This has not been the best week.
Perhaps it’s odd to title this post “Grateful” under such circumstances but I don’t really have much to say other than that I’m thankful that God has brought me through and prompted loved ones to encourage me in the times where I have felt weak.
As some might imagine, losing functionality of a lot of my blog and one of my uncomfortably expensive CF memory cards from my camera has been discouraging. I wrote a whole blog update and saved it so I could proofread it later, only to come back a few hours later to discover that the saved version was somehow lost, so I have to start again. I hope to re-write that post later on, but in the meantime I’ll think of some way to summarise the past two weeks’ goings on.
Earlier this fortnight, I had the privilege to go and photograph a house repair project in a village outside Poipet, with Pern as my guide (it was the first time I had travelled in excess of 60km/h on the back of a motorbike, which felt really fast, even for the highway). Unfortunately I later lost almost all of the photos from this trip, as my brand new memory card malfunctioned shortly afterwards, but below are a few photos I was able to salvage. Christian Care for Cambodia (CCFC)’s house repair program allows some of the most disadvantaged local Khmer to pay for much-needed repairs for their houses. Pern and I travelled to a village 45 minutes out of Poipet (or 20 minutes if Pern didn’t have me as a passenger) where we visited one of the locals who were blessed by this ministry.
The first picture (below) is Srey Nich’s (I’ve changed her name) old house. As you can see, it is leaky at the edges, it is directly on the ground (so heavy rain, which is common at this time of year, would flood the house regularly) and the front wall is just cloth, giving little protection from the elements.
Pern and I spent a little time searching from place to place in the village to look for Srey Nich so she could show us the new house. We ended up travelling to the other end of the small village, and when we asked after her we were introduced with one of the men calling out in Khmer, “Hey, come out here, there’s a barang (foreigner) here to see you!”, to which I was greeted with a few curious local women who began running their hands through my hair, and this lively, expressive little lady who ran out of a nearby hut and threw her arms around me, and then began excitedly chattering away to Pern in Khmer. Srey Nich, Pern and I then piled together onto Pern’s motorbike and the three of us then navigated the extremely muddy, slippery village road at 15km/h while I held on for dear life.
We walked the rest of the way to the new house through a field of thousands of tiny blue flowers. I was greeted with the a wooden house, which was raised off the ground (much better for a village where flooding is common around this time of year) and a door covered in plastic (far more likely to protect from the wind and rain). Although the house was still unfinished when I photographed it, it looks dramatically better than her old house. Pern translated for me as this lovely lady talked to me about how she finally had her own water jar – her old one was borrowed but now she was given one of her own. Among lost photos from my camera were some photos of Srey Nich smiling wide as she hugged me and posed for a picture: she wanted a photo with the barang. There were other images of her standing proudly in front of her new house with a peaceful smile on her face.
A lot of the materials used to build the house were recycled, and as you can see, a corrugated metal roof has replaced the thatched roof – much better for heavy rain. As I said, the house is not yet finished, and there are some wooden panels still missing, but this has already been a great improvement.
The staff at CCFC were also blessed with the Windus family coming to visit us in Poipet for a few days. Scott and Janelle Windus and their two children Rosie (9) and Isaac (8) have been in Cambodia for almost a year now, mainly focusing on studying language in Phnom Penh where they are currently living. Soon they hope to move to Siem Reap (north of Phnom Penh) and start a sport and health ministry of some kind in the area. Scott and Janelle are both passionate about sports, as are their two energetic children. Janelle also has training as a dietician, which can greatly benefit the Khmer people as they learn more about how to take care of themselves with the right food for nursing mothers, sick children, the elderly, etc.
I’m really excited to see this family grow as their time here unfolds. I was so inspired to see a whole family so dedicated to life in a foreign country with a new language, new culture, and a whole lot of new challenges, on top of the everyday challenges of running a family and studying at school. They are wonderfully down-to-earth, and I was reminded again that being a missionary is not necessarily heroic or unattainable, but it can be as simple as doing life with Jesus wherever you are called – whether that is Cambodia, or Africa, or America, or Queensland or the suburbs of Western Sydney in Australia.
(Left to right: Isaac, Scott, Rosie and Janelle – they borrowed Cate’s bike as the family vehicle for the weekend)
On Sunday I joined some of the Christian Care For Cambodia (CCFC) staff to “help” with Volleyball (I was scorekeeper, which meant tallying points on the whiteboard and getting hit in the head with a stray ball occasionally). For those of you who know me, sports is really not my thing. Neither is getting hit in the head with volleyballs. About four volleyball games in, though, it started absolutely bucketing down with rain, and although we were undercover, our game was rained out with horizontal downpour. Meanwhile, however, the soccer game that was running on the field just next to us went on as if sudden flooding was the most normal thing in the world. A few of the children took shelter from the rain behind the volleyball scoreboard, while others stood as far out of the rain as possible and watched the mayhem on-field. It was the first time that I’d ever felt cold weather in Cambodia (it was still about 28 degrees, but the wind and rain made it feel a lot colder).
Rosie had thoughtfully collected armfuls of frangipannis in a giant banana leaf and was handing them out to people through the afternoon.
This was also the day that I learned why you don’t hang your motorbike helmet upside-down over the moto handlebar by the chin-strap; my bike helmet filled up with water within the first two minutes of downpour. I’m still trying to get rid of the “wet helmet” smell.
It hasn’t been the easiest few weeks for me, and I suspect each of our other CCFC team members have been experiencing their own stresses in the past few days. God has been graciously prompting loved ones to contact me with timely encouragements and prayers, however, and these have been the things to pick me up off the floor and push me to keep moving forward despite how I’ve been feeling some days. Cate, my co-worker and housemate, has also been a huge blessing to me as she has gone out of her way to make my hardest days better, and I also want to acknowledge how thankful I am for this. Apart from the frustration of a lot of my technology dying in the past few weeks, as well as the mental exhaustion of constantly trying to decipher Khmer conversation and remember the right words to say and things to do, I’m learning that a new country and language, although helpful for me to distract myself, doesn’t automatically make me forget things that hurt back at home, or move on from issues that have affected me for a long time. Jonah’s story teaches that leaving the country doesn’t make the tough things in life go away, and I’m feeling a big fish coming on sometime soon to swallow me up and force me to confront some things and heal from problems I’ve dealt with this year and last year.
If you are someone who has felt it on your heart to encourage me this past week, I just want to thank you for that, and I want to say that it has been exactly the right timing. I’ve been praying for everyone who I’ve been talking to this week, and I pray that God blesses you as much as he has blessed me through you.
Perhaps some might say I share too much in this blog, but I’m realising if I don’t then I’ll be doing this journey alone (with God, of course, but isolated from others). The more prayer I can get, the better, and I trust that God works all things (good or bad) to his good purpose, even if I don’t understand them right now.
I hope I will be able to share more about the amazing staff at ABC School (where I am working) in my next post, but until then, thank you for your prayers – I haven’t forgotten you.