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

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.
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