October 2010

Today we happened upon an amazing display of 22 exquisite Japanese kimonos, each one a work of art. Worn by the Kabuki actors during the early days, these unique kimonos have been preserved by the costumer for the Kabuki stage from 1907 to 1952.
Kabuki, literally means Music (ka), Dance (bu) and Play (ki) and it has many fascinating aspects but what fascinates the audience most has been the actor’s flashy kimono and make-up. This traditional form of Japanese theatre dates back to the sixteenth century when a dancing girl known as “Okuni of Izumo” began performing in the river beds of Kyoto. Kabuki plays are about historical events, moral conflicts and of course, love relationships.

It is really lovely to live in a country were you come across displays such as this in a department store in a mall.

Being a teacher is not for the fainthearted. The hours can be incredibly long, the stress crushing, the endless marking mind-numbing. But every once in while you get a little encouragement. I got this a couple of months ago, and thought I would post it. I hope its author, now at the University of Toronto, won’t mind.

Dear Sir:

I’m leaving for Canada tomorrow, the first of September. Before departing, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank you for everything you have given me. By everything, I mean your guidance, support, dedication and inspiration.

Thank you for guiding me in class, showing me how to behave as a student and a proper citizen of the world, being useful and helpful to society; putting others before myself. It is one of the most useful things that you have equipped me with.

Thank you for your support. I remember the times when you were willing to use up some of your time to spend with me, in hope that I am able to produce a piece of work that lives up to your standard. Yes, you may say that it is part of your duty as a teacher, but because you do it with so much passion and dedication, the support I’ve received from you means so much more.

Thank you for your dedication sir. You’ve always been one of the teachers I look up to, even after leaving your class after my first semester. You are definitely a hardworking teacher, always wanting to go the extra mile, not wanting to stop short of your own expectations. Always being one to make us finish our work on time, just so you can do yours, I really admire that. 🙂

Thank you for being my inspiration. Your commitment to Christ through serving the community in Cambodia along with your wife, is an inspiration to me. I strive to become like you, always willing to serve Christ, and do whatever it takes to be His salt and light. I thank God for bringing you into my life, as it has given me the motivation and impacted me to serve Him well.

Sir, THANK YOU. I wish you all the best in all that you do, be it your career, your relationships with family and friends, as well as your health. I hope to meet you in the future, hoping to make you proud.


Every road that’s begun has an ending.
Every season has its share of pain.
We only get love through our giving.
In each loss there is something to gain.

We only die once in a lifetime,
But each life has a hundred small deaths,
When we die to the beauty within us,
And lie with each compromised breath.

The rich die in peace in their mansions,
The poor die in filth in their holes,
But both go to meet their Creator
With only the wealth of their souls.

I swear by the One who has made me
I will not go to death in my sins,
But recognize who came to save me
And offer my life back to Him.

I’ll shoulder my cross and my burden
And walk down the straight narrow road.
I’ll give unto God all the glory,
And treasure the life He’s bestowed.

Steve Wise, Oct 2010

I was chatting to a younger colleague in our new favourite place, an uptairs cafe that makes me a soy latte just the way I like it and plays nice, easy jazz. He was complaining that now that he is thirty he can’t do the things he used to take for granted and he wondered what it was like for an old geezer like me. He was much kinder than that, but that’s the gist of it.

I told him that there are lot of things that I can’t do anymore, but it doesn’t pay to dwell on them. Instead just do the things you can do. Happiness does not consist in not having things that you would like to have, but in liking the things you do have. In other words, being satisfied with what you’ve got.

I am a very fortunate man, and I have a lot. Most of it has taken a great deal of hard work not just to get, but to keep. Some of it – like my salvation – has been totally undeserved grace on the part of Christ Jesus the Lord God of All. I did nothing but accept His offer. Along the way I have taken my share of abuse, from both enemies and friends, and had my share of disappointments and heartaches. I have done some things right, and I have made some mistakes. Nobody gets out of this life unscathed.

But as I enter into my old age – and sixty, while it may not be old, is the beginning of that phase – I’ve got to say that I am pretty comfortable with who I am and where I am in life. It not so much that I have done this or that, but that I have, in all that I have done, sought to live up to, at first, my own standards of what was decent, fair and honourable, and later in life, please God, who is the ultimate authority on those things.

I will not leave this life with many toys. So if that is your measure, then I obviously lose. But I am not going to bring those things with me anyway. All that I get to take is my character. I figure if I live long enough for Christ to have His way with me, then that will be worth taking.

The Moral Values workshop that we spent so much time praying and planning for is now over and it is impossible for me to put my feelings into words. We started out the week getting to know a lovely group of very well educated and committed Cambodians. Their hope was that their minds would be opened up to the impact that moral values have on the health of individuals, families and their country.

Throughout the week we used the illustrations of a dying “Tree of Despair” with evil roots and a flourishing “Tree of Hope” with roots of strong moral values. We stressed the need to dig out these sick roots and plant strong roots of right living and good moral values. Initially their concerns were all about the corruption, poverty, loss of family and cultural values, and their inability to address the despair that they and their families live with. With each new lesson, we saw the excitement grow and the vocabulary change. Rapidly they went from describing the family as a rigid structure with room for nothing but meeting physical needs to an understanding that the home needs to be a place where children learn about love, kindness, respect, forgiveness, faithfulness, responsibility and can develop a strong sense of self and the ability to resist temptation.

Another recurring theme was the process of character development: knowing what is good, desiring what is good, and practicing the good until finally it becomes a habit. Each lesson began with a role play or story, which everyone loved, followed by a set of questions designed to draw out the principles of the lesson. Joseph was such a big hit that Bill had to revise a lesson so that he could finish the story the following day. Small group discussions were then used to bring out the desired understanding and the learners really enjoyed this participatory approach and the respect for their own knowledge.

They told us that these words were not new to them. They had heard them all before, but just had no idea what they meant or how to apply them. Some of the concepts really challenged the way the Cambodian society functions. In one session we used the story of the woman caught in adultery and created a real stir when we suggested that the man involved may have in some way been at fault. The concept that children are entitled to be respected by adults was also pretty new. At the end of each session the participants wrote a personal application in a journal- one thing that they intended to change in their own life or family.

During the wrap up session the Executive Director challenged the staff to apply this to their own lives, begin to spread it to others in the workplace and integrate these lessons into the training for Volunteers and Peer Educators. With over 750 staff and 20,000 volunteers that is a huge task, but Dr. Vathiny said “we can do this now because we have a Tree of Hope”. One of her final comments was that Christianity is very rational and makes a lot of sense. Our prayer is that she and many others will continue to search for this hope. Thank you so much for your prayers for us this week. It has been an amazing journey.

Day Three was another incredible day; almost overwhelming at times. These are amazing people, but it is unbelievable the gaps in their culture and their understanding of things. They seem to be happy to be exploring new ideas even though every new topic gets deeper and raises more questions in their minds.  With each lesson it is evident that they are learning so much and it is so fun to  see their joy when a new concept becomes clear.

We are getting to the site by 7:30 and not getting back to my room until almost 9 each night so it is exhausting. My first facilitation went really well and I have my second tomorrow. Please continue to pray; teaching is not something that comes naturally to me.  The hotel is a lovely building but the air quality is very poor with a strong smell of mold and everyone is getting sick.  Bill had to cash it in by noon as he had a very high temperature.

I had a meeting a 6:45 this morning with Bernard – the guy from Holland who is responsible for our funding for the proposal that I have been frantically working on for months. He mentioned quite causally that the money for the project has in fact been approved and is available. He was a little surprised to hear that that was news to us.

TWR Cary is upgrading their server and I can’t access my twr mail, which is frustrating!  This did shorten my day somewhat as I was unable to finalize a meeting for this evening.  I am just now watching the miners being rescued in Chile, and it is awesome.

“If you want to go in the darkness, you have to be the light.”
Simon Brown (age almost 3)

There is no doubt that Cambodia is a country of darkness.  You only have to walk by the seedy snooker halls and darkened Karaoke parlours or see the beautiful young girls all dressed up and waiting in front of the restaurants to get a glimpse of just how dark it is. This is a darkness we long to go into and we long to be the light.

There are probably very few who have worked harder to change this reality then Dr. Vathiny.  As Executive Director of the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC) she has created an organization that reaches into the heart of villages through a network of volunteers where this is often the only health care available.  Their network of Peer Educators among the youth, factory workers, fishermen and even sex workers are highly regarded by the people they teach.

The lessons and resources they have created are excellent but even they realize that the behavioural change they are looking for is not happening and that people are deeply in need of moral and spiritual help that RHAC can’t provide.  This week our consultation group will share with them twenty six lessons and a teaching strategy aimed at encouraging oral learners to explore their own understanding and make good life decisions.  Our hope is that the leadership of this organization will understand how the lack of moral values and spiritual darkness negatively impacts the physical health of Cambodians and the health of the society in general.

We spent most of the morning laying the ground work for the week with discussions on the difference between relief and development and the need for a holistic approach to good health and the role the volunteer can play in a community.  After lunch we really began talking about moral values and examining a number of positive character traits and how they are developed.

The makeup of the group turned out to be a little different than we anticipated in that is was not mandatory attendance.  Consequently it was a group of people who were already convinced that it is absolutely essential that these changes need to be made.  All recognized pretty quickly that the change needs to start in their own hearts and that it is a bit frightening to know that they need to be role models and mentors. It is a huge responsibility to take on this challenge, but they seem to be ready to go and are just anxious to learn how to do this in Cambodia. We’ve had lots of good open discussions and I am looking forward to day two.

For the past two weeks the Cambodian people have been celebrating the festival of P’Chum Ben, or the festival of the dead, during which they return to their homes to fulfil their traditional obligation to appease the ghosts of their ancestors who have been roaming different pagodas in search of food offered by their living relatives. According to Buddhist beliefs, the lives that we live after death, are predicated by the actions that we took when we were living. Minor infractions would be punished with small punishments, such as being an unattractive ghost or having a small mouth. With a small mouth, it is hard to eat. Other, more severe, punishments could include being crippled or having no mouth at all.
The people visit the pagodas offering food and attempting to please the gods by fully following the pancasila, or the Five Precepts, that they repeatedly chant during the ceremonies.
 To refrain from destroying living creatures
 To refrain from taking that which is not given
 To refrain from sexual misconduct
 To refrain from incorrect speech
 To refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs that lead to carelessness
In theory, Cambodians believe they will have a peaceful and harmonious society if they can only follow the Five Buddhist Precepts that are the basis of the rule of law. However, the number of educated monks in Cambodia is small; many were murdered by the Khmer Rouge, which ruled the country from 1975-1979.The regime destroyed Buddhist institutions and tried to erase the religion from the Khmer consciousness.

Today, while most Khmer consider themselves to be Theravada Buddhist, religion still plays only a small role in most people’s lives. As a result, most of society lives with little understanding of moral values, individual worth and dignity, compassion and responsibility. The Five Precepts teach people that their suffering is a result of failure to keep a moral standard that is impossible to meet and all they can do is learn to live with their lot. It is a society in which little hope is offered and peace is very unlikely.