Friday, February 18, 2005

Well, I did it.

I said goodbye to all of the kids at the orphanage today. We're heading back to Phnom Penh on the 7am bus, so we won't have another chance to see them on this trip.

I love the kids at the student centers, I love the kids at the orphanage in Phnom Penh, and I love the kids at the school, but these kids in Battambang have a special place in my heart.

As I watched them walk down the flower-lined, gravel path toward the dining pavilion, I was struck by the thought that it was all just a dream a few short years ago. Dave and I had met with Vek Huong, and had talked about an orphanage, and I thought, "Could this really happen? Could we really do something for some of these kids we see on the streets?"

Now, just four years later, The land that was once mostly empty, is filled with the laughter of children. There are buildings, there's a swingset. There are bunkbeds, there's love. Some of these kids were starving before they came here. Some had seen their parents die. Some had even seen one parent kill the other. All of them were in grave danger of an awful life and an early death. Now they're happy, healthy and safe. As Kim said tonight, "It's easy to forget that they don't have any parents."

It's true. The workers are so kind, so loving, and the older kids are so gentle with the younger ones. It's just like your family. Only different.

But tonight at dinner time, after hours of play (and a few short moments of terror, thanks to John and Kim's immunization express), it was time to go. We greeted each of the children individually, and they all pressed their hands together in the traditional sign of respect, and said, "Chum reab lear, John! Chum reab lear, Daddy! Preyong protiempo!" Good bye, John! Good bye, Daddy! God Bless you!

Pastor Buntheoun translated as Dave and I told them how much we love them, and that we pray for them always, and will return again as soon as possible. Samneang, the oldest girl, stood up and said in Khmer, "On behalf of all of the children, we love you. God bless you. We will miss you. We pray that you will return to us some day soon." After a few more hugs and goodbyes, Dave and I waved, blew kisses, and turned to walk away. We'd done this before. Long goodbyes are the worst. The rest of the group lingered. Dave went to start the car, and I got on my moto and drove off.

The bitterness of those farewells is sweetened by the thought of seeing my wife and kids in just a few days. I was hoping to return -- with them -- to Cambodia this year, but a few unfortunate financial setbacks have probably erased that possibility. I'll have to wait another 12 months. And Kori will have to wait indefinitely to see these kids she's loved for so long from across the world.

I'm fully prepared to be a little depressed when I return. It's some weird sort of trip lag. As I said to Dave today, "Yesterday, I was preaching the gospel to a group of people who had never in their village's history heard the name of Jesus. In one week, I'll be sitting at my desk trying to convince a client to choose uncoated, rather than coated stock on their next brochure." It happens everytime. In some ways, it's easier to trust God to heal a woman with epilipsy under a palm tree in 110 degree weather in the middle of Cambodia than it is to trust God to bring in enough money to make payroll in our plush office in Columbus, Ohio. But I know this year will be at least a little different. I've got more friends than ever before, and my pastor practically lives with me.

I'm praying that I'll have the energy to fulfill all of my commitments, especially to my family. I know that I'll need to relax and get over jet lag, but Kori's going to need to relax and get over being a single mom for the last month. I hope I remember how to cook. And play Playstation with the boys.

I think I'll manage.

At any rate, I should be off. I'll write more when I get to Phnom Penh. With any luck, I'll be able to post some more pictures.



erica said...

Dear John,

It is called "reverse culture shock," and understanding it will not make your emotional response less, but it can keep the thinking side of your brain from being completely knocked overboard by the upheaval of your feelings. It's so hard to go home from time spent in another culture. You have just spent a month being an alien, and the experience can sharpen the colors of light and heighten our awareness of ... anything, everything. God can more easily get our attention when we throw ourselves out of our safety zone and routine like that. Jeff has me reading the Vision and the Vow, and the challenge I'm seeing there (again, I've heard the call many times before) is to dedicate myself to walking through the mundane, tedious, routine parts of my life with as much wonder as when I'm sitting on top of Angkor Wat with my paints or standing by some rail-road tracks in a prayer circle of predominately homeless people. The thing is, EVERY moment is holy, EVERY moment is precious, EVERY moment is a gift from God. It is in being faithful in the small things that we are to find the opportunity to follow God. Your ministry to your wife and sons and to us at church and your clients and co-workers is as powerful and needed and sanctioned by God as your hours preaching His word under a tree in rural Cambodia.

May He who first imagined each moment and who never releases His perfect vision of our world as redeemed give us both eyes to see our lives in the USA as He does, and as we may have while living overseas.
Love, in Jesus,

Karen said...

john, have a safe trip back. we look forward to seeing you again! i've loved reading every single one of your blog entries. god bless you.