Wednesday, February 4, 2015

HOW WAS IT?

“How was it?”

I dread that question. I have a tendency to choose my words very carefully. Therefore, even if you ask me, “How was your sandwich?” I am prone to add clauses, qualifications and explanations—maybe even a few footnotes, an appendix and a “For Further Reading” list for good measure—to my description of my sandwich experience until the innocent asker of the question can’t even stay awake to hear me finally start to talk about the actual sandwich. The body count of people I put to sleep is in the dozens on a slow day.

So imagine what it’s like when people ask me, “How was your trip to Cambodia?” Do you mean that trip to Cambodia in which I had two weeks to explore whether this is the place where I want to spend the next several years after I agreed to take this position without ever having been to Asia? That trip? If you believe that’s going to be a simple answer, then I have a BLT I want to tell you about. Where do I even begin?

If you want simple answers, I’m afraid I don’t have them. Cambodia was big and crowded and chaotic. Sometimes it smelled like a guy was cutting the heads off of fishes and a lady was tearing the skins off of frogs right next to me, usually because that is precisely the thing that was happening.


It was blazingly fast-paced—with cars zipping in and out of each other’s paths without notice—yet also painfully slow—mostly because you always have to watch out for all the cars weaving around each other without any notice. Dire poverty exists right next to decadent wealth. Cambodians are trying to forge an identity after being ravaged by a dictator who killed a larger percentage of his country’s population than any other dictator of the 20th century, a century known for some astonishingly evil dictators. I spent most of the trip overwhelmed by all the things I was trying to process.

You may think from reading this that I am disillusioned with the choice I have made to move to Cambodia. Not so fast. Don’t fall asleep before I “finally start to talk about the actual sandwich.”

On a Thursday afternoon, after sitting for more than an hour in stand-still traffic in a dust storm, I finally sat across from Nivath, president of the Cambodia Baptist Union. He shared his vision for the church in Cambodia. He celebrated the successes of the CBU’s evangelistic efforts but warned that without training, the movement would not be sustainable. Already, pastors are starting to leave the ministry because they don’t have the tools to lead a congregation. The next day, I sat across from Chanla, the young pastor of a village church. He recalled how he had run away from the ministry twice. He was scared of failing, of not making enough money, of being ridiculed by society. But God, in his stern mercy, kept calling Chanla back. In talking with both Nivath and Chanla, we saw two individuals who are on the forefront of an exciting work of the Holy Spirit in a country that seemed all but forgotten. Yet they are asking for help, people to come alongside them to help the churches engage their communities in ways that will be sustainable long-term.

The dust, heat, traffic, unfamiliar food and scars of war that characterize Cambodia were hard for me to take in at times. But I am “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). At my core, I long to be a part of the Kingdom of God, not just to exist in it, but to participate in it, to get my hands dirty for it. Which will I choose: stay where I am familiar and comfortable; or follow my calling, as best as I can discern it at this time, so that I can live for the purpose of pursuing God’s Kingdom?

In my two short weeks, I got a glimpse of a Cambodia that refuses to be defined only by traffic, poverty and genocide. And it seems as if I might have some small thing to offer it in its struggle to do so. As much as it scares me to admit this, I believe that the next step of obedience for us is to relocate to Cambodia.


That’s how my trip was.