Friday, December 8, 2017

Merry Christmas Gecko Tails – Dec 2017

Greetings, and Merry Christmas from Brian and Bophal.

Writing from a very frosty 28 ° F Bellevue, WA. Youch! Bophal’s citizenship process remains ever complicated. She will be called to take the US Citizenship test within 4 or 6 months but they may insist that she stay in the States for a year. The jury is still out on that. Meanwhile, the process is putting us in the poorhouse – not that we are strangers to the poorhouse, we just don’t like it much!

My time in CT was great. I got to see so many old friends, hangout with my mother, and enjoy the great scenery of Connecticut’s Northern/Central Hardwoods and river valleys. I even got to visit with a forestry classmate from Paul Smith’s college who I hadn’t seen since 1979.
Great to have Alana visit mom and I in Southbury, CT. She flew into JFK, took the air train to a subway station, then two subway trains to Grand Central, then a train to Fairfield, CT, and then Uber to Southbury. I don’t think I could do that without great anxiety. Just as I froze Bophal on short hikes around Southbury last year, I froze Alana this year as well. Now Bophal and I are being frozen in Bellevue, WA! Bophal is now studying for her Driver’s permit : ) !

Although it is considerably cold here, we have had some great views of Lake Washington, Rainier, Cascades and the Olympics and even a Super Moon for a few nights. When I leave the beautiful PNW in a few weeks, probably alone, I will be fully recharged after reading the first Bible, God’s beautiful creation - on both coasts. Now I can survive another Tour of Duty in the bowels of Phnom Penh.

Already met up with many close friends and colleagues in the PNW, which has been a joy. Saw ‘the veteran’ Jazzy Piggy (Jacqi Stabbert), and a ‘back-up’ Jazzy (Jacqi Heng), and might even see another original who will fly into the PNW around Christmas (all are nurses for some reason). Bophal and I attended Cambodian Church at Westminster and caught up with that gang. Toward the end of this month, Alana and Jordan will fly into Seattle to join us. Matthew lives here already. It will be great to have all of them together.

Bophal’s Homestay, House of Peace now has 4 children and 7 teens. By mid-2018, the 4 children will have been re-integrated or sent to another organization. Bophal will keep the 6 teens. She has them in High School and at some good vocational schools. The last few years living in authentic Christian community has shaped me considerably, not like being in the spiritual bubble of a bible school, but in a Christian community where there are no barriers to protect us from some of the ugly realities of life in a developing country. The application of our faith to gritty situations is required on an hour-to-hour basis. I thank God for those children and teens because they have taught me about love.

Both House of Peace and our own personal finances could use a boost right about now. Both are running on empty. Bophal just sent 25 kilos of pepper from the farm to the Cambodian Church in Bridgeport, CT. They will sell it for us and hopefully that will keep HOP going for a month or two. Citizenship costs have been a big time drain on us personally.

Please consider making a year-end donation this month toward HOP or our personal finances.

Thanks for your friendship, Brian and Bophal

Connecticut Photos

The PNW December 2017 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

I live in a Cave and Visit with God on the Margins

Bophal and I live in a small, humid cave on the half floor of the “House of Peace.” Bophal doesn’t mind it at all but I tend to suffer from a bit of cabin fever. A third of the cave is our bedroom, a third serves as a very small kitchen area, and remaining third is Bophal’s office. At night the kitchen and office are converted into a sleeping area for my adopted daughter Miss Yorean (10), and her friend, Miss Srey Noich (10). They sleep together like two peas in a pod on the floor. The two girls knock off about 9:30 pm, and before they doze off, Yorean shouts out in English: “Good night daddy, have good dreams.” Srey Noich keeps it short and sweet because she does not know much English; “Good night, Brian.” Srey Noich has become part of my life - I see her waking up, going off to school, and I see her going to sleep. I can feel God’s love for Srey Noich which is so thick, I can cut it with a knife. When I come home for lunch or from work in the evening, she is always waiting to hug me or grab my hand to escort me to the stairs leading to my cave. This is if my daughter Yorean doesn’t get to me first. Anyway, Srey Noich’s father has decided to have us send her home, and that will make my cave a less hospitable place for me, and I am left feeling like a piece of my soul is being ripped out. She will return to Battambang province and live in a small thatched roofed hut. She will be able to continue her schooling while her dad ekes out a living farming. Bophal took her in when her father sent her across the country to live with her aging grandmother who could not properly care for her. 

So, what’s the point?  So what?  This is life.

Since my crash ‘n burn, time spent in the Belly of the Whale, and my release, I was truly “Born Again” in real sense of the often misused, trivialized, and cliché-sounding biblical metaphor,  a great metaphor that was hijacked and domesticated. When I was ‘born again’ the first time in 1979, I burned my Playboys and rock cassettes. I stopped drinking and carousing and learned church culture and bible doctrine, but remained largely unconscious and placed my trust in the system of belief I was taught. Through my recent Belly of the Whale experience, I have become conscious in so many new ways, ways that I never experienced before (would need to write a book to explain). Each day, many times a day, I experience a patch of heaven on earth, and God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. I do not have to wait for that “Pie in the Sky,” as I get to take some rather significant bites of that pie each day on this terrestrial globe. My relationship of being a father type to Srey Noich and to my adopted daughter Yorean is an example of that. My heart just floods with love both for them and from them when they grab my hand or rush to greet me. I am more than conscious of the presence of God in and through that love dynamic. I am aware of the great change in my soul because in the past, I would have never been conscious of the gift of such relationships as a vital way to experience God on a daily basis – especially through children and teenagers. This consciousness of God’s presence through love in my daily life happens on different levels with the waiters of the noodle shop where I have my coffee each morning, the staff at the Dove office, the children in Dove’s drop in center, kids at House of Peace, the children who play noisily in front of my house, some young adults in ONYX program and Men’s group, the teenagers at youth coffee house, and with the Peace Bridges Staff (Dove’s partner). God energizes and shares his presence and love with me foremost in nature and through relationships with children/teens/young adults who have tagged unworthy by society. Being conscious, I was able to find and access God’s greatest resource to the church, the poor, and the marginalized.

I recently read this in an email devotional I get by psychologist John Welwood:

“A conscious relationship is one that calls forth who you really are. . . . Instead of looking to a relationship for shelter, we could welcome its power to wake us up in areas of life where we are asleep and where we avoid naked, direct contact with life. This approach puts us on a path. It commits us to movement and change, providing forward direction by showing us where we most need to grow.”

All the relationships I cite above, on one hand, do indeed call forth who I really am in an affirming way, and on the other hand, different types of relationships like the ones I have with my son Johnathan, or Jordan, etc., that also reflect God’s presence, serve as God directly speaking me to as a wake up call to seek transformation in other areas of my life, areas that I want to avoid thinking about.

In other words, I have been given a great gift - the ability to see and be conscious much more than ever before.  And only because of this, I have become thoroughly grateful for all those things I was unable to see as great gifts throughout my life. My priorities have been turned upside down as God meets me so blatantly through the lives of traumatized, unwanted and marginalized children, teens and young adults. I think these are some of the key reasons Jesus came to earth, to teach us how to see, to help us become conscious, and to demonstrate to us what is like to be fully human and just how go about getting that done.   

The Mystics and Desert Fathers identified two ways of really being ‘born again’ (meaning a total paradigm shift in perspective and practice or totally new ways of thinking and being). One was through a life crisis such as a great moral failure, divorce, death of spouse, crash of a career/ business, or a great, undeniable experience of God’s outpouring of love on an individual. William James concurs with this as well in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience.  

Richard Rohr in many of his books explains that in mid-life it is necessary to climb down from the tower of success and achievement to intentionally focus on the most valuable aspects of life, or the tower is likely to crash on its own. If you intentionally descend, you learn a new way of life in the process of descending that brings a life paradigm shift. Those whose towers crash either learn to practice a new ‘way of life’ that transforms as you rebuild your life in a new direction, or you choose to build the same tower and continue on the same upward ascent, only to end up as a bitter old hag or bitter old coot. 

Thomas Merton said; "Too many people when they get to the top of the ladder realize that it is leaning on the wrong wall."

My hope is that I would be able to help wounded people along on their journey to healing and freedom, which begins with learning a ‘way of life’ that is really transformative – a way of that teaches how we can love God, self, neighbor and enemy in practical ways.   

I recently attended a meeting of 70 or so people, a very diverse group of people of all ages and sexes - some with Christian backgrounds, some from other religions, and others with no religious background at all.  All of their towers had crashed and each person was somewhere on the continuum of rebuilding a whole different structure with the help of other people in the group. At the end of the meeting we all made a circle and clasped our hands together and the leader led us in reciting the Lord’s Prayer in unison. I was moved to tears and felt incredibly privileged to be a part of a group of people who found a way to do life that actually works to bring healing, peace and transformation into their lives and the lives others around them

All I can say is that I am grateful.

Peace for the journey,


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Gecko Tails
August 2017

  Adventure, Mission and Bringing the Message to Those Still Suffering

My eyes shot wide open.  Groggy, but awake I then hit the button on my phone to check the time. It’s 4:45 am.  What the….?  My alarm failed to go off. We were supposed to be on the road by 4:30 am!  Rism, frism, grism &%x@Z#!  Bophal’s phone rings. Mr. Deth has been outside for 30 minutes waiting for us to emerge. Last night as we were going to bed, the Messenger app on my phone kept dinging and dinging. Bophal asked me to turn down the sound so she could sleep. Hence no hearing an alarm go off at 4 am! As soon as I turn the sound back on, staccato blasts of dings, one after the other of texts telling me to wake up shatter the quiet dark room.  The last text message in the whole slew of messages from Mr. Deth, who is waiting impatiently in the van out front, says; “I am leaving now!” 

Honey, please call the Mr. Deth,” I said, as I jumped into the shower, brushing my teeth and showering at the same time. Meanwhile, Mr. Poya and Mr. LKL are jarred out of a deep sleep by Bophal, a woman now on a mission. They also failed to wake up on time. And John, our 13-year old son, who was supposed to wake up and open COP front doors and gates, did not.  And thus we could not get out of COP because he could not find the keys!

Finally, we rally and are off about 5:15 am. I ride shotgun holding a blazing hot cup of Starbucks instant coffee that is sloshing around in my Seahawks mug that I am trying desperately not to spill into my lap.

With all the confusion and rushing around, it was a pure miracle I didn’t forget my material and supplies. Once on 4-day trip I forgot my underwear.

Three and a half hours later, after we cross a muddy, overflowing, and raging wide Mekong river in our van on a small ferry, we arrive at the Catholic Church Khum Trea, Kompong Cham province.

We begin our seminar in the church building that is both beautiful and spacious. Brilliant flowers of all kinds are planted around the church and other buildings. Scores of butterflies are flitting about. Alcohol Addiction and the influence it has on family members is the topic of our seminar and the team begins by focusing on principles from Al-Anon and then later in the afternoon, we talk about AA’s 12 Step program. 40 people between 25 and 50 years old show up, and most are women. Because of flooding, the men, most of whom struggle with addiction have to stay home to bring their cattle to high ground. The Al-Anon lessons were exactly what the women needed. Although we were deep in the interior of Cambodia, and the people were uneducated, they engaged with the material and our methodology rather well.

Our daylong seminar was successful though we had some challenges. We had to improvise constantly according to the needs and understanding of our audience.  Now 40 people would spread the news about Al-Anon and AA to friends and relatives. Having suffered emotional trauma from an alcoholic husband or family member, they were committed to applying some of the principles of Al-Anon for self-healing, and now have a viable alternative to offer their husbands if they want to stop drinking.

As soon as we hit the road, we were met with an intense downpour. An already flooded section of the country was getting even more rain. We slipped and slid up and onto the ferry and the pilot had to take extra time negotiating the violent headwaters of the Mekong.  The late afternoon sun broke through the storm clouds as we slid down the exit ramp to slippery red mud road and fished tailed up the steep incline to the paved road where the wheels caught traction. The van driver took a detour back and we drove through some of the most beautiful country I had ever seen in all my years in Cambodia. I was overcome with awe. The team: Mr. LKL, my A.A. sponsee and respondent; Mr. Poya, the ONYX assistant; Mr. Nou Vandeth, my colleague in men’s work; and me, all enjoyed the incredible beauty of the area, the adventure, and the challenge of our day’s mission. We were invited to return in September.

 Peace to you!    Brian 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Whirlwind Trip to the PNW, or Jordan's Graduation

The Best of Both Worlds: Gecko Tales ~ June 25, 2017

A whirlwind trip to the Seattle area was full patches of heaven right here on earth. One of those patches was seeing my son Jordan graduate from Sammamish High School after a year of putting his nose to the grindstone.  All my children were in town and I was able to see them, and spend some extended time with my oldest son Matt. 

On the day I arrived, wilted, exhausted and the victim of an 11-hour lay over in Korea, Judy Runions picked me up at the airport. She drove me to her house in Shoreline so I could borrow her truck. I then made a beeline for SPU where the Jazzy Piggy (Jacqueline) was receiving her nursing degree. Just before SPU, I got stuck at a drawbridge, and then overshot my exit as the street signs shrunk the closer I got to the University. Got back on the right road and it was bumper to bumper. I pulled into SPU parking lot at 4pm exactly and was just on time for the service and to see Jackie pinned.

Was able to touch base with a number of long time close friends like Jim Schmick, Rich Leatherberry, Bill Forbes (who climbed Rainier this weekend), the Meisels, the Pommers, and more. Jim Schmick, an old mate from World Vision, Cambodia, has been landscaping his back yard in Auburn since 1996, and after all his years of trial and error, it finally resembles the Garden of Eden - with exception of the ‘Charlie Brown’ fir. A typical fir had been ravaged by a windstorm in 2010. He called me to fix it and I did, but the way the tree responded to the trauma and pruning over the years made it look like a very strange new species of tree – an aberration. Maybe it’s a token “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?”

A particular God thing was meeting up with Dan Daly, an old time friend from Paul Smith’s college, the forestry school where I studied in the Adirondack Mountains in Update New York. The last time we met was in 1980 or so. We shared our life stories with each other and found out that each of our lives, miles and contexts apart, had been transformed by God through similar crises, with God having met us in those crises in very, very, similar ways. For me, this was the second biggest highlight (Jordan’s graduation being first) of my trip as Paul Smith’s was a sacred place for me, and the people and experiences there were indelible.

My last two days in the PNW were gorgeous, just what I imagine the future Kingdom of God on earth to be like. I stayed with John and Penny, whose yard boasted roses of various hues in full bloom, intermittently planted around in strategic places, buffeted by fresh mountain air, set in a backdrop of tall firs reaching toward incredible blue PNW sky. I have inkling of what John and Penny will be doing in the coming Kingdom.

It seems in our response to life, we can create patches of heaven on earth in many places, enough to keep us going when tough times come.  And then, for me, came the long flight on Korean Air back to Cambodia.  Without going into it, or else I will sin, I will concede the flight was a patch of Purgatory or Limbo here on earth, not quite a patch of hell, but an experience where I had to exercise much patience, control, and perseverance.

Back in the Kingdom after 18 hours in the air, I was reunited with the love of my life at 11 pm at Pochentong Airport. The first thing the following morning I had my favorite type of noodle soup with Mr. Kimlieng, whom I have mentored for 2 or 3 years now. He is another person whose life has many similarities to mine.

Bophal led worship at the Center of Peace this morning. She used an ONYX PSF (Personal Spiritual Formation) lesson where each teen and child selected a laminated photo or picture of different scenes of life, and shared what God was saying to them through the photos. I felt very privileged to listen to their very personal and transparent interpretations, and was overjoyed to know that they are much aware that their responses to life can open doors where the future Kingdom of God spills into their lives in the present. They understood that this life is not just about getting to another place, and that they can experience the Kingdom of God right here and now, through their response to life, how open they are to God, their attitudes and actions, their ability to see with eyes of their heart, and to what level of consciousness they allow themselves to operate on.

On to Dove’s Coffee House Ministry at 3 pm where 60 teenagers (ONYX Students facilitating) learned about becoming peacemakers with Peace Bridges. I sat there observing their energy, playfulness, humility, their willingness to engage and cooperate with instructor and one another.  Again, this was the reign of Christ, breaking into the present and it was tangible.

I am very grateful to able to surf from patch of heaven to patch of heaven on both sides of the Pacific.

Now, as Jetlag begins to take over, I will quit here. As I sign off, I am hoping you will sign on.  If you aren’t supporting us please do. Our ministries may not hit the covers of major Christian publications, but God allows us to reach deep into the lives of Cambodian youth.

Thanks for your friendship, support, finances and prayer

Brian and Bophal