Monday, March 14, 2011

I was talking to one of Abraham’s converts, a young man who was addicted to drugs and in a violent gang. He now helps Abraham lead the church service on Andong Village church. I called him the “big gangster” in Khmer. We were talking and he asked me if I ever got into any knife fights when I was a teen. I told him, ‘no,’ just a few fist fights, and those I could count on one hand. I was trying to think of the worst thing I had done when I was a teen but couldn’t come up with anything worthy of a knife fight. I do remember hiding in the closet of a friend’s math class in 10th grade and walking out half way through the class, saying “Hi, Mr. Mac,” to the teacher and disappearing out the door. And there was the time I tried to steal an empty keg of beer from a Greek restaurant when a barrel-chested, curly headed Greek mad man chased with me with a cleaver as I jumped through the back window of a friend’s station wagon as we sped away. And there was the time the police arrived at a party and while they were in the back yard, I got into their squad car and turned on all the lights and sirens and sped away in my ’66 Volkswagen Beetle. Or, there was the time my boss got his deer in Vermont and brought it back and gutted it at his gas station in Greenwich. I noticed the legs of the deer in the dumpster so I got them out and put them in the trunk of VW. Later that week (it was cold) I just happened to see my friend’s car parked in back of a restaurant near a pizza joint so I got a pizza box, put the legs in it, and put it on the front seat of his car. His girlfriend hit the ceiling when she realized it was not extra pizza that was in the pizza box. I also used to roll my neighbor’s car (Mr. Pemburn) down the street and park it in another neighbor’s driveway. And there were times when we put M-80’s (quarter sticks of dynamite) on people’s front stoops using a cigarette as a delayed fuse so when it would blow, we’d be a good half mile away. One of my more devious tricks was to sit in the library, going through all the magazines, filling out the “bill me later” ads and sending magazines of questionable morality to various school mates, sign them up for military service, and enroll them in refrigerator repair courses, etc. One day I heard my father, who worked at the post-office, tell my mother that Mrs. Starr, mother of one of my school mates was in the P.O. ranting and raving to the boss about her son having been subscribed to Playboy Magazine at age 15. I did get suspended in my senior for staging a fake fight with a friend. It looked so real that all those watching us in the quad jumped out of classroom windows to come and watch the fight. And one time camp at Scout summer camp I took bug spray and sprayed a spot over our Senior Patrol Leaders head on his tent. Doing so takes the water proofing out the canvas. That night it poured and he got soaked. He chased me half way around the camp and caught me, only to give me a stern reaming. So as I look back, I was more of a merry prankster than one who was into gang violence. I guess the only really violent thing I did was make my brother stand on a #10 can with an M-80 under it which totally flattened the can and blew Steve a few feet in the air. He noted that he had a nagging headache for the next few days. Like the former gangster at Andong Village, I have repented, and no longer engage in any prankster like activity. I don’t even know how to pull pranks anymore. Maybe I should look for the old manual and dust it off a bit, and try to sharpen up my old skills.

I’m about three hours out of Phnom Penh heading for a 5 hour lay-over in Tapei. I have been trying to reflect on this recent month long trip to Cambodia but it all just seems like one big Southeast Asian blur. I know our first group of teens went up-country to Kompong Thom (in the center of Cambodia) to engage with the Khmer students from the outer limits of Kompong Thom who have come to the provincial city to attend high school and stay in the dorms built by one of our more eccentric partners in ministry. From these junior high teens I learned all I needed to know about who Justin Biebher was and he was about. I was tempted to buy his pirated CDs at the Russian market but did not cave in to the temptation. I doubt Neil would approve. Neil Young that is. I also tried to keep them away from trying to find out which soup the Khmer put marijuana in as seasoning and was largely successful. These teens then went back and forth between KEY (the ministry for emerging youth leaders I helped start in 1995) and the Andong squatter village. At the KEY Drop in Center they taught English and music to the drop ins. KEY staff used to call it the “dropping center” in their broken English but I told them it was not a center for scatological studies. In Andong, they led games with the elementary age squatter children in Abraham’s school. Last year, a teen girl from Wesminster Chapel, Jacqueline, organized her youth group to raise 5K for Andong to build houses and put in a drainage system. This year they will do another fund raiser.

During my time in Cambodia, one of my former students was killed by a drunk driver. I am very close to the family and they were devastated. He was only 28. I do hazily remember speaking in chapel at Hagar, Int’l (an organization that reaches out to widows and children). The Westminster Chapel group headed back very encouraged about their trip while the First Pres Bellevue and Calvin group arrived. The Pastors of this group went to the coast to help with the training of the pastors (TAP Project) and I hung out with the youth pastors and young adult group who went back and forth between KEY and Andong doing some of the same things the Westminster teens did (games, sports arts ‘n crafts), except go out to check out the night clubs and karaoke parlors. Although the teens did ask permission to do that, it was unanimously denied by the non-consenting adults on the trip.

While the pastors were away, we went to visit women prisoners in Pray Saw Prison on International Women’s Rights day with the Human Rights Organization, LICADHO. Were handed out bread and other sundries to the women and were encouraged to engage with them. I was talking to a handful of them and told them I was recently divorced and one woman said to me, “If I wanted to marry, I would marry someone who wasn’t old and someone who was handsome.” Ouch!!!! The truth hurts. I guess I’m old and in the way now, like an old worn tire with the belts showing through.

The next day we went to visit and old friend Wayne who runs an orphanage for children who are HIV+ on the land of a Buddhist Pagoda. Since the advent of the anti-viral drugs, death is longer a regular part of their lives at the Pagoda, so Wayne is switching gears a bit. It was a good visit and his stories of life on the pagoda for many years were moving and challenging.

Various members of the team went to visit former Diamond Program students who were pastoring churches, running orphanages, working for Human Rights organization, working in prisons, running sports ministries, and working with land evictees, etc. They also met up with folks from Human Rights organizations, LICADHO and International Justice Mission. I covered a lot of ground while I was here but wished I could’ve spent a bit more time with Seila, the director of KEY (Kingdom Equipped Youth). I did get to sneak out and see my old pal, Dave Rebok for noodle soup quite a bit and we’d always get carried away recounting our experiences while serving in the Nam back in ’67 up in Ia Drang Valley.

Got some dental work done and my stomach fixed while I was here as well, and did indeed enjoy the sunshine and the Khmer food. Somehow I just barely managed to keep up with my studies and I will arrive home just in time to write a 12 page paper and do a final exam. Then I am gloriously done with my Masters Degree in Global Leadership (although I will greatly miss it!!!)

Today, on our last day, I translated at the worship service at Pastor Abraham’s church for those in our group who were giving testimonies or preaching. There is something about preachers where they just can’t stop themselves from going on and on. I guess that is the nature of the beast. I was tempted to make a few twists of my own in the story line to correct what I didn’t agree with but ended up behaving myself. I’m not yet fully sold on all Presbyterian doctrine.

I know this newsletter is more like a report, with little or no reflection. I guess the only reflections I can muster up at this time is that this trip was an experience where I had to balance the tension of being in a place I love and with the people I love, but all the while being reminded of all the good memories I had with Debbi and kids when we were here. It was a powerful sadness that existed uncomfortably alongside the joy of being back in the saddle again.

Brian, reporting live from Phnom Penh….

The Church-Where Heroes Need Protection

Today is a rather sad day as one of my former staff, Mr. Phearun, 28 years old, was hit and killed by a drunk driver while driving his motorcycle. The drunk who hit him spent the night in the jail but will probably be released soon or is released already because the family has money. I knew Phearun since 1998, and had hired his older sister to work for the EFC KEY. He was a young man full of energy and service for the Lord. He will be missed by man.

This morning we had a touching experience as group of Seattlites listened to former Pastor Amos speak about his call to Human Rights and social justice work. I also knew Amos from the time he was a very young boy in 1990. His father was a church leader during the time of the underground church during the late 70’s and the 80’s up until freedom of Religion 1990. Amos grew up in the Olympic Church which was very active during 70’s before Pol Pot took over. Amos was a student of mine in the Diamond Program Level 2 in 2008, and really felt the call of God on his life to help communities in conflict from one of our DP blocks taught by Indian Raju Bagwat on Social Justice and Community Organizing. At the time Amos studied with us, he and his fiancĂ© were working at FEBC radio station. One of our themes in DP was; “Don’t read the Bible in one hand unless you are reading a newspaper in the other.” As Moses continued to broadcast about the love God on the radio, he began to become acutely aware of all the land evictions happening in Phnom Penh and all over the country. He began to wonder what good it was to broadcast the love of God and go to church and sing lovely praise songs while doing nothing to relieve the suffering of those being evicted, cheated by the government and beaten violently by the police. His Christian peers and pastors kept telling him that getting involved in politics is not the job of the church but Amos did not see it as political. He could not see how any Christians, western or Cambodian could separate love from justice. The love Christ demands a sacrificial, risking love that ends up delivering people from bondage and darkness. Amos got tired of offering Christian platitudes over the air and went to work for a human rights organization. He has slept on eviction sites, advocated for evictees, provided them with legal counsel and disseminates information about the abuses of the government on the poor. Amos is a prophet and is a target of the government and a thorn in the side of the church as he continually reminds them of the hollow their preaching and worship is while they keep their hands clean of risks and helping the poor. Amos is a prophet, just like the Biblical prophet Moses, and is highly respected by the non-Christian Human Rights community as a Christian of love and action. He is criticized by many Cambodian churches as he confronts them for preferring the statusquo of worship, Bible study and basking in God’s blessings. Jesus, he says, has called us to yoke up with his suffering and to lay down our lives for the sake of our marginalized brothers. Amos is passionate about his calling, and pledges to fulfill his role as a prophet to call the church to repentance. He is willing die for his role as a prophet and for human rights activist. When I posted he quote; “To get to heaven, one needs a reference letter from the poor,” he was one of the only ones to really appreciate this quote. Other commentators began to split doctrinal hairs and missed the whole point entirely.

I could really relate to Amos because we really are kindred spirits. I am a bit jealous because I believe his prophetic voice is being heard while mine falls on deaf ears. Maybe I am just meant to be a prophet and voice for the poor to myself?????

Anyway, Amos was a great inspiration and challenge to our group of white, wealthy, and overly educated Christians from the Seattle. Not one the 14 of use were unmoved. Now the real test will be to put what we all felt was a shove from the Holy Spirit into practice. 45 Million Americans have no insurance, more that that are unemployed, 13 million children live in families under the poverty level, education for minorities and those is urban low rent areas is atrocious, the media pumps sexual gratification into all its marketing strategies, corporate managers get richer while blue collar jobs are made obsolete and are outsourced to developing countries. The government gives large tax cuts to the richest 5% of Americans whiling cutting programs for the poor, and our foreign policy and military are used to create ever expanding markets for global capitalism and the environmental degradation of developing countries that follows. We American and Global Christians have our work cut out for us but are we willing to be prophetic, challenging and willing to offer creative strategic initiatives, or will we be content to just be nice church people. The church is not only called to be the conscience of the government, but to model a better way to society. Let’s do our job.

The Church-Where Heroes Need Protection

We are ones we have been waiting for…

Many of us today are asking, "where are the MLKs, the Mandelas. . . where are the Lincolns and Wilberforces?"

As we look at the world, we feel overwhelmed and powerless to change the atrocities and injustices that occur on a daily basis.

We wait impatiently for God to raise up prophets to confront the host empires and, because we find none, and things stay the same, we turn cynical.

Cynicism, it seems, is a method by which we criticize these atrocities from afar, without taking any action. We feel somewhat vindicated by the "good" we have done in the world by merely acknowledging "there is a problem", only to retreat to our affluent middle class worlds. Even after retreating, however, we are never fully impacted by the human rights violations that occur in other countries. Our cynicism manifests itself in apathy--we want to see change, but have lost hope in our ability to make those changes.

We have a time line for solving the world's problems and God is taking way too long. Science and the innate goodness of humans have failed to deliver evil from the systems that enslave us.

We seek a prophet. I know a man.

I know a man who has not yet fell victim to cynicism. He has has not yet retreated into a spiritual bubble, waiting for Jesus to come and judge all those bad people out there and their corrupt systems.

This man is Uon Selia.

Seila has built a movement of spiritual and social change among thousands of youth in Cambodia. He is a person of faith and conscience, taking his his commissioning as a prophet seriously, but accompanied by the virtue of humility. Seila believes that the world can be changed, especially through the young people of this generation--full of faith and hope. These young leaders, have the genuine belief that they can no longer wait--they are the only avenue for change.

He has created incarnational disciples among young Cambodians who have become human rights activists, orphanage directors, community organizers, and pastors working in slums and in prisons. Seila dares to dream big, seeing the youth become leaders in all aspects of society, rectifying the evils that have plagued Cambodia for decades.

While many have chosen to use the ministry as a stepping stone to fame, power and wealth, he has not succumbed to any form of nepotism, honor seeking, and the desire to accumulate material wealth that his peers have. He is planting potent seeds that are germinating in the social soil of Cambodia, and he’s weaving Kingdom strands into the social fabric of the culture.

Prophets are among the first insiders to be marginalized by the church. They challenge the status quo when most pastors want to be left alone to their preaching and teaching, not getting their hands dirty in muck and mire of social injustices. Like most prophets, Seila won’t come through his prophetic ministry unscathed. Bill Bright said, “I’m a Great Commission man myself, and the Great Commission tells us to teach to others about all things Jesus teaches us, and he taught us that a big part of the gospel is caring for the poor.” Seila is a Great Commission man. Seila is this nation's prophet.

Today Seila is in a tough spiritual battle. I invite you to pray for him in terms of wisdom and strength in the coming days. Pray that he will be as wise a serpent and gentle as a dove.