Methodist Amen

Here are a few pictures from worship at Methodist Amen, sister church of Concord, where the Concord contingent of our team worshiped today. More commentary to come, we wanted to share these memories while they are fresh.

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The Killing Fields

by Marilyn Evans

It was a somber day yesterday for the adult members of our team. The children left early in the morning to attend the International School with the Gitobu girls, daughters of missionaries Esther and Nicholas. The rest of us toured the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum learning of the torture and executions of 2 million people throughout Cambodia at the hands of the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979. Walking through the areas of mass graves where men, women, and especially children were executed and buried, we were reminded of lives extinguished by fragments of clotting emerging through the soil.

Tuol Sleng prison was our next stop. Formerly a high school in Phnom Penh, it was converted into a prison and torture chamber for those whom Pol Pot perceived as threats. Targeted were the educated (doctors, engineers, Buddhist monks, teachers, ministers) along with their wives and children. Pictures of thousands of victims alng with torture devices (including water boarding) stood as reminders of unspeakable deeds performed ithe same rooms designed for launching young people toward promising futures. Halfway through this stop, the dark clouds we had been tracking opened up and the rain came. Watching through barbed wire window openings I thought, how appropriate– water to cleanse away the sins of this place.

Last evening, as one who has held precious children and grandchildren in my arms, I mourned for all God’s children (young and adult) who suffer at the hands if evil. Mostly in my life, I marvel at the goodness of humanity. Last night I was heavy with the knowledge of the horrific things we humans can do to each other. All afternoon yesterday, I heard God whisper, “Love one another.”

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A Day at the International School by Will Rand

Today was a very busy day because I got my first experience in an international school! It was like no school experience I have ever had. I went with the Gitobu girls and met many new people. The school grounds were huge! They had a main building, lake, fields, a playground, a swimming pool, and a cafeteria!

My day started off with a French class. This school teaches languages to all of its students. The teacher was not happy that my school at home didn’t have different languages. I couldn’t understand a word of what the teacher was saying because she was speaking in french most of the time!

Since today was Friday they had a community class. In the community class the theme was teamwork. The activity was a game called spider web. In the game there was a pretend spider web made out of ropes spun from two trees and there were only a few gaps for people to go through. The object of the game was to get from one side of the web to the other. The rule was, if you touched the web your team had to all go back to the other side. It was a challenging game! It took our group 5 times to complete it! Our next class was a computer class time period. Since I was in the class only one day I created a photoshop picture. The teacher was very nice and she happened to have an English accent.

Later we had math. It happened to be a test day so I got out some of my makeup work from school and got 20 pages complete.

For lunch the cafeteria had a salad bar that looked good. The lunch room was separate from the school and was on the grounds. It was a delicious lunch and free period. People are aloud to bring technology to the school so you would see people with computers, i-pods, i-pads, phones, etc. The school gave you a sense of freedom and you didn’t feel restrained at all.

The last class was Language A. Language A is not language arts however because in Cambodia there main language isn’t English so they don’t need to worry about English skills that you would have in language arts. Language A covers reading genres like poetry, myths, etc. They happened to have a poetry project in the computer lab while we were there so I got to catch up on this blog.
Overall, it was an excellent day and I would give the school a 5-star rating!*****

The Killing Fields
The killing fields was the hardest part of the day. Whoever went to school didn’t go to the killing fields because we have two nine-year-olds on our team. The killing fields tell a long and complicated story. It all started with Pol Pot who took over the country and forced people to the fields to work. Anyone who had gone to school was killed, any one who wore glasses was killed. The killing fields tell that story in great detail. People say that it is like walking in a burning pit and that it makes your heart ache. On the ground are bones that are scattered by the wind. But when you look closely at the mass graves you see an amazing sight.

Butterflies…everywhere…it is a sign of hope to all… The place that makes you fell angry and sad all in one, is Tol Slang. Tol Slang is a prison that used to be a high school. Here you see how people were tortured and killed. You see pictures of faces of the children that were killed there.

When the team came from the Killing Fields and Tol Slang, you could see what they comprehended. They all showed major signs of anger and sadness.

When we went to dinner you could tell people were effected a lot. When we sat down everyone was silent. All you could hear was the rain tapping the roof silently. I slowly looked around at all of the faces of people and saw the sadness and shock of there experience. It was a hard sight to see. Suddenly the silence was broken by Jarred asking why it was so quiet. That simply broke the silence. Everyone started talking to each other about there experiences. I talked to Rodger and he told me everything.

No one that day would ever be the same again…

When Words Fail

Elisha’s journal entry for Thursday, September 8, reads: “My first day in Cambodia was awesome. We went to the orphanage. There we saw kids dance, learn, and teach us a story.”

Our first day in Phnom Penh has been incredible. There is so much I’d love to share with our readers, yet I find myself at a loss for words. For those of you who know me, I don’t have to mention how unusual that is! After spending the morning at the orphanage, I heard Marilyn say, “I need about half a day just to process this experience.” My sentiment exactly.

I can tell you about the things we did at the orphanage … about Liz and Amelia teaching “The Stilling of the Storm” (Mark 4:35-41) to the children … about the children performing traditional Cambodian dances for us, and teaching us to dance … about the sweet little girl who climbed into my arms as I stood in the orphanage courtyard … about the aroma of the children’s lunch (rice and soup) cooking in tremendous kettles atop wood fires …

I can tell you about our tour of the Royal Palace this afternoon … about the contrast of oppulance against the morning’s poverty … about the evidence that remains of the era in which Pol Pot controlled the palace …

But I can’t find language to describe the experience of being here. My words fail.

Safe in Phnom Penh

We have all arrived safely in Phnom Penh. Juliana’s plane was late leaving New York, but she arrived just in time to make our connection in Seoul. After 24 hours in the air, we’re all feeling like we disappeared down the rabbit hole. A good night’s rest is what we hope for tonight so we can be out teaching at the orphanage tomorrow morning. More tomorrow.

Graceful Preparations

As I am preparing for this mission, I’m aware of the support of all the people who have made this venture possible. Individuals, congregations and agencies of the United Methodist Church have contributed about $30,000 so that all the pastors and spouses of the Methodist Church in Cambodia can attend our educational event: This morning Amelia and I received the gift of a blessing from the children and congregation of Grace Church here in Dayton. We are surrounded by grace and good cheer.

For the kingdom of heaven is like…

Mt 20:16-20
“Fields of Plenty” by Cortney Haley

In these hectic days before our departure I wondered what image I might post as a symbol of preparations for this mission trip. Among a host of other last minute tasks, Tom and I have been scurrying to get the upcoming commentaries edited for our GoTell site. We just finished the Gospel lection for our second Sunday in Cambodia: the parable of workers in the vineyard. “Workers in the Vineyard” is a good metaphor for our mission and work together with the Cambodian Methodist pastoral leadership to tell the Gospel story in Cambodia.

What truly caught my imagination, though, was the graphic for this story and its title: “Fields of Plenty” by Cortney Haley for www.gotell.org. I guess most Americans associate Cambodia with the nightmare of the killing fields. I know that’s been my primary association and frankly I’ve been nervous about visiting a country with such horrific events in recent history. So I offer “Fields of Plenty” as a new association, more fitting for current realities and possibilities, descriptive of the beautiful country I am told we will experience, and an apt symbol of God’s ripe harvest there.

Last Sunday I attended Grace United Methodist Church in Springfield, MO where I was visiting family. I had never been to this church before and didn’t know anyone there. One of the hymns we sang, also totally new to me, seemed to have nothing to do with the rest of the service. But I knew why we sang it–just for me! It was like a word from God blessing me personally as I prepare for this trip to the other side of the world:

As a fire is meant for burning with a bright and warming flame,
So the church is meant for mission, giving glory to God’s name;
Not to preach our creeds or customs, but to build a bridge of care;
We join hands across the nations, finding neighbors everywhere.

#2237 in The Faith We Sing; words by Ruth Duck; music from The Sacred Harp, 1844

Cambodia Storytelling Mission 2011

In January 2009, I traveled to Cambodia with a mission team with a purpose of teaching Bible study methods to pastors and leaders in the Methodist Church of Cambodia.  The training was so well received, we were invited back, this time with hopes of training all the pastors and their spouses, 240 people in all.

From September 6-20, 2011, a team of clergy and lay leaders from West Ohio and New York will travel to Cambodia for a five-day training to equip all the pastors and their spouses to become biblical storytellers, to share the gospel orally as it was in the first century.  By the end of our training, we will have learned 28 stories from Mark and will celebrate by telling Mark’s gospel together in both English and Khmer.

Another important aspect of our mission is equipping the Cambodian church leadership with skills and practices for effective supervision, leadership, coaching, and mutual support.  For John Wesley, holding one another accountable in love was one of the principal gifts of the Methodist movement.  So for the leaders in the Cambodian church, the ability to encourage one another to greater faithfulness in mutual service will help create an environment within which the gospel may flourish.

Cambodia is an oral culture.  In the devastating aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide in which 20% of the Cambodian population was killed, approximately 2 million people, Cambodia has struggled with the blight of extreme poverty.  From 1975-1979, all intellectuals, doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, teachers, any one who had glasses (which would indicate an ability to read), was targeted for extermination by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.  In subsequent decades as Cambodia has struggled to recover, education has been one of the major obstacles; after all, who is left to teach?

Today, 70% of the Cambodian population is under age 30; and 60% is under 18.  The Methodist Church in Cambodia is filled with children and youth, pointing to a brighter future.  And yet how does the gospel get communicated amidst extreme poverty, a youthful population, and a desperate lack of educational opportunities?  Well, the same way as it was communicated in the first century with similar obstacles faced by Jesus and his followers.  The gospel spreads by word of mouth, by story and song, by dance and drama, by the river and at the table.

The Methodist Church in Cambodia is committed to meeting the missional needs of the communities it seeks to serve, clean water, health & wellness, agricultural & economic development, and most importantly, education.  Many of the churches have children and youth coming every day after school to supplement their studies.  Some churches have even opened schools.  The Methodist Church in Cambodia has opened orphanages and other mission sites with literacy and arts schools to enable the children to have a different future.

Into this context, in the aftermath of genocide, amidst extreme poverty with all its incumbent challenges, we go humbly to serve, to share the good news of a savior who knows no barriers, who conquers all fear, who brings joy and hope, life and peace.  The story is not ours, but belongs to God, who first spoke the Word to bring light and life into all the world.  As we learn these stories together with our sisters and brothers in Cambodia, we all sit at the feet of Jesus, to receive his blessing, to listen to his teaching, and to find in the gospel stories a life that is beyond any culture or language.

We solicit your prayers for us, for the pastors and spouses in Cambodia, and for the promise of life that is our shared inheritance in Jesus Christ.