cambodia

I Don't Have to Do a Thing—and Neither Do You

It’s been a while since I’ve posted—I’ve been enjoying a break from scheduled writing and posting (though I’ve still been doing some of that over at karatmag.com). Today I’m taking a “break from my break” to share a couple things that have been wrecking my life (in the best way), and I hope they encourage you! Here's what I’ve been learning.

When God speaks to us, it isn’t always because He wants us to do something.

At the beginning of the year, I spent time praying about when, where, and if I should travel. I felt the Lord was saying this would be a year that I’d get to share a country I loved (Cambodia) with others.

I was thrilled at the prospect. Sharing Cambodia is one of my favorite things—I wish everyone in the world could visit at least once! Quite quickly, I created a long list of possible travel buddies in my head.

Then life sped up. I agreed to various commitments and shouldered new responsibilities. Days sped by, then weeks and months, and suddenly I was committed to going to Cambodia on a medical mission trip—without having “recruited” a single person. I was disappointed.

Yet a couple weeks later, one person wanted to come—and then another, and another, and another. Suddenly, a group of people I knew (and some I didn’t even know!) were eager to travel to Cambodia.

It was then I remembered the other thing God had spoken to me at the beginning of the year: 

You don’t have to do a thing.

Photo by  Aki Tolentino  on  Unsplash

Photo by Aki Tolentino on Unsplash

I hadn’t connected these two phrases previously, but I was blown away when I did. I realized the Lord wasn’t kidding around when He said in John 15:15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

For some reason, I’d started to believe the main reason God spoke to us was because He wanted us to obey Him. When I think of the Bible, I think of instructions and commands—often within the church it’s called the “instruction manual for life.” 

Yet when I really examine the Scriptures, I find much more than instructions. I find stories, poetry, and promises—all pointing to connection. Connection with the One who created us. In fact, the majority of what I read in the Bible guides us to walk with God, not work for God.

For the first time, it dawned on me that perhaps Jesus placed that sense in my heart—the sense that this would be a year when I’d share Cambodia with others—not to instruct me but to give me something to delight in. As a friend shares exciting news with confidante, the Lord had whispered this news to me. Simply because we are friends. Simply to share His joy.

To be a servant of the Lord—this would be enough. Yet He invites us into friendship, too!

As I write, I cannot think of anything sweeter. Sometimes when He speaks, He does call us to action for and with Him. Sometimes, it’s simply for the pleasure of our company in the knowledge of His will.

That is a most beautiful thing.

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Life as a Cambodian Christian: An Interview

Though I’m no longer in Cambodia physically, part of my heart will always remain in Kratie, Cambodia. I wish I could bring everyone to Cambodia to visit the country and meet these people I love so dearly. For now, I’ll introduce you through writing. Here’s an interview with two young Cambodian women about faith, the future, childhood memories and more!

Meet the Interviewees

Srey Neang (left) and Cheata (right)

Srey Neang (left) and Cheata (right)

Srey Neang (pronounced sry [rhymes with “try”] ning) and Cheata (pronounced like “cheetah”) are two advanced English language students and active members of Love of Christ Church. Srey Neang was born in a village quite a distance from Kratie, and she lives with her aunt and uncle in Kratie so she can attend school in town. Cheata lives with her parents and siblings down the road from the church. I’ll let them do the rest of their introductions!

(I’ve edited some for grammar, but most of the interview I’ve left as-is because I love the way Srey Neang and Cheata talk and tell stories. That’s part of what makes talking with them so fun!)

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Srey Neang: My name is Srey Neang. I am 17 years old. I’m in the 10th grade, and I am the youngest of seven siblings.

Cheata: I am Cheata. I am 16 years old, in 10th grade, and I have three siblings. I am the second [oldest].

How did you become a Christian?

Srey Neang: Punlork [cousin] invited me to go to the church three years ago. I studied English there, but I not study Bible. I wasn’t interested in Jesus, but one time I was studying with Mommy [Kathy Manoto, missionary], and we study about the job of our parents. And I don’t know the job of my father, and after that I [was] upset. 

After we study, Mommy asked, “What happened to you?”

I said nothing. And I said, “I not have father.”

She said, “Even [though] you don’t have a good father on the earth, you have the best Father in heaven. You also have Daddy [Archie Manoto, missionary] as your father.” And after that I try to learn Bible. Then I study at life group and come worship on Sunday. At life group Teacher Aileen [missionary] asked me if I believed Jesus is the only One, and I say yes, and after that I believed.

Cheata: I saw Srey Neang at school and she invited me to study English. I said, “No, I don’t like to study with the people who believe in Jesus. The people who believe in Jesus, they crazy.” [I thought they were strange because] even when they eat rice, they thank Jesus. They pray. Why [are they] like that? My mom is the one who gives me rice, not Jesus!

A few weeks later, I stopped in front of the church to call Srey Neang to go to rincoo [tutoring], and the [missionary] teachers are friendly and smiling at me. I said I would study there. I go, but I not understand what they are saying because I not know English yet. I told Neang I don’t want to study there because I don’t know [English], but she said she was like that before. So I stayed. When I saw Teacher Aileen talking with other friends…I would listen and get some words and write them down in my book, like “why” and “broken” and translate in Khmer. I got Teacher Aileen’s phone number, and I would talk with Teacher Aileen and practice with her. Then Teacher Aileen invited me to life group. And I started going to life group and knew Jesus.

When I could talk in English a lot before, Pastor had e-camp [annual English camp], and Srey Neang invited me to go, but I was shy, but I also want to go. It was so happy because [there were] a lot of games. After e-camp, some [of my] friends get baptized, but I not yet decide to get baptized (this was 2013). Daddy [Pastor Archie] also ask [me], but I just think about it first. In 2014, I decide to get baptized with Srey Neang and other friends, too.

What did your family think when you first became a Christian?

Srey Neang: The first time when they know [I am a Christian], they all reject [me]. They don’t want me to believe in Him. Even my grandfather. After that, my aunt told me, “If you believe in Jesus, you cannot live in my house anymore.” But I thank God that my aunt’s friend believes in Jesus, and she told my aunt about Jesus, and she [my aunt] still allow me to go to church and [she] not say anything bad anymore.

When I went home [to my hometown], I told to my sister and my family the Good News. My brother and sister listen to me, but my mother was angry with me one time and said, “If you believe in Jesus, don’t call me ‘Mother’ anymore.”

I want[ed] to give up, but when I want[ed] to give up, I talk with someone, and the topic is “Don’t give up on God because God never give up on you.”

After that, I start to share the Good News again and again to my family, and [I told] my mother about the reason I not go to pagoda [Buddhist temple] and worship, and she listen to me. And my family, they also know about it [the Gospel], and my aunt in another province get so angry because she not want me to believe in Jesus because it’s so crazy and not our culture. But I still believe in Jesus because I know He is the One who saves me.

The first time is difficult, but after that God solved the problem, and now it’s okay.

Cheata: My family—they [were] happy when I started to study there [at the church], and they so happy to see I can speak English well. When they know I believe in Jesus, they not stop me from going to the church. One time I share the Gospel to my sister, and I told her about how God created the world and the man and the woman—and the people who don’t believe in Jesus, where will they go? And she was laughing at me. I told her the people who don’t believe in Jesus will go to hell; they won’t be able to go to heaven. She was laughing at me, saying, “So many people don’t believe in Jesus and will go to hell, and the hell will get full! Cannot fit any more people!” I told her it’s just in the Bible, and she still not believe. But I thank God I can share with her. 

My cousin and my aunt and uncle, they call me, “Yesu! Yesu! [Jesus! Jesus!]” Now I have new name in my house also: it’s "Jesus." But I remember that verse—it says if the people say bad things about you in My name, you will be blessed.

My mom—now she always wants me to change my mind. She always calls me to worship, and I say no to her, and she a little bit sad and angry. Like she don’t think I really believe in Jesus. But I’m still praying that my mom and dad and yeah, my family, that they will believe in Jesus one day. Because my mom—she hear the Gospel three times already. So I hope she will accept Jesus one day. I’m scared that they will not know Jesus. But I trust in the Lord, that He will save my family.

What are difficulties you face as a Christian in Cambodia?

Srey Neang: The most difficult is my mother. Because sometimes she tell me, “Don’t call her 'Mother,'” like that. And my relatives don’t want me to believe in Jesus.

Cheata: I was thinking that now my mom not know I really believe in Jesus. Maybe she just think I go and learn [English] and not really believe in Jesus. I’m scared that one day, she will really get angry [when] she really know that I really believe in Jesus. And she will stop me from go [to church]. So I’m praying now that even she stop [me from going] I still continue.

If you could tell Christians around the world one thing, what would it be?

Srey Neang: I will tell others, “Don’t give up because all the things you do are not useless. You will receive the things from God when you meet Him. Because we on the earth sometimes want to give up because we face the problem.”

Cheata: I will tell them about my life and I will tell them about the things I thought were impossible. But I keep on doing that and it’s become possible. I will encourage them, especially the people who think something is impossible for them to do…I will just tell them that if you not give up on that thing, if you keep on going, it will be possible.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Srey Neang: Since I was young, I want to be a doctor. But I don’t know the plan of God. I want to be a doctor because my mom [is] always sick. And when she sick, she has to pay a lot of money. And my relatives, also sick and they must pay a lot of money. So I want to be a doctor to help my family. But now I want many things: teacher, police man, tour guide and also the ladies on the plane [flight attendant]. But [what I want] the most is doctor. Also your daddy (who is a doctor) write me [a note] that he will pray for me [and said] “Don’t give up.” I [was] really encouraged. Also Pastor asked about what we want to do the future. He also encourage me, “Don’t give up because of the money. God will provide [for] you.” I think about how my family is poor. And I so discouraged. Because the Khmer (Cambodian) doctor must study for 8 years. I think it is impossible. Because I know my family cannot find money for me.

Cheata: Doctor. Because I can help the people around me, especially my family if they get sick. If other doctor cannot help her [my mom], I will help her what I can. I will do what I can. Yeah. Help the poor people. [But] I think I cannot be doctor because I’m not a good student. I want to have just simple work so I can help my family. Even tik tik, ban [translation: even a little bit is good]. And I really want to go to another country to serve Jesus. Like you. Yeah, that’s what I am thinking.

Tell me one story from your childhood.

Srey Neang: When I was young, people in my hometown have wedding, and I go with my aunt [by bicycle]. That time the bicycle is not updated like now, and doesn’t have something to cover the [top of] the tire. [I sat on the back of the bike] and I just see the tire moving, and I think, “What’s that? What will happen if I put my leg there?” And then… *laughter…and more laughter*

Me: What happened with the bicycle?

Srey Neang: The bicycle?! It’s my leg hurt, not the bicycle. Why you ask about the bicycle and not my leg?!

Me: But the bicycle didn’t fall?

Srey Neang: No, just hurt my leg. *Shows me scar* Because I’m small and I didn’t know…*more laughter*

Cheata: One night I slept outside with my dad and my younger sister, and we slept on the hammock. One up [on top] and one down [below the other]. And my dad, he sleep on the side to protect us. The first night, I sleep up and she sleep under me. The next night, I sleep under her. And that time, she pee on me. Yeah, I woke up, and my dad saw me wake up, and he asked why, and I told him “Have rain.” But she pee on me!! I tell them I will never let her sleep above me because she will pee on me again!

What is your favorite thing to do when you have free time?

Cheata: Singing Christian song. [Cheata has a great voice and is in our Sunday worship team.]

Srey Neang: Sleep. *laughter* The thing I like to do most is listen to music. The kind of sound that’s soft and slow. Sometimes the rap song. Khmer or English. [My favorite] Christian song is “Sing.”

Why should people come to Cambodia?

Cheata: To see what Cambodia looks like…

Srey Neang: They want to see me! Because I’m beautiful! …I’m just kidding.

If you have one superpower, what would it be?

Cheata: I would like, if I want to go somewhere, just one second, I will be there. You know that? Just one second only and then I am there.

Srey Neang: Just a funny one: I want just hide myself, like no one can see me. Because sometimes I want to play seek and hide, and I can hide anywhere. And no one can see me! I [will] always win! No one can find me!

How can other Christians pray for you?

Cheata: Pray for my study. And especially my faith. You know, sometimes—especially when I’m sad—I feel I don’t want to share the Gospel. I don’t know why. In my mind, [sometimes I also don’t want to keep] coming to the church, but I keep on coming so, yeah. Something like that.

Srey Neang: Pray I can stand strong in my faith with God, and pray my family and my friends will believe in Jesus and follow Him. Yeah, only this. Because if I fail [in my faith], my family will not trust me anymore. For example, if in the future, my family believe in Jesus, but I stop following Him, they also will stop because I am the first one who followed Him. So just pray I will have strong faith in God.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed our conversation as much as I did! Hearing the hearts of these two young women humbles, encourages, and challenges me in my walk with Christ. The Lord is doing great things in Cambodia. Please keep Srey Neang, Cheata, and the other members of Love of Christ Church in your prayers.

 

 

*To know how you can pray for the church more specifically, please send me an email or a text!

**The English camp Cheata mentioned will be in August this year. To make the camp affordable, participants are only charged a fraction of the true cost. If the Lord leads, please consider sponsoring a student to go to e-camp and grow in/begin their walk with Christ! This year students’ parents are also invited, which is a huge opportunity for the prayers of Srey Neang, Cheata, and others to be answered for their parents to hear the Gospel again and respond. Sponsorships are $35/camper. Contact me for more info.

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Keeping the Power Lines and Losing the Edits: What Telephone Wires Taught Me about Owning my Story

I was standing on the balcony of our apartment building recently, looking down the street at the colorful roof tops and dusty road. I was thinking how I wished I could share what Cambodia is really like with those back in the States. So I leaned against the railing, trying to figure out how I could take a picture without all the power lines and wires in the way of the picture.

All of a sudden I realized how ridiculous I was being. To show what Cambodia is really like, I ought just to take a picture as-is, without finagling angles to cut out unsightly objects. If my goal is to show what it is really like, it should be unedited and unfiltered and uncropped.

Unedited and uncropped. Those words reminded me why the blog is named Beyond the Smiles—because of the huge portion of life that’s lived in that space beyond the smiles and social media posts and the “I’m fine” lies that slip from our lips unnoticed. I don’t want to be captive to masks and false fronts; I want to practice honesty and authenticity and talk about all parts of life, even the difficult and ugly and messy parts—what life is really like.

So I wondered, what if the power lines aren’t making the picture less scenic? What if they are making the picture complete?

When we physically look around, we have an amazing ability to look past the “ugly” things and appreciate the beauty around us. We look past telephone poles and wires and trash on the ground to enjoy a breathtaking sunset or a budding flower. If we waited for a beautiful view without any kind of distraction, we would rarely—if ever—find a suitable one.

Perhaps the power lines are simply part of the view.

Sometimes I edit the picture I paint for people about life here—and often people want the edited version. It’s tempting just to tell about the highlights in ministry and the fun cultural experiences and the delicious new foods I’m trying. Certainly that is part of life overseas! But that’s not all there is. There is also the homesickness and traveler’s diarrhea and culture stress. There’s still the anxiety and depression that comes and goes.

Really, it’s always tempting to edit the stories of our lives, overseas or not. Sometimes we encounter parts of our stories we wish weren’t there, and we want to cut those chapters out.  There are certainly parts of my story I've wanted to white-out or highlight and hit command+x or just take a pair of scissors to. Yet these unwanted chapters are still part of our stories, whether we own them or not. When we leave out the power lines in our stories, we aren’t making them more beautiful. We’re leaving them incomplete.

Each day we face a choice: will we spend the whole day searching for a perfect Kodak moment, or will we embrace life with all the messy (and sometimes ugly) power lines and trash and poor lighting? Will we choose to enjoy the beauty in life even when it comes alongside hard things?

In part, this is similar to giving myself permission to say things I’m not supposed to say, things that are humble and honest. Choosing to accept the less-than-perfect parts of life is much like admitting fears and weaknesses and letting people see the warts and wrinkles behind our masks and makeup. Just as we try to disown chapters or themes in our stories, sometimes we try to orphan unwanted parts of ourselves. Yet when we orphan our imperfections, we aren't making ourselves more attractive, and we're certainly not getting any closer to perfection. We're simply missing out on who we were made to be.

I used to think life was about avoiding pain. I thought the purpose of life was to enjoy the moments that were happy, when everything was going great. But now I see things differently. Now I’m learning to accept that no matter what I do or where I go, power lines will most likely stay in the picture. 

And that’s okay. 

The point of life isn’t avoiding pain and finding happiness. It’s about knowing Jesus. Sitting with Him and walking with Him and getting to know Him. That’s what makes life full and meaningful and worth it. With Jesus here, the power lines can stay.

 

Are there unwanted “power lines” in your life right now?

How do you usually respond to these less-than-perfect parts of life or situations?

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Why I Won't Go to Africa to Help with the Ebola Crisis

As a nursing student, each month I participate in a small-group, interdisciplinary ethics meeting with nursing students, medical students, a chaplain, a nurse, and a doctor.  Last week the topic for discussion was the ebola crisis; the question posed was, “Would you go to Africa to help with the ebola crisis?”  Some people said no, with the reasons ranging from “I don’t feel qualified” to “I don’t want to go in blind – we don’t know enough about the virus and how it’s transmitted.”  Some people said yes, they probably would go, because as healthcare professionals we are to help and care for people.  I said I would consider it. 

After some discussion and after others in the group had elaborated on why or why not they would go, the doctor who was facilitating turned to me.  “Allison, you said you would consider it.  Why did you say that?”

My heart started beating fast, and my face was warm.  Not because I was nervous, but because this topic gets emotional for me.  I began slowly and almost made it through my reasoning without my voice quivering and giving away my emotion.  You see, I learned a lot about caring for peoples’ health needs in other countries this summer.  You may have noticed I have been absent from blogging for quite a while, and that is because when I came home from Cambodia in August, I had much more to unpack than dirty socks and underwear.  I had a summer full of memories in a foreign hospital that was severely under-resourced in many different ways.  The past few months have been a season of emotional unpacking, wrestling with the “why’s” of seeing preventable suffering and death, and questioning God’s goodness.  This summer I felt completely overwhelmed by the sickness and brokenness in the hospital, watching a beautiful people group made in God’s image lay on metal bed frames in sickness and suffering.  I have never hit my breaking point and then been pushed past it so many times in my life.

But God is faithful.  After some nudging from a counselor, I explored the “why” questions that so bothered me about this summer’s experience in the hospital.

First, why did God let me see what I saw?  What was the purpose of seeing the suffering, the deaths, the tears of family losing a loved one to what I knew was a preventable disease?  The cold reality is that the suffering would have happened if I had seen it or not.  So why did God choose for me to witness it?

The answer came quietly one day while I sat weeping and remembering the patients I had seen.  I was sitting alone – because the weeping was easier alone, and no one in the world knew exactly what I had experienced, seen, observed, worked in.  I felt desperate and detached much of the time with my emotions and memories and grief.  It was too big for me, and it overwhelmed me.  I could not comprehend the suffering or the health disparity between developing countries and the United States.  As I sat on the floor with tissues beside me, I asked over and over again, “Why? Why did you let me see that?”  And the Lord answered.

Because I am there.  I am there in the hospital.  I see the suffering, and I grieve.  Yet I am bigger than all the suffering and all the good.  For years you have marveled at My love because your mind cannot comprehend it.  Now, you marvel at the amount of suffering that exists and My ability to grieve compassionately for each and every person.  I am bigger than all of it, Allison; the suffering is too deep for you to grasp, and so is my love.  On both ends of the spectrum, I am bigger.  I hold both things in my heart: intense love and intense care for the suffering.  You saw these things because I am there, and I have invited you into this part of my heart, too: the part where I see each person’s suffering and pain and grieve for them.

Leading up to the summer it was my prayer that each day I would know the Lord better at the end of the day than at the beginning.  He granted that prayer.  I never would have asked to be ushered into this part of God’s heart, but He chose to bring me in anyway. 

And I know Him more intimately for it.
 

The second “why” question I asked was, “Why does suffering like this happen at all?”  I knew the church answer: because humans sinned, and the world is broken.  But when the images of beautiful Khmer people hurting and memories of suffering came back to haunt me, this answer was far from enough.  I believed God was sovereign.  Never did I doubt that.  But since He was sovereign, why did He allow this suffering?  I only saw an inkling of what goes on in Cambodia, much less the world.  He could not let this happen and still be good.  He was sovereign.  He could do something.  So I sat there on the floor praying through tears again, asking why, and rejecting the answer that it was just because of sin.

Again, the answer came quietly. 

Because you – the world – need Me.

How was this different from the answer that the world is broken due to sin?  The explanation is simple.  My answer – “we sinned and the world is broken” – ends with us.  It ends with our sin and our brokenness.  It ends with frustration, helplessness, and hopelessness.  The answer the Lord gave, though, did not end with us or with the consequences of our sins. 

It ended with Him. 

This world and all that it holds – the evil, the suffering, the good, the joys – is not about us and our brokenness.  It is about Him.  The Lord’s answer was one of hope: it ends not with us but with Him.
 

Back to ebola.  My voice wavered and my heart pounded and my face flushed because talking about healthcare in other countries stirs up strong emotions.  It brings back memories that will never be erased from my mind of people dying and ill who could have been alive and well. 

The reason that I would consider going and would not just go to Africa is because seeing people suffer and die in a developing country is extremely hard emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  When you know just as much as physicians about medical care for a disease, and you still do not know what to do to treat someone…that is one of the most helpless and overwhelming feelings that exists.

I would consider going, and I have considered and prayed about going.  Yet for now, I will not go to Africa to help with the ebola crisis because my heart is not ready for it.  After a summer in Cambodia, I am still recovering.  Maybe in the future I will go (and I believe I am called back to Cambodia in the future), but for the time being, I have to let my heart finish grieving and healing. 

Perhaps when we talk about going to Africa and the reasons we would or would not go, we are mistaken about the hardest parts of being there.  Perhaps the hardest part would not be the fear of contracting the virus or not feeling qualified to treat a patient. 

Perhaps the hardest part would be the grieving it would demand from our hearts. 

Should we shy away from this kind of grief?  No!  As I said before, I know the Lord more intimately for it.  Should we prayerfully seek the Lord as to whether we should go or stay?  Yes.  For whichever way He leads, I believe this:

We will know the Lord more intimately for it.

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