Saturday, March 24, 2018


Did you know that my first Krispy Kreme doughnut was neither crispy (thankfully) nor cream-filled (less of a good thing; I am partial to cream-filled pastries)? Pressing past those unreasonable expectations set by the name, I remember my first bite of a Krispy Kreme doughnut being transcendent. I was an instant fan!

In those days, though, the nearest Krispy Kreme store was a couple of hours away. It was years before I had my second taste of Krispy Kreme. Then little by little, stores opened up nearer to me. The next time I had one, it was just as good as I remembered. Then Krispy Kremes started popping up everywhere. Grocery stores and gas stations and pharmacies started selling them. People brought them to meetings, church and school activities. And the most surprising thing happened: I got tired of Krispy Kremes. I’d eat one occasionally and enjoy it, but I stopped getting excited.

My journey with doughnuts loosely resembles my journey with the Bible. I’m certainly not claiming that Krispy Kremes are divinely inspired. I’m saying that at one point, every truth in the Bible was as yet unexplored by me. Now, after four years of seminary and another four years of ministry jobs—not to mention fifteen plus years of sermons, Sunday school, Bible studies, small groups, youth camps, etc.—I have more than a passing familiarity with it.

I remember a professor from my first year of seminary talking about how it was hard for him to read the Bible devotionally. He has spent decades studying, writing about and teaching the Bible for his work, and he often struggled to see what new thing the Bible had to say to his life on a given day. I have not studied the Bible as long or as intensely as my professor did, and I haven’t gone nearly as far as he has toward plumbing the depths of devotional truths from the Bible, but I can relate to his struggle. I do believe that familiarity with the Bible can sometimes make it hard to see with fresh eyes how the Spirit wants to use God’s word to shape us.

For me, I recently received those eyes from an unexpected source: reading the Bible in Khmer. I had some anxiety about how difficult it would be to read the Bible in Khmer, and it is certainly challenging. But it’s also been rewarding.

When reading the Khmer Bible for the first time, the first thing you notice is that there are many words that are different from everyday Khmer. That’s because Khmer uses a completely different vocabulary when talking about royalty. Not only does that apply to the many kings and queens of the Bible, but the most widely used translation applies the royal vocabulary to God and Jesus. It can be hard to read all the unfamiliar royal vocabulary, but it does make it easier to remember that Jesus came to earth to do more than be my friend. He came to establish a kingdom.

For example, consider the phrase from John 3:16 (I give credit to Lauren for this example): “God gave his one and only Son.” In America, I usually hear this verse preached in the context of the warm feelings that parents have for their children. In this reading, God’s plan is risky because it puts God’s only son, for whom he must have great affection, at risk. But Khmer uses the royal word for son here. The word could also mean prince or royal heir. The emphasis in the Khmer Bible is that God gave his only heir, the one who is supposed to carry on the royal line. God’s plan is risky because it puts the whole kingdom at risk.

Both American and Khmer cultures offer valid insights, but I would argue that this royal reading of John 3:16 probably offers more insight into the cultural context of the verse’s original audience. It is valuable to read these verses through the eyes of people more influenced by royal dynasties than by helicopter parenting.

In Cambodia, widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor still need protection. The spirit world is an everyday preoccupation. There are temples in every neighborhood, and most people make frequent offerings to stone idols. Daily bread (or in most cases, rice) is not at all a given. All of these things are major concerns of the Bible, but in the US, we usually either gloss over these passages or spend a lot of time contextualizing them to something that makes sense to us. But in Cambodia, many of these passages apply directly to the lives of Cambodians with little explanation needed. By reading the Bible in Khmer alongside Cambodians, I see significant themes in the Bible that are very hard to notice in an American context.

New words, interesting translation choices, and different grammar help me see things I’ve never noticed before in the Bible. In fact, just the act of having to read so much more slowly than I do in English, laboring over every word and trying to work out each phrase, helps me see new things.

You may not be able to learn a new language just for reading the Bible, but I encourage you to think about how you can find ways to see the Bible with fresh eyes. Try studying the Bible with someone of a different culture, perhaps by volunteering at a ministry that works with international populations. Ask people how their Bible translates certain words and what certain verses mean in their culture. You could experiment with reading a different English translation. This might make you slow down a bit and process what you are reading. Finally, as you shift into new seasons of your life, ask how old passages might have new relevance.

About a year or so after we moved to Cambodia, Krispy Kreme opened its first store here. I may have gotten tired of it in the US, but it was a sight for sore eyes in my new home. It had some new flavors that you won’t find in an American store (I’m looking at you, butter cheese doughnut; and don’t get me started on the pork floss doughnuts they sell at Dunkin’ Donuts in Vietnam; I could write a whole different blog post on that monstrosity), making it both new and familiar at the same time, and I could appreciate it in a new way in a new country. And most importantly, they have cream-filled doughnuts that aren’t crispy.

I pray blessings on your journey to find a perspective from which to read the Bible that lets it be both new and familiar to you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


As we mentioned before, we are working through the book of James with one of our Khmer language tutors. It's been a lot of fun to dig into the text as we learn what words the Khmer bible uses to translate verses, what Cambodian people might imagine when they hear these words, and how it is different than the ways we have thought about these verses when reading them in English in America.

We often share photos here on our blog, but we thought this week you might like to have a listen, instead of the usual take a peek.

Below is a video of James 1:1-4. You can see the passage in the Khmer language and hear Lauren reading it video below. 

Monday, February 5, 2018


Last week, we were invited to attend a meeting of the pastors that make up the leadership of the Cambodia Baptist Union. These pastors, from all over Cambodia, come to Phnom Penh once every month or every other month to pray for each other, fellowship and discuss CBU business.

We enjoyed attending this meeting for several reasons. First, we have been wanting to meet more of the pastors that we will be working with in the future. These connections should prove valuable as we transition into developing more ministry projects. Second, we were encouraged by the fellowship of these pastors. We worshiped together through song, through prayer and through hearing about the things God is doing through each of their ministries. Finally, we appreciated hearing their prayer requests. We have been praying for these pastors for a long time now, but to hear them share their requests directly made us feel even more a part of the work they are doing.

We were honored by the invitation to join (especially since it means that everybody thought our language skills were finally good enough to mostly keep up), and we hope that this is the first of many opportunities to encourage and be encouraged by our fellow Christian workers. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


If I were to describe 2016, our first full year here, it would go something like: hold on tight and put one foot in front of the other. Go to class, pass your tests, buy your groceries, don't let ants completely take over your apartment...and give up trying to have the energy for much more than that. Culture shock, construction zones, insane heat and the element of unknown mixed into every aspect of our life all combined to make 2016 overwhelming. The year became about showing up and praying for the best. For a chronic overachiever, it was a gut check to hope to only get by.

For me, though, 2017 was about roots. After barely surviving in 2016, I wanted to put down some roots and settle into life and work in Cambodia. Our community here, while still small, grew. Our love and understanding of the people in our church deepened. Our growing language and cultural understanding gave our interactions a lot more nuance. I started to love living in Phnom Penh. We spent the whole year without moving apartments (it's been a long time since that happened!). We bought a car and explored outside of our well worn pathswe saw some of the countryside and a few of the city's hidden corners. We even got to spend 3 months in the US connecting with friends, family and supporters which left us feeling deeply connected on both sides of the ocean.

2017 was still a very challenging, very humbling year, but it was about more than just not falling over. It was about stabilizing, sending down roots, going deeper.

Now that we are already a couple of weeks into 2018, I've spent some time thinking over the coming year, planning and setting goals. So, what's my hope for 2018? My hope for the year could be summarized by the word thrive. After hanging on and then sending out roots, I'm praying this year I'll see many of my relationships, goals and work sprout and send up green shoots. I hope our language abilities finally transition from being able to just communicate to being able to really listen and fully understand the Cambodians we have gotten to know or with whom we hope to build relationships. I hope it's a year where everyday life here not only doesn't drain me, but becomes normal enough that I have the energy to mine the environment around me for the gems of life and inspiration it holds.

As I have begun to absorb the culture on this side of the world, I've started to let go of making big, detailed plans for the days, weeks or even months ahead. I've started, instead, setting goals with an eye toward the next quarter or year, sometimes for the next few years. Before moving here, I never would've guessed it would take two years of ground work for me to even begin thinking about actively thriving here. But now? It makes sense.

I heard a story a while back about bamboo, and maybe you have heard it too. Apparently, there is a kind of Chinese bamboo that requires you to water it everyday, give it sunshine, and maintain it. But for the first whole year there's no noticeable growth. The same goes for the second year. And the third whole year! You constantly care for it, but there are no signs of life above the soil. Yet, in the forth year, a sprout appears and before you know it, the shoot doubles and triples each week until it has grown over 90 feet in 6 weeks.

(Full disclosure: some further internet research gives me some conflicting ideas about how factually true this story is, but I'm going to run with it anyway! It's at the very least a good parable.)

I won't push the metaphor too far, as we have seen some sprouts from our work in much less than 4 years, but this story resonated with me. Sometimes there is a lot of work that has to take place underground before you have any evidence of growth, and sometimes that work takes whole years. It takes patience and faith and a hand to the plow. But one day, Lord willing, those sprouts do come up above the soil. Eventually you have a tall, sturdy, thriving tree.

So, this year I am hoping, praying and working towards thriving. I hope you thrive this year, too. If you're not there yet, take heart. God meets you in the hanging on and the below-the-surface years, too. But, in 2018, I'm praying the ground is finally stirring under us all.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


This Christmas night is a holy Christmas (a holy Christmas)
The very first Christmas, born on a cold night (on a cold night)
The shepherds, some guarding, some sleeping (That’s right!)
Suddenly an angel appeared in the sky.

The above is a translation of the first verse of first Khmer Christmas song I learned (you can listen to it here). We sung this song for the first time last Sunday, and it is meaningful to me because it represents my journey of celebrating Christmas in Cambodia.

We arrived in Cambodia in late October 2015. We had just a few weeks before the Christmas season started. With the heat, the lack of knowledge about where to go Christmas shopping and the exhaustion from adjusting to a new country, we did not do any Christmas preparations beyond buying two short strings of lights to hang on the wall. We didn’t even go to our church’s Christmas service, since it was early in December and we had to make a quick trip across the border. It wasn’t a bad Christmas, but we had some definite limitations. It was the least Christmasy that Christmas has ever felt. (If you want to revisit that Christmas, here’s a link to the blog I wrote about it at the time.)

Christmas 2016 was a little better. We had gotten our feet under us by that point. We got a tree and some ornaments. Decorations went up early enough to enjoy them. Lauren and I got each other presents. We made it to the Christmas service. My parents were here visiting. There were so many more of those elements that I have come to expect from Christmas.

If 2015 was about surviving Christmas, and if 2016 was about making our own Christmas traditions, then 2017 has been about starting to understand what it means to embrace the Cambodian way of doing Christmas. We are talking to more Khmer Christians about their Christmas traditions, being grateful for those who celebrate with family in their hometown and praying for those who are the only believer in their family. We enjoyed watching our own church plan a mini-Christmas pageant (I graciously declined the role of the angel). And of course, we learned our first Khmer Christmas song.

We are also discussing with our partners how to participate in their annual Christmas Trip. The Christmas Trip seeks to provide a Christmas worship service to as many of the Baptist churches around Cambodia as possible. If there is some way in which we can come alongside the leadership of the CBU as they implement this program, it could be a great opportunity to support Cambodian Baptist pastors.

Of course, we still keep as many of our familiar Christmas traditions as possible. The smell of cider and the sound of our favorite Christmas songs flow throughout our house. We will get to visit with family again this year. And even though evergreens aren’t exactly native to the tropics, we will still proudly display our little Christmas tree.

But as our new song reminds us, we are now set to embrace more than before the reality that we celebrate Christmas in Cambodia now. And there is much to learn from the Cambodian way of doing Christmas. This Christmas night is a holy Christmas indeed, no matter where we find ourselves living when it comes around.

From our family to yours, we wish you a very merry Christmas. And we hope that you too would find new ways to stay true to the best Christmas family traditions while also being open to the ways that the kingdom and mission of Jesus could change the way you celebrate his birth.

Monday, December 4, 2017


A few weeks ago, during a break in classes, we got outside the city to explore the province of Kampong Cham (about two and a half hours outside of Phnom Penh).  One of our favorite things about the trip was getting a chance to learn about and explore the rubber plantations and factories there.

The rows and rows of rubber trees were sights for sore eyes. 

A section of bark is scraped away, and the sap trickles down into the bowls. Workers were out walking between the trees collecting the sap. 

From there we went to a rubber factory. We had read they allowed visitors to come tour the facility, but we didn't really know how to get the ball rolling with that. We practiced a speech in Khmer, drove up to the gate, and got the guard's attention while fully expecting him to tell us we were crazy and that we could not go inside. Instead, before we could get a word out, he waved us in the gate, pointed to a parking space and got us signed in. The "tour" consisted of giving us badges that said "guest" and pointing us in the direction of the factory. Thankfully with a bit of Khmer, some outgoing factory workers and a bit of imagination, we learned quite a bit about the process of making rubber. 

Tanks of sap from the rubber trees are hauled in on trucks and dumped into these shoots. This part was pretty stinky!

With a bit of time, the water in it sinks to the bottom and the rubber floats to the top. The top portion gets skimmed off and pushed on to the next stage...

Here it gets washed and squished. Next it gets baked in giant ovens. 

A bit of rubber before and after it gets baked. The color and texture changes quite a bit. 

Finally the rubber gets weighed and compressed into large bricks. These were then picked up, bagged, and stacked in crates to be exported. I asked the small, older man who was picking them up without much effort how much they weighed—about 75 pounds each it turned out! We were told that Cambodia does not currently have facilities to further process the rubber. So, it gets exported out as raw rubber and imported back in as tires, erasers, shoes, etc. 

While at first we felt a bit awkward walking around the facility while everyone was working, we had a lot of fun learning and exploring. 

Friday, November 17, 2017


We had always planned on eventually buying a car here in Cambodia. Life was so overwhelming when we first moved here that we decided to wait a while to buy a car. I ran errands around the neighborhood on foot. We found a tuk tuk driver who was honest and reliable (after a bit of trial and error). David got a bicycle. Yet, as life and ministry here has started to shift and as our partners and church moved to the outskirts of the city, we decided it was time to get a car. But just buying groceries in Cambodia can be complicated, so where would we even start when buying a car?

I met another expat who used a “fixer” to help buy a reliable car. This fixer is an English “car guy” who speaks Khmer fluently and understands the complicated process of buying a car in Cambodia. We crossed our fingers that he would be all we needed to navigate this process.

We were incredibly thankful for our fixer. He took us to look at some cars, poked at their insides and laughed when they let out scary noises. When he said, That’s not good, we thanked the dealer and moved on. When we found a promising car, he took us to Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium for a test drive. I hadn’t considered how we would do a test drive when traffic and small roads make reaching even 20 miles per hour difficult. He confidently gunned it around the parking lot, slammed on the breaks a few times and tested the suspension on the muddy potholes. Meanwhile, I sat in the back trying not to giggle at the absurdity/hilarity of doing all this in the middle of the day in a full parking lot.

Our fixer fixed many things for us, but we still had to figure out much ourselves. We had to endure several lines and a frozen computer at the bank to pay the road tax. Then we had to figure out drivers’ licenses. We made two trips, each an hour long, to the Ministry of Transportation, while trying to figure out what the right documents are and what we had to do to acquire them. Once there, we wandered around the massive complex trying to learn the steps in the process (including lots of polite smiling and a ridiculously easy eye exam) and how to accomplish them.

We had to do all this before I even started learning how to actually drive here! Since then I’ve learned how traffic works in Phnom Penh, how and where to get gas, and how to get a car wash to keep all the mud from clogging things up. I had to get better at backing into tiny parking places here because everyone backs into spaces—not my favorite cultural quirk. I even learned how to park the car in neutral so parking guards can roll parked cars around like slide puzzles to let other cars out (it involves a hidden button I never knew existed).

Driving is still a bit overwhelming and draining for me, but now that the majority of the learning is done, I love having a car. I love being able to make long trips in an air-conditioned car instead of a hot, bumpy tuk tuk. I love getting where I want to go without telling anyone else where or why I’m going. Yet, the process of getting and driving a car here is a powerful reminder that there is always something new to learn.

I’ve learned so many big and small things in the last two years since moving here. I distinctly remember on our very first full day in Cambodia, a year before moving here, having one main task for our morning: conquering crossing the street. Now I’m out there conquering the limits of my spatial reasoning by edging our little RAV4 through our neighborhood traffic pit. Similarly, Facebook just reminded me that I started Khmer language classes for the first time 2 years ago today. I knew exactly 2 words. This week I’ve spent hours upon hours having conversations entirely in Khmer at church, at the bank, at church and in class.

Admittedly, it’s sometimes a bit frustrating how little I get to revel in the feeling of mastery in my life here. I work really hard to figure something out, to get good at it, to conquer the fear of it. Yet, I never get to feel like an expert—before the accomplishment can sink in, it’s back to square one with a new task.

I do wish I could navigate my world with less thought and energy, but I do see the upside. First of all, constantly starting over with a new process or task to master keeps me humble. More than that, though, restarting the learning process again and again reminds me that almost anything is possible with enough work, help and prayer. Everything starts small. Three years ago I crossed the street. Two years ago I sharpened my pencils and went to class for the first time. Today I’m a traffic-driving, Khmer-speaking resident of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and I’m on the look out for what I’ll be learning and figuring out next.