Thursday, February 17, 2005

Moments ago, our translator confirmed what we had already guessed to be true -- that there is no internet service available in this town. No big shock there -- we seem to be about three miles north of the middle of nowhere.

So, I’ll compile my thoughts on the laptop and you’ll get one big belch of an update when we get to Battambang.

Our story here begins last night, at about 6:15 pm. We were picked up by our contact, and by our translator, Sophea. Both men are 35 years old, and both have fascinating life stories and testimonies.

I was already feeling awful when we left Phnom Penh, and three long hours at breakneck speed along marginal roads with unknown obstacles did not do much to revive my flagging health.

By the time we reached our hotel, Gary and I were completely exhausted, and I felt like I was going to hurl. We hadn’t had dinner, but the ride up had not left either of us with much of an appetite. We drove around in search of a decent restaurants for few minutes after checking in, but we were out of luck. Seems this town closes at dark.

So, we knocked on the door of the hotel’s restaurant -- which didn’t look promising even by the light of day -- and after some negotiation between Sophea and the woman in charge, the lights were turned on, and we sat down at our table. Nothing on the menu looked good, but I knew I should eat. I ordered beef with onions, Gary got toast.

I should have stuck with plain white rice. The food arrived in time for me to pick at it with my chopsticks, try a few bites and sigh. It was awful. I ate a few tablespoons of rice and excused myself to our room.

Our room is large and airconditioned with a television set that picks up CNN, BBC and a bunch of Asian stations -- about what you’d expect in a $10 per night Cambodian hotel. Unfortunately, the room sports a strange, unfamiliar odor -- something like a mix between new shoes and old ladies.

Nevertheless, I took a shower and came to bed. I slept fitfully, and was not even close to ‘rested’ when Sophea knocked on our door at 6:30 a.m.

Both Gary and I skipped breakfast and opted for a slimfast-type meal replacement bar Kim had donated for our journey. We got into the car with our contact and with Sophea, and headed off to a two-hectare plot of land we had visited briefly the night before.

We arrived and took a tour of the property, which had been bought with funds from GBIM. Our friends showed us a pond which had been recently dug. The pond, they explained, would soon be stocked with enough fish to supply the needs of the congregation with enough left over to sell to defray other ministry costs.

After we paced the arid stretch of land, we set our backpacks next to a small metal table in front of a simple, white markerboard facing a few rows of blue plastic chairs under a makeshift shelter in the shade of a small grove of palm trees. Before long, a group of colorfully-attired women arrived hayride-style in the back of a homemade contraption that looked like some unholy mix between a rototiller and a flatbed tractor.

The women were unlike any Khmer we’d met before; they wore the same flowered sarongs we’d seen on countryfolk before, but their faces were darker, and all of them wore the traditional ‘krama’ headscarves in various drapings and knots. A few were young and comely, but most were knurled and toothless, their gums bloodred or black from years of chewing betelnut.

The old ones cackled and giggled and chattered away in a mix of Khmer and an ancient language only spoken by a few hundred thousand people in the world as they began to break sticks for a cooking fire and layout the various herbs and vegetables they would use to prepare their lunch. The younger ones gathered at the back of the row of seats. Some had brought small children. The boys and the youngest of the girls were dressed plainly, but the older girls wore ornate headdresses like their mothers.

I greeted the women with a few simple words in Khmer and offered candy to the kids. They all accepted, with varying degrees of trepidation. The tractorcycle thingy coughed off to pick up the men, and returned half an hour later with a group of middle aged to elderly gents, many of them wearing headscarves and smoking homemade cigarettes.

A few more arrived by various means of transportation, and when all 71 had a taken their seats, I opened with a word of prayer. Sophea patiently translated, as I taught a lesson from I Kings 17 and Luke 12 themed “The Creator God promises that He will supply everything we need every day in order to sustain our life.” After a short break, Gary used Psalm 139:1-6 to illustrate “The Creator God knows everything .”

I had sufficient energy for the teaching, but as soon as we were finished with the morning sessions, I began to feel extremely weak. On the road back to our hotel, I felt really terrible, and by the time we arrived, I kndw I couldn’t join Gary and our hosts for lunch, so I came upstairs and went to bed.

Two hours later, it was time to return to teach the afternoon sessions. I was clearly in no shape to do so, so Gary encouraged me to stay in bed.

It’s now 5:20. Gary has just now returned. He said, “It went well. Near the end, they started asking difficult questions. I told them you’d address the problem of evil in the world tomorrow.” Sweet.

I’m going to try to eat some rice for dinner and get a good night’s sleep. I’ve learned today what I taught this morning: God does not promise to supply what we want, or more than what we need, but he does promise to give us each day everything we need to sustain our life. I would have liked to have ‘extra’ energy today, but I had just enough to do what God had on my agenda. Humbling, difficult, frustrating. But I’m thankful. Now I’m trusting that He’ll do the same tomorrow, and praying for just a little more.

----

Humbled. Grateful. That’s how I feel today. I woke up this morning with appreciably more energy than before, and I have had more than enough strength for the day, despite a rough night of half-sleep.

I woke nearly every hour, and dreamed all night of home. My wife, my kids, my job -- all these things called out to me; I can tell my heart’s ready to leave Cambodia. I dreamed of cooking. It was pasta, I think. (My experience in Pursat has finally made me homesick for my own kitchen. I love Khmer food, but the restaurant at our hotel seems to serve the Cambodian equivalent of truck stop grub. Not terribly appetizing, especially when you’ve been sick.)

After a relatively harmless breakfast of Coca-Cola, french bread and jam, we headed out to the meeting site, where there were already quite a few people gathered. We smiled and waved and waited for the rest of the crowd to roll in. It was early, but the sun was already beating down -- the temperatures would exceed 100F before the day would end.

We reviewed yesterday’s lessons and fielded a few questions, and then I taught that “God has neither beginning nor end.” Gary taught “God has control over mankind.” After the morning session, which took about three hours, I pulled Sophea over and said, “This man here was trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.”

Sophea listened as the old man earnestly explained. Sophea turned to me and said, “He tells me that he is deaf, but in his spirit he could understand exactly what you were saying.” Strange, I had a feeling that’s what he had been trying to say. Really.

Then Sophea said, “This woman has epilepsy. She was shot with a bullet, and ever since, she has had seizure.” Gary and I laid hands on her and prayed for her healing. Sophea brought another woman. “She has headaches and stomach problems.” Another had heart problems. We laid hands on all of them and prayed for them individually, asking God to show his power and do something that would increase his fame among this minority people group.

Gary and I were, to be honest, blown away. Originally, we had been told that we would be speaking to 45 people, and that they would all be young Christian men. As it turns out, we were speaking to a group of more than 100 people, many quite elderly, obviously leaders in their villages. And many were not Christians.

As we headed back to the hotel for the lunchtime break, I felt very privileged. These people were seekers. They wanted to know about the ‘true God.’ But many came from villages where the name of Jesus had never been heard only a few months ago. Here we were, two white guys from America, standing thousands of miles away from home and an infinite distance from what should have been our ‘comfort zone,’ doing what we were created to do among a people that more than 99.9% of the world has never heard of.

We took a quick nap and headed back for our afternoon session. Per our host’s suggestion, we had agreed to dismiss the group after one lesson: “These people have very little knowledge about God. We must not teach them too much at once or they will forget.”

As we reached the venue, we were pleasantly surprised by a light breeze from the east. Strong enough to cool us down, not strong enough to stir up the dust. I prayed silently that it would persist, and for most of the afternoon, it did.

My topic for the afternoon was “Human suffering is the result of sin.” From what our hosts had told us, I guessed that this was a message likely to resonate with the people gathered. Theirs is a ‘works’ centered religion that understands the concept of God’s wrath. So, when I opened the Psalms and and spoke of God’s wrath, many nodded their heads and answered the questions correctly.

“What, according to this passage, is God’s response to our sin?”

“He is angry.”

“Right, and what is our response to God’s anger?”

“Fear!”

“Is there anything we can do to appease God’s wrath? Can any of us do enough good works to make God happy?”

(Silence, uneasy glances)

I then opened the Word to Romans 5:8-9 and let them in on the good news, that God has offered a way for us to escape his judgment through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. We talked through this for a while, and I gave what might best be understood as a good old fashioned Gospel message.

We finished, closed in prayer, and I asked Sophea if he had anything he wanted to add. He nodded, and proceeded to speak passionately for about ten minutes. I understood only a few Khmer words: “Jesus Christ, God, wisdom, heaven, me, you, John 3:16.”

When he had finished, he prayed again. Two people approached us, and described their physical ailments. I explained that we could only pray, and God would choose whether he would heal them or not. We placed our hands on them and prayed. One of the men had been introduced earlier today as a teacher of the local religion. He had severe swelling in his legs and feet. I prayed earnestly for his feet, but also for his heart. We may never know if God chose to heal either, but I’ll be eternally grateful for the opportunity to ask on his behalf.

It’s 8:00, and I’m in my bed at the hotel. I tried to call home at a local dial-up internet phone place, but, not unpredictably, I couldn’t get through. I could hear Kori fine, but she couldn’t hear me at all. Oh, well.

I’ll be in Battambang by the time you read this, and I’m sure I’ll be able to get through.

We’ve got one more teaching tomorrow, and then we’re done here. I’d like to have a little more time to socialize with the people we’ve been teaching. Maybe we’ll be able to shoot the breeze and share recipes or something.

The last few days haven’t been easy, but I’ll have lasting memories, and I’ll have stories to tell my kids and grandkids.

Well, I’ve got to hit the sack. Just because I’m feeling well today doesn’t mean I should push it. I still want to enjoy Battambang.

Maybe my next post will be funny. Not all this ‘churchy’ stuff. ;-)

One can only hope...

Shalom!

-----

Epilogue:

Today was fantastic. I’m in good health and great spirits. When we returned to the meeting site, Sophea told us that all of the people we had prayed for had regained health. Wow. Praise God. He has truly done a lot of miraculous things to bring these people to him. I can’t tell them all here, so corner me some time, and I’ll testify!

Speaking of testifying, the people upon whom we had laid hands, got up, one by one, and told of pain that had gone away and strength that had returned to limbs. Kind of blew Gary and I away. God is so good.

We did a review and taught our final lesson. The afternoon ended with our host inviting the people gathered, many of whom had come from ‘unopened’ villages, to turn to accept Jesus as the perfect, final, and only sacrifice. Many came. Many also asked for prayer for various ailments. We prayed for a very long time, asking God to bless and heal each individual person. Our host assured us that he had explained clearly that we are ordinary men, and that any power or any miracles they had witnessed was from God, and that if they turned to Christ, they could also pray for one another as we had done for them.

After we had finished, I asked our translator, “How many years have these people believed in (their traditional religion)?”

“More than 500.”

“When did the first (ethnic minority) turn to Christ?”

“Two years ago. It was (our host).”

Our translator pointed out that this is the first time in the group’s 500 year history that they had gathered outside of their villages to hear the gospel. Talk about unreached people groups.

I’m just floored. I don’t exactly know what happened, but God does. It’s his job, and it’s our hosts’ job to follow up and to disciple these people, but I’m blessed beyond measure to have been a part of this. I would have been content to just witness the last few days, but God allowed me to actually take part in it. Wow.

And to top it all off, I got to spend about three hours at our Battambang orphanage today, hugging and chasing and singing and laughing.

And I got to ride a motorcycle all afternoon. (Yes mom, I wore a helmet.)

And I got to talk with my wife and kids.

AND I’m going to have ice cream tonight.

Does it get any better than this? I don’t think so. If only my family was here with me to share it. Then it would be absolutely perfect. Tonight, it’s just mostly perfect. And that’s good enough for me.

I’ve posted some new pics. Check ‘em out.

Shalom!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Your comment was, "Theirs is a ‘works’ centered religion that understands the concept of God’s wrath."

This makes me think somewhat of Romans 1 and Psalm 19 and the book Peace Child. It is about an unreached people group which placed an extremely high value on treachery. The amazing thing was that despite all of this this the people group, in Papua New Guinea, had redemption principles interwoven into their long-established, evil, local religion.

"The Heavens Declare His Glory!"
I'm sure you can testify to that, not only as an individual but on behalf of others you've seen but don't look much like the folks I run into at Barnes and Noble.

Sounds like the last post would have been worth the whole trip. Illness and all.

Finish Strong!

Barry

Jeff Cannell said...

How encouraging. Taking risks- risking dissapointment-- seeing God move. Sounds like a well spent trip. But come back John- We miss you.

Anonymous said...

WOW Praises to God!! both for the opportunity and that you are feeling better, many at home and Grace are praying for you, we can't wait to hear more about this trip.
Love you..MOM

erica said...

Wow.
Wow, wow, wow.
God rocks!
Erica

Kevin said...

Awesome. Simply awesome.

Karen said...

that was powerful. i had chills down the back of my arms and on my back while reading it! thankyou for being obediant to the lord's calling in your life, john.
so awesome. going to go check out the new pictures now...

Karen said...

that was powerful. i had chills down the back of my arms and on my back while reading it! thankyou for being obediant to the lord's calling in your life, john.
so awesome. going to go check out the new pictures now...

Dylan said...

Great news, John. And disregard my email about asking if you're on North American soil. Answered. Hey, regarding phones, did you know your Nokia 3650 is a Tri-band phone which should work overseas... um, of course, assuming that Cambodia and T-Mobile have agreed to drop a few towers around to carry the signal. OK, so much for that...