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.

 

 

 

 

“I Will Give You A New Self Instead”

This quote is shaking up my view of redemption. In his essay, “is Christianity Hard or Easy?,” C.S. Lewis really turns the tables on American cultural Christianity and shows us what’s keeping is rooted in sin.

“The ordinary idea which we all have is that…we have a natural self with various desires and interests…and we know something called “morality” or “decent behavior” has a claim on the self…. We are all hoping that when all the demands of morality and society have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on…

The Christian way is different—both harder and easier. Christ says, “Give me ALL. I don’t want just this much of your time and this much of your money and this much of your work—so that your natural self can have the rest. I want you. Not your things. I have come not to torture your natural self…I will give you a new self instead. Hand over the whole natural self—ALL the desires, not just the ones you think wicked but the ones you think innocent—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead…

The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves”—our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, despite this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you cannot do. If I am a grass field—all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat…I must be plowed up and re-sown.”

Dang. That makes a lot of sense. Why are we letting our old selves be “tortured” when we can be plowed up and be created wholly new?

“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

Songs of Truth and Life for Lent

I have been falling in LOVE with hymns recently. They are some of the deepest, most heartfelt songs of truth I’ve ever heard. The simple melodies play in my head throughout the day, reminding me of the hope and life I have in Christ.

Just check out these lyrics from one of my favorite hymns, “Before the Throne of God Above”:

“When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.”

This was written by Charitie Bancroft 150 years ago. Yes, that’s right, 150 YEARS AGO! And every word is just as true and meaningful today. Who wouldn’t want these sweet words drifting through their house while cleaning, implanting themselves in their heart while working, whispering to them as they drift off to sleep?

One of my favorite bands, Page CXVI, brings a modern twist to old hymns. The trio has been leading worship together for years and decided to put together some albums of hymns with the goal of “making them accessible and known again.” I love the story behind their name; it refers to the page in a loved copy of C.S. Lewis’  allegorical The Magician’s Nephew in which Aslan (the character representing God) sings the earth into existence. Hence the fantastic logo.

They are currently working on a church calendar project, recording 4 albums in one year that go along with the liturgical calendar. They’ve released a fantastic new collection today called “Lent to Maundy Thursday,” featuring seven hymns to prepare our hearts for Easter. I recieved the pre-released album and have been listening to it over and over, delighting in the simple melodies and sweet words. “Behold the Throne of God Above” is remixed, keeping the original words but adding a fresh melody line. “Fast From, Feast On” gets to the heart behind Lent. It’s a reminder that it’s not about self control but about refocusing ourselves on what will truly give us more life and contentment than anything else.

You can buy it on their website,  http://www.pagecxvi.com, for $7 or you can find it on iTunes.  If you’d like to listen to it online for free, check out  https://soundcloud.com/pagecxvi/sets/lent-to-maundy-thursday to stream the entire album.

A glorious mess

You know that feeling when there’s stuff everywhere and the dishes are in the sink and you’ve got three people texting you about “urgent” matters and you can’t find matching socks? Those days when you have so much on your mind that you can’t concentrate on what’s right in front of you, when you are up all night trying to figure out what you’re doing with your life, when you randomly start crying because you burned the toast again- or maybe because you’re simply exhausted? That’s my entire life right now. I’m kind of a mess.

I’ve always identified myself with what I do. When I’m getting to know a person, it’s all about what I do. “I’m an intern with Cru, I lead Bible studies, I attend a community group, I play guitar, I live with an international students, ect.” Which sounds like a natural thing until I realized this week that there’s more to me than what I do. ShockingSeriously though, I’ve never considered that before. My life is so performance-focused, all about doing the right things, pleasing the right people, excelling and succeeding. But having an identity rooted in performance is becoming extremely problematic.

I had FINALLY found something that I could do well- agriculture. But this year, God directed me to intern with Cru. Leadership and ministry do NOT come naturally to me. It is a struggle every single day, and it’s not getting any easier. The learning curve is huge and most of it is “learn as you go.” Which is synonymous to “learn by making mistakes.” So as a performance-based person, every time something doesn’t go well CRASH goes my identity. I am “good” and “acceptable” when I am on time, prepared, and confident. I am “bad” and “worthless” when things don’t go as planned. And I don’t think I’ve had a single day this quarter where things went as planned.

But guess what? God doesn’t value or love me because of my performance. He loves me because He CHOOSES to love me. His very NATURE is love. It would go against His nature to stop loving me. How awesome is that?! And if God loves me, nothing else really matters.  Read Ephesians 1:3-12 (The Message version really brings it home for me. Sometimes I need it in my language; emphases are mine).

3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

God has designed me for glorious living. That means living in a way that gives glory to God, not necessarily in a perfect way. In fact, my failures force me to remind myself of the Gospel and of God’s surpassing grace. I think that gives God a LOT of glory!

So, identity. My identity is in Christ. It’s okay that I have no idea what I’m doing with my life. It’s okay if I am late to the Bible study I’m leading because I forgot to eat dinner. It’s okay if I am horribly confused by what an identity outside of performance is. Because I know who I am in Christ. I am beloved and valued, worth more than any amount of money. I can’t disappoint Him- Christ’s already paid for my failures. I can’t do anything to make Him love me any less.

And I’m going on a personality hunt 🙂 a friend pointed out that after work each day, I get a chance to  start to live my life. I get to discover who I am and what I enjoy. Anyone want to come along on the ride? It’s gonna be a mess- but  a glorious mess!

How much do you have to hate someone…

Yes, I’ve been silent for longer than normal. Life got a little crazy last week as I was trying to reach my September 1st financial support deadline as well as move from one apartment to another. Moving? Success (at 2am). Support deadline? Didn’t make it. But I got an extension of 6 days PRAISE THE LORD! Check out the “partner with me” tab at the top of the blog if you’re interested in hearing more about how you can financially support me.

Ok enough explaining and shameless plugging.

Question of the day. How much do you have to hate someone to not share with them the Good News of the only Hope that won’t fail in the world?

Yes, hate is a strong word, but I think it is appropriate in this situation. Listen to this clip by Penn Jillet, and you’ll understand where this question comes from. 2 things you should know before you watch.

1) Penn Jillet performs Penn&Teller shows. He is an outspoken illusionist, comedian, and performer who articulately advocates for atheism. His beliefs are here: http://thisibelieve.org/essay/34/

2) Proselytizing is converting someone to your own faith or religion.

“If you believe that there is a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell…and you think it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and NOT tell them that?”

While there are some things in this video I don’t agree with, such as the description of the man’s actions as proselytizing (I think he was trying to introduce him to the person of Jesus rather than religion), I was really struck by his reasoning and his respect for those who share what they believe is most vital in life. How many times are we too afraid to share our beliefs because we don’t want to be disrespected?

Rom 10:14-15 “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

I think his description of the guy who gave him the Bible gives some good clues to how we can share the Gospel effectively. First, he says over and over how “sane” the guy was. He was a business man who could appreciate a secular comedy show. How can we expect to reach the world if we hide from it? In the college world, this is things like spending time with classmates, going to their parties, being the designated driver, finding things in common.

Then he talks about how the man wasn’t defensive but was polite and kind. This doesn’t mean spiritual discussions and debates aren’t wrong, but what people notice is HOW we approach them. Penn could tell the man truly cared about him. In an essay, he wrote about previous experiences:

” I don’t travel in circles where people say, “I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith.” That’s just a long-winded religious way to say, “shut up,” or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, “How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do.”

Just some stuff to chew on. What are your interactions with nonChristians like? Do you even have any, or are you hiding from the secular world? Are you showing your friends the greatest love by sharing your source of hope and life? Or are you showing a greater love for your personal validation and reputation as you try to keep faith out of the picture?