Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Freedom of Religion

The brother pictured above is named Sephan and he has arrived today from HoChiMinh City, Vietnam. He is a dedicated Christian with a wonderful story of faith and love.

Stephan was born in the Southeast Asian country of Laos. As many of you know, Laos is a very repressive Communist country with few religious freedoms. Several years ago, several members of the Church of Christ were imprisoned for sharing the Good News. Stephan left Laos with his family early in life and lived in France for over 25 years. His love for the lost brought him back to Vietnam several years ago and he has been very active in evangelism ever since.

Stephan must leave Vietnam every six months to renew his Visa, so that is why he is visiting us in Cambodia for a few days. He tells us exciting stories of how he has church services in hotel rooms with about fifty fellow Christians. They have to change locations every few months when the authorities begin to suspect what they are doing. In Communist Vietnam there are government informants everywhere and one must be careful not to be too open with your communications. Cab drivers, he told me tonight, are notorious for being government spies.
Stephan is hopeful that the winds of change are blowing in Vietnam. He feels that the desire to be accepted into the WTO and other economic pressures will help move the Communist in a more democratic direction. Freedoms of Religion, Speech, and Assembly are nonexistent. Let’s pray for those “Winds of Change” to blow in sooner than later!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Day After....

Chowing Down!

Pumpkins for Pie


Thanksgiving has come and gone and a new week has begun. Yesterday (Saturday), we joined together and shared a wonderful feast. The family from the U.S.Embassy (the Nelsons) were able to get a Butterball turkey, we made dressing, green beans, fruit salad and of course good ole’ punkin pie. We played dominoes and cards afterwards and visited late into the day. It was very special to all of us. Rick and I have traveled around the states and to a few other countries and have felt the bonds of Christian family in congregations we visited. But it is not until you are permanently away from your home church family that you really appreciate the saying “as a Christian you have family all over the world”. The people we shared this time with were total strangers a month ago. We missed our personal family and church family, but having this group to share this holiday with made us able to truly give thanks.

Now I am on a countdown to when Brittany and Greg arrive here in Phnom Penh for the Christmas holiday. 20 days, 9 hours, and 33 minutes. Ha that may not be exact!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving Memories

I am realizing for the first time how much Thanksgiving Day means to me. The famous American holiday has arrived and we have had a wonderful lunch together of rice and pork and fruits of many kinds. It was wonderful and very tasty but several things were missing.

First of all, we are not at one of our families homes. Every year, without exception, we go to either my Mothers home or to one of Gail’s families. My children are asleep at my mom’s house in east Texas as I write this. They will get up tomorrow morning, very early for them, when “MeeMaw” calls them for breakfast. She will serve them, along with my sister Brenda and her husband Jim, her famous homemade biscuits with ribbon cane syrup. Makes me want to cry just to think about those biscuits! Greg, I hope you are really enjoying them enough for both of us. Everyone will set around digesting their biscuits as fast as possible, so they will be ready for the real feast at about 1:00 PM. While they are waiting they will be telling the same old war stories of years and surgical scars gone by. Boy will I miss the stories! They seem to change ever so slightly but just enough to keep you listening! Then the great-grandkids will begin to filter in and they will goo-goo and ga-ga away everyone’s attention. Ha Ha. Then comes the feast! I’m not sure who will lead the prayer. Maybe Jim, maybe Greg my son, but someone will bless the food and the occasion. Turkey, black-eyed peas, jell-o salad, great big rolls, Mom’s dressing of course, 3 bean salad, cranberry sauce, ham, potato salad, lettuce salad, will all be there with some I have missed. Dessert will be chocolate cake, chocolate pie, pee-can pie, pumpkin pie, blackberry pie, apple cake, assorted cookies, and cool-whip for everything! Boy….I’m sweatin’ just writin’ this. Being away is real persecution don’t you think?

We will have a Thanksgiving meal together this Saturday. Everyone is busy on Thursday! We will feed 18 Americans, one Cambodian, and one Romanian! We are having a 17 lb. turkey, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce! Maybe the word persecution was a bit strong.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cool Weather

A northern wind has blown through Phnom Penh cooling the air. When I travel to school in the mornings, I actually get goose bumps on my arms. We wake up to about 78 degrees and it only gets to about 90 degrees in the afternoon. The constant wind creates a cooling effect and makes it quite comfortable to sit outside. Last night, we lost our electricity for about two hours and so sitting on the rooftop was very enjoyable. It is humorous to watch the local Khmer people wearing their heavy coats and jackets. This is the cool season for them and they bundle up from head to toe. Me? This is just great! I can go for a walk and not have to change shirts when I return!

Tomorrow, most of you will be enjoying Thanksgiving Day with food and family. Although we will miss this wonderful tradition with our families, we are very thankful. Since tomorrow is a regular day here with school and work, we are sharing Thanksgiving with eighteen other Americans that live in the city on Saturday. Some of these families have been mentioned in other blogs. We are thankful that our children will share time with both our families. We are most thankful for all our friends and family that have kept us in their thoughts and prayers. Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving Day!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sunday's Highs and Lows

Yesterday, Sunday here, was a beautiful morning with a touch of coolness in the air. We always go to the early service at church. That is because they only have one service and it is "early"! As I mentioned earlier, I was given the privilege of presenting the morning sermon and my topic was "A Walk Of Faith". I talked about how God must have walked in the cool of the morning with Adam and Eve on a regular basis and how wonderful that must have been. We shared how God loved Enoch so much that he took him with Him! He loved him so much because Enoch "Walked with Him". I then went on to say that a walk with God was a walk of faith. I used Hebrews Chapter 11 to define faith and show examples of it. I concluded that even though these were tremendous examples, they were not perfect and we didn’t have to be either. All we must do is "walk in the light" as God is the light. All teaching here is fundamental in nature as most Christians are new babes in Christ.

On the way home, I had my first run-in with the local police. I had been told that they will wave you over at times and extort money from you because you are a foreigner. Well, I guess they saw the whites of my eyes! The officer began to explain to me in Khmer what I had done wrong which I could not understand a word of. He than began to speak to a Cambodian lady with us and told her he needed $20 US to let me have my license back and let us go. We had 13 people in the van so I slipped the twenty in his envelope, out of sight of course, and he let us go. He said that I had run a red light, but the Brother beside me said there was no way! If I had been alone, I would have just sat there and looked confused and after awhile I am told they will let you go. We’ll see about that next time. This country is based upon bribes. Everyone takes them from the Prime Minister on down! I have mixed feelings about paying bribes. Is it morally wrong or is this the way people get paid here? I’m not sure, but I think it is a mixture of the two.

They say the cool season is coming. I sure hope so! A touch of coolness in the air means at 7:00 AM the temp is 78 degrees instead of 85! I hope you are enjoying the cool fall temps back in the states.

Questions UnAnswered

I have spoken in the past of a vibrant young Romanian woman here with us named Teodora Soos. As far as anyone with us knows, she is the first Romanian missionary to leave her homeland and evangelize long term. She is passionate about sharing the life changing story of Jesus Christ.

When I recently asked Teo to tell me the history of Romania, she was immediately distressed. Distressed because she could not tell me much about the last 60 years, particularly the years of the Communist rule. She told me that when she tries to find the history of her country from 1945 to 1989, everything has been erased…vanished in thin air! She can find accounts on the web from outside sources but not within Romania.

She told me that in A.D. 106 the Roman Empire defeated her homeland known at that time as Dacia. When I asked her if Romania was an Eastern-Bloc country she was unsure. She did know that Romania gained its independence in 1989 after a civil war and the execution of the Communist Dictator Ceauscu. Many of the Romanian politicians today are holdovers from the former communist leadership whom she seemed to be very wary of!

Teo may be uncertain of some of the history of her country but she is certain of whom she believes in for her hope for tomorrow. She relies upon God our Father and His Son Jesus Christ not the political leaders of today’s world. Teo is a 26 year old single Christian young lady who inspires us all to love one another.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Market Day

Vegtable Isle
Fruit Isle
Meat Isle

Today we went to the local market to purchase some fruit and vegetables. On a normal day, the cook, Heung, goes daily to purchase food. Since the Water Festival is on, the staff has the three days off, so we have been on our own. It has been fun and interesting. Now don’t feel too sorry for us! There are three western grocery stores that have very western food available! But Rosemary is an experienced market shopper and with my limited language skills, we did pretty well.
The pictures above were taken at the Dead Cow Market. There is not actually a dead cow in the market, but it smells like there is. We prefer to go to the Central Market, but it is further away. It has a wider variety of produce and the isles are spaced farther apart. There is also the Russian Market that is more popular with the tourists. This market has nothing to do with Russia; some westerners just started calling it that probably because it is easier to say then the Khmer word!
On another blog I will take you to the fish market. Oh what a sight! Needless to say I have become more of a vegetarian. However, when Heung cooks and brings out a stir-fry something or other, I enjoy it very much. That’s why Rick and I have not lost weight. Heung prepares the food more in a western style because of the teachers that live in the house. Weekends are usually when we venture out to try the local fare. The daily meal of the average Khmer always includes rice. Rice broth for breakfast and some type of stir fry with rice for dinner. Most only eat twice a day.
Today marks our one month anniversary. I’m not sure why but it seems longer. Rick and I have started a serious exercise routine, and if we have any success I will update you on it. If not, then no comment!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

New Arrivals

John and Autumn Sproul

Today a beautiful new family has arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They are John and Autumn Sproul and their three children John Jr., 15, Jakin, 12, and Sopia, 3. There story is an incredible one that makes us proud to serve the same Almighty God!

The Sprouls have moved here, like us, to be missionaries for Christ. John will oversee the Church of Christ Preachers Training School that was established here in 1998. The school will be a Sunset School of Preaching extension school and will be under to oversight of the Batesville Arkansas Church of Christ. Everyone involved is excited to have John come and provide some much needed structure to the current program.

What is so amazing to us though, is the sacrifice that the kids and Autumn are making! Gail and I can’t imagine bringing our kids at this time in their lives to this mission field. Maybe it helps that Autumn grew up in Japan, the child of long term missionaries there. She has home schooled their children all of there lives, so that helps some also. Pray for this family as they begin their ministry here.

I am taking care of their dog Tiggie as they recuperate from the dreaded jet-lag. They really looked bleary-eyed as they came off of the plane this afternoon! We host them for lunch tomorrow. Thank you Lord for the reinforcements!

P.S. James, the local minister, asked me to preach this Sunday tonight. I said, “How about in 2 weeks?” He said, “How about this Sunday!” I said, “O.K.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Water Festival

Today we were able to see the National event of the year, the Water Festival. This event marks the end of the rainy season and the reversal of the Tonle Sap River. During the rainy season the Tonle Sap runs upstream into the Tonle Sap Lake because of the overflow of the Mekong River. During this festival there are boat races comprised of people all over Cambodia. This year teams also came from Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand and competed. We chose to watch from above at a hotel restaurant because of the masses below. There is suppose to be an additional 2 million people in this city of 1 million who come to watch, sell their wares, and join in the fun. These long boats had as many as 70 members rowing in unison. It was quite interesting to watch. Pairs of boat would race one after another. We couldn't quite understand who was watching the finish line, who was timing, or how they determined what. But there must be a system because at times, teams would cheer. There are three days of this racing with over 400 boats competing. Many business are shut down during this week. I do not go to school and the English school here at the house is closed until Friday. So we have time to check out what is going on. However, the heat and the masses keep us close to home! We did have a wonderful birds eye view of the interesting festival.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Cambodian Dental Society

The Cambodian Dental Association holds it’s Annual Session this year on Tuesday, November the 22nd. There will be eight different presentations in all ranging from periodontal maintenance to apical surgery in everyday practice. International presenters will be here from America, France, Germany, Australia, and of course, Cambodia. I am looking forward to the lectures next week.

One presenter will be Dr Hong Someth. He invited Gail and I to dinner last night with his wife, Ouan. We had a delightful time together eating traditional Chinese food and of course talking about dentistry and our children. I had asked him earlier how that I might help the local dental society and he made several suggestions. He invited me to aid him in the Oral Surgery Clinic with the 6th and 7th year students. He also invited me to present lectures on specific subjects that I would feel comfortable with. This could prove to be very rewarding!

The dental school is desperate for experienced practitioners to come for a year or more and work in the various clinics. The Dean would welcome almost anyone to come and set up a curriculum and head several departments that are currently without instructors. All of the current professors have to work in private practice to make ends meet. I wished I had more time! A newly retired dentist who spoke English could come here and make quantum leaps in the dental program in a relatively short time.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Shadowed Past

Puppet Show
U Kang Teo(Romanian) So Kan

Cambodia is a country without a distinct history. We have great historical documentation from the French arrival in the late nineteenth century, but before that things are somewhat in the shadows. Even the Khmer Rouge tried to destroy as much history as they possibly could. They totally dismantled the countries educational institutions.

The great ruins of Angkor Wat have tremendous relief stone carvings that tell a great deal in story form of the era. All materials used for writing deteriorated rather quickly in the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. Monks wrote extensively on bamboo, and still do to this day, but very little of it survived the elements.

Much of the history has been preserved by the use of stories and fables passed down through the generations. Our cook at the PIP house tells many stories about history that includes talking animals and mystical creatures. Tonight we went as a group to a shadow puppet presentation. The puppets told Khmer fables in their native tongue behind a backlit screen. It was very interesting and was accompanied by authentic Khmer musicians. We are learning more and more about the culture every day which is crucial to our future mission.

Tomorrow morning, two university students will be baptized into Christ after being taught by a young lady from Romania. Everyone is happy and the Angels in Heaven are rejoicing.


Yes, they are driving both ways! Full load! Gail in tuk-tuk

Remember when your parents would tell you about how things were in the “good ole days”? Without exception they would always include the exhaustive, miserable, grueling trip to school and back each day! Well, this is not just for my children to read but it is about my trip to school each morning.

Rick and I arise each morning at about 6 a.m. If you know us at all, you will know that is early for us. We can do that because we generally go to bed before 9 p.m. each night. We leave our rented room and walk about one half mile to the house where we gather with other Christians for breakfast and each of us begins his or her day. After breakfast Rick walks me out to the street and that is when things get “interesting”.

My driver’s name is Sok Vandy. He drives me to school each day in his tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is a 3 wheeler of sorts where a small carriage is attached to a small motorcycle and acts like a taxi service. What is really interesting is the things you see each day as you travel the 10 miles or so we drive to the University where I study Khmer. You see families driving to school and work just like at home but the whole family is on a small moped like cycle. I have seen families of 5 all riding on a single motorcycle! More often than not, they are also carrying large baskets or containers with them . I have seen a sofa and love seat transported on these motos! We have seen cows and large hogs and all sorts of live stock transported. We have been told that people have seen as many as 9 people ride together although we have only seen 7! On the way to school I stare a lot! I am thinking of documenting these things with a photo collection. I may not travel 2 miles barefoot in the snow each morning but oh do I have some things to share with my grand-kids some day!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Independence Day

November 9th is Independence Day for the Cambodian people. All of the schools were out today as large numbers of people celebrated their 1953 freedom from French control. Not that French control was necessarily a bad thing. The French helped Cambodia to come out of the dark ages in many ways in the first half of the twentieth century but felt it was time to let them govern themselves fifty two years ago today. The King spoke, bands played, and flags were waved just as they are back home. I hope this little country can keep moving in the right direction for several more decades without any more blood spilled.

The local preacher, James, was asked recently why the people celebrate their independence from France and not from the Khmer Rouge government of the seventies. He did not know, but felt strongly that it would be more appropriate to recognize the latter. It seems that they celebrate the former because the French suggested it! I am so glad that the French invented “freedom fries” aren’t you? Well I guess the French are like the poor, we will always have them with us.

I am happy to let you know the Channy, who I told you about last time, has accepted the invitation to serve as the boat's engineer. He gave a twenty minute devotional thought tonight at our Wednesday night study and even though it was in a language I do not understand, I’m sure he did a fine job. The picture above is of Channy and Bill McDonough, whose dream of a medical boat on the Mekong River some ten years ago, is almost a reality.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The First Interview

This morning Bill McDonough and I interviewed the first potential employee for the upcoming Boat Project. He is a twenty-one year old young man who has been studying in the Bible College for the last few years. His name is Channey.

Everyone seems to love Channey. He drives the van for the American English teachers when no one else is available. After I drove to church last Wednesday night, they may want Channey even more. I almost ran over two different motos!!! It really wasn’t that close; you know how women can be from the back seats! Channey has recently completed a small engine mechanics school in his spare time while in Bible school. Bill feels that Channey will make an excellent engineer for the boat.

If he accepts the position, he will leave for six weeks of training in the Vietnam ship yard where the boat is being built. That will be a big step for this young man who has never been far from home. He will be able to share Christ also when he is not needed for required and scheduled maintenance of the diesel engines and generators. Best of all, Channey has a perpetual smile and a warm countenance. I hope he says yes and joins our team. He seems to love the Lord and is good with people. Pray with me that God will send workers for the harvest.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Dentally Speaking

Last week I met an American dentist who worked in an international clinic in Phnom Penh. His name is Dr. Charles Craft and he has lived and worked in Cambodia for the last six years. He received his formal training at the University of Nebraska Dental School and then spent sixteen years working for the Public Health Service in Alaska. Dr. Craft was very helpful in giving me several contacts in the dental community.

Today I went to the dental school and met the head of the Oral Surgery Dept., Dr. Someth Hong. He is the immediate past president of the Cambodian Dental Association and a very influential leader. He introduced me to the Dean of the dental school and several of their assistant deans. We had the usual formal tea together as I shared with them information about the Mekong Boat Project and offered to volunteer at the school until we begin our work. Dr. Hong will look at several areas where I might be of use and will meet with me as early as this weekend.

I also met a retired dentist from Arizona working full time in the pedodontics department. His name was Dr. Ron Tobler. He has volunteered full time for the school for nine months and plans to stay another nine months. He was very helpful in just a short time telling me about the “system” in Cambodia. They not only have Board Certified dentists but also “Traditional” dentists, who are trained as apprentices. They also utilize “dental nurses” in the outlying provinces. These nurses do not drill on teeth but they spoon excavation of carious lesions and then fill them! This is really going to be interesting! I hope to learn as much as I can about their “system” before we start. I also hope to help in the school. More later as I learn about our new world.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Killing Fields

Many of you have heard of the genocide that took place in Cambodia. There was a book written and a movie made by the above name in the 1980’s. It was a story about the atrocities against the Cambodian people by Vietnam, the U.S., and most of all the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot.
The Killing fields are to Cambodia what the ovens and gas chambers were to Hitler’s Germany in WWII. We went to see the so called place last Monday. We drove a van some 25 kilometers south of the capital, Phnom Penh, to reach the site. Although I have read the book and seen the movie several times, I was surprised by the enormity of the event.
It is believed that two million people were murdered from 1975 and 1979. One to two million more died due to starvation and just simply being worked to death. The Cambodians located these mass graves in the early 1980’s and began to dig up several areas. Today there are just depressions in the ground where several hundred people would be buried. This particular site was where all of the educated people were bought to be executed. They estimate that around 20,000 people were buried here. They had unearthed 9000 before they stopped. A large glass tower holds the skulls of these unfortunate souls.
I thought there was only one “Killing Field”. We found out there are over 300 such places in Cambodia. As we walked along the paths, you could see bones and clothing on the surface that the monsoon rains have unearthed. It was eerie to walk among the massive graves!
Thirty years later the United Nations is trying to have tribunals to bring some of the Khmer Rouge leaders to justice. Our guide said that the people all knew someone who was a soldier in the Army at that time. They do no want all of them to be prosecuted, just the top leaders. He said that what the people really wanted was just to know one thing. WHY?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Boat Picture

Gail's Perspective

It was a pleasant trip to Ho Chi Minh City. The difference in cultures is amazing. Vietnam is certainly more advanced and developed compared to Phnom Penh. I know Rick mentioned our service in the hotel room in the previous writing. During our service, I couldn’t help think about all the bickering and complaining church families go through while there are Christians persecuted for their faith. I’m sure from time to time our thoughts will be negative, and I am sorry for that. It is only when you travel outside the US that you see how truly we are blessed as a nation.

As Rick mentioned, the boat looks like a house that is in the sheetrock stage. The finishing touches are the time consuming details that need to be answered. Bill is returning to Vietnam Tuesday to take care of many of those. I am thankful for Tom Tune who is living in the city and overseeing the construction. He says that he has never seen such precision and quality of construction. I am thankful for that, and that he is watching all that is going on! We will try to attach pictures.

As far as my emotional state, (ha,ha) still pretty good. However, I thought I would share some things I am tired of, but keeping a positive attitude about. First has to be the oppressive heat and humidity. Deodorant is definitely put to the test. Endless traffic and city noise, dogs barking (which may be good since in Vietnam they eat dogs which we saw hanging in the markets); certain smells…..not good; standing out in a crowd, not only in height, but width; brushing teeth with bottled water; always feeling dusty, wait, actually you are! O.K. it’s only fair that I state some positive things such as buying a Polo shirt at the market for $3.00 (even though it was marked XXXL), fresh fruit that is bursting with flavor, Clinque products for half the price, seeing a happy people that live so simply and knowing God loves them, too. I hope you know I was trying to be humorous, and yet humble to admit my selfish wants. Things are not so unpleasant. We have air-con in our room, hot water in the shower, and people who care about us in our hearts. Thanks for your prayers!