Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent Greetings from Cambodia

What an incredible year. I can't even begin to describe what I have seen and learned. There is at least one new story at and on this site since I wrote last. And my fellow missionaries in the Community Health and Agricultural Development (CHAD) program and I just put out our Advent newsletter. You can download the PDF.

I am back in the US for a month visiting churches in California, Virginia and Washington and catching up on a little sleep. But I am excited to get back to work next year. Plans for a water distribution system in Kandal are coming together, more rice banks are going up in Kompong Thom and Kompong Chhnang, credit and savings groups are working together in Svay Rein and new calves are being born in Battambong. Signs of trust and hope are everywhere.

Thanks for your continued support.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A story of healing

Pastor Kieu Sophal came by our office this morning to help with lesson planning for our health volunteer training workshop that starts tomorrow. I was just sitting at my computer as she told this story, so I am quickly typing it up to share with you.

A woman in Sophal’s district had been battered by her husband and received a back injury that caused her to be in bed unable to walk for about three weeks. Sophal, a new pastor since July, heard about this woman from one of her church members. But Sophal told us that she was worried and hesitant to visit the women: “I don’t have money, what could I offer to this woman.” Sophal doesn’t have a moto (motorcycle/scooter), but the church member took her to see the woman using her own moto.

Sophal told the battered woman, “I don’t have money to offer you, but I have God, and I would like to pray with you.” She came with three other church members and they all prayed for the women. The members reported a sense of the presence of God in that place. “Everyone in the room could sense the awesomeness of God in their hands and throughout their whole bodies.” The battered woman was very encouraged. The church member continues to visit with her and reported that within a week she was able to walk again. Everyone felt that the prayer meeting was a turning point in her recovery.

I wish I could convey to you the sense of gratitude and awe that Sophal brings when she tells this story.

Irene gives thanks to God for Sophal’s testimony… not only for the healing that took place but also for the attitude of the pastor. Many of the pastors in Cambodia feel discouraged because they feel like they don’t have money to offer to people. But Irene likes to remind me (and them) that Jesus sent us out to do ministry without taking anything with us… the people will take care of us or not… but we need to trust that God will be sufficient and provide what we need for the situation… we need to act first and trust that we will be able to find the resources we need for the situation, but if we just sit at home then there will be no way for God to act through us.

It reminds me of the song we used to sing at VBS: Silver and Gold have I none, but such as I have I give thee. Let’s start by giving people what we have. We have the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Irene says, “many times I don’t have money to help poor sick people, I can only give advice and prayer… but I just take the person to the hospital and sometimes we can find a doctor who can help us or another way becomes clear.” We can’t be paralyzed by our fears of what we don’t have. God asks us to just do what we can with what we have and the rest will come.

The song Silver and Gold
Peter and John went to pray, they met a poor man on the way. He asked for alms, and held out his palms and this is what Peter did say: Silver and Gold have I none, but such as I have I give thee, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk. He went walking and leaping and praising God, walking and leaping and praising God. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Updates from Cambodia

Life in Cambodia is a constant learning experience. My language is improving much slower than I would like, but step by step. My writing is good enough that I can create posters for workshops even though I can't understand many of the words I am writing. Tomorrow will be the first day of the level 2 lessons at the University, but I also decided to repeat level 1 since I didn't learn it 100%.

We had a wonderful Annual Meeting at the end of August. The highlight was the ordination of 6 elders and 12 deacons, essentially doubling the number of ordained Cambodians. A president of The World Federation of Chinese Methodist Churches (one of our mission partners here), gave a stirring speech about celebrating 40 years of autonomy with the theme "self-proclaiming, self-governing, self-supporting". It really gave a hopeful vision to our goal of supporting the formation of an autonomous church here in Cambodia.

I've posted a few more reflection here and at as well as some letters that I wrote to the Vacation Church School kids at Wesley UMC in Bakersfield, CA about water, cows and health.

Thanks for reading, your prayers and support!
peace, Katherine

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Building confidence

This week we had our second foundational workshop with the pastors in the Battambong district. The new church at the district headquarters is just about finished being constructed with just some final cleaning to do (sorry no pictures). We used an upstairs open air porch for our gathering. The CHAD team was much better prepared this time and we were able to complete a full lesson in one day. The theme was “God’s extravagant love for the transformation of the world.”

My personal successes focused around language. I asked Mr. Thy and Tola to pre-translate some of the discussion questions into Khmer and had them print out the questions for me (I still can’t read anyone’s handwriting, only the precise characters as printed by the computer). I then made big posters with the relevant questions for each section. Then, when we gave our oral explanations (which are translated in real time) people could be simultaneously reading the task. I only made one mistake of putting a line-break mid-word. It would be generous to say that I recognized ¼ of the words I was writing, but there was some recognition and it was good practice for me.

The second big language success happened at the beginning of the day as folks were gathering. I was in charge of the warm-up (devotion), and I wanted everyone to collect an object and then share with a partner how that object symbolized God’s love. With minimal prompting and filling in with English words, I managed to successful say “before you go upstairs, please get a thing that is God’s Love and then talk together with another person.” The shocking bit was that the pastor I was talking with actually understood me!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Getting better

I am still low-energy as a result of having a cold last week. I stayed home for three days and rested since I was running a low-grade fever. If I were only a little bit sick like this in the US, I would just ignore it and plow on, so it is frustrating how debilitated I feel by being a little bit sick. Irene brought me by a mixture of herbs and roots and citrus that is a traditional Khmer treatment for flu. We boiled it up in a clay pot and let the smoke permeate the room. I stuck my face in it to breathe it in more and ended up with a bit of a rash. That plus some Benadryl and Robitussin seem to have got the cold mostly under control.

I am also totally munched to bits by either mosquitos or spiders or ants. I can’t decide what has been biting me. I had this terrible night where I woke up and there were a dozen of these pin-head ants in my bed and then I couldn’t sleep again. No, I don’t eat in my bed, but I did go to sleep with wet hair and Ken said that sometimes the ants are attracted to water.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Testimonials: my grandmother, a new business and a dream about a bicycle

I met Pastor Kieu Sophal last month when she brought a young man (Chamrong) from her congregation into Phnom Penh to get his ears checked as part of the hospital access training that Irene has been conducting. My friend Treasa was visiting at the time and we all got to chatting and Pastor Sophal wanted us to come to visit her village.

Sophal graduated from the Bible School in July and is just starting her first appointment. I tease Irene that we make a great visitation pair because all of the ladies love her and ask her for advice and all of the teenagers flock to me. Sophal has a young church and so she was excited to have us visit, emphasizing that I should give a testimonial. Treasa had left by the time we made arrangements, so it was just me and Irene.

Giving testimonials in not a big part of my tradition, in fact I’m not sure I have ever done it before, so I only have a vague sense of what was being requested. The scripture lesson for the day was from Proverbs about learning wisdom from our parents. (Proverbs is the most popular book of the Bible in Cambodia by my experience.) In the end I told a story about doing bible study with my grandma and some wisdom I learned from her that has been an encouragement to me. I think it was a hit with the old ladies.

Chamrong (the young man I met with Pastor Sophal at the hospital) did most of the translation for me. I got to hear other testimonials too, like one about starting a new business. Another young man went on and on with his testimonial and the translator was just quiet. I was listening hard trying to follow, and was excited because I thought there was a bit where he was talking about riding a bicycle. I was very pleased with my understanding. But, in the end it was a story about a dream, and Chamrong said he didn’t even follow it well enough to translate more than that. So much for my comprehension.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A singing competition

One of the highlights of my work is the opportunity to worship with various congregations.

Last week, I went with Irene to Pastor Pok Kosal at Ch’mol d’asan church. Irene preached on the miracle of the loaves and fishes from Luke, relating it to stories in her childhood where her mother would pack a mango or banana for her to take to school and how she would hide to eat it so she didn’t have to share. The theme being that God does miracles with whatever we provide to God. We have been emphasizing this idea of Kingdom mathematics in all of our training and projects recently. God doesn’t ask us to do more than what we can. We are invited to give what we have and God will multiply it.

After worship we all had lunch together. Another Korean missionary couple also joined in the service that Sunday and Irene thinks they were a bit shocked to see us sitting on the floor eating with everyone.

Each of the lunch groups were invited to participate in a singing competition. The lead group won 30kg of rice and everyone got a shirt as a prize. I am getting good at faking it through a lot of Khmer hymns, so I enjoyed participating in the competition with my group (we didn’t win), but I couldn’t figure out how to not end up with a shirt without insulting my host. Two weeks later it is still sitting on my desk waiting for me to pass it on again.

Singing Group #1 - the Winners!
Pastor Pok Kosal introduces
the prize for the best
singing group: 30kg of rice

The church has a bus (more like a jeepney for those who know Filipino transport), and after church the pastor delivered everyone home. It reminded me of my days in campus ministry when I would drive the church bus in Iowa. We got to see a new building that was just completed a month or so ago and will be used for kindergarten classes, although they are having trouble recruiting qualified teachers who are willing to work about an hour outside Phnom Penh. Irene also coordinated with the pastor who will be bringing a patient for follow-up care in Phnom Penh.

I also got a cute series of pictures of a mom packing up a kroma (scarf) for her son to carry home.

It was an exciting worship, full of joy and laughter.

You can see all of the pictures at

Monday, August 11, 2008

An open letter about health to the Vacation Church School children in Bakersfield, CA

From Katherine, a missionary from California to Cambodia, and Irene, a missionary from Zimbabwe to Cambodia,

To our sisters and brothers in Bakersfield who have received a faith as precious as ours through-your relationship to our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. We write to you today with the words of the Apostle Peter when we say: God's divine power has given us everything needed for life.

While we have been eagerly preparing to write to you about the faith we share, we have also been busy hosting a Medical Outreach Clinic this week.

We were visited by a team of volunteers from a Methodist church in Singapore who came to Cambodia this week to help us host a Medical Outreach Clinic. It was the first time for the people from Singapore to visit a Cambodian village and so they were shocked by the poor conditions of the people living there. But they were eager to share their skills and gifts with the people, just like you have been eagerly sharing your skills and gifts this week at your local mission site.

Cambodian pastors from two different villages worked with the local government officials to arrange for us to use a medical clinic building that has been all but abandoned because the government has only hired one midwife to serve the medical needs of the villages in a two mile radius. Many people came to help us host a free one-day clinic: one doctor from Singapore, one from the Philippines and 2 from Cambodia joined together with five Cambodian dentists and a big group of volunteers from Singapore to run a pharmacy. I worked to register people as they came and Irene coordinated the triage nurses and worked with people needing help to get further care in Phnom Penh. Over 320 people were able to visit with a doctor or a dentist!

After they see the doctor or dentist, people go the pharmacy where they receive free medicines. For the children, we also make sure that they get a de-worming pill and vitamins.

The pastors and members of the two churches are eager to help their community to improve its health. This next week they will continue to visit the sick and to teach the poorest people in their community how to continue to get frees health care through the government "equity program". It is a very slow process for the pastors and the people to become comfortable with the system and learn how to get care. Slowly, we hope to help the pastors advocate with the government to hire a full time doctor to work in this clinic.

Irene tells the story of how it took Rev. Bunny almost two years to learn how to advocate for health care for her community. One step before we can organize a free clinic in the province is to request permission from the Provincial Health Department. In 2007 Irene invited DS Rev Bunny to make this request of local government. Bunny replied "I cannot go there to ask permission; they don't like us (because we are Christian), and they are so difficult. If you want, you (Irene) can go alone." And with Rev. Bunny's kind permission, Irene went alone to the government offices and made all arrangements for the medical clinic, which successfully treated patients in two villages.

Irene has continued to work with Rev. Bunny and pastors from the villages to educate them about how to access government health services. Here is a conversation that Irene and Thy had about the challenges in this work.

Irene: Do you think pastors believe me when I say that the government will provide health services for the poor from their village if they bring them to the provincial hospital?

Thy: No, they never believe you, they think the government will do this for you because you are a foreigner, but they won't do this for a Khmer (Cambodian) person.

Last month, after many training workshops and visits with the pastors, Irene again invited Rev. Bunny to visit the Provincial Health Department. This time Rev. Bunny and her husband Pastor Sokchieng agreed to come.

Later in the day there was a monthly district meeting. Rev Bunny said "I have been to the Provincial Health Department this morning and learned that yes the government provides free services for poor people and that the church can help poor people understand and show them where to go. We have limited resources as the church, and so on our own, we cannot help all. We need to help people get what the government is providing."

How powerful it is to walk along side people and see the changes in attitudes, building relationships and trust so that we can partner to do the best work.

It is so excited that we get to work together to make a better world. The volunteers from Singapore are helping. Your missionaries in from California and Zimbabwe are helping. The people in Cambodia are helping. And you, in Bakersfield are helping. We are all working together to build relationships. And, bit by bit, everyone learns about God and grows in their ability to help each other.

An open letter about cows to the Vacation Church School children in Bakersfield, CA

From Katherine, a missionary from California to Cambodia, and Thy our brother in Christ Jesus here in Cambodia,

To the church in Bakersfield:

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We write to you again with the words of the apostle Paul when we say that we give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters. And this is right to do, because we know that during this time together of Vacation Church Camp your faith is growing and the love of each one of you for one another is increasing.

Mr. Thy and I heard that you will be visiting a farm in Bakersfield this week. You will get to see how we grow food to eat in the United States. What did you eat for breakfast this morning? We had rice noodle soup. What will you eat for lunch? How about dinner? We will have rice with some stir-fry vegetables and fish, the same as other people living here in Cambodia. In Bakersfield, most people probably eat cereal and bread and pasta, but in Cambodia we eat rice – LOTS of rice. So, the farmers have to grow the rice. About 85% of the people living in Cambodia are farmers.

When you visit a farm in Bakersfield, you will probably get to see a tractor. Tractors are very helpful for farmers. But, a tractor is very expensive (you can ask how much one costs). Most farmers in Cambodia cannot afford to buy a tractor. Actually, I have only seen one tractor since I came here. So, how can farmers prepare their land to plant rice? They use two cows to pull a plow! But even a cow is expensive. One local cow costs about $400, and most people in Cambodia earn less than $2 a day, so it can take a lot of time to save the money needed to buy a cow. But, even if you get one cow it is not enough, you need to have two cows to pull your plow. What can you do?

One of the activities of the church in Cambodia is to start a "cow raising group" in their local village. The community members form a group to help each other raise a cow. They choose one group member to be the caretaker of the cow. The CHAD project sometimes helps by giving the group a gift-loan to buy a cow or two. Then, the group can share with their neighbors and everyone can plow their field and do other farm chores. When a baby calf if born, they choose a new member to be the caretaker of the cow. After the caretaker has passed on two baby calves to other members of the group, the cow becomes the property of the caretaker. We call this "passing-on-the-gift". One church in Cambodia told me they now have 8 cows that their members share with each other!

Mr. Thy is one of the Cambodian staff members in my office. Here is a story that he told me about one cow raising group.

Living in Atsue village, Sombor Commune, Prasth Sombor District, Kompong Thom Province, Mrs. Morm Khy, a 55-year-old- widow is dreaming to own a cow one day to help her family farm the small plot of land that was left in her possession after a divorce in 1995. The divorce left her only with 1000 square meters of rice land and three young children. Since then, she became the breadwinner of the family and all the heavy burden of caring her children fell on her. To supplement the 72 kg of rice she harvested from her very small plot of land, Morm Khy has to work as farm laborer where she earns a meager wage of 5000 reils or $1.25 per day.

One year later, in 1996 her hope was restored when she joined a Christian community in her village. That group of people provides her a lot of support, even inviting her to be a member of the cow raising group project. Being one of the poorest families in the group, Morn Khy was chosen to be the one of first recipients of the cow gift loan from CHAD.

She said that since owning a cow her situation has changed significantly. First and foremost, she benefits from building a good relationship with her neighbors who help her feel that she is not alone and who stood by her side during times of troubles and difficulties. For Morn Khy, owning a cow means she only needs to borrow one cow from her neighbor in order plow her field and transport firewood from the forest to her house. In the same way, she told that owning a cow also gives her the ability and opportunity to help her neighbors by letting them borrow her cow. According to her, she saves 30,000 riels for transporting firewood and about 1,500 riels/day for vegetables she harvest from her garden that has been fertilized by manure from her cow.

Another benefit she mentioned from owning a cow is it affords her to be more productive or keep her busy at home. For instance, with cow manure she started doing compost, cleaning the area surrounding her house, and growing a vegetable gardening--watering, cultivating the soil, and fertilizing it. According to her these works help her overcome her boredom, and also help her to be industrious. She said, "these benefits also enable me to keep sending my 18-year-old youngest son to school till now." With her smile, she expresses her joy even though she is working hard, Morm Khy said that she would like to say thank you for all the support from my church and the cow raising group that chose me to be first person to receive the cow gift loan from CHAD.

An open letter about water to the Vacation Church School children in Bakersfield, CA

From Katherine Parker, United Methodist Missionary who has been sent from California to Phnom Penh in the Royal Kingdom of Cambodia in Southeast Asia.

To the community of God that is in Bakersfield, to the children and youth and adults who gather this week for study and prayer and work and celebration, together with people from around the world who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and Jesus the Christ.

I want to say hi to you with this formal greeting in the style of St.Paul's letters to the churches throughout the Mediterranean, to remind us that the church has always been more than a group of people in our own town with which we get together on Sunday. Rather, it is a community of people around the world who believe that we are called to love God and to love our neighbor. And, whether we see each other every day or every few years or we never get to meet, we are still a family, a community that supports each other to be the best that we can be.

I grew up in a town in California very similar to yours, participated in Vacation Church School in the summer like you, and then went to college to study biology. Now I live in Cambodia where I work as a missionary for our church.

And, one of my jobs now is to teach both children and adults about clean water.

Do you know what bacteria are? This is part of what I teach in Cambodia. Bacteria are very, very, VERY small creatures. Some bacteria can live in the water; and some bacteria can make us sick if they are in the water we drink. But we can't easily see bacteria because they are so small! So, how do we know if water has harmful bacteria in it?

In America, we have scientists who help us. They test the water, and if there are any bacteria in it, they kill them, and send us fresh, clean water through the pipes into our homes. But this is not the case everywhere; most people in Cambodia don't have water that comes into their homes through a pipe.

Right now, it is the rainy season in Cambodia. Every other day in the afternoon, the wind starts to blow and the clouds creep in and we have a fantastic rain storm with thunder and lightning. Many people here in the countryside have roofs made of leaves. They try hard to save their money to buy a metal roof. A metal roof makes a lot of noise when the rain comes and it is hot in the sun, but if your roof is metal rather than made of leaves, you can collect the water that comes off the top into a jar! If you keep the jar clean, this is very good water to drink.

How do you stay clean and prevent the spread of diseases? One part that is very important is to wash your hands, especially after you go to the bathroom or play with an animal. One of the games we play is about how to wash your hands. We practice washing our hands for 20
seconds to kill all of the bacteria. One way for the children to learn how long they need to wash their hands is to learn a song they can can sing while washing. But, let's get back to the water.

In the dry season, it doesn't rain for weeks and weeks, so then you want to have a well where you can get water to drink and to wash. Most wells are "open"; this is not so good, because then
leaves and dead frogs and other things can get into the well and then more bacteria that can make you sick also get in. Some wells have a cover on them; this is much better, but sometimes the bacteria can still get in . Just like in America, if we know that the bacteria are in the water, then we can treat the water to kill the bacteria.

One way we kill the bacteria is by boiling the water. But, families in rural Cambodia don't have a nice gas stove or electric tea kettle; they have to collect wood to heat the water. Whose job do you think it is to collect the wood? The kids! Can you imagine if you had to go outside and look for wood for an hour everyday before you went to play with your friends? Not much fun. So, it is good to know which water has bacteria and which water doesn't.

I work with people here in Cambodia to test all of the water sources that they have. We test the rain water in the jars, the deep well water, the shallow well water, the pond water, the water in the rice fields and the water that people filter or boil. Then we can count the bacteria from the different sources. Here are some pictures of the water we tested. Can you tell which is best to drink?

From Rice-banks in Banteay Meanchey and Battambong

There are many people in Cambodia who are teaching about clean water. What we are doing is important for two reasons. First, it helps people to see, often for the first time, that there are actually bacteria in water that looks clear and beautiful. Second, it gives people here a tool so that they can monitor their water supply the same way that scientists in America monitor our water supply. This way, if the community knows that its water is clean, then the children can spend their time going to school and playing with their friends, rather than collecting fire-wood.

And you are part of this too. Every time you drink a glass of clean water from your kitchen sink you can remember how wonderful it is to have good water come right into your house. We know that it will be great when everyone in the world has clean water just like we do, but how is that going to happen? It will happen because we learn together and work together. And that is what the church is. We are a group of people who support each other all over the world to work together to help our neighbors. You help your next-door-neighbors right there in Bakersfield and you help your neighbors in Cambodia to have clean water through your prayers and learning and gifts.

I am strengthened each day with the knowledge of your faith and the ways you show caring compassion to each other and to your neighbors.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Strategic Planning

The Community Health and Agriculture Development program is richly blessed to be supported by so many people from around the world. Our staff of four people is made up of four different nationalities (Zimbabwe, Philippines, Cambodia and USA). In addition, we work with volunteer-in-mission teams from Malaysia, Singapore, and the USA. (And I'm not sure I can count all of the nationalities of the other missionaries and volunteer teams that work with other parts of the church.) For other partnerships, about 1/3 of our program funding comes from the 1000 member Methodist Church in Finland.

We appreciate not only their financial and prayer support, but also their support for planning. We have been working closely with our contact in Finland, Catarina, to develop a 3-year strategic plan for our program. Here is a summary of our vision, mission, goals and focus that have come out of that work. The activity plan is too detailed to post.

It has been a great exercise for our team, which has just doubled in size with the addition of Ken Cruz and myself as new missionaries. As a team with a diverse range of experiences, world views and thinking, this has been an important step as we learn how to work together to better serve the people of Cambodia.

CHAD Strategic Plan 2008-2010


Methodist Mission in Cambodia (MMC) churches engaging communities to experience wholeness of life as they witness to the transforming power of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Working within the Methodist Mission in Cambodia, CHAD seeks to share the love of God known through Jesus Christ in ways that create trust, hope and wholeness of life—physically, socially and spiritually.


Improved health and well-being of individuals, families and rural communities where the Methodist Mission in Cambodia works.

Strategic Focus

1. Empower churches with capacities and resources for leadership development of pastors and laity for wholistic ministry;

2. Empower communities through formation of community-based self-sustaining development groups in health, agriculture and livelihood;

3. Extend strategic linkages/partnerships of CHAD through formation of formal and non-formal partnership agreements and consitituency development through UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteer in Mission) teams;

4. Enhance internal organizational capacity by building and nurturing a strong, committed and God centered team and improving leadership, governance and accountability at all levels.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Binn Im's ministry

Binn Im is the assistant pastor at Prekedai Methodist Church in a village about an hour down some dirt roads outside the provincial city of Batambong in Cambodia. Binn Im's story begins several years back when she received a gift-loan of a pig to raise through her participation in the Women's Association of the United Methodist Mission Initiative in Cambodia. She struggled to care for the pig and overcame several obstacles, including the death of her second litter and slow weight gain, to pass on piglets to another woman in her community.

It was during this time that Binn Im was responding to the call to ministry in her life. She applied and was accepted to study at the Methodist Bible School in Phnom Penh, where her son was also a student. Last year she graduated and was appointed as assistant pastor to her current rural congregation.

Four months ago, Binn Im welcomed a medical mission team to her church through the UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteers in Mission) partnership with CHAD (Community Health and Agricultural Development). The medical mission was a success and many people in her village received care. Binn Im has been working since then to ensure that those who need follow-up care are able to make the difficult journey into the provincial hospital at Batambong or all the way to Phnom Penh and serving as a patient advocate for them.

In the meantime, Binn Im has also continued her own discipleship training by attending workshops with the CHAD partner organization "Cheas Ponleau" (Bright Light). At Cheas Ponleau she was introduced to the concept of a seed-project. This is an approach to development where pastors are encourage to facilitate a group project using local resources.

Binn Im recognized the suffering of people in her community during the rainy season when there is insufficient rice to eat and local merchants charge 100% interest for a short-term loan of rice. She had a vision to start a rice-bank on the church property. With the approval of her District Superintendent Rev. Treung Bunny, Binn Im worked with a group of 15 families in her community to construct a barn to store the rice on the church property.

One church member traveled to the mountainside for 2 day to cut the trees for the frame. Other families donated nails and bamboo slats as they were able. And all of the families worked together to weave the thatch pieces to create the roof and walls. In two weeks the community had together build a small barn to store rice, something none of them had the resources to accomplish alone.

Through several visits, CHAD staff continued to support Binn Im by facilitating community discussions about how to write by-laws to govern a rice-bank. The community discussed many potential pitfalls, and because of their experience working together to build the rice-barn, they had the confidence to devise solutions to foreseen challenges and commit to continue working together regularly to avoid those future un-foreseen challenges. Yesterday, CHAD also provided a gift-loan to enable the community to purchase the initial rice to start the bank.

Binn Im knows that this is not the end of the story; the rice-bank is not only a means to address poverty-alleviation for the current 15 families who form the rice-bank group, but also an exercise in discipleship. She is continuing to nurture the community, so that as their faith and the rice in the bank grows that new members can join and eventually (in three-four years) they we be able to split and establish a new rice bank for more neighbors.

We love because God first loved us. Through your generous gifts, Binn Im was mentored into her role as a pastor and has been able to begin her vision of a rice-bank in her community. And through your continued prayers, Binn Im and her community will grow in their faith and learn the joy of giving. CHAD staff will continue to walk this path with Binn Im and her congregation, starting with a workshop on water and hygiene in two months time and continuing as the community identifies needs and areas for partnership. We hope you will continue to walk with us too.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A week in the field

Saturday afternoon, March 15, 2008, I returned to Phnom Penh from four days in the field (my seventh week in-country), where Mr. Leng Thy (my CHAD program colleague) and I met with seven churches. I found the week's experience both sobering in the challenges and exciting in the prospects. Here are some pictures and my immediate reflections upon return to the city.

Cambodia is a country still visibly struggling to rebuild community trust, stability and self-sustenance after many years of civil war and foreign occupation. There is a strong sense in the poorest parts of the country of needing "relief" and looking to the West for that relief. For individuals who are Christian in this predominantly Buddhist country, there is sometimes a disquieting hope that since "now we are Christians ... you should provide for us." However, the urgent solicitation of Western relief, on whatever rationale seems promising, is not limited to the growing Christian communities. An edge of desperation among proud people and an urgent solicitation of the West seems to extend through every setting in the country where there is NGO work aimed at poverty alleviation.

Members of Toul Prom Methodist Church in Banteay Meanchey Province gather to discuss starting a cow-raising group.

A significant job for the CHAD program is to share about the concept of stewardship and why we, as Christians, need to nurture, sustain and expand the resources that have been entrusted to us so that we can share with others. Mr. Thy talks about a time when Cambodia was rich because people worked together, but now because of mistrust people are locked into poverty. It is from this starting place that CHAD works with church and community groups to start development projects. We ask the community to identify what needs it has and then what resources it has to begin addressing those needs. CHAD works together with the community to provide a gift-loan. It is called a gift-loan because the individual who is entrusted with the initial portion of money or, say, an animal is expected to return that to the group so that the gift-loan can be re-invested in the community, rather than being paid back to the donor.

The single disappointment of our work this last week comes from our visit to a church this Saturday morning. In 2006, there was a micro-credit project to provide loans to purchase fertilizer for families in a village in Kampang Chhnang. This community has been really struggling with the concept of a gift-loan. While some of the recipients of the initial fertilizer were able to pay back the loan in part, others could not, and yet others moved away. Part of the challenge I think is the vision of the money as belonging to CHAD and not to the community, so that direct recipients are not sufficiently motivated to re-invest in the community. There are other outstanding micro-credit loans that this community has from other NGOs with similar disappointments.

A young boy looks at rain water collected from the roof of Kangwa Church, Banteay Meanchey

Mr. Thy, the local pastor, the community and I couldn't come to any resolution about the next step to take in this instance. Mr. Thy and I are encouraging the local pastor to work on building trust and communication within the community through a small project, maybe around basket weaving, because now there is so much mistrust that the group members don't even attend meetings any more. This was my first introduction to a dysfunctional project. I know that they exist and that this particular situation is not at all representative of the micro-credit projects as a whole. What has happened in this community is disappointing, but for now I am trying to assess any mistakes that were made, so that we all can do better in the future.

The rest of the visits were extremely positive. CHAD worked with a community in Swaiant village in Batanmbong province starting in 2005 to establish a cow-raising group. When we visited this week, we met a five day old calf, the second to be born to this cow! This church community has worked well together for cow-raising and so we were excited to celebrate the beginning of a rice bank with 10 families.

A cow with her 5 day old calf. This is the second calf for this cow, so the husband and wife who are caretakers of the cow will get to keep it. Also pictured behind the cow is the pastor of Swaiant Church where this project originated.

The economics of rural Cambodia is that the primary source of income for farmers is selling their rice, which is usually harvested in December. Some of the rice is sold immediately after harvest, and some is kept to feed the family throughout the year. However, if the family needs money they will sell their stored rice. For this reason, there is a lot of hunger in the months of October through December before the new crop is harvested. The local merchants charge 100% interest on loans of rice taken at this time.

Unfortunately, no one family has the money to build a structure to store rice. In this community, the families had all contributed money to purchase the supplies for building a communal storage house for rice (about $5 per family). We observed the cement pillars that had been erected for the storage building and the palm trees selected to be cut down for further construction materials. Unfortunately, the community member who is skilled at planking palm trees has been sick with a fever and so the rice store is not completed. The community hopes he will recover soon and the families can finish building the structure in the next week.

CHAD provided the $750 in capital to purchase the initial store of rice. The group has established its bylaws and policies for loaning out the rice (at 30% interest, about 1/3 the rate offered by local merchants). The group hopes that in three to four years it will have doubled its rice and can use this to start a new rice bank. I was excited to listen to the families talk about how they hoped to use this rice bank to reach out in ministry to their community. They were realistic about the challenges and were committed to continue working together, expanding upon their initial success with the rice storage house.

Signing the contract for a Rice-bank at Bour Village, Banteay Meanchey Province.

Mr. Thy and I disbursed two other gift-loans for rice banks at and met with two other communities that are in the planning stages, one for a cow-group and one for a rice bank. The other visit was to follow-up with a cow group about what to do since the first calf that was born had a broken leg. The group agreed to sell this calf and to pass on the second one.

I was also able to test various water supplies available to communities include rain water, tube wells, open wells, truck-tank delivered water, and ponds. A picture of the biological water quality and options for improvement are starting to emerge.

Testing water from a pond that is the sole source of water for a household in Borvil Village, Battambang Province.

Up to now, I have been attending visiting local communities (within 1-2 hour drive) meetings with pastors, organizing our financial records and generally learning about the CHAD program. It was exciting to get out and visit more remote locations this week and hear directly from the people about their joys and their challenges. I can see that this will be a hard job. Mr. Thy teased me that some of these communities will give me a headache and that maybe when I return to the States for General Conference I will not want to come back! But I remain hopeful; there is important work for the church to do in Cambodia and I give thanks to God for my opportunity to participate in it.

More pictures (this time with captions!) can be viewed here.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Finding a routine

This last week I seem to have finally found a routine! I catch a tuktuk into work with Erica, an individual volunteer-in-mission at the dump-site orphanages. We join in morning devotions with the other staff and the young men who are studying mechanics for three months with the "Faith Engines" youth employment training program. Then I spend an hour studying Khmer with Jantein.

Office work still feels like orientation as I work with Mr. Thy to streamline the process for receiving and processing project proposals. We have been making more trips to visit existing agric- and micro-enterprise groups. We are also planning for two big 2-day workshops in March on Wholistic Development (particularly using local resources for small projects) for the Kandal and Kampang Chhnang districts, and I am getting ready for some workshops on water quality and sanitation with a local church and a pastor group.

This month we were also blessed by a Volunteers-In-Mission Team from the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church who came with a medical team to run a free health clinic at two churches in the Kampang Chhnang district. The medical clinics were well received and Missionary Irene Mparutsa, community health nurse for CHAD, is busy making sure that the individuals that need follow up care from the hospital here in Phnom Penh are getting the proper treatment.

The Louisiana team visit started with the dedication of a new church that was built with their support over the last two years. It was a wonderful experience to see that a conference that it still working on rebuilding the homes and churches damaged by hurricane Katrina is simultaneously reaching out in partnership with its neighbors on the other side of the globe. At the luncheon following the dedication service I sat with this group of high school students who were thrilled to practice their English with a native speaker for the first time.

From Dedication of...

At the end of the health clinic I was able to join the team as they traveled to Siam Reap to visit Angkor Watt and other temples. It was quite spectacular, much more than I expected. Here is an example of some of the beautiful bas relief carvings.

From Angkor Watt a...

I especially enjoyed Bayon Temple with its hundred faces.

As before, I have more (unorganized) pictures at

Monday, February 11, 2008

First Week in Cambodia

I arrived safe and sound in Phnom Penh during the Lunar New Year celebration, which was going on everywhere, including at the Independence Monument just one block from my hotel. The dragon dancers came to my hotel on Sunday.

Almost immediately, I was plunged into a workshop about the organization and direction of CHAD (Community Health & Agriculture Development), where I will work as an Agriculture Development Advisor. We had 31 participants including District Superintendents and pastors (top) who are members of the Social Concerns Committee.

My first week, I also headed to the rural countryside. Here's a church in the Kampong Chhnang Provence with a well and hand pump in front, reminding me of my time in Ghana where I tested well water. I've brought my water testing mobile lab with me to continue that work here.

Rev. Ean Houn (left) invited us for lunch in the cool breeze of his traditional stilt house.

We visited the church of Pastor Soeung Sopenh and saw the new cement bio-gas system that he and one of his church members had just built.

You can see more of my (unorganized) pictures at

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Preparing for Cambodia!

This is just a quick note about what’s happening with me as I enter the final two weeks of my preparations for going to Cambodia. I head from the family home here in Mill Valley to the San Francisco airport on Saturday evening, February 2. I will take an Eva Airways flight that leaves about midnight and travels through Taipei to arrive about noon in Phnom Penh on Monday, February 4, approximately 21 hours after departure.

When I returned to the States from Ghana last June, I almost immediately commenced work on my application for a position as a career missionary with the United Methodist Church. By mid September I was in upper New York State for orientation and on Oct. 9, 2007, I was officially commissioned by the General Board of Global Ministries. My first assignment (nominally for three years) is as an agriculture development advisor attached to the Methodist Mission in Phnom Penh. I will be part of the effort there known as CHAD, for Community Health and Agriculture Development. I will divide my time between the office in Phnom Penh and work in the rural countryside. The main task of my first ten weeks or so in-country will be learning the Khmer language.

In late June last year, as a member of the church’s Annual Conference for California and Nevada, I was elected to be first alternate lay delegate to the church’s Jurisdictional Conference in mid July in Portland, Oregon. I hope to attend this conference (which elects bishops), as well as the church’s quadrennial General Conference in April 2008 in Ft. Worth, Texas, but do not yet know whether either of these trips will be possible and practical to arrange.

Last September, I resumed my U.S. course work at Sacramento State in my masters degree program. That course work is now successfully completed. The remaining step in the degree program is formal approval, writing, and oral defense of a thesis. The data collection for the thesis research on well water quality in West Africa is complete. The next main step is the statistical analysis of the data. Before I leave for Cambodia, I hope to obtain the formal preliminary approval of my thesis subject and also to make substantial progress on the statistical analysis and initial drafting of the paper. I will need to make an oral defense of the paper at some point in the future during a return to the States from Cambodia.

For further information and posted photographs on my experiences in Cambodia, you should be able to check my blog, which I started in Ghana and will work to update from Cambodia. A further communication project on which I also plan to work is picture postcards. For a tax deductible donation of $50, which goes towards my support, I will mail each donor 10 picture postcards over the course of the year. You can subscribe to this by mailing a $50 check payable to Mt. Tamalpais United Methodist Church, 410 Sycamore Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941, with a check memo line annotation “Advance Special # 15187Z”,.

This is truly a Great Adventure. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.