Monday, March 14, 2011

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….

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