West Ohio – When Prayer Moves on Hands and Feet

During the West Ohio Annual Conference in June, Bishop Ough wondered what if …we prayed for the West Ohio Conference every day. When we came home, Roger and I pledged that we would pray everyday for the West Ohio Conference and Concord UMC and invited others in the church to do the same. So even in Cambodia, we prayed for Concord and West Ohio and begin to view prayer a bit differently. Throughout the mission we were known as the West Ohio team and we felt graceful pride as we represented West Ohio to Cambodia. We also knew that we represented several churches- Oxford, Antioch, Concord-Englewood, Grace-Dayton,Linworth-Columbus, Korean Grace-Dayton, Milford First, Shiloh-Cincinnati, Church of the Messiah-Westerville, Christ-New York and a host of individuals who made generous gifts so that the mission could unfold. So over and over again, we became aware of the way that prayer of many people can be embodied in the action of hands and feet. We had been sent by the gospel and sent with the prayers of many. In 14 days we have logged 43 hours in the air plus 8 hours by bus to and from Sihanoukville (not counting the daily bus trips). We have seen and experienced more than we can process yet. But these are the things I am sure of: God’s love is beyond understanding, God moves us to reach out to our sisters and brothers, we have a gospel to tell, we are called to live out the gospel we know wherever we find ourselves, the life of discipleship is ever unfolding, prayer and prayers that engage our hands and feet make a difference.

The Longest Day

We are all home safely now, mid afternoon on what is already the longest day of our lives. We left Siem Reap at 11:25 p.m. last night and arrived home today at 2:20 p.m. By the end of the day, there will have been 37 hours for us on the 20th of September, 2011. Ah the magic of air travel across the international date line!

It’s good to be home. We’ll post more pictures and reflections after we sleep a little and get organized.

Mustard Seed School

Today we worshiped in a school. The Mustard Seed School was started by Pastor Lun Sopea and his wife, an experienced teacher, to educate the children in their village near Siem Reap. The school teaches all the basics, plus English language (a key ti escaping poverty in Cambodia). They serve 130 preschoolers and up every day. On Sundays, they worship with the children and their families. Notice i did not say the school meets in a church. The church meets in the school. The mission is the school, not the church. The worshiping community came second.

He has now started three churches this way and they are all growing fast. Lead with serving, then invite people through relationships into an encounter with Christ. It turns church upside down. Perhaps that is the difference between kingdom building and church building.

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Joseph’s Dream

Pop quiz, Concord readers, what were Joseph’s dreams about? How did he interpret Pharaoh’s dreams?

The reason I ask is that Joseph Chan, DS f or the Kompong Thom district in northern Cambodia has a dream. Joseph is a survivor of Pol Pot. He met his wife, Marilyn, in a refugee camp on the Thai border. They encountered Christ there amidst all the lost people. Eventually they escaped ti the U.S. where Joseph became a United Methodist pastor.

Joseph and Marilyn returned to Cambodia in the 1990s as missionaries. I remember them well from my visit 2 years ago. Marilyn has been a steadfast advocate for women’s ministry in Cambodia since they arrived. I’m bringing home a book written about the to share.

Today I had my first moto (motorcycle) ride in Cambodia. We left Siem Reap, where we are staying, to go out in the country. I’ll write about the harrowing ride when I stop shaking. Anyway, Joseph dreams of a senior adult center near Siem Reap, complete with a sustainable agricultural community, a church (which has already been built), and a school. He showed me plans and described his dream in vivid terms.

Right now there is only a building frame, 2 ponds, a chicken coop, and a mango, but he sees the fully developed vision. In order to get to the plot, we had to take a hand tractor-driven trailer through waist deep flooded rice paddies. But Joseph sees not what is, but what can be, what will be by God’s grace.

In Genesis, Pharaoh dreamed of seven fat cows swallowed by seven skinny cows, interpreted by the biblical Joseph as a prophecy about abundant and lean years. Cambodia has been through the lean years, and now Joseph Chan sees the possibilities of abundant life for his people, abundant life promised in Jesus Christ.

Please join me in prayer for Joseph’s dreams.

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Reflections on the Bus

By Elizabeth Rand

We are riding the bus back to Phnom Penh, heading for the airport to catch a flight to Siem Reap. We see rice fields, water buffalo, and the inevitable motos passing us on hairpin curves. Amelia is quite brave to sit in the front seat! We will drive past mountains and cultivated palm tree forests. We will also pass mounds of trash, abandoned by the side of the road. Tara, one of our translators, told us that sanitation is a huge problem here. We experienced this even when we swam in the Gulf of Thailand. We saw trash, not sea creatures, floating in the waves.

It will take a long time to process all I experienced this week at the biblical storytelling training. Tola, my translator, and I facilitated three workshops, at which pastors learned to tell the stories of Jesus and his Family, Jesus Walking on the Water, and Peter’s Denial. We always began by doing the story learning activity called “Repeat After Me”. I said a line of the story and did a gesture. Tola translated the line into Khmer and did the gesture. Finally, the pastors repeated Tola’s words and actions. This was time-consuming at first, but the pastors learned the story quickly and were able to explore the stories more deeply and connect them to their lives. At the end of the workshop, we invited pastors to take turns coming up to tell the stories. This inevitably became a group telling, as all of the pastors did the gestures and prompted the teller if she or he faltered. On Thursday night, I watched the pastors take turns telling stories in their circles of ten. As I looked around the room, I saw the pastors from our workshop making very familiar gestures, and I knew which story they were telling. I felt so honored and humbled to be part of this storytelling community, which is a community in every sense of the word.

Amelia has already posted a blog describing our day with the Christian Education committee and Sunday School trainers. As we demonstrated a whole array of story learning activities I got some fun new ideas for teaching at home. One activity is called “Sing a Line”. We all chose a line from the story we were learning and set it to a tune. (I kept wishing for my friend Kim, who is brilliant at composing songs to sing to her daughter, Maya.). Amelia and I sang our line up and down the scale. We gave our Cambodian colleagues five minutes at most to set a line from the story to music. Then we invited the groups to sing, and they sang sophisticated melodies. One group even used motions! It was amazing. At the end of the day we recorded some if the songs so we can show them to others at home.

This was more than a storytelling training, however. This was also the first Pastors and Spouses retreat. Pastors and their families rested and played together, some seeing the sea for the first time. Some pastors, including the family my church supports, live in challenging conditions, lacking running water, electricity, and indoor plumbing. They had all if these things at the hotel where they stayed. On Wednesday night the pastors and their families gathered for a gala. They ate a special meal together and then took turns singing and dancing with a band. We were invited to this celebration. Elisha, Will, Tara, and Tola formed a band and played four songs. They sang the song, “Give Thanks”, which I did and I do, for all of the ways God’s kingdom was revealed to us in this place and with these brothers and sisters.

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Aw Kuhn

To all the generous donors who have supported this mission with your generous gifts and your prayers, we say Aw Kuhn, thank you. This is what you helped make possible.

Imagine a world devastated by war and genocide, where the remnant of a people struggle to survive. Imagine people battling the elements to produce enough food for their families. Imagine a world where exploitation and enslavement are well known societal realities that no one feels powerful enough to challenge. Imagine a world where animism (the worship of animal and elemental spirits) is freely mixed with the epic stories of many gods while some around simply seek enlightenment. Imagine a world where the Christian gospel is an anomaly, such a small minority that few take it seriously, but those who do are filled with such passion and energy, they cannot help but tell the story of a Savior who has shown them a way not only to find life personally, but also to live together in a radical new way of forgiveness, generosity, and love. You are imagining the New Testament world; and you are imagining Cambodia today.

The world then and the world now are not without hope. Communities are shaped by their stories. When the stories of Jesus were first told, they transformed not only individual lives, but a whole society and eventually the world. It is something like a mustard seed, Jesus said. Though the tiniest of all seeds, when planted in the ground it grows into the biggest shrub in the garden, with large branches within which the birds of the air come to make their nests. Our prayer is that the tiny seeds we planted this week will grow and flourish as they did in the first century, and that the people of Cambodia, the people of America, and the people of the world will all come to make their home in Jesus’ loving arms.

The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ is alive here. Thanks be to God! Aw Kuhn Preah Jesu!

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Post-Retreat Training

The pastors and their families finished their “retreat” (they did a lot of work for a retreat!) last night and went home this morning. However, two groups stayed on for another six hours of training today: the faculty of the Methodist Bible College in Phnom Penh (most of whom are also District Superintendents) and 25 Christian educators and Christian education trainers. Tom Boomershine, Tom Rand, and Angela Meeks led the faculty training and Elizabeth Rand and I led the Christian Education training. Both workshops were very productive and energizing.

In our work with the Christian educators, Liz and I plowed through a great deal of material about how to teach biblical stories to children, youth and adults. We outlined the four basic stages of a biblical storytelling workshop: Learn, Understand, Connect, Tell. We led specific activities for each stage, using the story of Jesus Calming the Sea from Mark 4 as our model story. I have never had such a responsive and creative group, and I’ve had some good ones in the past. It was amazing how fast they caught on to each activity, especially given that everything was done in translation.

We also gave the participants significant time at the beginning of our work together to discuss what they have learned this week, what they have heard pastors say about the retreat, and what obstacles they identify to establishing biblical storytelling as a primary approach to the mission and ministry of the church in Cambodia. And at the end we provided opportunity for them to consider next steps in their districts, congregations, and communities.

Hearing (through our translator) their reports on these topics enabled us to assess what had been of value for them and what they intend to do in the future. It assured us that the time, money and physical stresses of the trip were well worth it. We all felt that the results far exceeded our highest expectations. Here are excerpts from some of their comments:

–I learned that as children of God the pastor and teacher need to study the Word of God deep in the heart, to learn it by heart, to have faith in the stores, to believe in the stories.

–We heard from other pastors that this is a very good and helpful training to help them tell stories in Sunday School.

–When I was young I went to the pagoda and heard monks telling stories so I haven’t taken stories seriously. Now I think it is very important for me to tell the stories.

–We have learned to tell the story using our body, voice, facial expression. Also that it is best to use the words of the Bible to tell the story.

–This is a very simple way of telling stories, but very powerful.

–We will include all these techniques in our CE plan and have a trainng in local church and district.

–I will teach my congregation to tell the stories.

–Every month we share the good news with children by hair washing to rid them of lice and nail clipping. Now we will use storytelling as an opening part of this time.

–I see the potential for children in sharing the good news this way.

–In my community most believe in animism. My vision is to have a preschool in my church. We plan to do this in Oct-Nov. We cannot share the good news directly to older people in the village, but if we tell biblical stories to the children, they will tell their parents. This is God’s response to my prayer.

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Training District Superintendents by Marilyn Evans

Connecting the mission theme of biblical storytelling, the leadership team for the DS training began and ended our sessions by telling stories from the Gospel of John. Marilyn told John 15 to remind the twelve district superintendents the importance of maintaining deep prayer lives. Roger used John 13 to highlight that power and authority should be used in ways that honor the servant leader example of Jesus. Chad utilized John 21 to emphasize the necessity of equipping the church for faithful discipleship. Additional we discussed a biblical foundation for various supervisory behaviors and ways to view supervision as ministry.

A point of pride for the Methodist Mission in Cambodia is that now all district superintendents are native Cambodians. Five of them were newly appointed at the annual meeting (annual conference) September 1. All have 10-15 years experience as pastors and are passionate about ministry.

As the DSs reported the challenges they face, we heard themes similar to those of superintendents in the US. Yet clearly, a new church in a culture where 50% of the population is 15 or under presents some unique opportunities.

None of our training sessions would even be possible without the gifts of translation provided by Tola and Tara who travel with us. This talented, dedicated, hard-working young couple have been generous teachers who have helped us connect with the people here.