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Our Cambodia Journal - 2006

The following is a daily journal of how God used us (Dennis and Sharon Welch) on our trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in February 2006 with Dr. George and Hilda Carman.  George is the Dean of Ministry Training – Asia for Sunset International Bible Institute (SIBI), Lubbock Texas.  By the providence of God, in late 2005, George and SIBI had established the Cambodia Bible Institute (CBI), an applicant school for teaching Cambodian men and women to be preachers and teachers of God’s Word.  The school was set to begin classes on February 6, 2006 and George was to be the first instructor, teaching Old Testament History, part 1.  We joined them on this trip to assist in any ways we could and to collect information on Phnom Penh.  In this journal, I hope to document our daily experiences and observations of what God has revealed to us about where He is at work in this part of the world.

02/02/06 – 02/04/06, Thursday - Saturday.

Thursday, we both worked.  I completed my last shift at DFW before our trip and Sharon wanted to return home to a clean house so she spent the daytime doing a thorough cleaning of the house.  Since we had completed our packing the night before, our afternoon was anticlimactic as we watched the clock tick by with all our preparations completed.  We were full of anticipation and excitement with little to do.  I took a nap!  Sharon called Michael, her son, the grandkids and their mothers.  Finally the time arrived and my brother, Doug, picked up the Carmans and us and delivered us to DFW.  We departed DFW at 10:20 pm and flew through Seattle, Washington and Taipei, Taiwan before arriving in Phnom Penh on Saturday about 1:30 pm, Phnom Penh time.  Phnom Penh is 13 hours different or ahead of DFW.  The flights were long, but we met some nice people, including two different groups headed to the mission field.  God is very busy in S.E. Asia.

We are glad to report that God has already allowed us to build our faith by the canceling of our flight from Taipei to Phnom Penh and our lost luggage.  In Seattle, the customer service representative informed us of the flight cancellation and booked us on the next flight.  We were hopeful that our ride at Phnom Penh would get the information and not have to wait on us for hours.  When we arrived at Phnom Penh, only one of our four checked bags came out the chute.  We are confident the others will arrive in a day or two.  All of us took these challenges in stride.

We were greeted with warm glowing smiles from John Sproul, James and Bora at the airport.  We loaded the bags and drove through the city to the lovely home of John and Autumn Sproul.  The trip across town has to be experienced to fully comprehend.  Motorcycles everywhere.  Some even going the wrong way in our lane.  Shops and markets line every street.  At first sight, one would be reluctant to even stop the car, let alone get out and shop or stroll.  However, we had to keep in mind that these are people too, the creations of God, lost and hurting and of simple means.  We know that our visit will take us in the midst of them many times before our time to return to the states.

Pulling up to the gate at John’s house, he blew the horn several times and the guard, a young Cambodian man, opened the solid metal gate for us to enter.  John told us they had turned on the air-conditioning for our arrival, but normally have it off because electricity is very expensive.  It was very nice to feel the cool air.  Autumn fed us a delightful lunch of chicken, vegetables, rice and fruit.  While we were there, about eight or ten missionaries from Thailand and elsewhere stopped by to welcome us.  (Dave Hogan and Edwin Chog, Mculmean Road coC, Singapore; Chung Fatt Ong, Kula Lampore, Malaysia; David Allen, Robert Reagan, Russ & Rebecca Debenport, Chaing Mai, Thailand; and others.)  They are staying at the same hotel we will check in to.  Bora sat at our table for lunch and did an admirable job of talking with us in that he is a very humble and shy man and his English is limited.  He taught us a few Khmer words like soo-a s’day means “hello”, or-kOOn means “thank you” and ohluck means “watermelon”.  He told us that even though he has five brothers and sisters and lives at home, none of them are Christians…yet.  He is 24 years old, preaches at a poor congregation and loves the Lord and the prospect of attending the school.

About our hotel…we drove just a few blocks from John’s to our new home for the next couple of weeks, the Phnom Pros Phnom Srey Hotel (PPPS).  It is very simple, perhaps the most modest room I’ve ever stayed in.  We haven’t got the hot water to work yet, but the weather is warm enough here that the water is just cool to lukewarm.  God has provided us all we need.

02/05/06, Sunday, the Lord’s Day.

This morning we headed over to John and Autumn’s for a delicious breakfast of pancakes, bacon and fresh fruit.  At the appointed hour, we then journeyed to the Phnom Penh Church of Christ for morning Bible Study and Worship.  The Bible class was led by Pong, one of the Cambodia Bible Institute (CBI) students, and he did an effective job of leading the class from Romans 6:23 to Acts 2:38, speaking the entire time in Khmer.  We were able to follow his line of presentation by the scriptures he wrote on the whiteboard.  His style was very engaging and quite demonstrative.  The class was a diverse mix from several countries and we met many of them.  After class, a curious thing happened.  Nearly all the non-Khmer brethren left and more Cambodians joined us for worship.  Lynn and Geri Nelson and their children, plus the four of us were the only ones who stayed.  With about 45 in attendance, the morning worship service began.  The service was very traditional in its format of songs, prayers, communion and a sermon.  We all sang the same songs at the same time in our native languages and made melody in our hearts to the Lord.  With James translating, George gave us a lesson on James 1:1-4, pointing out the humility of James, that we are all brothers, and the five gifts from God James tells us we will receive through trials.

We quickly left after services and traveled a short ways to the Holiday Villa hotel for the first meeting of the Holiday Villa (our name for them) Church of Christ, an English-speaking service.  This is where all of the non-Khmers had gone from the other service.  Although we joined them late, David Allen gave a great lesson on compassion using the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke.  When it came time for the Lord’s Supper, it seemed very odd to pass the plates on without partaking, having done so at the previous service.  There were about 25 in attendance.  Here, we met Nathan and Cheryl Wheelers, missionaries to the lost in Phnom Penh.  They have a more solitary approach and have already set up a house church in their home.  We look forward to getting know them better over the coming months and years.

After the service was over, we went downstairs to the hotel restaurant and had delicious lunch of chicken, veggies and french fries.  From there, we caught a ride back to the hotel.  Then we hooked up with John who took us to the airport in the hope that our bags had arrived.  Good news…the bags were there.  Without so much as a second glance, the customs guys let us stroll right past them.  So we headed back to the hotel to unpack and relax.

That evening, James picked us up in his old jeep for an evening of dinner and fellowship at the lovely home of Lynn and Geri Nelson.  They both work for the U.S. State Department at the U.S. Embassy.  Geri served us a huge supper of several dishes.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit during and after the meal.  I truly wish they were going to still be here when we move to Cambodia in a couple of years.  They have strong faith and a deep commitment to growing the Lord’s church in Phnom Penh.

02/06/06, Monday

We started off with a search for a local restaurant serving breakfast.  We found a decent and clean looking, open-air place, ordered fried rice with chicken and enjoyed the morning air and sounds.  James picked us up in his mosquito filled jeep and we spent the ride trying to swat them out.  Sharon was after them so vigorously that she destroyed a “Gospel Advocate” magazine in the process.  They just didn’t want to leave us be.

Today is the first day of the Cambodia Bible Institute.  There were nine students awaiting us, but only sponsorship for seven students.  George let the other two stay for this first day knowing he was going to conduct a student meeting in the afternoon to answer their questions and explain the situation.  It is difficult for all of us to see such eager hearts and not be in a position to satisfy their thirst and hunger for God’s word.  Sponsorship for each student is relatively inexpensive by U.S. standards at $250 per month per student, but certainly beyond the means of most Cambodians.  However, without the funding, the students have to be turned away.  We are all praying that God will provide a source of funding for these other two and for future students.

Each class day will begin with chapel, which will include a prayer, a couple of songs and a devotional.  With James translating, George gave the class a lesson from 2 Timothy 4:1-2 on preaching the word.  He then began the class by explaining how the class term would progress, outlining testing, memory work, reading requirements, grading and absences.  He followed with an overview of the entire Bible, detailing its dispensations, divisions, ages, periods, etc.  Next, he gave us seven reasons to study the Old Testament.  Finally, he began with Genesis 1:1 and lectured on creation.  The material was very in-depth and comprehensive.  Although some of what was discussed I had heard before, parts of it were new information to me.  The class session gave Sharon and I a good preview on what we can expect from the classes at Sunset this fall.

The building being used for CBI is the same one used by the Phnom Penh Church of Christ (PPcoC).  Sponsorship for the students includes lodging and two meals per day so they stay at the building all the time.  The classes and worship services are held in a large front room.  The building also includes five tiny bedrooms, two bathrooms and a galley kitchen area.  One facet of our objectives during this visit is to pursue a larger building because of the size of the growing congregation and the limitations for housing the students at the current location.

Lunch for the afternoon was scheduled with Lynn and Geri Nelson at the U.S. Embassy during which time we were to register with the embassy to expedite the process should we have any difficulties while in Cambodia.  I was surprised to see local men employed as entry guards instead of marines or U.S. civilians.  They spoke good English and retained nearly everything we had with us at the guardhouse like cameras and my gps/radio.  Lynn met us at this point and escorted us anywhere we went within the compound.  It turns out; one must have a Top Secret clearance and a need to be there to move about the compound freely.  We had cheeseburgers and fries in the cafeteria and then visited with a local who had good information on alternative hotels.

Yea, we’re moving.  We stopped by the old hotel (PPPS) and dropped off Hilda and Sharon to pack for a late afternoon move to the Golden Gate Hotel.  John then drove George and I back to the school for an afternoon meeting with James and the students.  They asked George lots of good questions, which he answered, as he was able.  I got the nod to keep notes for a record of what was agreed to.  It is such an encouragement to all of us to witness their desire to learn and grow.  I’m told; Cambodians by nature are light-hearted and smile a lot.  This group has these qualities yet are serious about the task at hand.  I’m impressed with their enthusiasm and uplifted by their faith.  God is filling the hearts of each one of these young Christians.  I praise God for them all!

After our move to the new hotel, just four blocks from John’s house, he picked us up for dinner at his home.  Autumn and their cook prepared a supper of rice, chicken and fish, ending with watermelon and mangos.  Sharon and Hilda love the abundance of inexpensive fruit this country has to offer.  We all turned in early for the evening after John dropped us off.  It had been a great first day for all of us at CBI.  Everyone was encouraged and uplifted by what God is busy doing here.  We continue to pray that funding will be made available for the other two students.

Some observations about Cambodia:

The traffic here is maniac!  Only the busiest intersections have traffic signals.  There are no stop signs.  Every crossroads is a free-for-all.  This is the land of opportunity…see an opening or break and inch out into the flow when one knows fully well that the oncoming traffic is going to have to slow, stop or swerve to avoid a collision.  The best way I can describe it is that everyone is politely pushy.  They respectfully yield as appropriate, but if we’re not using that inch of roadway, they help themselves.  Lanes and lines stripes are not relevant, including double-yellow centerlines.  Every inch of available tarmac is used to keep traffic flowing.  Sometimes, even that isn’t enough so they cut through businesses like gas stations at every corner to avoid the intersection.  It is madness.  When turning right, nary a glance is make to the left before turning.  One just eases into the near lane while those on the on the left patiently make room.  Fortunately, the speeds rarely exceed 35 mph and are usually 20 to 25.  A good loud horn is essential.  If overtaking another vehicle in close quarters (on the left or right, it doesn’t seem to matter), one honks to let them know.  Of the thousands of motorbikes we’ve encountered, I have only seen one with a mirror.  They drive with their ears instead.  I really think the whole system once one is used to it and brave enough is more efficient than our way.  Still, it takes a delicate balance to act with Christian behavior and hope to get anywhere.

The food has been delicious.  We haven’t had all that much Cambodian food while here, but what we have had has been quite tasty.  I never have been much for Asian cuisine.  The bottom line is that I had never really given it a chance.  I tried a few things years ago and made up my mind that I didn’t like all of it.  How naïve and silly of me.  I had thought we might come home a few pounds lighter.  Don’t count on it!

The people here are like Texans.  No, they’re not tall and proud and loud, but they are friendly.  They smile a lot and greet us when passing.  The area we are staying in has lots of foreigners.  Therefore, my perception may be distorted from their interest in tourism and the money it brings.  After I’ve been away from this area in the city or out into the countryside, I’ll better understand if they are this gregarious everywhere.

Buddhist shrines, pagodas and wats (temples) are everywhere.  They are very beautiful and ornately decorated.  It appears that lots of money is spent to build and maintain them.  Everywhere we turn, the locals have set up little shires with fruit offerings and burning incense.  My heart hurts for the poor who give of their little money to a dead useless cause.  They need a living Jesus, not a man-made lifeless stone idol.

02/07/06, Tuesday

Ah, our first nights sleep in the new hotel.  I slept right through until morning.  Today the routine sets in.  This will be the first day that looks much like the day before.  We ate a hearty breakfast in the hotel restaurant and checked email at their very slow Internet terminals before John picked us up for school.  I had the call to give the devotional and chose the topic of Christ-like love.  George taught us about the name of God, the Godhead and the fall of man.  Lunch was spring (egg) rolls and stir-fried broccoli with chicken.  While the ladies rested after lunch, George and I walked to John’s for two interviews of prospective translators for CBI.  Afterwards, the three of us visited for a short while, then we headed back to rest, read and study.  That evening, we walked to Baan Thai restaurant for more spring rolls and cashew chicken.  Tomorrow is an off day for CBI and we hope to go to the mall.

02/08/06, Wednesday

No school today!  This morning we slept in until 5:30, the latest yet.  I think our internal clocks are beginning to adjust to being 13 hours off.  We did the same morning routine of breakfast and email, then hired Ming and his tuk-tuk, a small four-seater cart connected to a motorcycle, to take us to the mall. The building has five floors of shopping, with groceries on the bottom and everything else above.  We checked-out the food prices and found them expensive for many items we regularly use and slightly less on others.  When we move here, we will have to change our diet a bit to be able to afford living in this economy.  Clothes are a different story.  In this country, Sharon wears a large!  In the U.S. she struggles to find clothes petite enough for her dainty size without paying a fortune for them.  Over here, she is average size so finding a wide selection of clothing is no problem.  I like the prices!  We got her a cute outfit of a pair of pants and two shirts for $16.  Wow!  She’ll get the green light on shopping sprees a lot more often over here.  The mall includes a pizza restaurant so we had to partake.  It was not the best pizza I have ever had, but it tasted pretty good.

After lunch, Ming took us back to the hotel for us to dump our purchases and then took us to Tuol Sleng genocide museum, the former Khmer Rouge S-21 prison/interrogation center.  We know that it was important that we go to help us understand the plight of these people.  Still, it was heart wrenching to see first-hand the evidence of the horrific crimes the Khmer Rouge committed against their own people and nation.  We are glad we went; yet it is difficult to wrap our minds around that period in this nation’s violent history.  We know it is reality, but it is still hard to fathom such atrocities.  It will be some time before we venture out to see the Killing Fields.

Afterwards, Ming brought us back to the hotel to rest before church and dinner plans with the Carmans.  John and John Jr. picked us up and drove us to PPcoC for mid-week service.  About an equal mix of westerners and Cambodians were in attendance.  Lynn Nelson taught a great class on the grace of giving from 2 Corinthians 8 & 9 as part of a “Pressing Towards Maturity” series he has been conducting on Wednesday nights.  As an African-American, we anticipated a fiery presentation, with a lot of enthusiasm and emotion.  He did not disappoint us!  That brother can preach!!  Can I get an AMEN?

After John drove us back, we walked a couple of blocks to a French restaurant for dinner before we all called it a night.  It had been a full day of experiencing a wide range of emotions.

02/09/06, Thursday

A routine day with breakfast at the hotel, chapel (John Sproul gave the devo.), school, buffet lunch in a nearby restaurant, rest, study, supper at Thai restaurant, check email and more study before going to bed.  However, one huge highlight was that funding has been arranged for the additional two students.  Praise God!  The sponsoring congregation in Batesville, Arkansas has decided that nine students is much better than seven, so they increased their commitment to CBI.  In addition, a new student from Pakistan attended this morning.  Saleem has sponsorship from a church in Singapore.  This brings the student total to ten.  It is so wonderful to see so many young men eager to build a strong foundation for preaching rooted firmly in God’s Word!

02/10/06, Friday

Today was quite different.  Sharon woke up to dysentery.  She wisely remained at the hotel in the air conditioning and in bed while we went to chapel (James gave the devo), school and lunch.  She took some meds with the hope of feeling better soon.  Many have said they were surprised we had not been afflicted before now.  If she isn’t better by in the morning, we’ll seek medical assistance.

It has been many years since Sharon and I have been serious students.  However, we completed all of our Bible reading, study, memory work and tests for the week and managed to get good grades, so we think we’ll be alright at Sunset this fall.  The transition from our current lifestyle and daily routines will be dramatic.  However, we are firmly convinced that with our prayers and yours, our commitment and perseverance and the providence of God, we will triumph over the obstacles and do just fine as full-time students.  John Sproul speaking of the intensity of SIBI said that we would receive not just Biblical “meat”; it would be steak and baked potato fed from a fire hose.  We eagerly await the feast!

02/11/06, Saturday

Saturday dawned with Sharon feeling much better.  She still wasn’t on top of her game, as they say, but she was getting around and wearing a smile again.  We enjoyed a nice breakfast in the hotel before checking email.  Around 10 a.m., George, John Sproul, Bill McDonough and I met at a local French restaurant for coffee and pastries.  The agenda included village church leaders retreats and church growth seminars at a facility north of Phnom Penh and also the need for mission culture training in foreign countries instead of at SIBI.  After being in a new country for a few months, culture shock is a significant hurdle for new missionaries and their families to overcome.  By moving to a foreign nation in the same region of the world as where they will be doing their work, the family can experience and work through some of the dynamics they will eventually deal with in the country of their mission ministry.  It was quite a treat to listen to and visit with these men considering the number of years each has lived and worked abroad.

When we returned to the hotel, we gathered-up the ladies and walked a few blocks to Lucky Mart, the grocery store chain in this area.  On the second floor, we ate burgers and fries at Lucky Burger for lunch.  Not too different than a Burger King in the states; the food tasted just okay.  At least it was a change from rice every meal.  Please don’t misunderstand, I really have enjoyed the numerous rice dishes I’ve tried, but it’s nice to eat something different for a change.  Afterwards, we shopped prices at the grocery and found them identical to the mall’s Lucky Mart. 

On the return walk, Sharon and I peaked in on a real estate office to look at photos and prices of local houses and apartments for rent.  They had options from $450/mo to $3000/mo.  We haven’t decided on a specific location yet so it was only a “gather information” opportunity.  We keep hearing how expensive it is to live here for housing, utilities and to some degree, food, depending on your diet.  The electricity here costs about $150/person/month in an average size house and that’s by only having the air-conditioning on in the room one is currently occupying.  All this information is proving quite helpful for us in determining a budget required, and therefore, sponsorship needs for when we move here.  Our faith is strong that if God intends for us to work in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, He will remove any and all obstacles blocking our participation in this work.  We continue to pray for His providence.

Upon returning to the hotel, we rested and studied for a while, then joined the Carman’s for supper in the hotel restaurant.  Then we joined them in their room to watch a video for sharing the good news.  On the Wednesday evening before leaving Texas, Kevin Langford gave me a brand new DVD that had just been released called “Searching for Truth”.  It was reported to be an updated “Jule Miller”-style presentation of the gospel message and the church.  Each of us was very impressed.  The style and approach used on this DVD is very informative and convicting.  I thank Kevin for discovering this useful tool for evangelizing.

02/12/06, Sunday

Our morning started a little earlier this morning with the breakfast call at 6:45 a.m.  A van and driver George had hired for the day picked us up at 7:30 for an 8:00 Bible class at PPcoC.  Pong did a great job of teaching the Bible class again with a good crowd on hand.  Today was my turn to give the sermon so with James translating; I preached on how do we know the will of God. 

After services, we pilled seven of the students plus one other young lady in the van with us and headed to a local restaurant for lunch.  This medium-sized Toyota van now carried 14 of us including the driver.  It would feel the load of even more occupants before the day ended.  The students were delighted and appreciative of an opportunity to eat out for a change from the cooking they have to do at the school/church building.  I imagine their meals are simple and meager compared to the feast they enjoyed this day.

After lunch, we all piled back in the van for the trip north of the city to the small village of Tumnob Thom (TNT).  The drive was about 45 minutes and full of spectacle and adventure.  We saw many interesting sites along the way as we viewed Cambodian life outside the big city for the first time.  Nearly every structure is on stilts except those that were roadside, level with the highway.  The stilts elevate the buildings above the normal rainy-season flood level.  During the dry season (Nov. – Mar.), the area under the structures provides a shaded breezeway for families and friends to congregate.  These houses and buildings ranged from quite nice looking solid, colorful structures to broken-down unpainted shanties that looked as if a big wind would blow them away.  Although there are nice breezes here from time-to-time, they are nothing like the Texas-style gusts and gales.  We’re told that these houses along this highway generally represent a higher living standard than much of the rest of the country.  There are very few, if any, homes in the DFW area that reach this poverty level.

Other interesting sites along the way included livestock, rice fields, fish-breading ponds, the significant quantity of water basins for the dry season, the Tonle Sap River along the highway for part of our journey and our travels through the largest Muslim community in the country.  Mosques replaced Wats as the dominant community structures.

We finally turned down a dirt road and arrived at the property of Tumnob Thom Church of Christ and Orphanage.  The facility includes a large covered wooden pavilion for worship, a guesthouse and the orphanage.  The orphanage was the newest structure and was quite spacious and modern with facilities to handle sixteen children.  The pavilion was spacious enough for 50 to 100 people to gather for worship.  Bill McDonough and his Partners in Progress organization had recently remodeled the guesthouse.  This is where the seminars and retreats I mentioned earlier are to take place.  This is a really nice facility for a church to own out in the countryside.  I’m told; not many could afford these amenities.

This portion of our trip to Cambodia may turn out to be highlight of our trip.  Our hearts, our lives were significantly impacted by these people, how they’re forced to live and their attitude towards Jesus.  They’re magnetic!  We’ll serve wherever God leads, but our choice is at a place like this.  The members here are full of life and zeal.  They have many challenges to even get to the service.  Old and young, men and women, and lots of children joined us for church.  The faces and smiles of 50-plus children stole our hearts.

Do you remember the extra young lady accompanying us in the van?  Her name is Meng – Sopa.  In the Khmer language, the last name or family name comes first, like Welch, Dennis.  Anyway, she had studied with Christians and wanted to be baptized.  I never did understand why she didn’t want to use the nice clean baptistery at the PPcoC building.  Since we had arrived nearly an hour before Bible class was to start, we all headed down the dirt road to a stock pond so she could be baptized.  This pond was about two-thirds covered with lily pads and other vegetation leaving plenty of room for someone to wade out waist-deep for a baptism.  With a big crowd on hand, Sen – Bora waded out to the middle and awaited Sopa.  James took her confession, and then she waded out to Bora who baptized her into our Lord, Jesus.  We all rejoiced with the angels in heaven as she emerged from the water a new babe in Christ.  No sooner had we welcomed and congratulated her than down the trail comes a herd of cows headed right towards us and for a drink in the pond.  About 15 to 20 of them, including a few calves, strode right past us and into the water.  They spent three or four minutes and then bounded up the far shore into another field.  It was quite a sight.

Back at the church property, folks were starting to arrive.  They came by foot, bicycle, motorcycle and tuk-tuk.  Bible class began with a few songs and a prayer before George got up to teach on the uniqueness of Jesus.  He was asked to teach about 15 minutes beforehand and drew on his vast amazing knowledge of scripture to instruct the class.  I have no doubt he could have gone on for hours and hours.  During the adult class, Song – David, one of our female students taught a children’s Bible class in a lower portion of the guesthouse.  She had over 50 eager students.  When the worship service began, every seat was filled and several men were forced to stand or sit on the ground.  It was great to see so many either seeking or who had found the Lord.  I got the call to preach the sermon, my second for the day.  Now mind you, I’ve never preached before at all, so this was quite daunting to me.  I couldn’t preach the same sermon twice with so many there that had heard the first one in the morning service.  Therefore, I preached a short sermon on holy living; staying focused on good qualities to avoid the bad and drawing the strength to do so from God.  After the service, David was very popular as she was handing out candy to the children.  We visited with many of the children and adults for a while longer and then loaded up the van to head back to the city.  This time, we piled 19 people in the van, adding five locals who lived along the way back.  Everyone was a bit tired and less talkative on the return trip.

We arrived back just in time for Sharon and I to wash our faces and hands, grab an energy bar and walk four blocks to Bill and Marie Clare McDonough’s house for an evening worship service.  Two elders from the Central coC in Stockton, CA had arrived for a week plus visit.  This California congregation supports John Sproul’s work here.  Don Lazzareschi and Nick Smith had flown over to see the work being done at the school and the church.  It turns out; Nick is a great song leader.  He led us in several songs after Bob, a missionary visiting from Arkansas, gave a devotional on how wonderful heaven must be. 

This would be a good time to explain Bill’s mission work here.  He operates a school called Partners in Progress that uses World English Institute curriculum to teach the Bible while teaching college students English.  He has rented a several bedroom house and invites Christians (Bob) from everywhere in the world to stay there a few weeks and teach the students.  This approach results in a revolving door of instructors and students.  The program has resulted in numerous baptisms.  While this work is fruitful, Bill’s other project is dearer to his heart.  With funding from many sources, he has had a large boat built and outfitted as a floating hospital to navigate the Mekong River and provide medical care to any and all while carrying the good news to them simultaneously.  The river is considered international waters so the nations of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam will not have any control over its function and services.  The patients won’t need a visa or other papers to utilize its services.  He is trying to get it launched by the end of March or in the very near future.

We stayed for quite a while after the service, visiting with several folks when Marie Clare forced us to stay for some leftovers.  She warmed me up some rice and smothered it with a homemade spaghetti sauce.  It was very tasty and much appreciated.  They were glad to hear our glowing report of the work being done at TNT and about the baptism of Sopa, an encouragement to us all for which all give God praise.

02/13/06, Monday

It’s Monday morning and back to school.  As usual, we started with the “included” breakfast at the hotel, checked our email at the hotel’s Internet café’ and then headed off to school.  Hilda decided to stay in the room and rest after the long day on Sunday.  Her seat in John’s SUV was filled by elder Don.  George taught us about Abram all morning including a great study on maps of the era. 

The ladies had pre-arranged a get-together at 12:30 p.m. to “do” lunch and visit.  Autumn Sproul, Marie Clare McDonough, Cheryl Wheeler, Hilda Carman and Sharon spent the early afternoon sharing a meal and talking about all kinds of lady’s stuff, or so I imagine.  The discussions from those kinds of meetings rarely get shared with the men-folk.

During this time, George and I decided to go shopping for Valentines Day gifts for our brides.  We concluded that books might be appreciated since both ladies like to read.  Flowers, chocolates, jewelry and perfume are always options, but we thought that this time they might enjoy some pictures books of this beautiful land and its people.  We found a local bookstore and some nice books.  Now all we needed were the Valentines cards.  It doesn’t appear they celebrate that holiday over here.  Too bad for the local ladies!  Well, we didn’t find any cards for sale, so we headed back to the hotel and to our laptops to design our own cards.

I had just finished the card when Sharon returned, the heat at the restaurant where the ladies had been had done her in and she looked and felt as if she was coming down with something.  It wasn’t the dysentery she had earlier.  This bug included nausea, a cough and congestion.  She took some meds, went to bed and didn’t get up until Tuesday for lunch.  I hung out with her except to join George and Hilda for dinner at the French restaurant.  I spent most of this time catching up on this journal and naming, sorting and cataloguing the numerous photos we’ve taken and also studying my class notes.

02/14/06, Tuesday

I decided to stay in the hotel room with my ailing wife for the day.  I did join the Carman’s for breakfast and then returned to the room where I spent more time working on the laptop and watching over my girl.  Hilda sent some Alka-Seltzer tablets with me.  Sharon took them and went right back to sleep.  They must have helped, because as lunchtime neared, she awoke and showered to join us for lunch, feeling much better.  (The Valentines Day books and card were a big hit.)  We all decided to have something different than the usual so we hired a tuk-tuk to take us to the Holiday Villa Hotel for a hearty lunch in their restaurant.

After lunch, we took the tuk-tuk to the riverfront and the Mekong River Restaurant (on the Tonle Sap River?).  We hadn’t come for more food, but instead, we wanted to see the two movie shorts they show in an upstairs mini-theatre.  The first show was “Pol Pot, The History Of Genocide”, detailing the historical events that led up to the Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh and the atrocities that followed.  The next film, entitled “The Mines of Cambodia And The World” was an extensive overview of the land mine problems that plague Cambodia and, to a lesser extent, other countries around the globe.  The movie presented a compelling argument for all countries to sign and ratify the Ottawa Agreement that outlaws land mine production and deployment.  The United States has never signed!

We found another tuk-tuk to deliver us back to our hotel for a couple hours break before meeting for a light supper of fresh fruit plates and juices.  We all agreed to meet afterwards in George and Hilda’s room for a prayer session.  There is so much going on here, yet so much work to do.  We wanted to offer all of this and other thoughts on our hearts up to God in prayer.  So much is out of our control so it is always so comforting to give these praises and request to God.  After a short visit, we all turned in for the night.

02/15/06, Wednesday

Today is an off day from school so we decided to take a day to do some errands.  We started with breakfast in the hotel and then a check of our email.  Next, we walked a couple of blocks to the bookstore to buy maps and gifts.  After dropping our bags at the hotel, we walked about eight blocks to a travel agency to arrange a tour package for a short trip to Seim Reap and Angkor. Layheang, at N. H. International Travel & Tours, was able to find a package that fit our needs.  We strolled back to the hotel to meet with the Carman’s for our lunch plans.  We hailed a tuk-tuk to take us all to the mall for pizza.  We had some shopping to do, so the Carman’s headed back while we stayed to shop for some clothing items for our trip.

We found a tuk-tuk to bring us home and just hung-out until it was time for church.  Bill McDonough volunteered to take us if we would walk the four blocks to his house to join-up with them.  George gave us a great lesson on being real disciples of Jesus.  John Sproul and company were headed to eat and asked us to join them.  We all crammed in his SUV and headed for the mall for more pizza.  This gave us a great opportunity to visit with Don and Nick, the elders from Stockton.  John tells us that Central is striving to build a missions team for Cambodia that includes others besides John & Autumn.  When the pizza was gone and after some great dialogue, we stopped by the grocery on the first floor of the five-story mall and then jammed into the car for the drive home.  We finished our packing and turned-in for the night.

02/16/06, Thursday

We got up well before the sun to catch our tuk-tuk ride to the boat dock for our two-day journey to Seim Reap and Angkor.  We packed lots of snacks including some leftover pizza for breakfast because our early departure prevented eating breakfast at the hotel in that they don’t open early enough.  The boat for our ride up the Tonle Sap River was a covered long slender diesel-powered speedboat.  The luggage went on top and the passengers filled the inside.  After we were underway, I noticed folks were headed out the front door and not coming back so I went to check it out.  They had stretched out on the roof and were enjoying the delightful morning air.  We quickly joined them finding a prime spot right on top of the cockpit.  The sights along the trip were amazing.  Floating villages with TV antennas towering overhead the shacks, floating stock pens full of pigs, fisherman everywhere and more of those houses (shacks) on stilts.  Farther upriver, after the tall banks along the city were well behind us, we encountered tiny meager little dwellings right along the shore.  I assume they were just temporary housing for fisherman because they would be submerged under fifteen plus feet of water during the rainy season.  Maybe they dismantled these little huts and head for the hills when the rain comes.  Sometimes, entire families were busy about the morning chores.

The river often branched into numerous channels so our captain needed to know exactly which course to choose.  If he didn’t, fishing nets stretched across the entire width of the river might block our passage.  Unless they had their hands busy or their heads down, immersed in their work, everyone we passed along the way gave us a friendly smile and a vigorous wave, especially the children.  The children would often run down the bank just to wave at the passing tourists.  As we neared the lake, the river got dangerously shallow.  Our captain took it very slowly through these stretches.  Suddenly we were out onto the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest in Southeast Asia.  After a while, we could no longer see a shoreline in any direction.  Have no idea what the captain was using to navigate.  With very little breeze, the lake was glassy smooth, causing me to think how awesome this lake would be to water ski.  We are told this lake will grow to seven times this size at the end of the rainy season.  Wow!  There were numerous fishing boats on the lake and on a few occasions we saw a powerboat pulling a house with other boats in tow, quite a strange sight.

About five hours into our journey, we approached another floating village.  Our speedboat was too big to go any farther so we transferred all the luggage and passengers into two smaller boats.  We then powered up the much smaller Seim Reap River, past floating school buildings, a floating gymnasium (all provided by an NGO) and more floating houses and businesses to the dock south of Seim Reap.  The meager living conditions and poverty were nearly overwhelming, yet those smiles were everywhere.  We finally docked the boat about six hours after leaving Phnom Penh.  The boat ride had been long and at times quite boring.  However, the experience provided valuable insight into life along the river as we try to get a better understanding of the people of Cambodia.  At the dock, before we were even off the boat, drivers of tuk-tuks, motos and taxis immediately bombarded us.

Our guide, Meas, and our driver, Thoeum, were standing on the dock holding a sign with our name on it.  We latched onto them as we made our way through the mass of people and headed to the car.  The entire area we were in and the bumpy dirt road we would travel to town, would all be underwater in a few months.  As we traveled to town, we all got acquainted learning that Meas is also fluent in Japanese and is learning German.  We grew quite fond of them both over the next 27 hours.  Meas said Seim Reap has a population of one million, but it looked more like one hundred thousand or less to us.  It just isn’t that big!  They deposited us at the Lotus Angkor Hotel and we checked in, heading up to the room to drop off our bags.  This is a four-star hotel and the room and the view were very nice.

Next, they took us to a traditional Khmer restaurant for lunch and then on to the Angkor Art Workshop and School.  There, young men and women learn the tradition art and style of Angkor-era carving of wood and sandstone.  About twenty to thirty young people were busy carving some beautiful and often large pieces of material.  We saw statues, busts, moldings, bas-relief storyboards and even huge doors all in various stages of completion.  They receive requests from numerous hotels, businesses and private entities desiring to own examples of these beautiful carvings.  We weren’t really sure if Meas was attempting to share art and culture or hoping we would purchase some of the beautiful pieces.

This would be a good point to share a dilemma we experienced this day and others.  These temples we would soon see at Angkor are all dedicated to and for the worship of idols, dead stone man-made statues of Hindu and Buddhist gods.  As I stated earlier, there are temples (wats), pagodas and shires to Buddha everywhere in this country.  At the Angkor Art Workshop, there were beautiful examples of art and history in wood and stone that would make lovely accents in home décor as ancient art.  However, no matter what rationalizations we might make as to our interest in them, uses for them and the meaning behind them, they are still idols!  We could never support or own anything associated with a man-made god.  There is only one God and He is quite jealous.  It was fascinating to watch the young people learn and ply their trade.  We were not interested in their wares.

We left the workshop and drove a short distance to Wat Thmei.  This Buddhist temple includes living quarters and facilities for monks, an orphanage, a school and a shelter for families with AIDS.  It also includes a memorial to the “Killing Fields” of their area and is complete with skulls, bones and clothing from the victims.  They seem to be doing some good work there and our hearts were touched by it.  At every turn, someone was holding out their hand for a donation or trying to sell souvenirs to support the Wat.  Our knowledge of the use of the money prevented us from participating with a clear conscience and not feel as if we were sinning against God.  He commanded us to “give to the one who asks you” (a command I take literally), but speaks even more strongly against idols and their worship.  I will not support a work dedicated to an idol and false religion.  In this country, there are plenty of opportunities for one to give everything one has to help fight against the plight of these people without doing it in the name of a false god.  Again, although he was very polished in performing his services, we got the feeling that Meas was attempting to get us to support this cause more than merely showing us the interesting sites of his city.

We did a little souvenir hunting before heading back to the hotel to get cleaned-up for dinner.  Meas and Thoeum picked us up again and drove us to a buffet-style restaurant that includes a show.  The food choices were everything from Western French-fries to traditional Thai and Khmer dishes.  We ate a lot of fruit.  On stage, young artists performed traditional Khmer village dances and the beautiful Apsara-style routines in fabulous colorful costumes.  They all performed for over an hour to the flashes of many cameras.  Apsara dancing is the traditional court and palace dancing performed for the kings in Angkor times.  We really enjoyed the show, but were ready to call it a day when it was over.

On the way home, with translation help from Meas, Thoeum described a stomach condition and the associated pain he had been experiencing lately.  He asked us to recommend a medication.  Neither of us is medically qualified to diagnose the problem, but we felt so bad for him.  It sounded as if he had an ulcer so we made some recommendations that we thought might help.  I’m told the pharmacies here sell many drugs over-the-counter that require a prescription in the states.  We offered our advice, support and prayers to Thoeum and headed back to our hotel room.

02/17/06, Friday

After packing for our day-trip to the ruins, we went downstairs to the complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel.  They had a huge selection of delicious choices and a very big crowd.  After eating all we could fit, Meas and Thoeum picked us up.  Thoeum was proud to show us the medicines he had purchased that morning.  We pray that something will help his pain and begin to cure the problem.  As the night before, we encouraged him to see a doctor as soon as he was able.

The Angkor area is six kilometers north of Seim Reap and includes numerous ruin sites.  Our first stop was the largest city complex built during the Angkor era.  It would require to much space to individually describe each stop we made and each ruin we explored in detail so I will just list their names and a few of the highlights.  Over the course of the next eight hours we visited Angkor Thom and its surrounding moat, Bayon, Baphoun, Phimeanakas, the Royal Palace, the Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King, stopped for lunch in Seim Reap, endured a downpour as we visited the tree-root encrusted Ta Prohn and Angkor Wat and its surrounding moat.  The sheer size of these places was astounding.  The proliferation and detail of the carvings was amazing.  The amount of resources, especially labor, required to construct the structures was overwhelming.  The destruction by man and the deterioration by nature were saddening.  These once highly decorated buildings have been plundered by invaders and outlaws and ravaged by the elements.  We are very glad Bill McDonough had insisted we go.  He had told us that to understand the people of Cambodia, one must visit Angkor to see where they came from.  It was sad to realize that a once flourishing kingdom had deteriorated into the poverty of the twenty-first century.  It was encouraging to know that God is always in control and He has a plan.  We only had time to see a small fraction of the ruins.  One of our future trips to Cambodia must include a longer stay in this area to see more of these awesome structures.

We had arranged a late checkout at the hotel so this gave us an opportunity to take some much needed showers before Meas drove us to the airport to catch our short flight to Phnom Penh.  It had taken six and a half hours to get there by boat and car.  It took us less than an hour to fly back.  Our travel agent told us the tour included a transfer from the airport to the hotel.  No one showed up so we took a taxi back to the hotel and hit the sack.

02/18/06, Saturday

Saturday was a fairly easy day for us.  We did the usual breakfast in the hotel with the Carman’s and enjoyed another of the delightful conversations we repeatedly had with them.  They are both such delightful people.  It is so easy to see Jesus in them.  After a quick check of email, we headed back up to the room to relax and read for a while.  Late in the morning, we joined the Carman’s for a tuk-tuk trip across town to the EVA Air ticket office so George could see about a ticket change.  We then journeyed to the Holiday Villa for lunch.  Overall, they have had the best food we’ve found so far, plus, they have good air-conditioning!

After our return to the hotel, I started feeling a bit sick, so Sharon went with the Sproul’s and elder Nick to Phnom Wat for a tour and a leisure time in the surrounding park enjoying feeding the playful monkeys and the huge elephants.  They made a pit stop at the Lucky Market on their return trip for ice cream.

That evening, we enjoyed a lengthy conversation and dinner at the Java Café with Nathan and Cheryl Wheeler.  We really enjoyed their company.  They are a delightful, dedicated young Christian couple, diligently serving God there in Phnom Penh.  As a result of their first nine months in Cambodia working at Partners in Progress, they have connected with the Cambodians they studied with to start a house church in their home across from the university.  They are also studying with family members of the recent converts.  We pray God continues to bless their work and we look forward to sharing in their friendship and fellowship each time we visit and when we move there.

02/19/06, Sunday

Sunday was another easy, yet delightful day.  There was breakfast in the hotel, then a tuk-tuk ride with the Carman’s to PPcoC.  George got the call to preach and gave us a great lesson on the spiritual house of the Lord, our bodies.  We said many tear-filled goodbyes to the members, and then used the tuk-tuk to go back to the hotel.  After a short rest, James and his family arrived to share lunch with us at the hotel.  They are such sweet Christians with servant hearts.

Later that afternoon, we walked to Bill McDonough’s for the evening service.  There was a large crowd of about 25 to 30.  George presented a very moving sermon on being strong and courageous as missionaries, proclaimers of the good news story to the world.  Even though nearly everyone fellowshipped for quite a while after the service, Sharon and I stuck around long after the others to play dominos with Bill, Marie-Claire and their other house guests.  We had a blast learning a new domino game called “Chicken Foot” or something like that.  Bill invited us to stay with them if we are able to make a return trip over the New Year holiday.  We pray that it is the Lord’s will for us to return that soon!

02/20/06, Monday

I never finished this entry.  These are my notes: Daytona 500, breakfast, email, school by taxi, rain, James’ house, taxi back, lunch, Russian Market, Museum, ice cream, Java for dinner, pack

Monday morning I awoke very early so I turned on the TV to see what might be on.  I was treated to the last two-thirds of the Daytona 500 NASCAR stock car race.  As an ex-racer, I still enjoy a good TV race as a spectator and this was a good one.  We later joined the Carman’s for breakfast and then headed to CBI in a taxi as it was raining this morning.  Other than a tiny shower one morning a few days earlier, it had not rained in Phnom Penh the whole time we had been there.  This is normal for this time of year.  They say when the rainy season arrives, it will rain everyday, but not always all day.  We pray we have an opportunity to visit Cambodia during the rainy season to experience that climate also.

The rain had stopped before arriving at school.  I might have mentioned this before, but the school/church building has no air conditioning.  It gets plenty warm in there as the morning sun shines through the windows.  George did an admirable job of holding his own as he instructed for three hours each day.  This was our last day with the students.  It was hard to say goodbye.  We had become so attached to each of them.  George gave me a few minutes after class to go before them and say a few works of encouragement and express our feelings about them.  Did I say it was hard to say goodbye?

When we had wiped the tears from our eyes, we took the taxi to James’ house to say goodbye to his family.  I can’t wait to get to work with James at the school in a couple of years.

02/21/06, Tuesday

I never finished this entry.  These are my notes: breakfast, check-out, Nathan’s house, airport, layover, movies, Sandy & Cindy, 10:30

 


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