Friday, January 29, 2010

Reflections on January 2010

According to my Grandfather Wendell, one of the Methodist traditions for pastors is to keep a weekly journal. I think John Wesley kept a very detailed daily journal, which prompted this tradition. I keep a day planner with my notes for meetings and notes from meetings, workshops, etc., but I haven’t had the discipline of sitting down and reflecting from time to time about what has been accomplished. Actually, I don’t do a very good job of writing up reports from my field visits either. I just trust that I get enough down in my diary that I can later remember. But I’m trying to do better. As a trial, I am reporting on this month’s activities here on my blog.

So, January. I've moved into a new shared housing arrangement with my friend Heng, a professional Khmer woman who is about my age. This has been a lot of work, since we had to make a lot of improvements to make the house more livable. A contractor came in to install three new sinks (How can you build a bathroom without a sink?) and a better shower, etc., as well as mosquito nets for the windows. The nets couldn ’t be installed right away so there were two miserable weeks where I would coat myself in bug spray. It was also a bit disturbing because birds kept flying into the house. A mouse also came in. All of that has been fixed now and the house is much more comfortable. One of the missionary families here has moved on to another country of service, and I inherited some things from them, including a refrigerator, washing machine and some rattan furniture. I still need to hook up the washing machine and get new cushions made for the chairs. We are waiting for the power company to come and improve our power supply so that we can run these appliances. I am also still borrowing a gas burner from my cook Sochiet, and I need to make arrangements to get one for myself. I’m not great at managing my own house, but I am making do and I’m glad to have a friend living in the apartment downstairs. I don’t feel quite so alone.

In January, I also started working on all of our reports during the first week, especially preparing our financial records for an audit. Unfortunately, I haven't been working fast enough, since here it is the end of the month and the reports are still not done. I also edited a draft of CHAD's new memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Agriculture. My biggest accomplishment for the first week was the preparation of a yearbook for the Social Concerns Committee for the Khmer Methodists. The yearbook includes copies of all the previous minutes, as well as guidelines and forms for starting new projects and monitoring existing ones. It has been great to get all of these documents compiled and assembled into a single book.

Things really started to pick up in the second week. I met with the pastors' coordinating committee in Kampong Speu. We discussed a plan for how I would work with pastors in this district, at least for the first quarter, but hopefully this will lay the groundwork for the rest of this year. We agreed to study the "Theology of Development" curriculum together and that I would facilitate the "Mobilizing the Church" curriculum at three locations for six churches, with the intention of forming local Social Concerns Committees in these locations.

The national Social Concerns Committee meeting occurred over two days. We reviewed 2009 and made a plan for 2010. I am very happy that we have some specific training goals in place and I hope that the members will get more involved in project monitoring this year. The second day, my colleague Mr. Thy also provided a lesson on record keeping for savings and credit groups.

In the middle of the second week of the month, we started receiving news about Haiti and our friends there. This was a difficult emotional roller coaster with no news and then good news and then bad news. While I am overjoyed that Jim Gulley , my friend and mentor and adviser to CHAD, was rescued from the rubble, the joy is dampened by the loss of two wonderful colleagues with whom Jim was trapped for 55 hours, ClintRabb and Sam Dixon, and the enormous damage and loss throughout Haiti.

I traveled on two successive January weekends up to Kampong Chhnang to visit with two churches there, twice each: Solong Kandal and Methodist Amen. The goal was to continue the Bible study on "Mobilizing the Church." We also joined together in prayers for Haiti. Solong Kandal has taken up a small offering, which we will send on to Haiti. The second weekend, we thought we would be joined by a small volunteer team from the United States. In the end, the US team couldn’t join us, but we still had a really productive time together. At both churches, we talked in part about the importance of small group study. Despite every one's busy schedules, many of the church members committed to try and get together during the week for just a half hour or hour to re-read the scripture from the previous Sunday and pray together. At Methodist Amen, the youth also organized a hygiene outreach to treat the hair of local children for lice. The highlight for me of the visit, though, was eating curry with the members of Solong Kandal. Yum yum!

Prayers for Haiti dominated my third week of January, but we also set aside time to make the annual plan for CHAD. Vannak is working on making wall calendars for us with the plan highlights for each month, so we can stay focused and keep each other up to date with our various travel plans. Wednesday, I had dinner with a visiting team from Switzerland (and a few French folks, too). Thursday, I had lunch with an UMVIM team from Virginia and Western Pennsylvania.

On Monday and Tuesday of the fourth week, Mr. Thy and I started the "Theology of Development" training with the pastors in Kampong Speu. I should perhaps write a whole entry just about the new insights I learned about Khmer culture through this study with them. We covered two lessons: "Biblical Worldview" and "The Extravagant Love of God." The pastors engaged quickly and we spent the second afternoon on the very challenging task of critically applying the lessons to our own lives and work.

Along the same lines of making our annual plan, on Wednesday I had another meeting about how to better coordinate between some of the work that various missionaries do, especially with the women’s program. I had another meeting on Thursday, looking towards the future of CHAD in 2011 and beyond.

Which bring us to today. I’m still hoping to finish the financial report this weekend, so I can submit it on Monday and clean up, organize, and file the oh-so-many papers and notes. I met with and need to document the visits of several folks coming toPhnom Penh for medical care, including one lady from Kampong Chhnang, two man from Kampong Speu, and one lady from outer Phnom Penh. I also received a few updates about repayment of loans into rice banks. there are some challenges with delayed repayments of small business loans, as well as a query about how to reinvest profits from a water filter project into a new project for the district. I’m also working currently to help Daneth get ready to go from Cambodia to Japan in April for a year of leadership training at the Asian Rural Institute. I am also trying to help Daneth to improve her story telling, but we could use another editor. If you are motivated, I am seeking a volunteer that could work with Daneth to edit the "stories of transformation" that she has written about her work with the women's livelihood development projects.

This fall I will be back in the United States to visit churches. I’m starting to contact folks and block out dates for when I will be in which states. (Probably, no visit to California this time, though.) I was excited to receive a note that another church, First United Methodist of Sunnyvale has agreed to start a covenant relationship with me.

My language lessons continue, as often as they can (16 lessons this month). I am really proud of my progress. I can now actually carry on a decent conversation with my tutor, and I can facilitate some of the "Mobilizing the Church" Bible studies by myself in Khmer. I often, though, still need Daneth to translate Khmer to English (or at least Khmer to simple Khmer), because I can’t understand much of what folks in the villages say. When I stopped by the Bible school yesterday, every one of my pastor friends that I passed by made a comment about my improvements. It was good motivation. Last night, my friend Heng gave a very moving testimonial about why she became a Christian. I was glad to be there to support her.

It has been a great month!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cambodia updates

My prayers continue to go out to the people of Haiti and the tremendous loss, especially the family of my co-worker Sam Dixon and to Clint Rabb, who was still in critical condition in Florida last I heard. I am glad to be part of a church family that has been and will continue to be actively involved together with our members in Haiti for the improvement of the country. for updates.

On the other side of the world, 2010 has started off at a sprint. The annual report is not yet done for 2009, but the planning meeting with the Social Concerns Committee was great and I've already got the first quarter of workshops scheduled in Kampong Speu with 6 churches and the district pastors' group in addition to ongoing work in Kampong Chhnang and some tentative plans in Kampong Thom. We're also getting ready to host our first volunteer team on Wednesday. I'm really excited! You can be too with a donation.

This month is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, or so I've been told. My awareness has been heightened as to the real and present danger for young Khmer women and so I wrote about some recent experiences. Thanks for reading.

I'm actually just getting back from spending the day up in Kampong Chhnang at Solang Kandal Church. We shared a bible study on leadership looking at Deborah, Esther and Ruth and made plans for a workshop the following weekend. The church members decided to hire one of the poorest women in the community to make snacks for the morning break. Of course I knew that this was the mother of the young girl who had heart surgery last summer. The church members went off in search of her so that I could meet her again. It was the real highlight of the weekend. She was smiling, her face was filled out and her color was good. Her mother reported that the
January checkup was good. She was looking more cheerful and healthy than I had ever seen her. What joy!

with renewed hope,

Friday, January 15, 2010

Human trafficking and a women's hostel in Phnom Penh

My cousin Wes sent me this article on Human Trafficking and it got me thinking about recent experiences that I have had.

I love going to the Tropical Oasis Spa down by the Toul Tem Pong market. It certainly is not as upscale as some others, but I like to support the young women who are studying there. It is part of an NGO run by friends of mine that works with at-risk girls and those who have escaped from trafficking. There is a great cafe downstairs and I often run into other friends from around town.

The Methodist Mission in Cambodia has a similar training program in beauty, cooking and sewing skills for at-risk young women. It is called Emmaus. Last year, we held a two-day meeting of the Social Concerns Committee (SCC) at the center to expose more of the Cambodian pastors to the program so they know about the opportunity as an option for at-risk young women in their communities. It is a great program and I love visiting its relaxing and beautiful campus. It is a bit out of Phnom Penh, so I've only been a few times. They work hard to help the girls with job placement and just submitted a proposal to CHAD to help some of the graduates with loans to set up their own businesses. The goal in part is to enable young women to return to their villages, rather than stay in Phnom Penh to look for work. I really hope we can fund them.

I also started going to a Monday night prayer group. It is held at the home of a man who works for World Vision on advocacy about trafficking. He has been educating me bit by bit about the situation in Cambodia and in Southeast Asia. While I know that trafficking is a reality here in Cambodia, I usually don't think too much about it. A recent incident, though, has forced me to.

The 10th grade daughter of a church worker I know was waiting at the side of the road in a dark section of Phnom Penh to be picked up to go home after an event. A moto-dop (motorcycle taxi) pulled up. He looked legitimate and she decided to get a ride with him rather than waiting for her arranged ride to come. Quickly, she realized that he was not going in the right direction. He took her to a house and locked her up in a room. Later, she met other girls who were also locked up and who had had similar experiences. They were awaiting transport to Thailand for prostitution.

The church worker's daughter had some advantages that others did not. Because she was waiting for someone to pick her up, family and friends realized right away that she was missing. The church called together a prayer meeting. The church members put out posters and the moto-dop drivers in the church started asking around.

A few days later, her captors said that holding her was too much trouble and they let her go!

The family is not talking much about it, and even though I was just at the church either shortly before or after the kidnapping, (I'm not sure of the exact timing), nothing was mentioned to me. I think there is shame associated with the situation and the church and friends want to minimize that for the girl and her family. I know she wants to continue with her studies.

What would have happened if they didn't have a church community to work together and come to her aid? What about all of the other women who are being held? I know intellectually that Phnom Penh is a dangerous place for young Khmer women, but this seemed really close to home.

The young women from the Emmaus Center have been living two by two when they come to Phnom Penh, but the situations are not optimum. The Women's Program has been praying about starting a hostel where 20 or so of them can live together (both Emmaus graduates and those who come to Phnom Penh to attend college). The reality of the work situation is that the young women often have to work on Sundays, so they can't participate in a regular worship community. A house would give them solidarity and support for each other and a place where they could continue their spiritual development. Yesterday, I heard that the house next to mine might be available for rent, and I thought of it as a possibility.

I have also been praying recently about how I might be more involved with spiritual development of young women in Cambodia. Maybe this is an opportunity. There is still quite a bit of planning that needs to be done, and this is really just the first glimmer of an idea. We would need to raise the funds for maybe two years of rent up front to give the project a chance to become self sustaining. The girls in the house would initially be responsible for water, electricity, and food. We have other hostels around Phnom Penh that have been very important outreach ministries to youth, so we have a good model of how it could work.

Please pray for the Women's Ministry of the Methodist Church in Cambodia, for how the ministry might best be expanded with young women, particularly those at risk. And, please pray for me, also, that I might have clarity about how I can be involved.