Today the team visited a local Cambodian Baptist Church outside Phnom Penh on our way to Kompang Chenneng with the English Camp group. Then it was back to Oudong village for Queenie and I. The Church was so eager for us to visit that they delayed their service start time by 30 minutes to accommodate us. When we arrived, they started singing already and we were ushered to the front two rows and greeted by the pastor. I was embarrassed entering late with all the attention especially as I am always feeling self conscious of being a white male in this culture. As we got seated, I saw the head pastor lean over and ask Jose (our 2nd team leader) if one of us would share our testimony during the service. My heart trembled even at the possibility that I might have to get on stage to share my testimony and was desperately hoping Jose would confidently choose to share his amazing testimony. Wishfully thinking, I thought he would see the folly that no one was expecting to share and would politely decline. Instead he turns around and stares directly at me asking if I can share. With under 10 minutest to prepare, I hastily pray for courage to face this foreign congregation of a hundred complete strangers. Luckily we had just learned last night more about Cambodia culture and especially the challenges facing the church, to help guide what I would say. Cambodia has a strong shame culture and it is very shameful to admit fault or show weakness. We were taught that relational experiences and narrative teaching is needed to overcome limitations of the Khmer language in communicating our nuanced biblical language. Feeling inspired by this insight, and with a tremendous amount of God's grace, I was able to calmly share my past brokenness highlighting my self hate and alcoholism. I hope that my being a "barang" or foreigner, showing weakness and vulnerability, would be an inversion of the current culture and display a Kingdom culture of confession and grace.
My challenges in the village are much larger than I expected. The fact I can't speak the language and don't understand what people are thinking is a large part. I am also scared of the poverty and struggle with living in these conditions. It is embarrassing to admit but I am way outside of my comfort zone! Which is humbling since I was pretty confident and prideful that I could handle anything. I thought I was prepared even, but on my first night in the village after only a few hours, I was lying in a very uncomfortable bed with tons of loud unfamiliar sounds, feeling physically sick and afraid. I have too many fears to list here, angry at the living conditions I had to endure and feeling betrayed that I was being forced into this. I found myself longing and counting down the days until our escape back to Phnom Penh, and ultimately my safe and comfortable home in Vancouver. I can say that after a week I am not as troubled as I was on day 1, but I am praying and working hard at facing my issues and trying to figure out what God is trying to teach me. Queenie has been a rock through out this all and has helped greatly in demonstrating the correct attitude and trust towards God and the villagers. She very wisely pointed out that what I am facing is the norm for everyone but us here. Somehow I couldn't even see that simple fact on my own. And she has helped me to see past my fears and instead see the relationships and people of the village. I am very thankful for Queenie and her strength!
We are heading back to the village for the last few days of meeting and training the Manna4Life teachers and looking forward to visiting a profitable organic farming project this week. Three days left in the village, and I hope I will be sad to leave.
Through the blood of the lamb,