Jesus . . . that Name.

“If you’re a first time visitor please stand up, we would like to welcome you,” said the person giving announcements, as they do every Sunday. An elderly, white-haired couple stood up behind me. When it was time for all members to stand up and greet one another, I turned around to shake their hands. “Oh, they don’t speak English,” said the young man sitting next to them, “they are from Argentina. He is a pastor in Argentina, they are just here visiting us.” He proceeded to introduce himself. I fumbled through what Spanish I could remember and managed a “Nice to meet you.” The man and woman smiled and nodded their heads. Then through their son we had a conversation about how long I had been in Cambodia and what I did here. I learned his son and his wife were teaching at Hope School. Our conversation ended with “God bless yous” and “Nice to meet yous” then worship started and I turned back around. Worship was very powerful and in the middle of a time of prayer and the Holy Spirit moving I heard behind me, “Hallelujah Gloria a Dios. Gracias por todos. Gracias Senior. Gracias por todos. Gloria a Dios . . . ” and I began to weep. Why was I weeping? Because of JESUS. Because my view of Jesus became very BIG in that moment. Americans were standing on my left. Argentineans were standing behind me. Cambodians were standing to my right. In our congregation that morning there Canadians, Philippinos, Australians, British, Singaporeans, Kiwis, and other countries from all over, and the thing that knit us all together, the thing that made us family, that made us join together, our voices raised in unison- even if we weren’t speaking the same spoken language, we were speaking the same heart language- and that thing is the name of JESUS. The reign and rule of JESUS. The fact that we were all children of ONE FATHER. We were all citizens of ONE KINGDOM. JESUS is the only name that transcends all time, all culture, all language, all barriers and unifies people from all walks, all backgrounds, all economic statuses, all languages, all countries, all cultures together as family. And the invitation to join his family is withheld from NO ONE!!! The invitation to live in his Kingdom is open to ALL people!!! HOW IS THAT NOT THE BEST NEWS IN THE WHOLE WORLD!?!?!?! . . . it IS the best news in the WHOLE WORLD. There is nothing greater than that news!! There is nothing more soul-satisfying; nothing more sweet; nothing more fulfilling; nothing more life-giving; nothing more hope-inspiring; nothing more miraculous than the name of JESUS. In that moment at church it felt as if Heaven touched earth. As if the sky opened up and God gave me a glimpse into the Kingdom, the Nation, the Priesthood that He is building for Himself. One where, because of Jesus we are welcome; where because of Jesus we are blameless; we are cleaned; we are adopted in. One where God is our God and we are His people. Dwelling together under the reign and rule of Jesus. It’s the Kingdom. Our worship time ended with one of my favorite songs, “Set a fire down in my soul that I can’t contain and I can’t control. I want more of You,  God. I want more of You, God . . .” My BIGGER view, my expanded view of Jesus and the Kingdom has truly lit that fire in my soul. I walked out of church hungry; hungry for more of God; hungry for more of Jesus; hungry for more of the Kingdom.

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Posted in Real Life. | 1 Comment

I love you, I love you not, I love you, I love you not . . . I love you.

Most days, I love Cambodia. Some days, I love Cambodia not. It’s most definitely a love-love not relationship we have going on here, and sometimes it can change as quickly and easily as plucking a petal off a flower.

Today was starting out to tip towards the love-you-not-end of the spectrum, but then God- as he always does- did something that reminded me I am right where HE wants/needs me to be.

So this story has a happy ending- as all American stories do- just hang in till the end.

It started with the dogs. GAH the dogs!! They woke me up with their incessant barking at 6:30am. Yes, I needed to wake up at 6:30am, but I can think of a hundred different ways I would rather wake up than to their big mouths!

I also started having the signs of a UTI, which I do realize is not Cambodia’s fault, but it just added to my good mood this morning.

Then on my way to work I got stuck in an incredibly long line of traffic jam, as you do, during rush hour in Cambodia when cars are driving in all sorts of directions on the road, usually ways they shouldn’t be. One gigantic water truck decided he didn’t want to patiently wait for the line of traffic to move forward so he thought it would be a good idea to do a 180 turnaround in the middle of the road, which was only about a 1.5 lane road! He blocked the entire width of the road as he tried to turn around on a dime in the middle of it! Gggrrrrrrrr.

So, I finally make it through that traffic jam and I am rocking and rolling on my way to work, when I reach a large main road and come upon another traffic jam. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for the guy that HIT ME as he was trying to cut between cars and come into my lane because his side of the road was stuffed and his patience to wait was nonexistent, as it is with most drivers on the road! I just was driving along on my side of the road, minding my own business, not going fast- thankfully- when BAM! His front wheel hit my side foot pedal; and the foot pedal and the gear shifter got stuck in the spokes of his tire. Luckily they were LARGE holes and not small spokes so my foot wasn’t injured though my gear shifter was pretty munted. (See the photo- yeah, it’s supposed to be straight not bent.)

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Thankfully it still shifted my gears, so when I finally got untangled from his wheel I could still drive away. I drove away grumbling to myself, “See this is WHY we have traffic laws, maybe you should treat them as such instead of suggestions! See this is WHY you need to drive on YOUR side of the road not try to cut into other lanes just bc you’re impatient!!. . .” (everything was obviously his fault and not mine.)

But then Jesus stopped me and reminded me of Philippians 2:14-15: “Do ALL THINGS without grumbling and faultfinding and complaining; that you may show yourselves to be blameless and guileless, innocent and uncontaminated, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and wicked generation among whom you are seen as bright lights in the dark world.”

. . . Yes, Jesus, I can DO ALL THINGS without grumbling and complaining, even drive in Phnom Penh traffic. Ok, I get it. I am sorry. Please forgive my bad attitude.

So after I finally made it to work- on time even, thankfully- I treated myself to pork and rice from the street vender and a café latte from the corner coffee shop, because both treats would lift my spirits.

As I was sitting, eating with co-workers, one of our bosses came and sat down with us. Some how the block of cooked pig’s blood in my co-worker’s bowl of soup in sighted a conversation about religion in his mind, so he sat down and started talking to us about religion, specifically Christianity and the differences from other religions.

He had lots to say, and he had lots of questions. I answered when he asked me specifically, but a lot of what he was saying was for my other co-workers not for me, so I just sat quietly, smiling inside and listening, taking in all he was saying and trying to understand it all. He was being a witness for Christ through his curiosity and questions and didn’t even know it. And because he was one of our bosses, they and sat and listened even if it was just a courtesy.

One thing he said, “When I meet Christians, I just have an overwhelming sense of peace. When meeting people of other religions, I just sense uncertainty.” He then went on to explain, “Christians are so certain of the TRUTH and their beliefs because they believe on the GOD of the WHOLE UNIVERSE and he is the KING over EVERYTHING. They pray with certainty because they pray to GOD, but people of other religions do religious acts like ceremonies, but still are not certain if the god they do those things for will hear them or answer!”

WHOA!! I could not help but smile inside as I just sat there quietly taking it all in! This Buddhist man was speaking all these things that were just TRUTH. One by one my co-workers excused themselves until it was finally just he and I.

He asked me questions about laws against eating foods (like pig’s blood) and the Old Testament. I got to share with him the difference between the Old and New Testaments, and the freedom we have now that Christ has come in things like eating and drinking. We talked about all things in moderation, and why that’s important. We talked about Christians being examples to others.

And somehow that conversation led to a question about the blood of Christ and Communion and Christians drinking Christ’s blood. I explained to him the whole practice of communion, what it means, and how it’s a representation; not an actual drinking of Christ’s blood. I explained what it meant for the body of Christ to be broken for ALL people and the blood of Christ to be spilled for ALL people on the cross.

The vision of my church here in Cambodia is this:

To plant a New Testament Church in Phnom Penh which will have a positive influence on every sector of Cambodian society: religion, education, politics, social relationships, business, sports, and communications – and will be a model and resource center for planting churches in every province of Cambodia with the same philosophy and foundation and to send Cambodians as missionaries to other countries.

  Since entering the workforce here in Cambodia, I often times don’t feel like a “missionary” in the traditional sense, and I guess that’s because I am not. But today reminded me that I still have a role- every time I walk into my office at the university, I am fulfilling the vision of my local church, and I am still on mission.

I am always on mission.

Even if it’s just a mission to get my own heart and thoughts right in the midst of barking dogs, UTIs, crazy traffic jams and traffic accidents, mundane schedules, office work, and 8 hour days. Because when our hearts are right before the Lord, then we shine like lights in a dark world.

I am the light of the world. You are the light of the world.

A city on a hill cannot be hidden.

Live Exposed.

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Posted in Life in Cambodia | 1 Comment

This thing called Life.

When I was on the World Race in 2010- and 2011, too actually-  there were moments when all time seemed to stand still, and I would just be caught in a single moment and it would linger, and I would take in everything that was all around me, and inevitably the question/statement would rise to the surface . . .

Is this really my life?
This really is my life!

I can’t believe this is really my life. 

These were always “Ah ha” moments. In those moments it seemed like all of God’s blessing was being poured into a single moment until it was absolutely bursting with life.  Some of these moments were pure hilarity. Some of these moments were sobering revelations. Some of them were just simple reminders of God’s care, goodness, and unique love for me.

I will share a few of my favorite is-this-really-my-life moments to illustrate . . .

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that one time, in New Zealand, when we had just finished scaling a mountain and a herd of cattle decided they wanted to go where we were going . . .

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 that one night, when sweet Sandra invited us into her home for a hearty meal on the barbie (not the doll- the grill), and some real down under Australian hospitality.
Heaven touched earth as we loved, worshipped, laughed, and encouraged one another.

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Africa provided lots of these is-this-really-my-life?-moments, like the time when Keet and I were in the back of a van with 5 very large African guys riding with us. They were our brand new contacts that we had JUST met, and we were driving down an unnamed, unmarked road, going to somewhere we had NO IDEA about, and it dawned on me, that we had just instantly trusted them and jumped in the back of the van. If they weren’t honest men, then we could be dead meat. It was a real sobering moment that made me trust in the Lord all the more.

BUT ANYWAY, the real moment that this post is about is the night when all these African guys took us to the bus station to wish us off! They had become such close brothers! While waiting for the bus we all decided to be kids again and play on the playground at the station. Sitting across from SonnyAnne on the merry-go-round, with a brother on either side, all of us dizzy drunk and laughter filling the air . . . Is this really our lives? How old are we again?!

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Then there is Romania. AH Romania! Jesus really romanced me in Romania. These little moments occurred daily or sometimes hourly in Romania as I climbed rolling hills to view vast sunsets, picked apples in my adopted “auntie and uncles” orchard, shucked corn and sorted beans with the old Babushkas that sat by the side of the road, and then there was Benny. He was the son of our ministry partner and we lived with his family. Every night he would yell up the stairs to the loft where we slept, “KRISTEN!!! Come and get it, the milk!”, “Coming, Benny”, and the two of us were off, hand in hand down the road with our empty two-liter coke bottle to go get it, the milk from the neighbor down the road who freshly “squeezed it” for us, right out of the cow, the moment we arrived!

As if that is not enough to make a person stop already and contemplate the uniqueness of life, one night Benny and I walked hand in hand and I was talking to him about God and how God can do anything we ask. I told him that sometimes I ask God for shooting stars. I prayed out loud and asked God for a shooting star. A few moments later right in front of our faces the largest star I had ever seen flung across the entire expanse of the sky. The 5-10 seconds it took to travel that far seemed like a whole minute, and Benny and I just stopped, wide-eyed in wonder looking at it. Afterwards I bent down and asked Benny what he wanted to ask God for, he said he wanted to grow up to be a train conductor. So we paused right there in the pitch blackness on the side of the road on our way home from get it-ting the milk and prayed and asked God to grant this prayer for Benny.

The Czech Republic was another unforgettable month with daily Ah Ha moments. One of the members of the house church we were attending that month went out of town for almost a week and he and his wife asked our team to house sit for them. It was incredible because the 7 of us girls had been crammed into a less than 450sq ft flat, sleeping primarily on couches or the floor with a one burner camping stove, a washing machine in the hallway whose hose ran into the shower, which was in the kitchen, and we can’t forget the freezing little closet for a toilet . . .

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 . . .  his house was spacious and comfortable. During this week, I had gotten pretty sick with the flu and I remember laying in bed- a soft king size bed with down comforter- while the other girls on my team were conducting a “kids” camp with some of the other Czech members of the house church. I was bummed I couldn’t join, but then the kids voices rose up in worship. Angels couldn’t have sounded sweeter. I lay there with big fat tears rolling down my cheeks as their beautiful Czech worship was lifted through the roof to heaven. Really Jesus, this is my life right now? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

There are so so so many more . . .

I think, when on the World Race these moments happened seemingly daily or at least weekly because everything was always so new and changing. Or maybe it was because I was watching and waiting; I was anticipating; I was searching for the life in each moment of each day.

These days, it seems like these moments happen less often as I have slid into the comfort, or monotony, or both, of the daily grind. But yesterday it happened again!

A very random and funny moment, but it happened nonetheless- that old familiar feeling of time standing still, and God’s goodness coming extremely close.

I was sitting in Aeon Mall. It is large, and it is Cambodia’s first real Western Mall. The building and the store fronts are very Western looking.  But I was one of only three Westerners in the food court, which is filled with Khmer stands offering fried and other noodle dishes, Asian soups, assorted meats- or rather organs- served with rice, white or fried, for about $1.50-$2.50 per plate.

I was looking around at my surroundings as I was waiting for Bibi to come back to the table with our “Ban-song,” a vietnamese noodle dish. I was surrounded by people who look very different from myself, eating an assortment of dishes you would never see served in an American Mall’s food court. The two girls in front me, were taking selfies making kissy faces, pouty lips, and other silly faces while holding up peace signs. But the really classic part of this, is that one of the girls was wearing her matching pink and red Hello Kitty pajama top and bottoms- pajama sets worn in public as regular clothes, definitely NOT something you would see in an American mall on anyone over the age of 3.

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And once again it dawned on me that- I was sitting in a mall in Cambodia . . . and this is normal . . . This is my life.

I am living in Cambodia, I have a job and a husband, and I don’t know if many people even consider me a “missionary” anymore in the traditional sense. In many ways I have just slipped into the daily routine of wake up, work, dinner, sleep, so on and so on. But yesterday I was reminded, I really need to be mindful of Him in every moment of every day.

The life we live is gift from God, and each day is laced with his goodness and blessing, but we have to be intentional; we have to be looking for Him in each moment. If we take the time to pause and look around, we will see Him. The moment we catch a glimpse of Him may be random, funny, sobering, or utter joy, but one thing is always true: time will stand still and His goodness will come close.

How can you be more mindful of Him? When was the last time you stopped and realized- this is really my life?!?! What a gift it is!! 

Posted in Real Life. | 3 Comments

Love and Choice.

CHOOSE YOUR LOVE, LOVE YOUR CHOICE.

I was riding to work on the back of mine and Bibi’s motor bike, zoning out, looking at the sky, the people passing by- my busy and chaotic surroundings- when the guy’s t-shirt on the motorbike in front of us, caught my eye. Choose your love, love your choice. 

I thought about that sentence for the next 20 minutes until Bibi and I arrived at my university.

Because Bibi and I are coming up on 1 year of marriage in just 8 short days, my mind went immediately to him, my love.

I remember standing in our church service in October 2012, praying about this man beside me that I was getting to know. I hadn’t had a boyfriend in years! Lord, what am I doing with this guy? Do I want this relationship to evolve? Is this really the man I should marry? Because we had made it official- I was Bibi’s “girlfriend”- in Khmer culture that is really just synonymous with fiance, so in his mind it was a done deal- we were getting married. That night in church the Lord spoke SO clearly . . . “It is your choice, Kristen. You can choose not to take this relationship any further, or you can choose Bibi. But if you choose Bibi, you are choosing all of him, every day, for the rest of your life.”

I chose Bibi that night, and maybe I didn’t realize it fully at the time, but in that one choice there were other choices that I was simultaneously making as well like . . .

to be forever tied to Cambodia; a country and culture so far away and foreign to my own.

to be okay with the fact that Bibi is not as anal about cleanliness and tidiness as I am, so that means that I will be the one to ALWAYS make the bed in the morning, and pick up his clothes off the floor and put them in the dirty laundry basket. 

for one of us to ALWAYS have to sacrifice being near friends and family because they literally live on opposite sides of the globe. (I found this to be probably the hardest choice, especially around special holidays and times when family gathers together.)

to exercise extra grace in conflict because often our differing paradigms or world views keep us from fully understanding the other person’s heart and feelings.

to always need to compromise when it comes to meals because some days I just don’t want to eat rice and stir fried-something, and other days Bibi rejects the “blandness” or non-spiciness of Western food.

to try to create traditions together as a new family instead of feeling sad and alienated when Bibi doesn’t really get what the Christmas season is all about.

to commit to continually pray for his safety and protection even when I am absolutely ANGRY that he sometimes refuses to put a helmet on!

to work extra hard at communicating and be an eternal student of language because my first language is not his and his first language is not mine.

to be kind even when I come home and there are THOUSANDS OF ANTS in my kitchen because Bibi didn’t wash or rinse the pots and pans he cooked with that morning.

to not be frustrated when I don’t understand Khmer humor or slang, and am the only one not laughing when in a group amongst our Khmer friends.

The list continues.

I have chosen my love, Bibi Leang, and for the last 357 days I have been learning how to love my choice. The same is true for Bibi because I too am a choice that has, at times, been hard to love, but I believe that is what this thing called marriage is all about. We are choosing to love each other and the choice we made to journey together every minute, every hour, every day, even when we act out, and are our most unloveable selves.

Imagine what it would be like if every single person went into marriage knowing that they are choosing their love and, “until death do you part”, will be learning how to love your choice.

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As I was sitting here writing this, I began thinking not only about marriage, but about all the hundreds of choices we make on a daily basis . . . and it brings up so many questions like,

how many choices do we consciously make on a daily basis? unconsciously?

how many of those choices do we love? of those choices, how many have consequences that we love?

. . . work? school? the degree we study? the way we eat? the way we exercise or don’t? the way we spend our free time? what we choose to learn on a daily basis? what we spend our money on? the way we keep in touch with people? what we allow to occupy our thoughts? what we choose to say? how we choose to respond to people and situations?

Think about if we, first of all, made all of our choices conscious choices and secondly, made choices on the basis of whether or not we love the choice itself and the consequences there after . . .

sounds like maybe another blog for another time.

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Real Life on Cambodian Streets.

I have been back in Cambodia for just over two weeks now. Last week was my students’ first week of their community health practicum. We have chosen three different communities for them to go into in order to apply their knowledge of community health care. I gave one group an assignment for each student to get to know at least one family in their community. Then they had to introduce me to their family.

Walking around that community I heard so much, saw so much, experienced so much. All of my senses were on overload. I have had days to try to wrap my head around everything, but even still, I can’t stop thinking. I can’t stop praying. I am moved and troubled deep within my spirit.

Here is my recount of Thursday 08/14/2014.

Women playing cards, betting, and squandering away what little earnings came from the days work. Not just 5 feet away, their children are doing the very same thing. With 100 riel notes in their hands, they throw chips and kick two flip flops back forth seeing which one can get closest to the chips or which one can knock their opponents flip flop out of the way. The winner snatches riel from hands unwilling to part with the practically worthless- but so dear to them- pieces of paper. Who knows how long they had to walk around collecting rubbish or begging in order to gain what they had.

A naked baby is standing on the stoop to his stilted house. Maybe not even two years old. His back and bottom covered in small pinkish white pustules. He is holding onto the ladder leading up to the entrance. He is wailing. Murky, thick black water is just inches below him as the whole bottom floor of his house is completely flooded. Feces and garbage of all sorts cover the water’s surface making it practically impossible to see the water itself. Such a stench that assaults the senses rises from the hot, standing muck. Crying uncontrollably it looks as though this little man could tumble in at any moment. A man comes to the door, looks down at the child listlessly, and in blank apathy turns around and walks back into the depths of the house. Just then a woman comes along mouthing off about parents who just abandon their kids and leave them crying. She jerks the little child up by his right upper armpit and shoulder, his feet hardly able to touch the ground as she practically drags him into another stilted wooden shanty about 10 meters away.

I have never seen such a head. His hair was shaved. Three large bright red and purple fleshy wounds ooze yellowish brown serum. The back of his head is covered in yellow-green puss-filled sacs. The worst bacterial skin infection I have ever seen. Itchy, painful, crusted and oozing. He is only about three years old. His mom asks me for medicine. I ask her how long his head has looked like this. She says for a long time. When she has money she puts medicine on it. It heals, but then comes back. A cycle. She asks me for medicine. I tell her she could put medicine on it, but he is getting infected by the bacteria in his environment. She asks me for medicine. I tell her it is better for her to keep her house very clean, and to wash his head three times a day with soap and clean water, and do not allow him to scratch it. She asks me for medicine. It’s very important for every member of the family to wash their hands often. She asks me for medicine. I try to reinforce the fact that medicine will only help in the short term. She needs to wash his head, and keep their home environment very clean. She asks me for medicine. She does not even acknowledge the things I am saying to her. She asks me for medicine. I do not have medicine to give. I walk away saddened because I am not able to do anything for her- not able to do what she wants me to do for her.  So many people with the mind-set of just wanting the quick fix. Not life change. Not betterment for ones self in the long run. Just the quick fix. Not change of habits, or change of lifestyle. Just a quick fix.

We are met by a woman in hysterics. Large fat tears roll down her face. She wants us to follow her to her house. Her mother in-law and husband think that my students are members of an NGO- an NGO, they think, she has petitioned the service of in order to help her divorce her husband. FEAR is the most obvious thing coming across this woman’s face. We are led through several narrow streets to a back little out cove, dead-end alley of little cinder block houses. The road is uneven rock, gravel, and mud, soiled and rank. Each house consists of one dingy little room about 12 feet by 12 feet. In Vietnamese she tells her daughter to run and find her grandmother. A little while later a short, gray headed woman with short hair and glasses arrives. We explain to her that we are not an NGO and we do not work on social cases. We are simply here to evaluate the health of the people of this community. Her superficial smile is plastered on her face as she nods in our direction. She smiles at us, but as soon as she looks at her daughter in-law her smile fades. I lean my head into the dark room. A tiny little infant is laying on a blanket on the dirty tile floor. 14 days old. We give a nod to the mother in-law. We turn around and leave. I ask our students as we exit the little alley if they believe the mother in-law and husband were violent towards that woman? Without hesitation, before I could even finish my question my student quickly responds nonchalantly, yes. Then turns around and it is never mentioned again. It’s so normal, even for my students. I later find out this woman has six kids. Two of which have already been sold or given away to someone, anyone (no one knows exactly who) coming in search of children. I ask another one of my nursing students if she knows what type of people come around asking for children to be given away or sold. She answers that those children will most likely be used as servants for sexual acts. She knows. They know. That’s it, there is nothing more to it. Reality. The issue is dropped. I walk on in silence. I am trying to wrap my mind around a mother who gives her children away already knowing what their horrific fate will be. These children are just given away or sold for enough money to support the rest of the family for a month. And when the money runs out, so too their memory is swept away.

We walk to another house where we meet a gentleman sitting on a wooden bench outside his house. He offers us a seat. I would have liked to put my focus on him completely. I try. I really do. But not more than 5 meters from me is a mother and a child. The child is crying. She is sitting in the middle of the road. She has plopped herself down there apparently. She is probably no older than 3. Mum is wielding a wooden stick. There is no compassion nor understanding in her eyes. There is not even an attempt. Mum swats the child on the left side of her back. When the child tries to shield herself she swats her on the right. The child keeps trying to shield herself, twisting and turning, while the mum moves from one side to the other swatting as if trying to kill flies. Finally she gives up, the child is still crying and not making an effort to rise, so the mother just yanks her up by the arms and carries her off down the road.

Afterwards we meet the most beautiful lady. A Khmer woman in her late thirties. She is a  seamstress. She sews together cotton pajamas which are popular among all Khmer people and often worn during midday as everyday wear. She sews twenty pairs a day- shirt and matching pants. She starts early and usually does not finish until 7 o’clock in the evening. She introduces us to her children. Her daughter is at the sewing matching next to her. She helps out between school classes when she can. Her son is playing on the floor. I ask him questions to which he responds non-sensically with gibberish words. She tells me he can’t really speak. He only started saying “mom” and “dad” within the last month when he turned 5. I question her further about her son’s behavior. He has classic mannerisms seen in children with Autism. Mum unfortunately has no idea how to help him. She just knows that it is best for everyone if she does not interrupt his daily routine. It’s difficult to work, she says, trying to sew twenty pairs of pajamas in one day when she has to care for him, go to the market, and cook for everyone. If she is able to sew all 20 pairs together she will receive $4.50 for her day’s work.

We are invited into the home of a woman in her late 50‘s. First off I notice thick scars on both of her legs. On her right leg there is an X shape starting from the side of her knee and winding around her calf to the front of her shin. Her other scar is directly over her patella of her left leg. Her left leg scar is the result of a motor bike accident. Her right leg however is the remnant from the days of the Pol Pot regime. Her leg somehow got infected back then and she said, “There was no doctor, there was no surgery. All we had were the knives we cut the rice with . . . So I cut myself to open the wound that needed surgery. There was no medicine for the pain,” she said. It stayed open for a long time, she stuffed it with leaves and herbs. Eventually the wound healed, leaving behind wide and thick bands of scar tissue. This woman also tells us the story of her nine children. Two of which are dead. One died in the womb, and I try to keep my emotions from leaking out onto my sleeve as she describes how she went to a chinese hospital where they pulled the baby with forceps from her womb through her vagina, bit by bit as they cut him/her into pieces to get him/her out. That was child number 6. Child number 7 was born about a year later, but within a week also died. As we left her house, my nursing student who had interviewed her tells me what the woman herself could not. About thirteen years ago when her youngest child was 9 years old, her husband left her with all 7 children for another woman. My nursing student says, when we first asked about her husband during our interview her face immediately dropped and she began to cry. It was 13 years ago, but she is still very hurt by it, he says.

Finally we have finished our visits in the community and we are walking back to our central meeting location. I am looking down at the ground and I wouldn’t have looked up. I wouldn’t have noticed or been interested if it wasn’t for the sound of the CRACK! My head jilts to the left and I see an infant old enough to be on her tummy and hold her head up, but not yet able to crawl- moving her arms and legs as she lays on her tummy near her mother. The movements of her arms knock over the mother’s plastic cup of bubble tea onto the ground and her mother’s immediate response is to hit her. The infant starts crying immediately after her mother’s hand lands heavily on her lower back, and once again without any compassion or remorse, with complete indifference in her eyes the mother bends down picks up the cup and continues eating and drinking while the little one just screams, flailing her arms and legs, tears rolling down her cheeks. The mother doesn’t give her another look.

By the time we reach our meeting location, I have no physical nor emotional energy left. I ask the students if they have questions. I remind them what time to show up to class tomorrow. And then the only other words I mutter . . . “Just go home. Try to rest.”

I think I was saying it more for myself than for them.

Posted in In no particular category, Real Life. | 2 Comments

It’s a Wonderful Life . . .

So, I have been pretty homesick lately . . . I think it started when my parents’ time in Cambodia came and went in the blink of an eye. Then it progressed to all out crying at the drop of a hat as the Christmas holiday came nearer and nearer. There have been several triggers, like missing snow at Christmas time. Here it is just consistently hot. There is no drastic change in seasons, so things like holidays can sneak up on you and then come and go without you realizing it . . . like thanksgiving did.

I have also missed the “season” of Christmas! I don’t know how it happens in Ohio, it just does, Christmas is in the air. It’s a feeling in the heart. It’s a special time of year. Here, it is one, not very widely acknowledged day, and a program at church.

Also the fact that this is the first Christmas in my entire 30 years that I have not been in Ohio with my family has made that feeling of homesickness extra fresh.

But despite all that or maybe in response to it. Bibi and I have made the absolute most of this season! We had our tree up on December 1st. It has been Christmas in the Leang household for practically a month now. The warm glow of the Christmas lights have reminded me of God’s faithfulness as I have done as I would normally do in the States- woken up before the sun with my glass of hot tea and sat before the warm glow of the tree and thought about all this season truly means- each time God has met me there.

The Lord has drastically turned the temperature down for us here in Cambodia. Most nights Bibi and I have had to boil water for hot showers, close all the windows and turn off the fans. I have had to sleep in long sleeves and pants. I have also worn cardigans and three layers for the last 2-3 weeks! . . . . It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!! . . . .

I was not able to spend Christmas with my family in Ohio, but I have absolutely felt surrounded and loved this Christmas season! My housemate Beth and I spent all day cooking on Christmas Eve, then we sat together with our husbands and shared a meal with our landlord and her daughter. Then we went to a Christmas Eve service kind of like the Methodist services I grew up going to. It was a new experience for Bibi as he has never been exposed to liturgical readings and prayers. The next morning Beth and Brian, Bibi and I shared Christmas brunch together. Then Bibi and I spent the whole day preparing the house and a feast! We received his entire immediate family into our home that night; his siblings and their families, his mother- we were all there! 14 people packed into our little 3rd floor apartment! It was such hard work to prepare, but it was so worth it once we were all gathered on the floor with a delicious meal in front of us.

This Christmas season has also been filled with receiving carolers, teaching a Christmas lesson for our Sunday school kids, hot cocoa, dinner with friends, Christmas cocktails, and desserts with wine, classic Christmas movies, and quiet moments with Jesus.

Last night we were at a friends’ house and we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. This is first time I have ever seen the film, and Bibi’s first time too. I can relate to the main character George Bailey, especially in my 20’s. I was going to conquer the world. I wanted to travel, I wanted to get out and DO things and GO places. I had so much spirit, and so much adventure just wanting to bust out of me. The idea of being “tied” to Ohio and just having a “normal” job made me cringe. But in the film, George sets aside his spirit and his desires to travel and go to school in order to take over the family business, and eventually one thing leads to the next and he is married, with four kids, and starts to feel “stuck”. He is discouraged and needs a new perspective. So an angel is sent to help give him that perspective and he does it by showing George what life in that little town would be like if George Bailey would have never been born.

George realizes his life is not wasted even though it didn’t turn out how he wanted it to, and in fact, not just that it is not wasted, but the life he has is actually A WONDERFUL LIFE!!

As I watched that movie, I began thinking of my own life . . . my life in Cambodia . . . maybe I was not exactly where I wanted to be this Christmas season. Maybe I have felt a little “out to sea” these last two years as things have not turned out exactly how I had thought or planned. Maybe there have been times that I have wanted to throw my hands up, pack it all up and go back to the States. . . .

But last night, as I laid on my bed, I just opened my heart and let the Lord fill it with his truth. In fact, my life here in Cambodia is not wasted. I began thinking of all the relationships I have made, the lives I have come in contact with, the friends here who I hold dear, the family I have here. Nothing is wasted. I am a difference-maker. I am a light. I am His child. I am not a disappointment to Him or anyone. This life here in Cambodia is in fact, A Wonderful Life!!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!
From Kristen and Bibi Leang.

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Posted in Life in Cambodia | 2 Comments

Before logging onto my blog this morning, I couldn’t remember the last time I had entered this sacred space. It’s been nearly half a year; that coupled with the fact that I haven’t stopped biting my nails (I know, gross right, especially in this country) since June are probably telling me something. I am hiding and I am holding within. Sure my newsletters have gone out with all the joy, “Christian experience” and “God moments” I could scrape together; and while those stories are true and the feelings are true, they are such a small sliver of life in Cambodia. And so they have gone out, but the real me that has the freedom to be me in this sacred space has long since been neglected.

Since my last blog was written:

I have been homesick;

I turned 30;
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I started birth control; which has absolutely wrecked havoc on my body and emotions;

After countless hours, Bibi and I completely translated a whole sermon into Khmer!!! Such a cool project to be a part of;

Bibi and I made two exhausting trips to Goh Kong to get a land deed transferred over to Bibi’s name and were rejected twice because apparently we didn’t have enough money to pay the corrupt mayor under the table.

After months of fighting fatigue, I finally motivated myself to get back on my bike! It has been exhilarating riding all over PP again;

I stopped volunteering with one2one Cambodia;

Bibi and I planned and sometimes argued over the details of our wedding;

The door was closed on something that I was convinced was a promise from the Lord;

My paoun’s family in the slum had to move into an even dirtier, smaller house with only one latrine for all the families on that block because they could no longer afford the $40 rent per month at their old place.

I have stopped going to Khmer school;

My ceiling began to sag under heavy rainfall (my neighbor’s ceilings caved in completely) and the landlord didn’t really care, so that incited my 7th move in 24 months . . . one week before my wedding.
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My paoun Vantha started and stopped working with our wood craftsman friend; it has felt like it’s been one step forward half step back, two steps forward, one step back with him in all areas: spiritual life, school, work, family and respecting his parents.

Bibi and I spent a major Khmer holiday in Goh Kong with all his extended family! It was such a sweet special time. We ate LOTS of food; went fishing; and visited places that were special to Bibi growing up as child!
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My closest friend, confidant, and sister in Christ here was in several motorbike accidents and had to return home to NZ to rest and heal.

My parents and some friends came to Cambodia, which was the most incredible time! I am only sad I did not get to take them to church!!
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I got married!!!! It was truly the best, most perfect day of my entire life!
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Our honeymoon phase lasted only as long as the honeymoon, as I- the independent, self-sufficient, 30 year old- have had to completely redefine what “me” is now that I am one with this other human being who has his own thoughts and ideas and feelings.- hardest yet best journey of my life so far.

I finished a leadership course, our final project being an intentional development plan, in which I stated I would start writing again.

I started a new job as a Nursing professor at a university here in PP;

Bibi and I started going to a Bible study for newly married couples;

I have been homesick again.

I bought a Christmas tree- which made me homesick for Christmas in Ohio.

and I have been recently diagnosed with lupus.

So much good.
So much that is exciting.
So much that is challenging.
So much that is hard.

It’s hard to know what or how to feel on any given day. It’s hard to know how to process all that positively and negatively impacts/assaults the heart and mind here. And even harder to know how to express it in a way that is REAL and not overly glitzed with pomp and circumstance because that is what my self-imposed pressure says those in the States want to hear about my fantastic-winning-souls-for-Jesus-supra-human-missionary-life-in-Cambodia.

But I feel like from my leadership course I have been given some really great tools in my back pack from which to draw on in the future when it comes to processing, self-care, and working through transitions . . . which I feel like has defined my life here in Cambodia, one major transition after another. One major event to process and work through right after another, after another. Thankfully I do know I am not here in Cambodia alone. I have my husband, my best friend. I have my friends and family who are only a Skype call or Viber message away. I have my Khmer family here. My church family. And of course I have the Lord, the one who holds it all in his hands and sees and knows and is not surprised by anything that has happened in the last nearly half a year.

I just need to stop hiding. Stop biting my fingernails. Stop trying to hold it all in. Stop fearing what people are going to think if I am having a hard time working through something- I need to let people in more.

And maybe most importantly, I just need to keep writing. Keep allowing myself the freedom to be me in this place and put it all down, release it here and let it go.

Posted in Life in Cambodia | 1 Comment