Sunday, September 17, 2017


I bought a bicycle last year so that I wouldn’t have to rely on tuk tuk drivers to take me everywhere. I hoped to have more independence, and it did indeed feel good to get myself where I needed to go. But there was another benefit of riding a bike that I didn’t expect. From the perspective of my bike, I got insight into Khmer culture that I never could have gotten any other perspective.

So what did I learn about Cambodia from atop my mighty metal steed?

Traffic laws in the US more closely resemble the laws of mechanics, as with a clock. Traffic has many different parts that must work together. Drivers must know a complex set of formal rules before entering the realm of driving. When everybody follows the rules, they are usually able to efficiently turn in and out of each other like interlocking cogs. However, if one part gets out of place, it can bring the rest of the machine to a grinding halt.

Traffic laws in Cambodia (not the official laws but rather the laws that people actually follow) resemble the laws of hydrodynamics, as with a river. Rules dict
ate the flow of the river, but not the same rules that dictate the work of a machine. Traffic’s goal is to continue moving forward, and when obstacles attempt to impede its progress, it flows around the obstacle in whatever way it can. This is not as fast or efficient as US traffic at its best, but it is more adaptable to changing conditions.

In the US, people rely on the rules to know what to do. Who has right-of-way, when do I come to a complete stop, what is the speed limit, when can I cross the lines on the road, when can I pass other cars? Don’t worry, there’s a rule for each of those situations. When people break the rules, other drivers get upset because it endangers not only safety but the entire flow of traffic.

In Cambodia, the official rules are often little more than suggestions. So how do you navigate right-of way, passing, intersections and other interactions with your fellow road warriors? The way you navigate most things in Cambodia: you negotiate. I started to notice the subtle ways people watched each other, silently communicating, “It’s my turn,” “You’re too big to fit quickly, so I’ll go ahead,” or “I’ll leave a space here or slow down so you can go.” Like other negotiations, if you’re not confident, others will take advantage of you. If you are, you’re invited to play the game.

Because Cambodian rules are so flexible, there is almost no road rage. That alone makes Cambodian traffic worth paying attention to.

To get home, I usually have to turn left onto a busy street for a block, and then make another left turn into our apartment building. The first few times, I waited for the traffic to clear just enough for me to cross to the other side of the street, turn left, go one block, then cross back over traffic to get to my apartment. Those final maneuvers took as long as the rest of the trip to that point.

Then I realized that no Cambodian would ever do that. They would stay on the left side of the street, driving straight into oncoming traffic, especially if it’s just for one block. The first time I tried biking into oncoming traffic, I was nervous, but I no more disturbed traffic than a salmon disturbs a river by swimming upstream. People flowed around me without the slightest hint of annoyance.

Americans usually value efficiency, speed and clear-cut rules, and they avoid ambiguity. They are usually willing to sacrifice personal interaction and adaptability to achieve this. Cambodians usually value the ability to negotiate so that everybody gets to walk away with something. They value the ability to adapt to situations because you never know what will come up. They are willing to sacrifice speed, efficiency, and black-and-white rules to achieve this.

When I first saw the traffic in Cambodia, I thought it was chaotic. But appearances can be deceiving. There is more order to it than meets the eye, but its order reflects Cambodian culture more than American culture. By getting on a bike and entering the flow of traffic, I have been able to enter the flow of the culture. By getting out there and living my life in Cambodia, I have been able to enter the culture in other ways as well.

Of course, some days the culture kicks your butt, like the day that my bike got stolen. Some days, entering the culture is less of a rewarding process. All you can do is buy a new bike (and a bike lock) and get back into the flow.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


This past week has been a full one for us, and the highlight of the whole thing has been getting to celebrate the inauguration of the Cambodia Baptist Union's new multi-purpose building. We've been using the building for a couple of months now, but this was the official opening ceremony. This building has been a dream for our partners for a long, long time and it was incredible to watch the celebration of this dream come to fruition.

Hundreds of people came from all around Phnom Penh and almost every province in Cambodia to celebrate, worship and eat together. I think we all came away from the day encouraged by God's faithfulness and excited about the future of ministry here in Cambodia.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


As we have mentioned to many of you, singing has been one of the hardest things for us to catch on to at our Cambodian church. The songs are Khmer tunes with Khmer words, and because of the way Cambodians pronounce words differently when they speak and when they sing, it's very hard for us to learn a song without seeing the words.

A good example of this is the offering song at our church. Every week we sing the same song as the offering bag goes around. Unlike when we sing at the beginning of the service, though, we don't use the hymnals to sing this song. Everyone knows it by memory. We picked up a phrase or two per verse, but after a year and a half we really wanted to learn that song.

We noticed that guests from other churches would always know and sing along to the song, so we figured the song must be fairly well known. Now that we have a teacher who is working with us on Christian language, we asked him about song. He knew it also and brought us a copy of the lyrics.

We are still working to commit the whole song completely to memory, but we now understand it all and can sing along for at least most of the verses. Now that we know the title of the song, we can even find YouTube versions of the song. For a peek at what offering time at our church is like, here's a video we found of a Cambodian house church singing Dong-vay Khnom Thway:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Last week we showed you a peek from our ride to church, and this week we wanted to give you a glimpse inside the new building (you will have to wait to see the completed exterior because with all the rain we keep forgetting to take pictures).

The inside of the building is beautiful and spacious. Each week new touches have been added, an interior door one week, railing the next, and this week the small stage/platform and cross. Best of all this sanctuary space is a great place for the church to grow. This week a couple rows of extra chairs were added once everyone arrived, and we anticipate that over the years the room will fill up.

And, as a bonus, Philip, who is always down for a picture!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


I've always loved the fall. Now, yes, I love leaves changing colors and the brisk changes in temperature, but that is not what I am talking about here. I have always loved the fall as in the fall and the spring semesters, or more plainly, the back-to-school season.

Growing up in Texas, there was nothing about the month of August, when school started, that felt like autumn. It was often the hottest month of the year. Yet even though the high temperatures carried on just the same, there was a change in the air. We bought some new, back-to-school clothes, sharpened up our pencils and got a fresh start on a new grade. Even when I was going back for a new year at a school I had been at for years, with the same friends, it all felt new and exciting. After years of schooling, it was that rhythm of fresh starts and returning to familiar routines that I missed most when I was no longer a student.

We have been back in Phnom Penh for a little over a month know (hard to believe!), and as people on both sides of the ocean have been asking us what it feels like to be back, the thing that has come to mind the most is that it feels like going back to school after a busy summer.

My new "school supplies" lined up and ready to go!

It actually feels really good to be settled back into our lives here. Living in Phnom Penh feels both more like home and more like a fun adventure than before. We were away so long, and it felt good to return to this place.

Even though we were thoroughly worn out by our busy summer, we are now excited about returning to regular routines here. While the temperatures seem as hot as ever, the feeling that something new is starting up again has put an extra pep in my step. I've got new energy for studying. We are tackling some of the big tasks that we never had time for before we left (like buying a car). And, we are using some of this extra optimism and fresh perspective to come up with new routines and structures to help us work hard, enjoy life here and rest well.

It also feels like we aren't total newbies anymore. Whether it's kindergarten or your freshman year in college, the first year of anything is hard! Even though we've lived in Cambodia for a little over a year and a half already, it feels like we are back for a second "grade", or a second term. Somedays we still feel like we don't know much, but we do know some things. We aren't as wide-eyed and overwhelmed. Some of the things that first took our entire focus have become second nature, allowing us to put our energies elsewhere.

We've also got some new subjects to study this go around. While still doing a lot of review and work on the vocabulary and language skills we've learned over our year and a half here, I'm very excited to be moving into some more focused language study. We've found a really good new teacher that is working with us on religious language. It's a whole new world, but one that is quickly opening up before us. We also have a couple of conferences on the schedule for this "fall" that will hopefully open up even more areas for us and for Cambodian pastors.

Seeing so many back to school photos of (mostly) excited kids on social media this week has solidified this "back to school" feeling for me. New things are on the horizon. I hope that you get in on this feeling whether you are in school or not.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


We shared with many of you while we were in the States that our partners, the Cambodia Baptist Union, recently completed a multi-purpose building. We are really excited for them about this accomplishment, and we are looking forward to seeing all the new things that will happen in this space. The church we go to now meets in this building.

The building is a good ways outside the city center, and we thought you might like to take a peek at our ride there. We travel by tuk tuk, and it takes about 40 minutes to get there. It's a bit of a bumpy ride, but it actually feels great to get outside the city for a bit.

 On our way out of the city

Outside the city after a huge downpour. Church is in the late afternoon, and during rainy season, that's the most common time for showers. It's rained on us 3 out of 4 weeks on our way to church, but we stay mostly dry in the tuktuk. 

Rice fields and palm trees are quintessentially Cambodian, but we rarely see them in our day-to-day life. 

And finally, this is the view from the CBU building with lotus plants in bloom. Our Sundays now give our lives some much needed green!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


As you walk or ride around Phnom Penh, there are lots of places that smell, well, not so great. There is, however, one smell that I love when walking down the street near our house. 

Several months before we left to go to the States, these orange juice stands started popping up all over the city. I'm happy to say that they are still everywhere and seem to be doing a good business. There's nothing like the smell of fresh citrus as you walk down the street. We will often buy a bottle of it and drink it mixed with club soda or, like tonight, add it to our stir-fry for some orange chicken. 

The oranges here come from near Battambang in northwestern Cambodia. Actually, in Khmer, the color orange is called "orange juice" perhaps because the peels of Cambodian oranges are green. The taste is usually a little more sour and a little less sweet than Florida oranges, but we love it.