Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Trip to Wat Kandal

On Sunday afternoon Bill kindly stayed home with Katherine so I could accompany the students to Wat Kandal.  Putee had told me that it was an hour away by moto, but it only took maybe 30 minutes.  He must not find it an interesting ride. 

This is what the traffic was like.  You can see the edge of one of the cows on the right.


And here was my ride.  I only knocked Srey Roat on the back of the head with my helmet twice.


Below are the PATC students and their respective classes.  The children in attendance said many of their classmates were absent because they had to help their families with the rice harvest.

This is Saveuet (there’s really not a good way to write his name in English!)




Srey Roat (pronounced “roe-ought”)


and Vanak


The school has five classrooms with broken windows, a thick layer of dirt on the concrete floors, and piles of dirt, broken glass and a few wrappers swept into the corners.  It is located beside the river on the grounds of the village wat.  I actually asked where the wat was when we arrived, because typically even in poor areas the wat is large and extravagant.  But this one was a small wooden building/covered porch more in keeping with the area.


Inside are idols representing Buddha.


This is where the monks live, across the grounds from the wat:


None of Savee’s students showed, so we went to talk to the monks.  He helped me ask them some questions about Buddhism.  I was asking them about how they know what will happen to them when they die; how they know if they’ve done enough good to earn a favorable reincarnation.  The typical answer is, “you don’t.”  And I was waiting for that answer so that I could reply with a resounding, “Then, have I got good news for you!” 

But I learned something new.  If you do good works AND, when you are dying, think about how you led a good life, then you will have a good reincarnation.  But if you focus on your bad deeds, you will have an unfortunate new life. 

After some discussion about that idea, we opened the floor for them to ask questions about Christianity.  In general, I don’t think I handled the let-me-listen-to-your-ideas-and-then-I-can-tell- you-about-mine approach to evangelism very well.  The discussion remained genial and respectful (with the exception of the one monk who snickered the whole time), I just think it was obvious that my primary purpose was not to learn about Buddhism, and they were humoring my questions. 

Nevertheless, they asked some good questions about Christianity (though they, too, were not primarily interested in learning about Christianity, but were obviously seeking to leave us unable to answer or confirm the validity of our faith).  For example, “How can you say Jesus created everything when he was only born 2000 years ago?”  “If everyone is born with sin, how can you say Jesus was born without sin?”  And “if God loved his people, why did He curse them and the world and animals with them?”  Good questions.

So for over an hour, 10 monks continued to initiate questions, receive biblical answers and hear the clear message of God’s justice and mercy from our well-prepared students of Systematic Theology.  (Saveuet and Vanak had joined us after their classes were over.) 

We then left Wat Kandal and went to Stung, where Sopheak’s family lives and a she and Srey Roat each teach another group of children.


And play games with them.


This is Sopheak’s mom (standing), working in the field behind their house.  She was thinning their patch of diakon radishes. 


She has been a strong and faithful member for a long time.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Thursday Fellowship

We had our second “Thursday Fellowship” yesterday.  We plan to get together once a month at a church member’s house for worship and a meal.  We all had a really good time together, and it is already evident that spending this extra time together is strengthening the relationships between members. 

Also, according to custom, this gathering is broadcast by loudspeaker over the surrounding village, so every month a different area gets to hear a few hymns and a message of salvation by grace through faith in the Only True and Living God, Jesus Christ. 

Our hosts this month were Kim and Nyen:


Here are some ladies preparing the meal.  I can’t remember the name of the dish, but it sounded ironically similar to “don’t eat.”


This is Sopheak, Chheng’s niece, whom I mentioned in the previous post. 


This is how to cook rice for 50 people.  The wood has already been removed from underneath, and most of the rice eaten, for that matter.  I’m not sure about the banana leaf.  Maybe a potholder?


These girls are playing a game called “catch the lice.”  (Really, lice?)  It’s basically jacks but with rocks.  The girl in orange has them here.  And in case you were wondering, Taylor Doyle sent Flat Susie for a visit! 


You can see the local pool hall across the street.





These guys (the 6 in front) are students at the PATC.





We’re riding the ferry back across the river.  The girl behind Chheng is Srey Leab, a student and faithful worker for almost 3 years.


The lady on the right is Sarun, Chheng’s sister.  She was the first to believe, and the church—7 or 8 people—met in her home when Chheng began his ministry here in 1999.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Missionaries have laundry, too.

Since I received enthusiastic fan mail in response to “Ordinary Life,” I am emboldened to offer—at least to that fan—a sequel.  (Yes, it was just one piece of fan mail, but I couldn’t really say, “a fan mail,” now could I?)

So for you who are interested (singular or plural), I present our dryer:


It has become necessary to hang our clothes on the fence, rather than on the line:


because banana trees drop sap that dries to a deep (though not unpleasant) brown and scoffs at all stain removal techniques known to the modern world.  Except bleach, which has obvious limitations. 

This is not such an undesirable situation, though, seeing as how shirts which have been hung in half over the line turned out lighter on the south side, producing an effect that is undesirable.  On the positive side, Katherine’s sun-dried diapers remain surprisingly white.

In the way of artistic outlets, about 6 weeks ago Bill asked me to make an enlargement of one of the maps in the back of his Bible so his Sunday school class could follow the movements of Jesus as they study through the book of Mark.  So, several Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons later, we have a map: 


My other (long-term) project is painting the black-and-white illustrations in one of several little Bible story books we picked up for some of our students to read to their students.


I was hoping this project would be a very fun and relaxing way to spend a couple of hours per week during a naptime.  I was, to be honest, rather disappointed and irked that in reality it is turning out to be a frustrating chore.  I have almost no experience with watercolor, and don’t really know what I’m doing.  There are many pictures left.  I might just use colored pencil.

What our students are doing with these Bible story books is a more interesting story, though.  On Saturday and Sunday afternoons three students go to Sopheak’s family’s house, and five go beyond to Wat Kandal (Central Pagoda).  Sopheak’s house is about 30 minutes away by bicycle, and the pagoda is an hour by moto.  There are about 30 children at each location, and our students teach them English for an hour, then play games and read them a Bible story for another hour. 

At Wat Kandal there were originally over 100 children, but after our students told them about Christ, most of the older ones quit coming.  As one of our students put it, “They are afraid of the name of Jesus, and afraid to believe in Him.”  Several teenagers and a group of monks actually hung around (on the fringes) to see and hear the first story that was read. 

Sopheak said the children who continue to come love to hear the stories and see the pictures.  Most of them, especially near Wat Kandal, are very poor (They don’t have pencils to study with, which cost 5-7 cents at the local markets.) so for them, having a story read to them—in terms of frequency, novelty and delight—is rather comparable to an American child going to Disney Land. 

Which is why I want to color the pictures.  If colorful pictures can make the books a little more interesting and enjoyable, I think there is some value in that.  I mean, which would you rather look at?


But the truly wonderful thing about these books is not the color illustrations.  It is that those Khmer characters spell out the story of Jesus, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. 


Monday, March 16, 2009

Ordinary Life

I have nothing extraordinary to report, (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) just some glimpses into everyday life of late.

We had a school holiday a while back, so Katherine and I worked on reclaiming the garden from the nutsedge.  If you have ever tried your hand at nutsedge removal, it is rather like one of those trick birthday candles that keeps relighting itself.  Though you huff and puff like the Big Bad Wolf, it WILL grow back.  Judging by the depth and ubiquity of their tubers, I believe I dealt with not just the same species, but the same specimen in my garden in Allen, making nutsedge the second largest organism in the world.

After applying our homemade compost, we planted green bean seeds and some flowers from Sophorn’s garden.  Unfortunately, now that vacation is over, I’ve hardly been out there since.  There is always—for the willing—something to learn in the garden, though.  For example, composted egg shells make a tasty, crunchy treat.  Katherine tried some, and offered them to me as well.  I was not willing.

Here is Bill (and his trusty sidekick, Leatherman) with the trellis he made for the blackberry bush.  We hope to soon have a blackberry-covered screen for the burn barrel.


Here is Katherine ready to take a walk.  Notice the “noom” in her pockets.  (Animal crackers.  Though here they’re shaped like shrimp.)



After my class time and her naptime, we made hand and foot prints.  Fun times!


On the teaching front, I’m really happy with the progress my English students are making, especially in pronunciation.  Khmer has almost no final consonant sounds.  The last letter is there basically so you’ll know how to shape your mouth to stop the last vowel sound.  So “six,” “sick,” “sit,” and “sip” all sound the same when issuing from a Khmer mouth.  Words like “thanked” (/nkt/) and “costs” (/sts/) are particularly tricky.  And you can just forget about plurals.  But not so any longer!  You’ll not find my students responsible for anything like, “Sin I wah a boy…”  Oh, no.  If you pass my classroom you’ll here things like, “Sinccce I wasss a boy…”  Ahh, the sweet sound of sssuccsssesss!