Wednesday, February 10, 2016

CITY LIFE

We have lived in Phnom Penh for over three months now.  The city can be quite a shock to the system. I have lived in several large cities where traffic can get backed up on the freeway. Phnom Penh is the first city in which I can expect to get stuck in traffic for nearly half an hour on a small residential street at noon. I acknowledge that some cities will be cleaner than others, but I have to hold my breath when I pass by a creek or canal here if I don’t want to get sick. I’ve lived in big cities, but Phnom Penh is the grittiest. It has some very charming areas, but a lot of streets just look like this:

Garbage and construction: that sums up up a significant percentage of the scenery.
It is easy to say that the traffic or the smells or any other thing in a large city in the developing world is what makes it hard to live here. More than any of these things, though, is the fact that I am so obviously different. When I lived in Europe, I was an outsider who sometimes had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but at least you couldn’t tell it just by looking at my skin. In Phnom Penh, there is no hiding. I don’t come from these parts.

In Denver, I fit in enough that I could be an anonymous introvert when I wanted to. I also had a group of friends that I could go to any time and be known and welcomed. It’s the exact opposite in Phnom Penh. When I leave the house, everyone notices me, but nobody knows me.

In this big, gritty, dirty city where everybody looks different from me, I feel like an outsider. And to some degree, that will never change. No one here will ever look at me and think that I come from these parts.

One of the beautiful truths of the gospel is that the Holy Spirit lives right inside of us. We are never separated from God no matter how lonely the external circumstances of our lives make us feel. This is a good truth, but there’s more. God calls us not just into relationship with the Spirit but also into the church so that we can live out our relationship with Jesus in the community of other people.

Psalm 68:5-6 says: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing.” If all we’ve got is God, that is enough. But God doesn’t want a world of isolated individuals. God wants to create a community where the orphans are cared for, the widows are defended and the lonely know what it is like to be a part of a family. God wants to bring the outsiders in. 

Lauren and I are beginning to have some friendships at church. We’re getting to know some of our classmates. The city is slowly starting to feel less lonely. I have faith that God has called us here and will fulfill the promise to give us a family here in Cambodia. I am walking through this season of being an outsider in anticipation that God will make Cambodia feel like home one day.

A few weeks ago, Lauren and I were across town sitting in traffic on a tuk tuk. I heard a voice coming from behind me say, “Excuse me, sir.” People usually only address me in English with “sir” if they want to sell me something. I rolled my eyes and decided to ignore it. “Don’t turn around and make eye contact,” I told myself.

“Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, sir.” He was being persistent, and the traffic jam meant we were going to be sitting here for a while. “Might as well get this over with,” I thought to myself.

I turned toward the voice and looked right into the smiling face of one of our apartment’s security guards. He waved at me and Lauren and chatted with us for a few minutes until we both started moving again.

What were the odds that after just a couple of months in Cambodia, I would run into somebody I knew in this city of close to two million people? I believe God does bring the outsiders in. I believe God's heart is to set the lonely in families. I'm far from integrated into the life of any community, but with moments like this one, a big city starts to feel a whole lot smaller.