I Have Decided to Follow Jesus

One of my favourite things to do is sit at my sewing machine and work on a new article of clothing while listening to a podcast.  My sewing area is outside so I get a little bit of a breeze and if I get a full twenty minutes of uninterrupted work, I am in heaven!

Today, I listened to a speaker talk about suffering and what it means to follow Jesus.  It’s something that is near to my heart at the moment as I am praying through how to disciple my kids in a way that God is real to them.  I want them to understand from a young age about what it really means to follow Christ.

I’ve been listening to a lot of teachings on suffering and it’s the first thing I want to share with my children – following Jesus does not mean that you will never suffer.  It doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen to you.  The Bible even goes so far as to say that we should consider it pure JOY when we face suffering.  It might seem a little doom and gloom to teach this to a first grader and kindergartener and of course I will point them to the truth that God is always with us and promises that He will never leave us but I think it’s really important for kids and young Christians to know that life will not be smooth sailing once you decide to follow Jesus.

It kind of reminds me of marriage in some ways.  It does young people absolutely no good to extol the virtues of marriage without ALSO telling them how hard it will be.  I’ve witnessed this too many times and our culture is literally saturated with false expectations of love.  I listened to a lyric this week in a pop song (we’re so out of the loop here culturally I have no idea who actually sings it! haha) that basically said that the love interest was going to save the person’s life.  Yikes!  No wonder so many young men & women are sorely disappointed once they get back from the honeymoon and real life sets in.  And we do it in the church too.  We talk about the excitement of the wedding and about where the couple wants to honeymoon and we might slip in a “Marriage takes work” but do we really get into the nitty gritty?  Young people…get thee to a mentor!!  This should be a prerequisite to getting married!  Older couples….be available!  Be honest; share the wonderful things about marriage but don’t, please don’t, leave out the hardships.  They will come and if all we ever talk about are the advantages….our young people will think there is something very wrong when the storm hits.

The same principle applies to following Jesus.  We have to be honest and real and hopefully our honesty will prepare our young people for the times when suddenly following Jesus isn’t so easy and there are things happening in their lives that are difficult and painful.

I had to learn this myself recently as I walked through a period of hardship where I just didn’t understand what God was trying to tell me.  My thought was that something was obviously very wrong if we were experiencing such hardship.  I invented all sorts of problems in my mind before God finally said “I told you you would endure trials.  There doesn’t have to be anything wrong.  You just need to turn to me and learn to rest in me.”

As per my last post, I have a hard time “resting”.  I like to tackle problems.  I am a list-making, google-searching, article-reading problem tackler.  And God has been telling me to stop.  Stop and seek Him.  Stop and rest.

I’m looking forward to talking about some of these things with my kids this week.  It’s a big responsibility to disciple our children in a way that makes them want to know more about Jesus and to stick with this thing throughout their lives.

 

 

Let the Little Children Come

Thursday nights are chaotic around here.

The neighbourhood kids start showing up around 4:30 for English class and usually stay til around 6:30.  We can keep their attention for studying for about a half an hour so the rest of the time is games, sports, crafts and just all around craziness.  It’s perfect.  I love having a house full of children; laughing and chasing each other.  It’s awesome for our kids too; they’ve made some great friends and I love hearing them trying out their Khmer as they attempt to communicate.

I know each of these kids by name.  They call me “Ming Ashley” – Aunt Ashley – and come running to hug me when they arrive.  They love to watch me bake or sew or do just about anything.  They always have lots of questions and I am happy to chat with them.  They are patient when I mispronounce a word and helpful when I don’t know one.

I’ve always been a “kid” person.  I volunteered and led Sunday schools and kids groups as a teen and young adult so I’m not the kind of person you have to remind about how precious kids are.  Except that it just kind of hit me again.

 

I guess I found myself measuring success by other standards and I got a wake up call today.  There’s a push in our “work” for results.  We have to relay what is happening in our ministries to supporters and partners and there should be some evidence of “fruit” – or some indication that something is happening.

I listened to a teaching this week from Francis Chan about “The Vine”.  At one point in the video, he says “the branch/vine does not have to work to produce fruit; it simply stays attached to the tree and fruit happens”.  I don’t know if that hits you like it hit me but I was really struck by that.  I am a doer by nature.  I kind of love projects.  I always have a list of projects on the go – sewing, painting, rearranging the entire house (Chad frequently comes home and asks “WHAT did you do?!”)

Sometimes, I want to approach ministry/serving the same way.  “Ok God, this is what I am going to do.  These are the results I want.  I’m going to make this list and raise these funds and do this and that and etc etc….”.  I’ve learned quickly that God’s timeline is not always our own and the things that we characterize as valuable are sometimes not what He sees as such.

We had visitors here recently and while we were talking about what we do and the presence we have in our neighbourhood and the neighbourhoods that we are involved in with Asian Outreach, our friend remarked that it’s a long, slow process – a life journey if you will.  It’s not flashy or glamorous; it’s every day life lived with intention (with a cow crossing here and a fried frog on a stick there).

We’ve always kind of known this;  that we’re in it for the long haul.  But to hear it said brought to mind two things for me.  One, our journey is relational in nature.  We will be involved with projects but it’s the relationships that we develop that truly matter.  Those relationships will give us the opportunity to speak life and hope into people’s lives.  Relationships take time.  And two, we need to constantly be searching our hearts to make sure our “results” are the ones that God wants.  Not ours, not even our churches, supporters and friends…but God’s.

To bring it all around again, the push for success or results can sometimes bypass the little things that are important.  Like kids.  I was reminded tonight about what every children’s worker already knows….kids are precious and the chance to speak into their lives should never be taken for granted.kids

Tell the Story

Today I sat with four young ladies from the States who are in Cambodia to research and study fair trade and how it works (and doesn’t work).

We walked down the dirt road to SreyRohm’s house waving at neighbourhood kids who greeted us with chorus’ of “hello!”

SreyRohm and I shared with them about how the sale of Hope Family’s products directly benefit the lives of the women that are involved.  They asked lots of great questions and we talked about the demands on women in developing nations, and encouraging national leaders, and creating sustainable business that values the women & families involved.  We also talked about consumerism and the drive in most developed nations to have “stuff”.

They admitted that they had taken in so much in the last six days that they were just still trying to process it all.

I realized as we chatted that many of my thoughts have been moulded by our time overseas.  On a small scale, I have a deeper understanding of the value of something.  I know the woman that made that dress.  She has a husband and three small children to care for.  She has to go to the market daily as she doesn’t have a refrigerator to keep her food.  She is expected to make all her meals from scratch and keep her house clean and look after her children and than, when everyone is bed, she will stay up til 1:00 or 2:00am to be able to do some sewing to bring in an income for her family.

On the larger scale, God has shown me something about our role in relation to the people He has sent us to serve.  I am not a foreigner.  I am a sister in Christ supporting and encouraging my brothers and sisters in Christ and being a light where He has placed me.  I expected to feel like a stranger here…but I don’t.

The girls today mentioned that they loved the organic way in which our life and relationships were playing out in response to a need that was identified in our community.   It reminded me that we do have a story to tell.  I forget that sometimes.  It’s kind of a part of our job description…..to tell the story.  I wish everyone could visit so they could see firsthand but since that’s not possible; it’s up to us to share what God is doing in a way that impacts and touches people.

And so, we will endeavour over the next few months to share stories of how God is moving and what it means to serve in a context such as ours.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

U is for Unity

Just a quick thought for this evening (day, if you are in the western hemisphere)….this past Sunday we sang “Did You Feel the Mountains Trembling”.  An oldie but a goodie.

But this time these lines jumped out at me:

“When all the saints join in one song”

“And all the streams flow as one river”

It impressed upon me again the importance of unity.  Unity within the BODY…not just the church or the denomination…but the Body.

I used to love playing in streams as a child.  We have one on my parents’ property that meanders through the fields.  I loved taking the kids to the stream to play when Evie was a newborn and they never tired of throwing pebbles into it’s clear waters or chasing water spiders in it’s shallow curves.  It was a gentle stream but not all are alike.  Some run quickly and cascade over waterfalls and rapids.  Some are murky with sand bottoms while still others are cold and clear.

I’m sure you can see where I am going with this.  Just as the streams will flow as one river so too are we, believers, different as we all are, to join together as one in purpose.  The next line in the song says that we shall wash away our brokenness.  What a beautiful picture.  In our unity, we will be renewed.

Blessings, Sacrifices & Horse Manure

I hesitated before I titled this blog but it just stuck in my mind so I decided to go with it 🙂

It’s a lovely Saturday morning here in Cambodia.  There’s a cool breeze which has been lovely.  The cooler weather starts at the end of November and lasts until about mid-to-end of February.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve had a bit of writer’s block.  There’s no shortage of things to say and perhaps, maybe, that is why I’ve struggled to put things into words the last couple of months.

I wanted to share a little story with you though.  I don’t know if it will be as profound to you as it was to me; one’s own revelations seldom are, but I will try anyway and hope that the essence of it will speak loud enough.

I have always loved horses.  I grew up in a horse family.  My siblings and I spent our childhood on horseback, gallivanting all over the countryside.  It was bliss.  It was freedom.    It was hard work.  Horses were not a luxury for us; they were a lifestyle.  We mucked stalls and hauled water buckets and tended injuries.  I thought I would always be a horse person.  It was in my blood.  I thought I would carry on in the family business and ride and teach for a living.  I actually couldn’t imagine any other life.

I won’t bore you with all the details of how that did not come to pass.  It was very difficult at times but somehow I came out the other side satisfied and fulfilled and not regretting anything.  Save for one thing.

Our move across the world meant that my children would not have those hazy, summer days on horseback; slogging around the farm, learning the value of the outdoors, of caring for an animal, of hard work.  It was all those things from my childhood I remembered so fondly.  The smell of horse in your hair, pieces of hay stuck in your clothes, bone tired from working outdoors all day.  It burned in my chest a little but I knew the sacrifice and I knew where God was calling us.

We spent our first year in Cambodia without ever seeing or touching a horse.  Oh there was lots to discover and a new life to carve so the absence wasn’t really noticed.  That life was no more.  Or so I thought.

Two weeks ago we met a French/Khmer man who is the landlord of a house that we are looking to rent.  He wanted to meet our family so invited us to a BBQ at his house which is about 5 minutes away from both the house we currently live in and the house we are hoping to move to.

While there, he asked us to take a walk around the grounds.  He owns several parcels of land that are all connected.  As we are walking, we notice that there is horse manure on the ground.  Surprised, we asked him about it and lo and behold, he has two horses and a little barn out back in one of the adjoining properties.  You can imagine the horse talk that went on for a while after that as my sister Scarlett, who runs the family horse business back home, was also with us.

Our new friend admitted that he enjoys horses but doesn’t really know much about them.  He also went on to say that he wants someone with knowledge to come out and teach some of the kids in his neighbourhood about horses and how to ride.  Mr. V, I will call him, has a big heart and a big love for his country.  Some of the kids in his neighbourhood, too poor to continue to go to school, need something to occupy their time and give them some purpose.  Already, Mr. V has put aside some land and cleared a volleyball court and riding area for the kids to use.

So guess who is now teaching riding lessons twice a week?!

I really wanted to add a huge line of exclamations to that last sentence!

First, I want to point out how unusual it is to find riding horses ANYWHERE in Cambodia (save for a few ranches spread far & wide around the country that do horseback riding for tourists).

Second, most horses are in the provinces.  Not a 5 minute drive from the edge of town.

And lastly…..isn’t our God so good?  I hope it doesn’t seem too trivial from the outside.  This was a desire that I had; that my kids would be able to have all the benefits of being around the farm and around horses, and I had resigned myself to the fact that that was something that we were leaving behind.   Seriously.  Blown.  Away.

And the best thing about it is that even in this small, seemingly unimportant thing…God will be glorified.  This is an amazing opportunity to build relationships in this community.

It drove home to me again that our Father, the creator of the Universe, the One who put the stars in place….He cares about the small things.  He sees our hearts.  He knows our desires.  And He cares.  It’s such a little thing; probably even a little baffling to others and not even something I would outwardly talk about but my God….He cared.

Oh, and Mr. V said we could come out any time to ride 😉

10947479_10204948934796956_861384165_n 10947618_10204948929716829_895322602_n 10952184_10204948928876808_991242013_n 10954122_10204948926756755_1755169728_n 10959168_10204948932796906_1785861639_n

Happy Anniversary!

We have officially been in Cambodia for one year today! Most of you following along with us have shared in the journey so I don’t need to go too much into details here but we wanted to share about a few things we have learned. Here goes:

1. People are not so different. Yes, there are definite cultural differences and world views but we’ve found that many of the things that people struggle with in Cambodia, are things that people also struggle with in North America. Relationships the world over require hard work and communication.

2. Christianity is not a North American religion. I’ll admit that I held this idea, albeit not consciously, but it has been truly, truly amazing to be a part of an international church with peoples from all the nations of the world that love God and so visibly seek His will. And how blessed we have been to develop relationships with Khmer friends who have a vision to see their country transformed by the hope that is in Jesus!

3. There is power in unity. This sort of ties in with #3. There are 144 NGO’s in Cambodia and that does not include the Christian organizations who have workers here. Our church is packed out every week and most of those people are NGO workers or missionaries…people who are serving the Lord here in Cambodia. Every week is emotional for me as we see the love that people have for Cambodia and the united desire to see God move here.

4. God does not stay inside of one denomination. This was always something we believed but as we answered the call to Cambodia, almost three years ago, it was one of the things that God spoke to our hearts the most. God took us to many different communities as we fundraised and never was it so obvious to us that we are all on the same side. Here in Cambodia, you are a believer. Not a protestant or a catholic, nor a pentecostal or an anglican. Just a believer. It is beautiful and good and right.

5. “Don’t do something for someone that they can do for themselves”. This is now our mantra. Every time we think of doing something or being involved in something, we say this to ourselves first. A lot of “doing” takes away the opportunity to allow nationals to be a part of their own solution; to “own” their own success. Simply doing without research, without understanding and prayer, and without relationship creates paternalism and dependence. Someday I will write more about this; I could write 50 blog posts including firsthand experience on this subject but instead I will encourage you, if you are interested in poverty alleviation and work in the humanitarian sector, to read “When Helping Hurts”.

6. I guess this is a good time to announce that you will probably not find us spearheading any new projects. We will definitely be a part of projects, they have their place and there is great need in Cambodia, but we have felt from the beginning that our role would be more relational and less physical. The reality is that in world missions there are national workers in every country that are capable of leadership and capable of vision. And like every leader, they need encouragement and support. This is where we come in. Our role is mentor, friend, advisor and the helping hand to see the dreams that God has put in the hearts of His people come alive. Now it’s a lot easier to write home about schools and wells and community centres than it is to write about conversations about marriage or advice given on raising up children or times spent in prayer with new friends but we hope those who know us will understand and will hear our hearts in this.

7. God is faithful. I saved the best for last and though it’s the most obvious, I am continually surprised at how often I need to learn this lesson. You may remember me writing about this about a year and a half ago. We were right in the thick of fundraising and though I wouldn’t change that experience for the world, at many times it was disheartening. I remember thinking we would never get to Cambodia. O ye of little faith! This year I experienced a trial of sorts and at one point I said “God, it’s impossible. It can’t be fixed” and God halted me right in that thought and reminded me that nothing is impossible with Him; that He will always come through if we put our trust in Him. Always. I’m a thinker by nature and I like to have answers but God is teaching me just to trust. Not overthink. Not problem solve. Just trust.

So there’s my short list of things learnt our first year overseas. Oh there are the cultural nuances and language peculiarities and the ins and outs of mission work but we have many years and many blog posts to cover those ☺

It wouldn’t be a proper anniversary post if I did not send out a huge thank you to friends and family who have supported us in finances and prayer. Words cannot convey the gratitude and humility we feel. Bless you.
DSC00911

Family blog time….wanted to share some pics of the fam; we’ve decided to homeschool the kids and Thursdays are our “field trip day”.  This Thursday we went to a wildlife sanctuary about an hour south of the city.  IMG_6649

Checking out the sun bears

Checking out the sun bears

IMG_6682

 

 

The monkeys were the highlight for sure; they are free to wander and you can buy bananas to feed them which they will take right out of your hand.  The kids were completely enthralled…except for Ethne.

After a monkey grabbed her shorts, Ethne was not so sure that she liked the zoo!

After a monkey grabbed her shorts, Ethne was not so sure that she liked the zoo!

Hanging out

Hanging out

Tigers!

Tigers!

It’s a little daunting to be responsible for your children’s education but it was something we knew was probably going to be necessary.  Chad & I take turns doing the special projects; this was Chad’s turn:

Learning about things that grow

Learning about things that grow

We also celebrated Evie’s first birthday this month.  It’s times like these that we really miss family and realize that our children are growing up without those close relationships.  We consider ourselves very blessed to be a part of a great team though and it eases the heartache somewhat.

The birthday girl

The birthday girl

Lovely cake courtesy of Ms. Lisa

Lovely cake courtesy of Ms. Lisa

The boys

The boys

Enjoying her cake IMG_6930 IMG_6939