotta get my canteen and put it right here in case I get thirsty." And another;
"Let’s see, If I put my boots right here, I can get 'em if I hafta take a pee in the middle of the night."


"I should've brought a pillow", as someone wads together some T-shirts and underwear and stuffs them under his head. The back ground to all these comments or thoughts is someone blowing up an air mattress that inevitably will be flat before morning. One of the Toumey boys is donning a poncho, ready to head out into the down pour and brush his teeth. Someone rips a loud one and the lean-to erupts with laughter. Gills, in a panic is ripping apart his pack looking for some back up Twizlers or Nibs to tide him over for the night. "Hey where did my Pez go? Did anyone see my Pez"? It had been swallowed up in the mysterious darkness of the lean to. "Oh, shut up, Callahan, just wait until morning."

After three or four hours of unmitigated tomfoolery, laughing at dirty jokes, telling crude stories, the passing of wind at large decibels, guffawing, etc., some of the tuckered tenderfeet dozed off. Every now and then when our laughter got out of control, we'd hear Mr. Pape yell;
"Knock it off 'yuse guys, its lights out"!

Only when the beam of a flashlight began to shine in our direction did silence resound in our lean to. Funny, you could hear a pin drop-but not for too long!

All of us were stacked into the lean to like cord wood with our feet facing out toward the open face. Only Gills Callahan, because of his sheer obesity was lodged perpendicularly to us, closest to the outside. Rain was cascading down off the roof in sheets in front of us, creating quite a large puddle in front of the lean to. Bedpan, myself and perhaps another scout ascertained that Gills had fallen fast asleep, perhaps dreaming of Sweet tarts, Nibs, Necos or Fireballs. Whose idea it was, I can't remember, but with a slight nudge, we rolled poor unsuspecting Gills out into the depression that was caused by the rain cascading off the roof. Gills was thoroughly soaked before Mr. Pape had discovered him, a quite waterlogged, mostly disheveled lump of cotton, polyester and flesh on his final rounds before turning in. He must have kicked Gills back into to the lean to. Amazingly, Gills didn't wake up until the next morning. Or so it appeared. Mr. Pape assumed Gills had rolled out on his own after some tossing and turning. He should have known better.

One dilemma Mr. Pape hadn't quite solved and that was just exactly who it was in the corner of the lean to, body shivering, teeth chattering and wrapped in a pink blanket. No sleeping bag, just a pink blanket-pink, no less. First the Green wood-three hour soup, a disheveled lump sleeping in a puddle, and now a shivering body in a pink blanket. Did it get much better than that?

After a cold breakfast of whatever un-edible food we rustled up, we began to pack up our knap sacks. Mr. Pape had come by earlier to identify the shivering body in the pink blanket. Nobody had to tell him it was Joey. Mr. Bachman or Mr. Metzger or some other kind hearted parent had boiled enough water for the gaggling of tenderfoots to have a cup of hot chocolate. Forgetting that anything could get hot on a camp out, most of us singed our tongues down to the bone. It always took at least a week for my tongue to heal and for that burnt taste in my mouth to go away. My mouth always felt as though a group of tenderfoots had camped out in it for the weekend and used it as a latrine.

Mr. Pape was not God, and could not create something out of nothing, but he did his best.

I freely admit I was rather obnoxious as a pre-adolescent (probably adolescent as well) but Mr. Pape taught me and mentored me in scouting skills and gradually I emerged as a leader in our scout troop. Mr. Pape was my first mentor and coach who (other than my father) accepted me as I was, and worked with me. Many of my earlier experience with adults and people in authority were rather abusive. Mr. Pape helped me to believe in myself and taught me leadership and outdoor skills that are still with me today.

With the switchover to Mr. Pape, we now had campouts every month. Each campout had to do with at least a 10 mile hike. Tailgate camping was just not found in Mr. Pape’s book. Darien’s Troop 50 became quite competitive in the Alfred W. Dater council from 1969 to 1973. In 1971, my father became Mr. Pape’s assistant and we proceeded to grow in scouting skills.

Mr. Pape wanted to see me get my Eagle Scout badge and encouraged me from early on. He told me: “Son, one day you’re going to meet a monster, and she is called a ‘girl.’ When you meet her, the probability of any progress on your Eagle Badge will cease. Work hard now, so when you meet the monster, all your hard work won’t be lost.” His words were prophetic but I followed his advice and had most of the work done for my eagle badge at 14. I got my eagle when I was 15.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

When is the Church being the Church?

While staying home from church with my recently widowed mother, I was doing some reading and came across this quote:

“How does the Church contribute to the survival of the communities in which it ministers?” Churches invariably struggle with their relevance because they don’t know how they contribute to their respective communities. The survival of an individual church, in some respects, becomes an end in itself. Churches exist for their own sake.” Bruce Bradshaw.

This quote, among other things, has demonstrated to me that the church’s engagement in social justice issues on global and local levels is not only the natural outflow of a biblical ethic of love, grace and justice, but the very means by which individual churches are to survive. Without re-inventing the wheel and giving the complete rationale for social justice as stemming from a purely biblical ethic (read Howard Yoder), suffice it for now to say that Jesus’ summary of the law into the Great Commandment is enough reason for the church to engage in social justice. Many churches separate evangelism and social justice as two unrelated commandments, and often evangelism is prioritized when both are actually interdependent missions/commandments for the church. Teaching in churches on biblical ethics, holistic ministry, and social justice is largely lacking which affects the world view of each person in the pew. I think that any efforts in discipleship that don’t include doing social justice just reinforce a pietistic and doctrinal heavy emphasis type of discipleship that leads to non-engagement with the social system and powers. Obedience in many forms of contemporary discipleship boils down to sins of commission, not sins of omission like our call to social justice. I have only attended one church, Pasadena Mennonite Church, where social justice was treated fairly, given a place in discipleship and the life of the church. This church engaged society and the powers. My expat church in Cambodia didn’t need to address it too much because it was what many of us were already doing.

Early on in my Christian life I felt empty or that something was missing in my Christian life. It just seemed too shallow and when I tried to share the gospel with friends and strangers, it was too forced because my motivation was that I had the “truth” and they needed it- not that I had this particularly great experience that I want to share with someone because they needed it too. I could not even share that my experience was all that great or describe what was different about me (except I didn’t drink or smoke). In the late 80’s I began reading C.S. Lewis and Francis Shaffer and they were a catalyst for thinking about a Christian World view and the evolution of Christian thinking over the last two thousand years. My world view began to allow more space for a biblical ethic of social justice. My exposure to Jai Sankarsarma at World Vision, Cambodia in the early 90’s and living in a developing Buddhist country further enabled me see how interdependent evangelism and social justice were. When I went to work for World Vision I had to develop a Christian Witness Training Module for World Vision National Staff. In the process I read Paul Hiebert, Bryant Meyers, Bruce Bradshaw, Ron Sider, Don Kraybill, John Steward and a host of others. I enrolled in Fuller in 2005 and my courses began to pull everything together in light of God’s missional and redemptive plan for the cosmos.

The course am taking now was very helpful as we studied a biblical view the powers and principalities, and how church needs to engage societal or systemic evil in order to fulfill its mandate of being salt and light and bearing witness to the Kingdom of God in the midst of the cosmos-it should not simply address the symptoms. This challenges my faith in a way because it takes cooperation between churches, unity, organizing, research, and risk. It is much easier to just teach bible studies, preach a sermon or handout food to the poor and feel good about it when we have abdicated the important responsibility of the church being the only entity that can successfully engage the powers. Recently I have been given more light to see, and I want to be part of a ministry that realizes the Church’s responsibility to engage powers. I am saddened in one way because I have recently been divorced and need to be near my children in Seattle where jobs are not easy to find and it looks like I may have to take a low paying job doing anything I can to pay alimony. I would love to find a Christian non-profit to work nearby that does engage the powers and can transform societal systems. So I am not comfortable in my position now, because I want to act, and it seems like those doors are closed for the time being.

The ethical issue, then for me, is not about bribery, or lying, or when to obey the government vs. God, etc., it is how can we live in a particular society and system without giving more leeway to the powers in the exploitation of the working class, the poor, oppressed and alien? How can we let high insurance costs, high interest on credit cards, high health costs, high food costs, and high pharmaceuticals continue to be made available only for the wealthier members of society? How can I live my life in the system without receiving benefits that cost others or make others go without? This will continue to challenge and grow my faith as I pray to God for more clarity in my role in civic society or overseas as a community development worker. Most churches would never have challenged me or pushed me this far toward a holistic type of discipleship. I unfortunately had to come to this point of faith and challenge through working for Christian NGOs and taking seminary courses.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Same Same but Different

This is one of the first times my stays in Cambodia has not been a great one. I was sharing with a friend that things aren’t just the same; more power struggles, the church has lost its passion, development is happening everywhere but the poor are getting poorer, people change and move on, etc. My friend, Joel, the oldest timer here said pretty much the same thing. It isn’t the same Cambodia and he didn’t mean that in a good way. Not that the old times are being held in romantic sentiment. Things just seem strange.

Older pastors are quarreling and plateauing, and wondering what in the world is going on around them. Younger people are tapping into every electronic device possible. The world here is changing. Seila and the ESC KEY still manage to keep their hand on the pulse of Globalization and continue interpret and wrestle with cultural trends. They are putting out about 40-50 Diamond Program graduates per year along with sports ministry, Big Brothers/Big Sisters Orphan Ministry, Community Impact and all the drop ins we have day at our Bright Spark Drop in Center. All these things are great and relevant things happening for the Kingdom of Jesus in Cambodia but funding is hard to find. It wasn’t hard to raise thousands of dollars for Abraham’s projects in Andong Village but where do we go for funds to train Cambodia’s future doctors, businessmen, politicians, authors, human rights workers, etc. Training emerging leaders is just not sexy enough.

EFC KEY has a group of very committed and creative staff who work hard to see that young people from the churches are involved in ministries to the poor, to orphans, playing sports with non-believers, and offering training programs and seminars. I am now just a visitor here at EFC KEY (one time founder) as Seila knows how to run this ship on his own and I like what I see. I just wish we knew where to find more donors so we could expand rather than having to cut back on ministries with huge impact.
Just a few thoughts from a far.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Testimony of Pastor Abraham

Interviewed by Brian M. Maher

I was born in 1974 into a Buddhist family in Kompong Cham Province of Cambodia and I grew up living in and around the Pagoda because my grandfather was the Buddhist Patriarch of the Pagoda. The Pagoda was my second home until I graduated from high school. My youth had been highly influenced by Buddhism as I was expected to study Buddhism regularly. After I finished high school in I went to Phnom Penh to study at the Phnom Penh University in 1992 where I studied the philosophy of Education. It was there that I had heard the good the news of Jesus Christ for the first time in 1995, but I took no interest in Christianity, and as matter of fact, hearing it angered me and turned me off to Christians. A friend of mine invited me to join in his church’s Christmas program and he gave me a special gift. I thought the gift was a shirt, money or something special until I got home and opened it. It was simply a bible which I threw in the river on my way to Kompong Cham for a school break. I had no interest in Jesus until I finished at the university.

When I finished my Bachelor’s degree in 1997, I became an official in the ministry of Education. Shortly after, I went through training in order to evaluate the education levels in government schools. Therefore, I was enjoying my work and it was great but the salary was extremely low but those around me were getting rich because of corruption. As for me, I did not appreciate corruption and often confronted those involved. My life was difficult because of the low salary so I had to find some additional work to make ends meet. I contacted a lumber company from Hong Kong who bought timber from Cambodia and after some training I became their manager which provided a great salary. I saved up my money, quit my two jobs and opened my own lumber company of which I partnered with the Hong Kong Lumber company for a short time before they closed up. I produced lumber at my saw mill and began to partner with a Thai family which made me quite wealthy. This was in Koh Kong province which was like the American Wild West, and had no rule of the law and there were many poor people living close to my mill. We had a gang who ruled the area and fleeced the poor through violence and intimidation. When I saw this take place, I began to help the poor who were being ripped off by the gang. I created my own gang and we had automatic weapons to fight the bandits as I had become a soldier as well during that time. It was now 1998. I ended up killing the leader of the bandits and gang dispersed and ceased to oppress the people. I am the only one left alive from our original group of modern day Robin Hoods, because, as I thought at the time, my good luck came from the magical powers of a Khmer Witch doctor bestowed upon me.
Business was going well, too, but soon my partner ripped me off in Thailand and I lost everything but the shirt on my back, including my fiancé which broke my heart. I had to sell my mill to pay my creditors.

My life by then was a big mess, and full of problems. My mother really worried about me and called me to meet with a Khmer fortune teller who told me I would never have a wife or children. This often made me hopeless and I often remembered that friend who encouraged me back in 1995 with the words of Jesus. I took a break from life and stayed with my sister in Phnom Penh and went to Campus Crusade for Christ to ask them about Jesus and they explained quite a bit of the gospel to me. They gave me a New Testament and I took it home to read. When I was free, I read it. It was two months before I finished it, after that a particular verse really interested me. It is found in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life…..” I remember that Buddha said, I will show you the way, but that Jesus was saying I am the way. During this time I was considering the difference between Buddhism and Christianity but I did not believe just yet. The book of Romans talked a lot about salvation and that we cannot save our selves, only Jesus can. The teaching in the Pagoda told me we could receive salvation by doing good deeds. If we did good things, good things would happen to us. But for me, I wondered why when I did good things, bad things happened to me. Romans said we are not always able to do good because we are sinners and this made a lot of sense to me. It gave me a clear answer. Romans said that Jesus is the only one who can forgive ours sins and give us salvation. Again, it was a clearer explanation than Buddhism, one which I was looking for. I also sought Christians to answer the questions I had until I was invited to attend a Sunday worship service and when I went, they sung a lot of songs, one of which made me cry. It was “Jesus, the Rock of Salvation.” When they sung that song, I got goose bumps. It was the singing of hymns that brought tears to my eyes and I wondered why this never happened when I studied Buddhism with my father. I had the feeling of excitement in my heart. Because of that, I decided to follow Jesus that day which was August 15, 1999 (my spiritual birthday) and I wanted to transform Cambodia and rid my country of crime and corruption. I wanted to join a political party that was against crime and corruption but my family told me I would be dead in two years if rose within the party. How could I change Cambodia quickly? My parents and friends asked me to consider my plans so I prayed to the Lord to ask him. I prayed and fasted many times and God told me the answer was in sharing the gospel with the Cambodian people so I wrote out a covenant that told God I would give my life to spreading the gospel in Cambodia whether it meant life or death.

When I first believed, I met up with some heavy persecution from my family. My father wanted me to work with the government having a big title and a big salary but I was intent on serving the Lord. My father commanded me to stop following Jesus and join the government to become an official. I felt caught between a rock and a hard place. The tension between my written covenant with God and the demands of my father caused me so much angst that I sought God in times of silence and solitude, and the Bible showed me that my sacrifices for the Kingdom will bring much more blessings than that of what is “lost” in return, so I offered my life and everything I had to Jesus again, including the idea of working for the government of Cambodia. I decided to serve the Lord through Campus Crusade for Christ.

When my father heard this news he was livid. He said I was crazy to fall into the influence of a western religion such as Christianity and that I was now brainwashed. When I visited him, he had to get drunk in order to talk to me. He said I was the one of his children who destroyed his heart and he remembered when he used to brag that I was one child that brought him the most pride and honor. Through all of this, I still followed the will of God as I knew for my life with Campus Crusade for two years. Because Campus Crusade was not a church planting organization, I resigned because I had the vision to plant churches and so joined a Baptist Denomination. For three years I studied in their Bible school, learned a lot, and gained some experience in the process until I had some conflicts with some of the foreign missionaries running the denomination. I wanted to do holistic ministry even though I did not fully understand just what it was. The missionaries said God only cared about spiritual things like Bible reading, worship and evangelism, and the physical or social needs of people so I prayed about this for a long time and came to the conclusion that it would be best for me to leave and so I volunteered to serve at an independent church as an associate pastor.

After getting more experience with church problems and politics, and persecution from my family, I decided to add another name to my given name which is “Abraham,” because my character was akin to that of Abraham in the Bible. Like Abraham, who left his family in Ur to travel to the Promised Land, I left my parents to follows God’s call. Now I am called ‘Abraham’ Simting Hang, but my nick name is Abe. I had to go through a lot of red tape with the government to get all my identification documents changed but now even my father calls me Abraham.

In the church where I served, I noticed a young woman who had a servant’s heart in the youth group. I was very impressed and decided that I was going to marry this girl. After knowing her 7 months, I boldly asked her to marry me. She was shocked and said she would pray about it. Three weeks later she agreed and I had to go meet her father and he wanted to meet my parents to talk about the engagement. When my parents heard, they were angry with me again. They would not come to meet my future in laws. So I went by myself with another young person from my church. I apologized for the rudeness of my family but since Sophin’s family were Christians, they understood and said, “No problem.” The first time my parents met Sophin’s parents were at the wedding. When my family came to join the wedding they saw me crying because I was so excited about the wedding. When the service was over, we had the reception at noon. As I sat with my parents, my father asked me why I cried. “A man should not cry because it is not culturally appropriate.” I said to him, “I am crying out of joy because this wedding is where God brought Sophin and I together as one.” My father did not answer but his face showed how he felt. After two months, I told my wife I wanted a son but I remembered what the fortune teller said, and we prayed to God that God would bless us with a son who we would name “Purith,” which means in Khmer, “one who brings blessing to family in the way of good relationships.” God answered our prayers and gave us a son who ended up bringing my family together with my parents and extended family and until now, we have a great relationship and they are trying to understand what our faith is all about.
This is about the time when I became a student at EFC KEY’s Diamond Program in 2004. I was surprised by the uniqueness of the lessons, and especially the lesson that articulated what Holistic Ministry really was and this gave me more impetus to do holistic church planting.

In 2005, I left my church and started my own ministry in early 2006 and focused on holistic ministry. I prayed that God would help me fulfill the vision I had for holistic ministry. When I shared my vision for holistic ministry with many church leaders, they didn’t like the idea and said it was only good for community development, not for church planting. I was convinced otherwise so I continued to pray and an American missionary friend encouraged me to pursue God’s vision for me.
After that, I began to work with the poor because of Luke 4:18 and 19 and I wanted to follow Jesus’ model of ministry to the poor and oppressed. I found a whole bunch of IDPs living on the river bank that fled the war since 1979. They were squatters who were very poor and who were forcibly evicted from the riverside and thrown into a rice field north of Pochentong Airport with only tarps and rice bags for shelter. They had very little food and the field became a quagmire because during the rainy season. Their new location was called Andong Village. There was no infrastructure-sewage, drainage, electricity, clean water, health care, etc, so I moved my ministry from the riverside to Andong and spend my time just visiting among the former squatters. When they began to ask about me, I told them who was and that I was a Christian. Then some began to ask me about Jesus and I shared the good news with them and they became believers. Eight of us gathered for worship outside of a Korean Medical Clinic and after a while we began to grow numerically bit by bit. When we got big enough, I rented a small house with some land for worship but the house soon became too small so I built a simple thatch church building that could hold about 100 people.

The people were suffering and unorganized as the government paid them little attention. No NGO was able to have a voice or organize this group of high independent and unruly squatters but I decided to become an advocate for these squatters as many groups were out to steal their land. Soon I partnered with some churches in Seattle and a local organization called LICADHO to build new roofs for the people that were living in terrible makeshift dwellings. Some days, after putting in the poles for framing, we’d wake up in the morning to find them pulled out and torn down. I decided I needed to sleep out there in Andong in order to prevent this gang from doing it again. They were not happy with me. With funding from Seattle, we were able to rebuild houses for about 500 families. This helped my reputation with people and they began to seek me for counsel but a gang sponsored by someone with bad intentions for the Andong residents threatened to kill me many times. I told them, “You can only kill me if God wants me dead.” We built roofs which really helped, but the extreme poverty and health problems were taking a big toll on the people. But mainly, I noticed three things: 1) many of their problems stemmed from not having Jesus in their lives, 2) they had no education, 3) they had no confidence in themselves, and depended on others to sustain them. I wanted to change these three main obstacles in lives of the villagers. We already had a church, but this was for the believers. Most squatter children were not allowed to attend public school because they could not pay the fees and most of their parents were illiterate. I was concerned that the children would grow up to be illiterate like their parents. This gave me the idea to build a school for the children of the 1000 families at Andong. I shared this idea with many but they thought this was the job of an NGO or the government. So in the beginning, I built the school with money from my wife’s savings which was about $5,900, and she was in agreement. After the school was built, we had a problem finding funding for the teachers but I shared my ideas with the potential teachers who decided they would volunteer their time to teach so the school began to operate with three grades and 65 students. After that, the Seattle churches began to help fund school supplies and the school began to operate smoothly and funds came from Tasmania for teacher’s salaries. The process I began with a concept began to show fruit on the ground so I offered the fruit back to God. When I was invited by the Christian and Missionary Alliance in the US to travel to America, I had the opportunities to preach at their youth camps and in churches about holistic ministry. The offerings I received for my personal use totaled close to $10,000 which I invested back into the school and general development of the village.

When I came back from America, a group wanted to evict the IDPS once again as the land increased in value so I gathered the villagers together to urge them not to let anyone displace them again. After a few days, I was bringing my pregnant wife (2 months) to Phnom Penh on my dirt bike and suddenly I saw a motorcycle coming up behind me at a high speed. They shouted at me and kicked the bike. I called to God for his help as we were crashing and God answered. God protected my wife and our yet to be born child. My knee suffered damage and the bike has never been the same. In spite of these problems, I prayed with my wife and we compared our situation with that of the Apostles. We were happy to have the privilege to suffer for Jesus.
Shortly afterwards, I received encouragement from Australian, Mike Frost who shared from his book Exiles which really touched my heart. His teaching affirmed that what I was doing was God’s will. This gave me more impetus to continue along with seeing the fruit that God was giving me through Holistic Ministry despite outright persecution. I began to see my vision become clearer each day and this gave me joy.
We had a church and a school so I thought I would start an NGO in order to partner with other organizations and NGOs that were hesitant to trust churches. Through the quality of our work, I hoped we would be a testimony to the secular NGOS and this is happening now to a measurable degree.

Two years after we put new roofs on the house, they needed to be replaced. Many villagers came to see me, full of tears, as the rainy season was approaching. I told the people to pray and believe in Jesus and he will hear their prayers. I gathered 50 villagers to pray each night and two weeks later Medical Teams International and Imago Dei Church from Portland, Oregon responded with funding for corrugated tin roofs and water sanitation. Through them, we built 103 new houses and the people were amazed and praised God. I would like to continue with the new houses/roofs until all the villagers have good roofs, good health, and good infrastructure. These holistic efforts, done after Jesus’ model, have caused the villager to come to my office at the church to ask to become believers. They used to call the village a hopeless case but since transformation is happening, they now have much more hope than they had in the past. In addition, many onlookers from NGOs, neighboring villages, etc, are surprised to see such transformation in this squalid little village of 800 families. This is an example that we can use for community development in other villages in rural areas.

I recently preached in churches in Australia and they were surprised to see the model of ministry I was using and have recently sent interns to come learn with me. They are now changing their model of ministry to become more holistic and more akin to Jesus’ own model.

Just yesterday, there was a meeting of organizations and NGOs working in Andong Village which I was unable to attend. News reached me that these secular and Buddhist organizations who initially hostile to my work had voted me to represent this association. I was overjoyed that our testimony and work had impact on even Buddhist organizations.

My future plans are to plant churches and build a school in Oddar Meanchey Province (near the Thai border) among the former Khmer Rouge. I have been given seven hectares of land by a government official in order to this. Just this week, after traveling to Anlong Veng with MTI and Imago Dei church I was able to share the gospel with many former Khmer Rouge leaders as I slept in their village for two nights.

I look forward to what God will continue to do in the Kingdom of Cambodia through my NGO and our many partners.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


The birth of EFC Youth Commission was born largely of one man’s vision to see the Youth of Cambodia, discipled, trained and mobilized as a force that would stem the decay of the Khmer society and function as a preservative, salt and light within the Cambodian contemporary youth culture. This man was the Rev. Chhon P. Kong, Khmer expatriate who escaped from Cambodia to the Thai border in 1979. He was repatriated to a third county, the United States, where he pastored a Cambodian Church for 12 years. Chhon with Radha Manickam, were perhaps some of the first overseas Cambodian Christian Leaders to return to Cambodia in 1989 when the doors opened. On Chhon’s second short-term mission trip, Chhon brought me (Brian Maher) along with him. Working with the youth both on two short-term trips in 1990 and 1992, I was convinced that the future development of the country was largely in the hands of the Cambodian Christian youth generation. Chhon & family moved to Cambodia in 1992 under Mission to Unreached Peoples to run Cambodia Christian Services. Chhon had been successful in helping me catch a vision for Khmer youth in 1990 so my family and I came shortly after Chhon with the same organization in 1994. The two of us planned to set up a ministry to the emerging leaders of the local Cambodian churches under Cambodia Christian Services which became the Evangelical Fellowship in 1996.

At the Cambodia Christian Service’s annual meeting in February of ‘95, Chhon, as General Secretary, made a call for volunteers to join me in establishing the CCS Youth Working Group. Responding to this call was Swiss National, Harry Zuberbuhler who had come to Cambodia in ‘91 to begin YWAM’s ministries here. Time was set aside for those attending the CCS Conference to come together and discuss the possibility for future youth ministry among Cambodian young people. Before the conference I done some research and interviewing which helped inform our mission for working with Cambodian Youth and during the Conference, Harry and I began what we would call the "Youth Commission" and soon after Mr. Uon Seila joined us. Harry and I worked together as co-directors with Seila as our cultural advisor. We began with a handful of committed and talented Cambodian youth such as Uy Pheara, Ouk Vannarah, Chea Vuthy, Khan Rasmey, Chhinho Saing, Bun Sambath, Hang Rasmey, Son Ti, Seng Vuthy, Tith Vannseam, Thong Romanea, and Kim Tha.

Mr. Uon Seila was our resident expert advisor on the cultural relevance of our goals, direction and content of teaching. Seila steered us toward a focus on teaching sexual awareness to Christian Young people for two reasons: the blow up of AIDS and other STD’s in Cambodia and the fact that the only way to learn about sex was on the street. Cambodian young people did not even have basic information about reproduction and bodily functions that we in west learn in eighth grade biology. Seila began teaching what Harry called BGR (Boy-Girl Relationships) in our weekly youth training program that turned out to really meet the needs of Cambodian emerging leaders. Seila later published a booklet for the Youth Commission on Sexual Awareness called, ‘Sacred Love’, written from a thoroughly Biblical perspective.

Our first event in April of '95 was an alternative Khmer New Year's Event in Kean Svay, a picnic area just out of town on the Mekong. At this first event there were 13 churches represented and about 250 youth.

The Youth Commission operated under CCS or a year, doing youth leader training, and special youth events. Chhon, Harry and I had been wanting to do a youth camp from early on and Seila had the opportunity to attend a Scripture Union Youth Camp in Malaysia and brought back many helpful ideas so in 1996, we ran the first National Cambodian Christian Youth Camp ever in the history of Cambodia. This was held in the seaside town of Sihanuokville. The Youth Commission also held it’s first provincial seminar in the province of Kompong Chhnang, using the emerging leaders who regularly attended our youth leader training program in order to disciple them and give them hands on experience. In late 1996, CCS closed shop in order to give room for the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia, a movement birthed from within Cambodia, to grow without competition. The Youth Commission then came under the Umbrella of the EFC. In mid ‘96 we had two Khmer interns. First, Mr. Tep Samnang, a young man studying at the Phnom Penh Bible college and then a Phnom Penh Bible School graduate, Mr. Bun Chan Veasna. Soon after, Harry and I hired our first full time youth worker, Miss Sidara Ieng.

We have had many very successful national youth conferences since then and many provincial seminars and a number of sexual awareness seminars here in Phnom Penh for Christian youth as well as other programs and activities. We also gathered youth from Christian Churches each year to take part in National Environment day to teach Christian youth about stewardship of the environment and community service. We also began a ministry to the child commercial sex workers. These children are a part of World Vision Cambodia’s New Ship Ministry. The girls of the Youth Commission minister love and the Word of God to these girls on a monthly basis. In 2000, we began ministering to the orphans at UNICAS orphanage. Both ministries were arranged so that young people could catch a vision for holistic ministry.

In February of 1998, Mr. Harry Zuberbuhler left the field leaving me as sole director but I was on home leave from June 1997 to June 1998 so Rev. Steve Scoffone of International Teams filled the gap until I returned the following June. With Seila's help, we put together a Board of Directors. The board came together in 1998, consisting of some national pastors, missionaries, and gifted Cambodian young people with Uon Seila serving as board chair. Also, in 1998, Dawn Landes from Mennonite Central Committee began to volunteer her time to help with board and staff development. In 2003, Mark Fender of International Teams and Todd Smith from New Zealand also came on as official advisors. In 2004, Graham Symons of ICC replaced Dawn Landes as Financial and Capacity Development. Elijah Penner of MCC began to serve as our liaison to Mennonite Central Committee.

In 2004, former chairman of the board and one of the founding fathers, Mr. Uon Seila, accepted an invitation to come on as a full time co-director of the Youth Commission. This move brought us closer to national ownership and ultimate sustainability. The same year we began to teach drug awareness and a trainer of trainers (TOT) program for those elders in the churches who want to teach their youth groups about drug and sex awareness.

With grants from Mennonite Central Committee, Global Family, and TearFund, we were able to hire six adequate full time staff members to allow the Youth Commission to build a good foundation for proper accounting, report writing, planning and organizational development. We are grateful to MCC, TearFund and Christian Reformed World Relief Committee who have helped with funding and training of our staff and board members.

The EFC Youth Commission endeavored to disciple Emerging Leaders and bring unity among Christian groups both Khmer and expatriate by including all Christian churches and Christian organizations in our planning, program and events. We want to teach youth about leadership, being salt and light, and how to minister holistically to the church and society. We endeavored to give Christian young people the tools to create vision among them selves, and how to interpret cultural trends within the contemporary youth culture and minister the Good News accordingly. We are thankful for the all the help we have received in human resources here in Cambodia from Servants, ICC, CRWRC, InnerChange, World Vision, SAO, TearFund, Samaritan’s Purse, and Action Int’l. We are also indebted to local church leadership; Rev. Heng Cheng, Pastor Mam Barnabas, Rev. Chhon Kong, Pastor Nara Runnath, Dr. Yem Tevyneath, Ms. Sen Samphos, Ms. Sen Navy, Mr. Uy Pheara, Ms. Yos Bophal, Ms. Navy Chhan, Pastor Heng Pisit and Prey Sokoin for their excellent contributions over the years.

In 1999, the Youth Commission put on a provincial seminar in Rattanakiri for some tribal groups. During this time, Seila was walking through an area where they were digging for gems with Rev. Heng Cheng, General Secretary of the EFC, when he almost stepped on a mat that had some gems on it. They were all crusty and covered in dirt so Seila didn’t recognize them as gems, but Heng Cheng warned Seila not to step on them because they were, indeed, gems. Seila found it hard to believe so Heng Cheng later brought him to the town of Banlung to see those crusty gems processed, cut and polished. This impressed Seila and over the next few years and as our youth training began to stagnate, Seila thought how training young people should be multi-faceted, not just academic. He thought we might add mentoring, field work, labs to a more specific form of training that focused on leadership development. Seila mused that most pastors saw their young people as pests, similar to those crusty gems Seila thought were useless pebbles so he was moved to gather those crusty pebbles up, cut them and polish up and return them to the pastor with great value.

Meanwhile, New Zealander, Todd Smith became familiar with the Youth Commission’s programs and offered to help develop Seila’s vision for a new type of training. Todd consulted many curriculum development experts in Cambodia and then began to develop the curriculum, asking qualified individuals to provide lessons according to his template. Many of us supplied lessons that Todd edited. We then had teacher training for those that would teach what would be called, as Seila dubbed it, the Diamond Program. “DP” was launched in 2004. The Diamond Program is a one-year ‘in-service’ training program for emerging leaders which focuses on leadership development for emerging church leaders. Participants are first recommended by their pastor, and then interviewed by the DP directors before acceptance into the program. 30 emerging leaders are accepted per year and about 23 actually graduate. Each participant meets with a mentor on a weekly basis and our mentors are trained and oriented on a quarterly basis.

Part of the idea of DP is to bridge the cultural gap between young emerging leaders and the pastors who are often in conflict. The young people how to use computers and speak English and many of their pastors do not. Their pastors have been through the Khmer Rouge Regime and have much wisdom because of their life experiences to offer the youth. DP has been intentional about putting out emerging leaders who are willing to humble themselves and serve their pastors and much feedback from the pastors has proved this to be a successful endeavor.

In 2004, we opened our first satellite office in the provincial city of Kompong Cham, overseen by Mark Fender (Int’l Teams). We are grateful to First Presbyterian Church Bellevue, Westminster Chapel, and Calvin Presbyterian (Seattle) for sponsoring the expanding work of the Youth Commission in the provinces which is also proving to be quite effective per feedback from rural pastors.

By 2006, the DP Project proved to be very successful and students began to ask to be taken to a deeper level of leadership development. Todd, Seila and I began to put together a leadership curriculum for DP 2 based on Personal Spiritual Formation, Dynamic Reflection, Praxis and Field work. Instead of personal mentors, a group of DP students would meet together weekly as peer mentors to discuss the lesson and pray for each other. This ended up being a witness to the community as they were meeting in public places.

Testimony IV: DP 2 Graduate

I am so glad to study in DP II training and I thought that it is very importance training for me and other students because when I studied the course I can serve God strongly both at church and work place.

More than ten months that I learned in DP II, I knew that God changed me a lot both spiritual and daily actions. God also taught me how to live with others and understand about the worldview of the difference people. The lessons are very good; it improved me to grow in Leadership skills and became a faithful servant of God. I have a vision and commitment to expand God Kingdom in my nation, Cambodia. I also learned about Personal Spiritual Formation that helped me to know that pains, sufferings, difficulty I met in the past were an experience for my life and I know how God shaped my life. Moreover, the course helped me to focus on both spiritual and social activity, before I thought that Christian have to focus on only spiritual. I reflected that, now, DP II helped me to become a humble leader who serve not for popular.

I will use the lessons to help teach people around me and I will apply the practical insights such as exposure trip to see and help the poor. And I will do my best to share good news about God to people as much as I can because I remembered that when I conducted a survey on Other Faiths people always ask me who is God.

Also in 2006, Craig Greenfield from Servants to Asia’s poor put their Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program under the wing of EFC-KEY which is a ministry that mobilizes emerging leaders to mentor orphans in villages in the provinces Kandal, Takeo, Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom, Kompong Chhnang and Phnom Penh. BB&BS is serving 230 pairs (pair mean adult mentoring a child) of Big Brothers/Sisters and orphans. Now there are 3 pairs in Battambang. Plans are to expand in existing provinces, especially Battambang.

In 2007, at our annual planning and review, the name, EFC YOUTH COMMISSION was changed to EFC-KEY (Kingdom Equipped Youth) and a Satellite KEY office was opened in Kompong Chhnang City to run the Diamond Program and other KEY ministries. This same year DP 2 was launched with 20 emerging leaders who have gone on to do great things; Hang Abraham, Bontok Seila, Ms. Khantey, Nov Bora, etc.

Also in 2007, KEY began a Drop in Center across from Indra Devi High School for teens at risk. This has been unexpectedly successful as up to 60 teens per day come for computer lessons, music lessons, English class, French class, and to find a safe place to hang out playing chess or ping pong while waiting for their classes to begin or for their parents to pick them up. The name of the center is Bright Spark and KEY has helped ‘drop ins’ form a soccer team that plays in tournaments organized by the KEY Sports ministry which Todd Smith helped get off the ground during this same year. Ten students have given their lives to Jesus through Bright Spark.

Our Social Awareness Program morphed into the Community Impact Program which mobilizes emerging leaders and Khmer Youth to respond to community needs and disasters such as fires and land evictions. Community Impact trains church elders to become trainers concerning drug and sexual awareness in their churches. The next Training of Trainers 3 month course will be “First Responder” training through Medical Teams International, which is similar to EMT training.

KEY now has 15 full time staffs that are overseen by their Director, Mr. Uon Seila, who has three expatriate advisors that help with different areas of KEY. They are: Todd Smith, Lynn Ogata, and Brian Maher.

KEY is now training its 7th class of Diamond Project Emerging Leaders, 3rd Class of DP 2 Emerging Leaders and will soon run their 16 annual Emerging Youth Leaders Camp. Plans for the immediate future include opening another satellite office in Kompong Thom and adding an advisor to Big Brothers and Sister’s Program. KEY is open to partnering with organizations who value discipleship and developing the capacity of this generation of Cambodia’s emerging church leaders.

We thank God for the dedicated people who have been a part of this ministry.

Brian M. Maher