About Tom Rand

Tom Rand is an apprentice of Jesus, a biblical scholar and storyteller who is passionate about worship, teaching and formation into the Christ-like living. He lives in Toledo, Ohio and serves as the pastor of Sylvania First United Methodist Church.

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.

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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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What if?

It has been a whirlwind of days. Up early, to bed late. No time to think, much less blog. This morning I sit drinking tea and listening to the rooster crow from a nearby field. I can see the gulf of Thailand from the balcony where we eat breakfast (and where we get wifi). A rainstorm just passed through with a clatter of heavy rain on the tin roof above.

Our teaching time has been an extraordinary experience for everyone in the group. On day two, Elizabeth taught the resurrection story from Mark. By the time she had finished, they knew it by heart, every one of them. In the afternoon, Amelia and Tom B. taught the parables of the sower and of the mustard seed. Again, they all knew it by the end. On day three, Amelia taught the story of Bartimaeus, including the song, “Blind Man Sat by the Side of the Road” with sign language. Each workshop taught three stories, so that by the time we had finished, each Cambodian knew 7 stories by heart. Last night, we told 28 stories in sequence from Mark in the epic telling.

What struck me was the dramatic character of our Cambodian hosts. They intuitively understood the humor of the gospel, laughing and living in the joy of resurrection as they told the story alive in God, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, they told with such passion and energy, as if the story mattered. Of course it does, but it strikes me that we don’t often treat it that way in America. The Bible is one book of many in our libraries or now on our Kindles. we read the Bible as a source of information, but rarely invite the Word of God into our hearts. We are afraid to learn and tell the story.

Read Mark 8:1-8.

What if that were the end of the story? What if the story ended with fear, and no one told the story to anyone?

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Interesting Food

Travel always brings new experiences. Every culture has their food. In addition to rice, of course, Cambodia has its share of interesting food.

Much of the food in Cambodia is fish based. Fish is usually served fried, and whole (head, tail and all). If one can get over the eyes staring blankly back from the plate, which our kids could not, it is really quite good. Fish also comes in other forms. I had a delicious fish amok in Phnom Penh that can only be described as a kind of fish paste, with a full palate of spices accompanying it.

Vegetables are often served stir fried or in flavorful soups (watch out for those bones, when meat is cooked, nothing is wasted!). We learned that many Khmer do not eat enough vegetables. One of the challenges the CHAD team faces is convincing the Cambodians of the nutritional value of the wide variety of greens they grow.

In Phnom Penh, I also had a prawn, pineapple and mushroom pizza. Interesting, but quite delicious.

In contrast to much of Asia, the breads here are outstanding. Since Cambodia was once a French protectorate, baguettes are ubiquitous and good. So good one may imagine for a brief moment that they came straight from the patisserie in Paris! Roger loves the coffee.

Then there is the fruit. Pineapples, papaya, mango, bananas and dragon fruit accompany nearly every meal. Some of the more interesting new fruit we’ve tried included longan and rambutan. Longan is a small, marble sized fruit that can be peeled to reveal a fleshy inside and a large, black pit. Rambutan are called “forest hair” because they look like red, hairy orbs, about the size of a golf ball. Peeling into them reveals a similar fleshy fruit and pit. Both longan and rambutan taste a bit like peeled grapes to me. Yum.

The big new treat for me in this trip was octopus. Yesterday, we had a break at the beach after sessions. We went with Lun Sokhum, the pastor we support, and his family, Chankeoun (also a pastor), and their children, Phina (almost 6) and Kuwon (3 1/2). There was a steady stream of seafood vendors making their way past our chairs offering fresh crab, prawns (some the size of my fist!), and other tasty delights. I let the all pass, but Sokhum did not. He bought a plate full of octopus and insisted that I try it. Tentacles were optional (I took mine off). After pulling out the “spine” (the only bone supporting the squishy beast), one could dip it in hot sauce, which I did, giving it a good, healthy coat. I tried to bite it, but Sokhum said, no, eat it all. So I did. Not bad. Actually, pretty good. A little rubbery, but also pretty tasty. The rest of the family was swimming at the time, which was a good thing. To see their faces when they heard what I had done was worth the risk!

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The Sacrament of Hair Washing

By Elizabeth Rand

My pastor and mentor Judy Mensch prayed a prayer that I often use. “Oh God, open our eyes, that we may see you….everywhere.” When we open our eyes and our hearts, we will realize that God is within us and among us, present in the faces and the bodies we encounter. We experience the presence of the living Christ most profoundly when we are part of Christ’s body, followers of Jesus, connected with Christian communities that welcome us, feed us, and send us to be bearers of God’s love and peace. Jesus taught us that God will come to us and offer grace when we baptize and when we gather around the table to share the bread and cup. We experience these actions as sacramental, sacred moments of communion with the holy within Christ’s body.

After we worshipped at the Methodist Amen church, I wondered if Jesus would teach us a third way that we can experience God’s presence and be filled with God’s grace. This amazing Christian community welcomed us with balloons and a courtyard full of greeters when our van pulled up to the church. We sang and prayed together, read scripture aloud together, heard the Word proclaimed, taught the children, blessed the children, and gathered at Christ’s table for holy communion. Then a church that has no electricity or running water and cooks food in big pots over wood fires brought out a delicious meal, and we ate together.

After we had finished lunch, the youth took chairs outside and lined them up in the courtyard in front of the well. They pumped water into the buckets. Then the children came and sat in the chairs. The youth gently washed their hair with a special shampoo designed to kill lice, rinsed this shampoo, and applied a regular shampoo. Once the children’s hair was rinsed a second time, they walked to Marilyn, who took a towel and rubbed their hair dry, pulling dead lice off the towel. I watched Marilyn tenderly pat each face dry and tip up their chin so she could smile into their eyes. Then the boys and girls turned to me, and I combed their hair, looking for any leftover lice. It didn’t take long to comb through the boys’ short hair. Some of the girls had hair that streamed down their backs. They stood patiently as I gently pulled apart their tangled strands of hair.

As I combed, I remembered that before we came to Cambodia I read that we were not supposed to touch Cambodian children’s heads. I felt honored and humbled that they trusted me enough to touch them in such an intimate, vulnerable way. When I finished combing each’s child’s hair, I looked into their eyes and smiled at them, usually receiving a smile in return. I felt that I was looking into God’s face and touching part of Christ’s body, In this holy moment of washing and drying and combing, God’s grace came to us in a profound love that flowed into us and overflowed like the healing waters of a well, the waters of blessing and promise. Thanks be to God.

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