Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Visiting the vulnerable in Cambodia

Christianity only became legal again in Cambodia in 1992, but I have never really focused on persecution faced by folks that choose into this new faith. I was visiting a church this Sunday to give them encouragement and we were talking about reaching out and visiting the lowest people in their community (a difficult discussion for me, personally, to be having with folks who are very poor farmers themselves to start with). I asked if there were any AIDS patients in their village, and if people looked down on them as shameful. They said, yes, and that they had been visiting them. But then they went on to tell me that actually, some AIDS patients looked down on Christians. I was really shocked because it gave me some perspective as to the persecution that Christians here face.

Thank you for your continued prayers and notes of encouragement, it means a lot to me and it means a lot to folks in Cambodia when I can share with them that they are not alone in these struggles. Thank you also for your continued financial contributions, even in these challenging economic times, to enables us to continue this work.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Language update

I am almost finished with Book Two for learning reading and writing in Khmer, so my teacher asked me last week about what I wanted to study next. Basically, she told me that I am doing fine with reading and writing, but my conversation skills are lagging behind. This is understandable since I work in an English language office and always travel with a translator when I go to the field.

Last weekend, I took a plunge and decided to travel to the province of Kampong Chhnang by myself. On Saturday, I visited the church of Lun Sokom. About a year ago, they started a saving group in the church. The 20 members of the group (both Christians and non-), each save 1000 reil ($.25) every month. They have also been giving out small loans of about $15-25 to the members (repayable in three months). Three members took loans last year in order to buy feed to start raising chickens. They pay 3% interest. According to an earlier plan, they would start the savings group and after they demonstrated its success, then CHAD would come in to provide additional capital, which would allow the group to give larger loans out to the members. I went to evaluate their progress and also to introduce the curriculum "Mobilizing the Church," which is a Bible study designed to facilitate group formation.

Lun Sokom has relativly good English and said I didn't need to bring a translator. Turns out, he was a great Khmer teacher. He forced me to speak as much as possible in Khmer and also to listen hard to the group (only translating enough back to English so that I didn't lose the thread of the conversation). I probably only actually understood about 10-20% of the dialogue, but it was enough to know that they were on track and would continue to work on the suggestions I introduced.

On Sunday, I joined church at Plau Nou Chivet (Way of Life). While I still don't actually understand most of the hymns, I am getting much better at reading and singing along and can catch about one-half of the words.

I then went on to Solong Kandal Church where we continued with the "Mobilizing the Church" study. I brought a local translator, Nara, with me. He was a good group leader and we had a very dynamic workshop. But he didn't do so well as a translator. He kept forgetting to keep me in the loop. So, I just had to struggle along with my own understanding for most of the day. (Luckily, I basically knew what we were doing.) The congregation at this church is really warm and welcoming, and I always feel like a member of the family when I visit.

Last time I visited Solong Kandal (church of Pastor Sophean), we talked about the past outreach activities of the church and a bit about their future plans. Currently, they worship in the house of one of the members. It is a very simple house, the type that is often translated into English as a "cottage." (The house has walls made from woven palm leaves, rather than bamboo slats or wood. It also has a metal roof, which is nicer than thatch, but hotter than tile.) The church members are very active and have worked hard to raise funds themselves for various things. They are engaged in a lot of visitation (to the poor, alcoholics, etc.).

This time we were talking about "outsiders" and how we can be more welcoming to folks different from us. It really struck me about how marginalized Christians are in Cambodia when I asked about visiting people with AIDS. They said that there are folks with AIDS in their community and that, yes, they have gone to visit them. I asked if they experienced that people sometimes look down on people with AIDS. They said yes, but also that sometimes the people with AIDS looked down on the Christians!

They have also been collecting rice through a first-fruits offering. Recently, they sold a portion of their rice and bought a small paddy field (50 square meters) for $580. It will be used to grow rice to raise additional money for the church. They are asking CHAD to partner with them to purchase some farm equipment (such as a hand tractor or threshing machine) that they can rent out as a small business venture to raise funds for the church. Since this is a much more costly investment than CHAD usually engages in (about $3000), we are moving very slowly and making sure that everything is in place first.

From a learning perspective, I was feeling really proud since I went by myself. Even though I still can't actually follow the conversation, I was able to pick out a lot of words and when I knew the big picture I could keep up in a way. It also gave me more confidence to travel by myself and to use pastors or local translators rather than bringing someone with me from Phnom Penh.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Dry season activities in Cambodia

February is "rodou broamg" (dry season), which is also the wedding season since the rice harvest finished in January. So, in a country where the majority of people are under 30, you can imagine how busy (and joyful) this season is. I see at least 2 or 3 ceremonies taking place every day no matter what part of the country I am visiting.

Here in the Community Health & Agricultural Development (CHAD) program, we continue on! We have almost finished the Theology of Development training for the pastors in Battambong and are investigating which district to target next. Good Samaritan Health Training is going in the Kandal district, and Local Social Concerns Committees are being organized in Svay Reine and Kompong Thom districts. The recent result of all of these trainings? 2 new rice banks, a savings & credit group and a water distribution system for an arsenic-contamination prone region. You can support this work with your donation.

with love & gratitude,