Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Greetings from Cambodia

Plastic Christmas trees with glittery ornaments have been popular in the shops of Phnom Penh this December, but the anticipation and bustling preparations are distinctly missing. For me, listening to Handel’s Messiah and reading the lectionary every morning with my housemates has helped bring some definition to Advent here in the tropics.

It is the harvest season in Cambodia, and the rice fields have turned that lovely gold that glows in the dusk as the wind brings the weary workers home. But, there is also a somberness this year since so many fields were destroyed with the flooding. Thanks to donations from around the world, the Methodist Mission in Cambodia was able to distribute relief packages to more than 1000 families in November and this week again to nearly 800 more families in the impacted regions. About 10% of the farmers in the communities where we work have re-planted fields with dry-season rice, if they have sufficient access to water. There is a story from Mr. Thy on our CHAD blog about how church members in the village of Raksmei have shared their plots of land that are suitable for dry-season farming to highly-impacted neighbors who otherwise would have nothing this year.

The morning I sent funds to a new project group in Kampong Thom to purchase a water pump. Thank you to everyone who has contributed through Alternative Giving to support these projects this year. (There is still time to make a year-end donation!) While on a church visit last Sunday, Mr. Thy gave me an update of another irrigation group that was started 2 years ago in Svay Rieng. We helped the group to dig a deep irrigation-well and purchase a water pump. At harvest, each family in the group puts 100kg of rice into a savings fund for each hector of irrigated land. After 2 years of saving they were able to dig another irrigation well to expand the impact of their group in the village.

As this is my fourth year working in Cambodia, the sustaining joy of it is the transformations I am privileged to witness as leaders in the church experience new ways to live out their calling. These last two years I've had the joy of working with Rev. Sok Nora in the Kampong Speu district. I've come a long way from the feelings of frustration on my first monitoring visit to his church. But just as I have learned patience and better communication skills, Rev. Nora has also been expanding his vision. Mr. Thy has captured this in a profile of Rev. Sok Nora on our blog.

I've received several emails asking about how we celebrate Christmas in Cambodia. Local Methodist churches here hold Christmas programs throughout the month of December and even into January. It is a joyful time to take a break from the harvest and also to visit each other. This year I joined Toul Kork church in Phnom Penh to drive 2 hours out to the Kirirom church in the mountains of Kampong Speu. There were games for the children, a modern-day Cambodia interpretive play of the Prodigal Son by the youth of Toul Kork, songs by the men’s choir of Kirirom, a sermon from District Superintendent Hong Phally and the ever popular and delicious curry (both green & red varieties) with rice noodles. We finished off the day with fresh, organic bananas that had been harvested from the lay leader’s farm and then hung from trees around the church so that children could grab one as they ran by; they reminded me of piƱatas hung to tempt children with treats. The harvest was indeed plentiful!

In the face of adversity and the terrible realities all around us, I have found hope in the powerful witness of communities coming together. Together to re-plant the rice, to eat bananas and to rejoice in the coming of the Christ Child -- the reminder that God is with us even here, even now.

With joy and gratitude,

NEW Office: House #152 St. 12BT, Phum SanSom Kosal 4, Boeung Tumpun 5, Khan Meanchey Phnom Penh, Cambodia