April 2009


Those who think that Christianity is a religion for the weak-minded know nothing about integrity. Holding scriptural values in today’s world, either in Asia where we presently live, or in the West, is not for those who cave easily under opposition or criticism. There is always going to be some aspect of Christianity that is going to offend someone: its insistence on marital fidelity and moral purity, its cheerful contempt for wealth, its balance of the championing of the rights of women while maintaining the role of men as leaders in the home and the church, all these and many other issues are offensive to many in the modern era, and those who proclaim their love for Christ better know that this is going to engender the opposition, if not outright hatred of many.

But of all the offenses of my faith, none is more offensive than the blood of Christ shed for the remission of sins. The very image of a naked Saviour dying in agony nailed to a cross is a grave offense. Putting that image up before an unbelieving world provokes cries of outrage and condemnation. “Who are you to say that I am a sinner?” they will demand. “What kind of God would require a blood sacrifice?” they contend. “What evidence do you have that this event even took place?” they protest. It is an offense, all of it. An offense to reason and sensibility. An offense to decency and decorum. An offense to the dogma that mankind is essentially good.

But mankind is not good. Mankind produced the horrors of Auschwitz, and the Killing Fields. Mankind produced Rwanda and Afghanistan. Mankind produced the Sudan and Somalia. Mankind is not only not good, we are at times demonic. So demonic, in fact, that we need only to look at the picture of Christ hanging on the cross to see what our sin did to the holiest man that ever walked on this earth. And that offends us. We turn our faces from Auschwitz and Rwanda: that wasn’t us; those men were monsters, not human beings. But they weren’t. They were human. Just like us. Not worthy of heaven, not worthy of Life.

And this is how much God loves us anyway. That God, in the flesh, allowed Himself to bear in His body the penalty of our wickedness, so that all who put their faith in His finished work – not the works of their own righteousness, for all our righteous acts amount to filthy rags that cannot cover our sin – will be resurrected, just Christ Himself, and have Eternal Life.

I accepted Christ at His word some thirty years ago now. If I am wrong, and there is no God, I will have lived a life of purpose and peace – yes, even in the midst of conflict, I have the peace of knowing that He walks beside me, and that is a great comfort – and disappear into nothing, just as you say. If you are wrong and there is indeed a God who died for your sins, and you reject His offer – your filthy sins, for His perfect righteousness – you get a life without purpose or hope, and an eternal life of torment. I’m not much of a gambler, but those strike me as rotten odds.

Stung Mean Chey

There is no doubt in my mind that there are times when people just need immediate aid in the form of food, clean water, shelter and healthcare.  But this week I saw first hand that “aid” given over extended periods can be very ineffective unless it is also accompanied by a real change in the heart and life of the recipient. 

This week I was able to visit about 250 families living in a well established garbage dump community on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.  As I have worked several times in the health clinic there,  I had already met some of the people.  Plans are in place to “relocate” these families to vacant land about two and a half hours south of the city.  Once there they will have to start afresh to built homes, find food, a source of water and work.

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As horrible as life is in the dump, the families there have created homes, some in permanent structures but many in structures made from wood and materials salvaged from the mountains of garbage heaped around them.  They make a very meager living from “recycling” and some have even set up small businesses suchas making clothing from discarded clothing and materials, shoe repairs and selling products to their neighbours.

 

Most of these families have recieved a water filter system in the past two years.  These are a unique system that is produced locally and consists of a large plastic pail with a spiggot on the bottom.  Into the top of this pail is inserted a specially designed clay pot.  The dirty water is poured into the top and is cleansed as it filters through the clay pot.  The system costs $10 but an Australian church pays $8 of that so the family needs to come of with $2.  My task was to ensure that each family had a working filter prior to their relocation.

Two of the Pastors of the church in the dump and a CHE worker went with me to translate and as they knew many of the families well, were able to tell me a bit about the people.  I saw a marked difference between those who had found hope and peace and those for whom life appeared so futile.  Many told me stories of how their clay pot broke so they recycled their plastic or used it for other purposes, it was too much trouble to use and to clean and really had no interest in having a new one.  I got a chuckle from one lady, almost literally lying in a pile of garbage, who said the filter was of too poor a quality for her liking.

water-filter

 

Others told a very different story.  They appeared happy and hopeful that their circumstances could improve.  They understood the importance of clean water and staying healthy in order to better their lives.  They were so proud of how well they cared for their filter and their homes and wanted to show me how clean their filters were.  There was a real joy in their relationship with God that was evident in their lives and a motivation to make the best of the little they have.

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My Dad was a bit of a scoundrel before a war, a wife and three worrisome kids wore him down. In his youth he had a number of jobs, the most interesting working as an apprentice mechanic for the pre-war racing champion Raymond Mays. It was Mays who taught my father to drive, going on one famous ocassion from Edinborough in Scotland in the late evening to the race track at Silverstone south of London in time for racing trials in the morning of the following day. This was long before the A1 motorway was built!

When we were younger Dad would take my brother Wyn and I to the track at Mossport, where I was fortunate enough to see the famous Sterling Moss win the first ever Canadian Grand Prix, a thrilling event that cemented forever my love of Formula One racing and guaranteeing that I and my male offspring would be dodging speeding tickets for the rest of our natural lives. With this background in mind, it is no wonder that I have followed the recent Malaysian Grand Prix with some interest.

Formula One is a challenge for the drivers, for whom it is a gruelling two hours at nightmarish speeds in the cockpit of what is essential a bullet on wheels. In a typical race a driver will lose 3 litres of water and 10 pounds of body weight. An F1 car can go from 185 km/hour to zero in 3.5 seconds putting almost 5G’s of force on the body. Decisions that will cost you and those around you their lives must be made in nano-seconds, repeatedly throughout the race.

But Formula One is a challenge for builders as well, as the rules governing the construction of the cars are changed each year in order to further develop automotive technology. The regulations this year allow four major changes, including how the air under the car is channelled or diffused to keep the rear wheels on the track, and the use of KERS, or kinetic energy recovery system, that redirects braking friction into stored energy that can then be accessed during passing. Kind of like the energy boost button in video games!

When you throw in team rivalry, like the historic match up between Ferrari, Renault, Mercedes and Toyota, and nationality, such as Lewis Hamilton’s restoration of British racing pride last year, and you have an exciting mix for any race. This makes the F1 decision to postpone the start of the race in Malaysia until the sleepy-headed Brits were awake all the more disappointing. It was an exciting race, with the lead changing hands frequently and great battles in the middle of the pack between Lewis and the charging Mark Webber. That is until the race was called on account of rain, and then couldn’t be restarted because of darkness.

Decisions that are made based on advertising revenue are an increasing threat to the safety of this and other sports, and it is to be hoped that the international outcry over this event will temper the greed of those who put these drivers’ lives at risk to increase their profit. However, that aside, if the last two races in Asia are any indication, this promises to be an exciting season of racing on the F1 circuit, with the field more wide open than any I can remember. Gentlemen, start your engines!

Great backrounder on KERS at http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/motorsport/formula_one/7906290.stm

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There are a number of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) working in Cambodia and most of them use a secular approach to development. CHE does not. CHE stands for Community Health Evangelism, and uses a strategy that according to its website, seeks to “integrate evangelism and discipleship with disease prevention and community-based development.” In other words CHE recognizes that while people may come to its clinics and health professionals for medical reasons, there are underlying causes of poverty, hunger and spiritual need that are at the root of their problems. CHE seeks to meet that deeper need.

CHE began in Africa about thirty years ago. Since then its unique training and outreach strategies have spread to 79 countries, including Cambodia. Their mission is not just to deal with the immediate need of treating sickness and preventing disease, but “to bring about a transformation of the human heart, to change behaviour so that the justice, compassion and righteousness of Christ is reflected in the life of the communities that they serve.”

Part of what Pam is seeking to do with Trans World Radio is get the materials that CHE provides  in the Khmer language and and integrate some of that health information into broadcasts to the remote parts of the country where both health facilities and evangelism are rare. This week she will be meeting with an number of key individuals who share this interest.  Pam is in a unique position to do this. She is a health care professional with extensive experience in programmed health care; she has a broad mandate from Trans World Radio, and she has taken the CHE training and has developed a number of contacts with that organization.

Once again I ask for your prayers as Pam seeks to get this program launched in Cambodia. It is not an easy country to get around in, and government restrictions on the use of cell phones (non-Cambodians are not permitted to buy Cambodian phones, or even SIMs) make internal contacts difficult. It is also not entirely safe, and she is there alone. I know that my thoughts and prayers go with my dear Pam this week, and I ask for yours as well. You can read more about the CHE network at https://www.cheintl.org/

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It is a privilege to be in Asia working for Christ. He is not my employer, but I consider everything I do in the light of what He would have me do. So when HR gives me grief, or I have a boatload of marking to do, I think about His larger purpose, and am satisfied.

His larger purpose for now includes the two of us being in Malaysia, which in many ways is a hub for South-East Asia, the home of Pam’s present ministry. Yesterday she left for Cambodia where she will be for the entire week. Today she is manning a clinic located in Phnom Penh’s garbage dump. Then she will conduct a survey of the women’s health needs on this site over the next couple of days. For the rest of the week she has a series of meeting with some key individuals to work out a coordinated effort to reach these and similar women through health care evangelism.

Pam works selflessly on these and similar ministry assignments and she is ideally trained and qualified for this role, not just educationally, but personally, with a manner that is offensive to no one and an encouragement to many. It is my responsibility and privilege to support her while she undertakes this important ministry for the Lord. I would ask that you uphold her in prayer, for it is her desire to be a blessing.

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