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.

 

 

 

 

The question everyone’s asking…

The question everyone’s asking…

“What are you doing next year?”

Sometimes all the options for next year make me feel like I'm getting attacked by a bunch of crazy geese...(pic from the book Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh)

Sometimes all the options for next year make me feel like I’m getting attacked by a bunch of crazy geese…(pic from the book Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh)

First, a little perspective.

God’s been teaching me a LOT over the last month, through a variety of people, circumstances, and Scriptures. He’s been humbling me and giving me a different way to look at life. Some of my findings:

Life is short and unpredictable. Things change. People change. Sin and brokenness are throughout the earth. We live in a messed up world. I’ve felt this deeply in the past few weeks as one of my closest friends lost her baby. Elijah was born two months premature and lived twenty minutes. I’ve been convicted to use every day, every moment to glorify God- every opportunity, because we don’t have much time here and it could be over any minute. But the short time we are here can make an eternal impact. Elijah’s life and death has brought so many people closer to God. He’s reminded us to cling to the one who never changes. There is something more than just this world of brokenness. That’s a hope that I want to share with as many people as possible.

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Then there’s the fact that nearly 3 billion people on our planet haven’t had a chance to hear about this hope. 41.8% of the world’s people groups are unreached. That meansthere is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group. And we are called to reach these people.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-19

You don’t necessarily have to go directly to these places to have a part in the Great Commission. Maybe you’re a sender, preparing people and getting them excited about sharing the Gospel. Maybe you are a prayer warrior, praying for the nations. Maybe you’re crossing cultures in your own city. But we are all called to be a part of this mission.

But along with that, I’m  learning that God’s plan doesn’t NEED me. The whole world will hear the gospel eventually  regardless of whether I obey or not.  Nothing can mess up His perfect plan.  He tells us that directly:

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” Isaiah 46:10

Talk about humbling. He doesn’t need me, but He wants to use me anyway.  I want to be a part of His plan, whether He asks me to stay in the States or go to the nations.

These are things I know. There’s a lot I don’t know, but I think that’s okay.

So back to the original question.

At the moment, there seems to be an open door for me to work with Cru in South Africa for a year! Yep, I’m going on STINT (short term international missions with Cru)!

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You may already know that South Africa has been on my heart for a long time. I spent two summers with other Cru students helping launch movements on multiple campuses in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, and you can read about my experience in earlier blog posts from 2011 and 2012.   Our region has a partnership with Campus Crusade for Christ, South Africa (CCCSA). In 2010, Cru sent a small team of students and staff to Port Elizabeth, where they started a CCCSA student ministry movement on one campus of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).

This photo  was taken the second summer I was in Port Elizabeth. Khaya (center) interned with CCCSA the following year, and Tyler (left) is currently working with CCCSA at NMMU!

This photo was taken the second summer I was in Port Elizabeth. Khaya (center) interned with CCCSA the following year, and Tyler (left) is currently working with CCCSA at NMMU!

 

Four years later, CCCSA is on two campuses in Port Elizabeth and just starting on three others.  We have committed to sending a small team of interns each year to support these movements and train up student leaders until national staff can take over leadership and training. We’ve seen a lot of progress towards this goal- last year a South African interned alongside the American staff team!

South Africa is a particularly strategic country to reach as it holds significant influence over sub-Saharan Africa. While it has modern infrastructure, there are many “third-world” realities in this nation. Racial tensions are nearly as high as they were in the days of apartheid, the political sphere is extremely corrupt and unstable, and the income gap between the rich and the poor is huge. AIDS has crippled the country’s development, and violent crime rates are rising rapidly. It is a broken nation with broken people, and only Christ can heal the deep wounds this nation has experienced.

The Missionvale campus of NMMU, surrounded by slums.

The Missionvale campus of NMMU, surrounded by slums.

But tomorrow’s leaders are today’s college students! I am so excited to move to South Africa in January and come alongside student leaders in their efforts to reach students with the gospel. This university hosts many international students from all over the world who have the potential to take the gospel back home to their communities, some of which are unreached.

The only barrier we are facing at the moment is that our team needs TWO more men to be able to go. Will you join me in praying for the Lord to provide? This is something that Jesus directly asks us to pray for:


“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37-38

May the Lord’s will be done, whether our team is able to go or not!

 

Read more about unreached people groups here: http://joshuaproject.net
Read more about STINT with Cru here: http://www.wearesent.com/vision.html

Read about the current ministry in South Africa here: http://www.wearesent.com/africa.html

“Can you tell me the end of the story?”

Our international group is always an adventure. Between language barriers, cultural differences, and various spiritual beliefs we are always learning a lot (both internationals AND Americans!) It’s a lighthearted, relaxed group that loves to eat, to laugh, and to practice English.

These two international students came on our women's retreat! Pray for them to continue to grow in their understanding of the Gospel and for their hearts to be open to receiving it.

These two international students came on our women’s retreat! Pray for them to continue to grow in their understanding of the Gospel and for their hearts to be open to receiving it.

Because we have a mix of Christians, Muslims, agnostics, and athiests, we center each meeting on a common theme that everyone experiences in their lives. Then we look at what the Bible has to say about that theme. For example, a few weeks ago we talked about anticipation- how everyone has hopes for the future, and how we have a natural sense that there is something more to life. We read about the prophets in the Bible who anticipated the return of Christ and then discussed how anyone who has a relationship with Jesus can anticipate a future world without pain or evil.

Last night we talked about satisfaction. What are we not satisfied with in life? Where do we go when we are spiritually hungry? John 6:35 says that “Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'”

One of our regular students, Bong Joo, brought his friend Cindy* from class. Cindy is a Chinese exchange student who considers herself an athiest but has never really considered the existence of God. She’s read a little bit of the Bible in Mandarin, but not much.

Left to Right: Wyatt (American), Cindy*(Chinese), and Bong Joo (Korean) discussing the storyline of the Bible

Left to Right: Wyatt (American), Cindy*(Chinese), and Bong Joo (Korean) discussing the storyline of the Bible

Cindy was extremely engaged throughout the entire meeting. She asked many questions and was eager to participate in our discussion of satisfaction. We spent a long time talking about what the Bible is, and we described the storyline that connects each book together into one coherent Bible.

“You can keep this Bible if you want,” I told her. She was hesitant at first but as we opened it and gave her a tour, her inhibitions fell away. “What are the most important parts for me to read?” she asked. I was shocked. Here is a Chinese woman who struggles with the English language and has never heard the Gospel- and she grasps the importance of the Bible and is eager to read it! We pointed her to the front of the Bible, where this particular edition lays out the gospel in simple terms and provides verses.

“Can you tell me the end of the story? What happens?” she asked after realizing just how big the Bible is. “Well, Jesus returns again and he destroys all evil and sadness forever,” I replied. “He takes everyone who has a relationship with Him to live forever with Him in a world without anything bad.”

“That’s a REALLY good ending then!” Cindy exclaimed. And it is! I love the excitement that I hear from those who are hearing the gospel for the first time. So often we forget the beauty of God’s plan for us. We forget about the good ending we are working for. What a good reminder of the hope and anticipation we as believers have for the future!

Praise God for Bong Joo’s desire for Cindy to learn about God and for his initiative to bring her to our group. Please keep Cindy in your prayers as she begins to learn about Jesus, and pray for us as leaders as we answer difficult questions and cross cultural, religious, and language barriers. May Cindy come to have a relationship with Jesus and experience this “good ending” herself!

*Name has been changed to protect the individual