I find it difficult to believe I’ve actually been here over a month. You’re probably thinking the same thing- or maybe something along these lines, “Didn’t she just send me one of these impossibly long emails last week?” I actually might have done- because I’ve been uncharacteristically good at correspondence since I’ve been here. I just have lots of new material to write about. 🙂
Since my arrival in Cambodia on May 5th, I’ve visited World Hope International’s projects around Cambodia in Ban Krum, Kampong Cham, Toul Sre, Kratie, and Phiem Phlay. I’ve seen schools, participated in seminars, taught English classes, interviewed experienced developers, worked alongside amazing people, visited and observed some sustainable development projects, made many new friends, learned some basic Khmer, created some new recipes (haha… be afraid! I’m cooking for myself… and sometimes Kim, my flatmate, dares to try my concoctions…), attended a wedding, and roughly learned my way around the city of Phnom Penh.
My supervisor, Mrs. Allyn Japitana, is a wonderful woman. She is the project manager for World Hope’s rural development projects here, which means she oversees the planning and implementation of the projects. Although she was born and raised in the Philippines, she has worked in Cambodia for 8 years now, and speaks good Khmer. She has an easy smile and a hearty laugh. Together, we have taken tuk-tuks, motorcycles, buses, and taxis, and all over this country since I touched down. Pastor Eyng Kiet is World Hope’s field worker. He visits the projects more frequently than Allyn to take care of the details of contracting, meet with the community leaders, conduct seminars on animal care, and deal with financial issues. He is married and has five children, including the oldest, Tewe, who studies at the Wesleyan Bible School (where I live) in Phnom Penh, and a pair of impish twin boys, the two youngest children. Allyn and I have visited the projects with him frequently, often making these trips with all three of us on his motorcycle.
Cambodia is a beautiful country. Just outside of the city, lush green farmland stretches out to the horizon, where a graceful mountain range meets the powder blue sky. Elegant palm trees stand straight and tall in rows across the fields, as if guarding the young rice maturing in the paddies below. Men, women, and water buffalo work the fields during the morning and afternoon, plowing the thick mud and planting and transplanting small clumps of bright green young rice into bigger fields of sitting water. When the sun begins to set, the world turns golden. Everything is gilt by the last, sleepy sun-rays before the glowing red ball dips out of sight.
I’ve had significant time to think and read and journal since my arrival. I’ve wondered, how can the rich inherit the kingdom of God? Jesus said that for the rich (which includes me and definitely you if you’re reading this email on your own computer) it will be harder to inherit the kingdom of God than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Scary, huh? I mean, I’ve seen many a camel try, but so far, not one of them has successfully accomplished that feat! (I haven’t really seen a camel try to squeeze through a needle, but it’s a fun mental picture… they should try that on Mythbusters!). Why is Jesus so hard on us rich people? Why is it supposedly so hard for us to inherit the kingdom? I mean, I already did, right? Didn’t I? When I prayed that prayer? That wasn’t so hard… so… why does Jesus say it is difficult?
Here are a few passages I’ve read recently that explain a little more and convict… Isaiah curses “those who make unjust laws” and “those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2) This verse doesn’t convict me because I was up early this morning lobbying the White House for more oppressive laws, whilst eating a widow and robbing an orphanage (because I don’t do that, and if you do, you need some serious serious help…), but it convicts me because of the next verse from Ezekiel. Ezekiel said Sodom’s sin was that “she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezek. 17:49) I could easily shift the blame in the first verse, saying that I had never done any of that or that it was not my responsibility, but Ezekiel reminded me of a terrible story.
Sodom. Yeah, they had all kinds of sketchy stuff going on there (i.e.- a bunch of drunk guys tried to gang rape two angels…), but according to Ezekiel, God destroyed this city because of its apathy. Whoa. Now, apathy… there is a sin of which I’m guilty. How many times have I looked the other way when I saw an injustice? Why not, right? I’m rich. I’m not oppressed. I can afford to look away, because if I do, I won’t have to suffer. I float above the fray on an invisible cushion stuffed with assets, skin color, job security, financial stability, and the like, while others, the “less fortunate,” have to struggle through the muck, trying to keep their heads above the surface, fighting under the weight of my cushion. Yeah. No wonder it’s hard for a rich person to inherit the kingdom of God! If we are not the oppressed… could that mean we are the oppressors?
Remember the man who told Jesus that the most important commandments were loving God and loving others? Well, Jesus was amazed at His answer. “Why?!” Aren’t you asking that same thing? What’s the big deal, Jesus? Everybody (translate- me and my Sunday school pals) knows that answer! Well- Jesus was impressed, perhaps not with the answer, but with the man’s heart. That young man got it. He understood that loving God and loving others were one in the same! Jesus told His disciples that the young man was not far from the Kingdom. Loving God and loving others. The same? Indivisible? I think so…
No wonder it is hard for the rich to inherit the Kingdom. To do so, we have to acknowledge our apathy, deflate our cushion, and get involved with the poor and needy. And our involvement must be humble and motivated by love… otherwise, we’re just self-righteous and patronizing, getting a high off of our own “goodness.” Please pray for me. I’m on this journey, and I want to learn to be Christlike- humble, selfless, loving… but so much of me is still so filthy and retched. If you would pray that I become more humble, selfless, and loving this month, I would greatly appreciate it. I want the Kingdom of God to come, but I know my heart isn’t ready for it.
After saying that rather desperate thing about the camel and the needle, Jesus encouraged His disciples with these words, “But with God, all things are possible.”
I believe that.
May your hearts also be fashioned more and more into the likeness of Christ.