Thursday, May 24, 2012

May in the Mekong - Day 2 - Ants are to Eat (Who Knew?)

Day two in the Mekong region (Cambodia, to be specific, Phnom Penh, to be more specific yet) was spent visiting a world class "Continuing Education Program for Alumni" or CEPA, run by one Danish missionary and two Cambodian colleagues. "Capacity-building" is the key expression, as these three gather together Bible School alumni -- NOT in order to give them continuing education, encouragement, or listening ears... but to teach them how to provide on-going continuing education for each other, how to encourage each other, how to provide a good listening ear for each other.

So often students go through a full graduate program, earning a Bachelor's Degree, only to find themselves out in the Cambodian countryside where the latest data concludes that less than half the population has completed a primary school education.... and may not be very open to the ideas, hopes and visions of a young Bible School graduate. CEPA is trying to help Christian alumni link up with each other, providing a professional community of sorts, exchanging ideas and attentively listening to each other, as well as helping each other listen with new ears to God's voice in the Scriptures and in shared prayer.

Speaking of listening ears, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (scrounged free by yours truly on the Phnom Penh-Bangkok leg of my journey) describes a Harvard neuroscience study which suggest that the opportunity to talk about one's own feelings, experiences, and opinions activate the same sense of pleasure in areas of the brain as do food and money! 

Which suggest to me that a program such as this CEPA is providing the equivalent of manna to hungry Bible School alumni!

Speaking of manna... food which falls from heaven...
Students at the Asian Resource Development Center,  where LTS alumni Sarah and Sarin teach, administer, and counsel.
Students here can earn their Associates Degree in areas such as Computer Science, Accounting, or English.
I had the chance to share with them something of my own Christian faith and understanding... that despite a world which sometimes seems not to care about far away Cambodians, in fact,  they are, each one,  beloved  "stars" in God's eyes, designed for a purpose.

They humored me with great attention.

And then, the day was topped off with a delicious meal of...

Yes, you read the title of this blog post correctly...

Ants. Big ants and little ants. Little brown ants and big green ants.

Ants, shaken down from the mango tree. Fried and mingled with rice.  Sour, crispy and delicious.

 In the past, he let all nations go their own way.   
Yet he has not left himself without testimony: 
He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.      
 Acts 14:16-17

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May in the Mekong - Day 1

It's a two hour flight from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh.  I landed in the morning and successfully found my way out of the small Phnom Penh airport and into one of the many taxis eagerly awaiting paying customers. ($9 USD for the 30 min. taxi ride from the airport to my very nice, $30 a night hotel). My taxi driver was a wealth of information giving me a free commentary on buildings as we passed them,  successfully ensuring he would be the taxi driver to pick me up at the end of my five day Phnom Penh stay.
 Given his age I found myself wondering quite a bit about his personal history, especially in the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. Also, I'm just finishing an informative, rather depressing and cynical  book  called Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land. It's well worth reading if you are interested in the Mekong area, or in development, education, or Christian outreach issues.  The book suggests that charity workers may actually be contributing to Cambodia's problems, as a nice infrastructure has been erected for all of the expatriates working with NGO and/or Christian mission organizations (clean hotels, nice restaurants and pleasant walking areas in the main tourist spots) while leaving the countryside virtually untouched... pleasant to look at if you're zooming by in a car, but not so pleasant for children who can't get an education (less than half of grade school aged children  actually get to go to school) or people who need medical care (clinics are poorly equipped and one "nurse" interviewed in the book says she had a three day training course after finishing high school, which qualified her to be the sole nurse on duty for dozens of patients.)
View from the taxi
Another view from the taxi - I can tell I'm not in Wisconsin anymore!

One of our Lutheran Theological Seminary - Hong Kong  international alumni (Joseph) picked me up in a tuk-tuk.

Motorbikes are the most popular form of transportation.  More on that coming in "May in the Mekong" - Day 4

Joseph takes me to one of his church sites, which runs a multi-purpose ministry for families living near and in the garbage dump.

In the small church building, children living in the area of the garbage dump get daily school lessons. I noticed it was all boys in this little school, but I'm not sure why.

View from the church/school, you can see the plastic tarps which serve as roofs for many.

The children are so happy that they have this clean area outside of the church/school to use as a playground.

A man sorting and bagging recyclables from the dump, hoping to earn a few dollars. (A few means about $2 or 3 a day)

The only "backyard" these children know.

Plastic which has been retrieved, rinsed off, and will be bagged and sold for the aforementioned $2 or $3 a day.

What do you think of these two boys  flying home-made kites on the garbage dump!?

This woman was the size of a five year old. She was using a plastic bowl to try and drain flood waters away from her home.

The entrance to her home.

She actually smiled for my camera!!

Meanwhile, down the road a bit, a mother and son were digging to find "buried treasure".
At the Lutheran Theological Seminary and through the Mekong Mission Forum, we aren't making big financial donations to these needs.  What we are involved in is strengthening students for capable, dependable, patient, thoughtful, ethical  pastoral care, counseling, and helping to develop the capacities of others. Joseph sometimes delivers donations of rice or clothing.  He continually encourages the teachers at the little school (and the good news is the children are apparently very consistent in their school attendance although not even grade school is  compulsory in Cambodia). He provides a role model through his own family life. He runs a dorm for university students and (newly) a guest house which also serves to provide some income for his ministries among the poor.

Maybe his generation, and the upcoming one which he is helping to empower, will find their own creative and courageous solutions out of the garbage dumps, corruption and poverty.

If your gift is ... is serving, then serve; 
if it is teaching, then teach;  
 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; 
 if it is giving, then give generously; 
if it is to lead, do it diligently; 
if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. 

                                                                       -- Romans 12:7-8

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Yangon, Bangkok, Hong Kong

Yikes!  I'm heading back to Cambodia in the morning (photo from our family visit there in January).  I'm really looking forward to it, and especially to visiting Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) alumni and seeing them at their ministries.  But I'm a wee bit nervous, too!

Kirany (one of our graduates) has promised me a ride on her motorbike... and I get to preach at her small church on Sunday!

Another graduate, Joseph, works with orphans and students (Wayne visited him two years ago) and a third set of students, Sarah and Sarin (a Hong Kong-Cambodian couple) also work in Christian outreach and training programs with young adult students. Education is so vital for the future of this nation, I can't wait to see some of the programs, and to share them with you on the blog. 

THEN, I go to Yangon for the annual meeting of the full MMF (Mekong Mission Forum) -- for which I've been slaving over financial reports, current budgets, and projected project expenses.  For all of you in the parish who have church council members and trustees who are accountants and business people who look over your expenses and projections... be thankful, be very thankful.

And then, just to help me remember what some of our projects here CAN be all about, here's an interview with Bill Hybels (at Willow Creek) and Nicholas Kristof.  If the link doesn't work, search for it at the Willow Creek site using the info below.  Okay, see you sometime after May 22 when I get back! Watch for photos and more!!!

We Give
Sunday, May 06, 2012 |  Senior Pastor Bill Hybels
Senior Pastor Bill Hybels concludes Week Three of Celebration of Hope.
Nicholas Kristof, author of Half the Sky, shares insights about turning oppression into opportunity for women across the globe.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

April Showers Bring May... Monkeys???

May in Hong Kong means it's hot again. Unbelievably muggy. The mosquitos are swarming.  And the monkeys are on the prowl for the brown mushy fruit (I still haven't figured out what it is) that hangs from our trees.

Last week I walked out of my front door and nearly into a ... five foot long snake.  He slithered away, and so did I... in the opposite direction.  So, no photos, sorry. I don't know what kind of snake he was.  Surely not a poisonous one.  Surely not.

So here's what makes it worth it to face the mosquitoes, the monkeys, the snakes and the heat:

A graduate of LTS(center) who works with these beautiful, beautiful, Indonesian domestic workers, cheering them on, mothering them, coaching them, loving them through the highs and lows of working as live-in maids in a foreign land. They don't always dress like this, but Sundays are their one day off, so they dress up, looking like they just stepped in from a different, more exotic planet.  And in some ways, that's exactly what they've done!

"Miss Rose" who speaks the world's most beautiful British English, with two of her LTS students from Laos, who are able to study at LTS because of scholarships from the Ev. Lutheran Church in America.  They are developing leadership skills to work in the Laos Evangelical Church... which has grown from 26 believers in the capital city in 1990... to 10,000 believers in the capital city today... so the need for capable and committed Christian leadership is huge... and these young women are well on their way.
and then

there's the  exuberance
of the students from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Myanmar, Mainland China, even from the USA!

(Here celebrating the almost-end of the academic year)

This keeps remembering what it's all about... and glad to be here.

"...the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  -- Nehemiah 8:10