Plans

James 4:13-15

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Sometimes God’s plan doesn’t make a lot of sense in the moment.

We know that He is always good, always loving, and always working to further the Gospel. And knowing these things means we know His decisions are always wise and best. But that doesn’t mean that we understand how it all works.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m back in Fremont. Yes, that’s right, not in Cambodia. I won’t go into detail (because really, let’s be honest, you don’t need to know every detail), but my prayers for God’s discernment in how to use my time were answered in some strange and surprising circumstances last week, and it was clear that God was directing me home.
(No, don’t worry, I’m not super sick, no one has died, I’m not having an emotional breakdown or anything awful like that!)
It’s not that I don’t love the people of Sobhan or that I have no desire to spread the gospel to the people of Cambodia. I miss Sobhan and the sweet friends I made there. I think about them every day, and I wonder what they are up to. I am so thankful for every moment I had there, even the hard ones. I learned a lot about myself and about NGO management, and I don’t regret going for a moment.
But God has a different plan than I anticipated. I am not trying to figure out all the why’s and wishing things were different. I know God has an even better plan for me, and I am eager to see what’s next.
So that’s the update- hit me up if you want to hear some fun Cambodia stories! I could tell you about that time we thought we bought sparklers but found out they were something much different…or the night we took the kids to their first junior high dance…or the three day wedding across the street…or attempting to catch fish…just ask!

Proverbs 16:9

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.

 

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Three weeks in

I am officially three weeks into my Cambodian adventure, and it is hot hot hot here! We’re hitting about 97 degrees each day, and our breaks on the farm get longer and more frequent as the sun beats down. The farm workers tend to find a shady, out of sight place to rest until the supervisor finds them and orders them back to work. But sometimes the supervisor randomly doesn’t show up, and we have a “slow slow” day with a little bit of work and a lot of rest.image

Our tomatoes and eggplants have been ravaged by insects, so we’ve started spraying a soap spray to kill the little buggers. We are adding in some chili powder and garlic this week to see if the pungent smell will repel insects as well.

A new farm worker has just been hired, and the missionaries hope that he will be able to fill the much-needed role of farm manager here. He is just getting a hang of things and I am hoping that soon he will be able to provide a little more direction on daily tasks. Unfortunately he doesn’t know much English so I will continue to be on my own in figuring out why we are doing certain things. I spent a lot of time this week unsure of what I could or should be doing, which was a little frustrating.

imageimageimageimageAll of the farm and woodshop workers went out to dinner on Friday afternoon. I rode a “motobike” for the first time! We had the Khmer equivalent of hot pot at a restaurant along the river, and even though I couldn’t understand most of the conversation, I really enjoyed spending time with them.

Someone translated  Sunday morning’s church service for us Americans, and I really am thankful to God that I got to understand this week! I’ve definitely been missing deep Christian fellowship and Bible study. I’ve been keeping up with my church’s sermon series, but there is nothing like discussing spiritual things with friends and learning from the knowledge and wisdom of others.

This experience has definitely been growing my heart for my community back home. Now that I am experiencing what it is like to be far from home, unable to understand the language, and unfamiliar with the culture, I have an even deeper desire to be an encouragement to recent immigrants and refugees in the Bay Area. I have been so encouraged by the locals who have taken the time to show me around, teach me a few words in their language, and give me a glimpse into their lives.

Thank you again for your prayers and notes. Over and over God is granting me patience and love when I am frustrated and tired. Please pray for wisdom to know how God would have me use my time and for continued deepening of relationships here.

 

Pictures at last!

Thought you might enjoyed some pictures! Thank you to those of you who have been praying for me, btw. This is definitely a challenging experience and I am learning a lot. God is growing me in prayer and humility, and I’ve been able to look at things logically and not just through the lens of emotion. I am starting to get used to the rhythm of life here , but loneliness is still often present. My stomach issues have worsened, as something (I’m not sure what) triggered my irritable bowel syndrome- so prayer against stomach pain and diarrhea would be much appreciated.

The weather has been unseasonably hot (“Gdau” in Khmer), and we take nice long breaks on the farm haha. My favorite task is picking tomatoes, and since I live on the property I am “on call” at any point to pick for people who stop by to buy a few kilos. It’s been fun to meet different people, even if we can’t talk much. The lack of organization here is still frustrating, and it’s hard to know what to do or to suggest things when the language is a struggle.

Whenever I feel sad or discouraged, I find the orphans and we have a great time doing crafts, terrorizing the puppy, watching the pet python devour chickens, and playing games! They are a great source of encouragement and joy for me.  All of them lost their parents to AIDS, and they have their difficult moments and off days too. It breaks my heart to watch some of them struggle with depression at times, as I can understand what that feels like. But I am encouraged to see how many understand Gods love for them- the “church” here is made up entirely of the orphans and a few staff! Once they reach adulthood I pray that they will be a strong witness to whoever they work alongside. I am thankful for their sweet house mom (woman in photo at top of blog) and dad who truly treat them like family in this culture where family IS your identity.

I’m also super thankful for Steve (man in photo at top) and Rene, an older couple who are here volunteering. They have validated so many of my struggles and have helped me figure out how things work here. Together with my two roommates, we all cheer each other up and remind each other to be gracious and loving to those in charge. Steve got us all roses for Valentine’s Day, and Rene and I get a good laugh at the English joke books.

Well it looks like lunch is over, so back into the heat for me. Thank you again so much for your prayers.

The Unexpected

Well I have officially been at Jumpah for one week! And what a week it has been.

I’m going to be completely honest and say that it has been a really rough adjustment so far. I expected homesickness, but not to this degree. I expected stomach troubles, but not this soon. I expected loneliness, but not this bad. I’ve never experienced anything like this.

I enjoy working on the farm, and I always love learning a new culture. My living situation, while different from home, is fine. There is delicious fruit here, and playing with the resident children encourages me.

But this is much different from what I expected. I was told that most people here speak English, so I would likely not feel lonely or isolated. However, it turns out that the two women I work most with don’t speak any English. For me, the joy in ag is not just growing things but developing deep relationships with those I work alongside. Many of the staff speak a little English, but they eat separately from us and go home in the evenings. One of my main reasons for coming here was to be able to have spiritual conversations, but this has been difficult with the language barrier.

I don’t remember as much ag as I wish I did, but it is coming back and I am learning a lot just working on the farm. I can definitely see why a masters in program development is helpful, and grad school looks more and more appealing. That being said, I’m also realizing that it’s not so much what you do but how you do it and how you relate to the people around you that matters.

Expectations have been pretty unclear here, and without the missionaries on site we volunteers just kind of come up with our own jobs and tasks. Thankfully with ag I can learn simply by following the other farm workers around and joining them in their work. I love the other volunteers here, and they have provided much needed community. It will be hard when they leave for sure.

So that’s a little snapshot of the heart and mind of Anna. I know God is here with me, but it can be hard to feel his peace. So please be praying for God to give me peace and joy here, as only He can provide that through the Spirit. And pray for me to be patient with my adjustment here.

 

On the ground!

I finally made it to Cambodia!

It’s been a whirlwind of a few days, from traveling to recovering from jet lag to visiting the city. I’m pretty sleepy right now even though it’s only 3 in the afternoon! I’ve been learning a lot of interesting things about Cambodian history, the missionaries here, the political frustration people feel, and the history of Jumpah (pronounced “jump-AH”) ministries.

I’ve been staying with Tim and Dar Ratzloff in Phnom Penh the last two days as I get adjusted. They’re the ones who started Jumpah, and they’ve lived here for two decades, so they are full of helpful information. Dar took me out in a tuk tuk today to see a market, the junction of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, and a favorite pho restaraunt. The pho was delicious! It’s pretty fun just driving up and down the streets and seeing all the people on the streets.

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Riding in the tuk tuk

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Shops along the street

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Front of the Royal Palace compound

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Inside the market

Tomorrow I’ll head out to Sobhan, which is about an hour’s drive. I’m eager to get started on the farm! It was really helpful to hear from the Ratzloffs about the village and the various activities Jumpah has going there. Jumpah is at a point where it’s pretty much Cambodian-run, which is really exciting! There are a number of staff who have turned down high-paying jobs to invest in the community this way, and they really share Tim and Dar’s heart and vision. The Ratzloffs have been slowly stepping back and placing more and more ownership into the staff’s hands, to the point that, though they would love to be out there every day, they come just two days a week now. This has given them much needed time to work on the administrative and financial side of things which can be difficult.

Thank you so much to those of you who have been praying for me! The flights were both very smooth, and I made it through immigration with no trouble at all. Jet lag hasn’t been too bad, and though it is hot the heat doesn’t seem to bother me as much as it bothers some who have been here for a while.

Ways you can be praying for me– Pray for me to continue to adjust both physically and emotionally. It’s been pretty overwhelming being here, not in a bad way but just like when you move anywhere new. I’ve been dealing with some homesickness, not going to lie, so if you could pray for me to grow relationships here quickly that would be awesome. Or even just prayer for patience with the homesickness and adjustment. Also I’ll be sharing a room with two other girls until the end of the month, so pray for our interactions to be full of grace and love as all three of us are adjusting to life here!

 

 

 

Tell me honestly- do you know where Cambodia is?

Don’t cheat and look it up. Look at this world map and point to it…

I bet you have no clue. And don’t feel bad if you don’t know what continent it’s on either- lots of people I’ve talked to in the last couple of weeks have asked me that.

The Western world has basically forgotten Cambodia, despite thousands of years of art and culture, five centuries of dominance as an empire, and a recent genocide.

 

Did you learn about the Khmer Empire when you were learning about ancient Rome? Probably not. But they existed at the same time and both dominated the trade and politics of their regions of the world. Great works of literature were written in the Khmer Empire, and the Khmer excelled in architecture, attracting many foreign scholars.

Did your world history class in high school talk about the Khmer Rouge, who purged the country of all education, religion, finance, healthcare, business outside of agriculture, and foreigners from 1975-1978? Mine didn’t. And my class certainly didn’t mention that, though one in four Cambodians was killed, all but five Khmer Rouge officers escaped indictment. Many survivors live in the same village as the very officers who massacred their parents, brothers, sisters, and children.

When you visited Long Beach, were you aware that you were in the largest Cambodian community outside of Cambodia? Many Cambodians arrived as refugees in California during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.

These are just a few of the things I am learning as I read about Cambodian history. I’m starting to understand the context of some of the shocking statistics I read.

52% of the population is under the age of 25. Only 9% is 55 or above. (See date of genocide)

90% of Cambodians are ethnically Khmer, a result of ethnic cleansing.

37% of adults are illiterate.

1 in every 29 children dies before turning five.

There is just 1 doctor for every 5,000 people.

Cambodia has the second highest suicide rate in the world.

40% of Cambodians suffer from mental illness, nearly twice the amount as in the US.

14% of the population has post traumatic stress disorder.

Only 2% of health centers offer mental health services.

Human trafficking is rampant in Cambodia. Men and women, young and old, are enslaved as laborers, beggars, prostitutes, street vendors, and factory workers. 75% of sex trafficking victims in Cambodia are children, some as young as 5.

These statistics break my heart. 35 years after the Khmer Rouge’s reign, Cambodia is still struggling to get back on its feet. Theravada Buddhism, the belief of 97% of the population, isn’t a particularly hope-filled religion, either. Theravada Buddhists believe that “to live is to suffer”; all in life is transitory and changing except for universal suffering. They see themselves as stuck in an endless cycle of death and rebirth until achieving the “freedom” of nirvana, a state of emptiness and total loss of identity. Most Cambodians see only monks as being able to achieve nirvana, so their good works count only towards being reborn into more fortunate circumstances.  They have no hope of truly escaping suffering, and even monks cannot hope to consciously experience a life without suffering, as nirvana is essentially devoid of consciousness.

The hope of Christ shines bright in the midst of this. Christ offers a permanent end to suffering, not based on how well we follow the rules but based on Christ’s perfect record and death on our behalf. We have assurance of freedom from this difficult life as well as assurance of a conscious, eternal life where we can fully live out our true identity.

Despite the fact that the gospel wasn’t brought until the country in 1923, there are about 750 churches in multiple areas. Though the Khmer Rouge killed all but 2,000 Christians, the Cambodian church has slowly grown and multiplied to 250,000 believers. Over 75% of Cambodia’s 14,000 villages have no Christian presence yet, but both locals and churches around the world are sending missionaries to these villages.

Please join me in praying for Cambodia to experience true freedom in Christ. Pray for the churches there to be bold in sharing the gospel despite the government’s declaration that evangelism is illegal. Pray for those who are persecuting Cambodian Christians to see Christ so clearly that they too become evangelists. And pray for Sobhan to someday send missionaries out to the surrounding villages to bring hope.

And in case you still don’t know where Cambodia is…

 

 

 

 

T minus 14 days

**This is an interactive blog post**

Open up Google maps on your browser, and type in “Sobhan, Cambodia”.

Can’t find it? That’s because Sobhan isn’t on Google maps. Or pretty much any map you can find.

But it’s a real place! With real people!

Real kids who take the bus to school.

Real parents who grow vegetables.

Real cows who do cow-y things.

And soon, a real Anna doing farming and ministry.

Yes, I am moving to Sobhan for the next 6 months!

There’s an NGO there called Jumpah Ministries, run by a couple of missionaries and a handful of locals. This little organization  is reaching some pretty significant goals, educating children, providing job training, and supporting families affected by HIV. Among other things, here are some of Jumpah’s activities:

  • Providing a home and an education for orphans/unwanted children
  • Teaching local children in a cost-subsidized school
  • Training locals in woodworking and employing many in a woodshop
  • Demonstrating sustainable farming techniques on a farm that also employs many locals

Here’s some links to more info:

https://www.facebook.com/adventurecambodia/timeline

http://ratzloffcambodia.blogspot.com/p/overview-of-jumpah.html

I’ll be primarily working on the farm, helping with organization, research, and everyday farm tasks. I’ve also been asked to lead some Bible study-like times for the staff to practice English. Cambodia is 96% Buddhist, so many of the staff are not Christian, but they are eager to practice English and learn about the Bible, so we’ll be putting those together. I may get to do a little teaching as well, although details will be ironed out once I get there.

I’m excited but I’m also really nervous. This is a new experience, and it’s impossible to know everything to expect. I would so appreciate your prayers as I get ready to leave- pray that I wouldn’t just prepare physically but that spiritually and mentally I will be prepared as well. Pray for trust in God with the unknowns.