Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, "When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?"
The King will answer, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me." .......Matthew 25
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
In Phum Leav, we badly need our own water festival. The building of the school has been badly hampered by the lack of access to water. Our attempts to drill a tube well has gone down 64m without success. No well...no water....unfortunately no school.
After the new year, we will attempt to drill deeper in a desperate attempt to hit an aquifer. We need to pray very hard for this, as the chances are not very good. But the poorer the odds, the greater the faith needed. May we be not found wanting.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
The Khmers celebrate their new year, Chol Chnam Thmey, according to the lunar calendar. Quite clearly, it is also linked with the Spring Equinox, and is scheduled every year about April 13th, (quite often timed to coincide with the weekend). The New Year is spread over 3 days, called Moha Songkran, Wanabat and Tanai Lieang Saka.
The ancient Khmer civilization, like many other cultures had a fixation on the rising of the sun. The Angkor Wat was also constructed with the various solar alignments in mind. It is thought that King Suryavarman (protected by the sun) II, the visionary king who started work on the Angkor Wat was crowned on the Spring Equinox. Apparently the sun rose over the central tower then.
Excerpted from Kaladarshan Arts
"At 6:35 a.m., the sun can be seen rising dead-center over the top of the central tower of the temple - about 500 m. away - when observed from the top of the first northern staircase of the western causeway. Three days later, the sun can be seen rising over the central tower for the second and last time, from the center of the western causeway at a point just a few meters south of the first observation position. We know that the Khmers celebrated their new year for three days. The new year began on the spring equinox, but the first day of the new year in an actual count did not begin until three days after the equinox. This three-day new year period is both reflected and corroborated in these two consecutive spring equinox alignments that occur just after entering Angkor Wat."
As I read these, I couldn't help wondering about the sunrise services that many churches organize in association with their celebration of Easter. A bit misplaced, I thought. True, we want to remember His resurrection. But honouring the rising of the sun smacks too much of a failure to disconnect our faith from past practices associated with sun worship. In any case, our faith is and should be more vitally linked with the work Jesus did on the cross for us. He is after all, our Passover Lamb, whose work was 'finished' on the cross. To me, the resurrection was a wonderful demonstration of His divinity and sovereignty over death and life, but does not and should not occupy any position of centrality in our redemptive faith.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I am ambivalent. And will probably get into trouble for saying it.
Easter to me has always been another of those pagan festivals that the church tries to christianize. It has its origin in those Spring fertility festivals associated with Ishtar or maybe Eoaster (think of estrus , estrogen, easter eggs). Never made any sense to me.
Jesus never commanded us to observe the festival and there is absolutely no evidence the early church observed the festival. Jesus however commanded that we remember Him through our observances of the passover meal, the bread and the wine. This is the Holy Communion we try and observe as often as we can to remember Him. We don't need to have a festival to do it. We certainly don't need a 'Holy Week' to rehearse His last week before the crucifixion. Very Roman Catholic.
If anything we should celebrate the Jewish passover, because this was the actual occasion of the last supper.
Easter Sunday is empirically set as the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, which is the first moon whose 14th day (the ecclesiastic "full moon") is on or after March 21 (the ecclesiastic "Spring equinox"). Haha...didn't know that did you? Well neither did I.
What is the Spring equinox? Well, essentially,the equinox is the time of year when the sun is directly above the equator and nights and days are roughly equally long. Happens twice a year....in the middle of Spring and in the middle of Autumn. In Singapore, all this has very little significance, but in temperate agricultural societies, this is quite a big deal. Their agricultural years tended to begin at the Spring equinox. It is the day when they celebrated the new year, new sun, rebirth, renewals and fertility etc etc. In China this Spring equinox is called Chūnfēn 春分.
Passover on the other hand, being a Spring festival, begins on the night of a full moon after the Spring equinox (about March 20). Passover in 2009 will start on Thursday, the 9th of April and will continue for 7 days until Wednesday, the 15th of April.
In Exodus 12, Moses commanded that this was to be the beginning of months (new year), and what follows after this was the account of the setting apart of a lamb without blemish, and the 'passover' leading eventually to the liberation of the Israelites from the yoke of slavery in Egypt.
Jesus was our passover lamb. By His shed blood, the wrath of God 'passed over' us. We shouldn't be celebrating 'Easter'. Instead, if anything, we should be celebrating the Passover.
The villagers at Phum Leav had contributed 10,000 riels (US$2.50) per family to purchase the current land for the school. There is no option to try and obtain another piece of land.
It was a difficult decision to press on with attempts to construct the tube well. I think it is important that the children at the school have at least clean water to drink from. I was somewhat hesitant about the open well idea because these open wells tend to get rather contaminated and generally regarded as dirty water, so was secretly pleased that this was now not possible. But now we have a problem of needing to go deeper than 64m to try and get water for the tube well. I don't know what the chances are of hitting the aquifer but it seems we have no choice. It will cost an additional US1600, I think.
We need to continue to have faith that He will provide as He has been doing so far. Please continue to pray with us for a successful resolution.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Sometimes in the work we try and do in Cambodia we do get caught up with the physicality of the labour. And even if we do remember the spiritual dimensions, our scientific logic constrains us and it is easy to forget that we are actually dealing with 'principalities and power'. We are blessed that regardless of our deficiencies, God is faithful in His provisions, and above all we are always in the shadow of His wings. But this article is a grim reminder of how much we need to be mindful of this constant struggle with the spiritual forces still working in Cambodia.
In the summer of 1992, while staying at a friend’s home outside the town of Siem Reap, Cambodia, I woke in the middle of the night and saw fire outside my window—or rather, to be more accurate, several balls of fire moving in a slow dance at a distance. For half a minute, I stood transfixed, watching those balls of light flutter and flirt with each other before they abruptly disappeared.
To this day I do not know what I saw, though I reasoned that they were torches carried by very fast runners. When I talked about the fire to soldiers, servants, housewives, and even politicians, however, many simply nodded their heads knowingly and said, “ghosts.”
“So many ghosts here, you know,” one woman remarked in a matter-of-fact way, “their souls have not gone to heaven. They are still very angry.”
It is risky for a journalist to talk about ghosts—it has taken me almost five years to tell this story—but I suspect ghosts and spirits and myths provide a crucial window to the Cambodian psyche. After all, modernity has little sway in a country where nine out of ten people live in the countryside, without electricity, where 7 out of ten are essentially illiterate, and where there is only one true urban center—the capital, Phnom Penh.
To explain the cause of their country’s suffering, most Cambodians are more likely to provide a ghost story or a legend than political analysis.
From notebooks I wrote while traveling the Cambodian countryside—An old woman named Srong said this about the Khmer Rouge. “The old monks used to say, ‘One day there will be a war where the demons come and blood will rise to the elephant’s stomach,’ and it came true.” Srong is blind. Her face is strangely serene as she explains she had witnessed the Khmer Rouge murdering her own children and then found she could no longer see. She spoke of the years under the Khmer Rouge as “Cambodia’s Punishment Time.”
A man named Hott Nguong explained the Khmer Rouge. “The Khmer Rouge soldiers are possessed by demons who came from hell. They have no souls. You can tell by looking in their eyes. If you are a human being how can you torture children to death?”
Bonn Srey, a woman who cannot read or write, explains Cambodia’s tragedy by saying the country is cursed. “A long time ago, the Cambodian king was powerful and cruel to neighboring countries and those people curse Cambodia. Now Cambodia is full of demons and ghosts.”
Intellectuals are not immune. Reasay Poch, a Cambodian American with a graduate degree in Asian Studies from Cornell was doing research at Tuol Sleng, the infamous Khmer Rouge prison where some 20,000 people were incarcerated, tortured, then systematically killed. Poch was working on the second floor of the building, reading and photocopying written confessions left behind by Khmer Rouge victims when he heard screaming and the sound of clanking metal. He rushed out to the balcony overlooking the torture chambers on the first floor, but saw nothing. “I had to tell myself even if there were ghosts, they wouldn’t harm me,” he said. “After all, I am here to help tell their stories.”
The past—both the mythic and the immediate—has such a strong grip on Cambodian life, I suspect, because it is also the present. While neighboring countries—Vietnam, Thailand, even backward Laos—are now progressing technologically and economically, Cambodia remains an agrarian society whose people continue to lead a life not so different from that of their ancestors.
One need not look far to see the symbol of the past in contemporary Cambodian politics. All warring factions during the early 1990s had the image of the ancient capital, Angkor Wat, imprinted on their flags. Paintings of these stone ruins hang on the walls of every government office, every restaurant and every classroom. They are a testament to an ancient empire that once stretched westward across Thailand to Burma and eastward to include much of the Mekong Delta and South Vietnam. “Bangkok” and “Saigon” are both Cambodian words.
It was an empire that at one time understood intimately the power of war and destruction. Cambodia was once a Hindu nation that worshipped Shiva, the Destroyer God. When he danced, it is said, he set in motion both the creative and destructive forces in the world.
Those who know the story say Shiva remains a potent and angry God. One Cambodian guide at Angkor Wat explained, “We failed to worship Shiva and he punished us by sending his Monkey Army in the form of the Khmer Rouge. Shiva promised to protect those who worshipped him and destroy all unbelievers. And we were punished because we failed to worship him.”
Shiva’s four faces with their eerie half smiles can be seen all over the stone ruins. Each represents a different aspect: Creation, Preservation, Incarnation, and Destruction. As I write, I can still see in my mind’s eyes those stone faces, smiling their mysterious smiles.
And I think of Kall Kann, the doe-eyed teenager who stared at the stone faces, trying to decipher the past: “The stone faces belong to a King, maybe a God, but it’s too long ago,” he said. ” I don’t remember the name. My father knows the name for sure but, you know, my father is dead.”