February 2011

There are many parts of the Christian Body. Some are hands, some are ears, and some are hearts. There are facilitators and conciliators, comforters and encouragers. It takes all kinds to make a complete Body of Christ here on earth. Each of us has a part in that complete Body, and no part is of greater value than the other. The caring commoner in the congregation is just as vital to the ministry of the Body as the minister who preaches the Word, and no one in the awesome majesty of God can boast that he or she is greater, for all are one in the sight of Christ.

Of all the gifts that God has given to me, that of encourager and teacher, giver and helper, none is more onerous and difficult than that of confronter. I could earnestly wish that He hadn’t. But as I look at my life and the things that Christ has given me a passion for, I am forced to admit that a passion for His Word, and a desire to see its truth glorified in the marketplace of ideas drives many of my conversations.

I had one of those conversations this week. After the first day of teaching, we invited the participants to talk to us, to bring to us their questions and have a conversation with us. A few took us up on the offer, and I and one of them fell to discussing the differences between the Christ of God and the Buddha. “The Buddha had no intention of starting a religion, he began, he merely wanted to tell us how to live so that we would be happy.”

“I find it strange,” I began, “that one who wanted to teach us how to be happy would begin his four noble truths with the statement that all of life is suffering.” “Ah yes, the questioner said,” but Buddha showed us how to escape that suffering and be happy.” “I don’t find that to be true,” I continued. “Buddha said that all suffering came from desire. And yet I have greatly desired that my children grow up to be good and learn to be kind to others so that they will be a blessing to all whom they meet. How can Buddha call such a desire a bad thing?”

“I have asked many monks the same thing,” he replied, “and have received no satisfactory answer. Buddha himself desired to do good by teaching others, how can that be a bad desire? This has often troubled me.” “Tell me another thing,” I said, “Buddha taught that we must be reincarnated and live again in order to pay off the load of debt for our wrong doings, a load of debt he called karma. But Buddha taught that I am always adding to my load of wrong. I kill and eat animals for food, for example. And therefore every time I am reincarnated, I am adding to my load of debt for wrong. How can I escape this karma?”

“I do not know,” he admitted. “Buddha himself offered a solution toward the end of his life,” I told him. “It is contained in his teachings. He said that only a Saviour could pay the debt load of sin. Were you aware of that teaching?” “I am not a practicing Buddhist,” he confessed. “I am only a Buddhist because my parents and grandparents were Buddhists. I no longer know what I believe.”

I said I believed that Buddha was right. That only One can pay for my karma, my debt load of wrong; a Saviour. I believe this Saviour has paid the price for my wrong doings. I believe I am forgiven because He paid for those wrongs. I have been freed from my karma and I feel liberated and have a great joy in my heart. I want to serve this Saviour with all of my strength because He has forgive a debt of wrong I could never repay. Serving Him has filled my life with purpose and joy.

He looked at me in a mixture of doubt and resentment. I had touched a chord, a sore spot in his life, and he knew that I had done so. There was an awkward silence that was quickly filled by others seeking to change the topic to something safer. Later these same people rebuked me for being confrontational, for making another feel uncomfortable. They are right. I did make him feel uncomfortable. But here is my question to all of you who think that confrontation is never good. Would you be happier if this nominal Buddhist was never uncomfortable? Would be you happier if he went to his grave comfortable in his confusion and disbelief? Would his eternal destiny be more comfortable if he died in his sins?

This not an easy ministry. Those who are comforters are themselves comforted. Those who are encouragers are themselves encouraged. Those who confront others with the truth of the gospel of Christ are often rebuked and confronted by others. It grieves my poor heart that this should be so. I have a sensitive spirit, and am easily overcome and discouraged by the unkindness of others. I ask only what others in the body of Christ ask; that you would understand that I seek only His glory and desire to serve only His purpose. That you would be gentler in your rebuke and more understanding of God’s greater purpose in all our lives as we fulfil our part in His Body on earth. Some are called to speak the truth. I always try to do it in love, but I cannot fail to speak, for then I would be unfaithful to how the Lord is leading me.

Oral societies have differents ways of transmitting information than literate ones. In a literate society information is transmitted through the written word. In an oral society like Cambodia, information is transmitted through stories and dramas. If the villages of Cambodia are going to receive and process information, it has to be through a medium they understand.

This is primarily the method that CHE uses to teach its health and moral education. Trans World Radio also uses the spoken, rather than the written word. In partnership they are joined together in getting the message out to the villages of Cambodia how good physical, mental and spiritual health are interconnected. This week the second in a series of CHE workshops are being conducted in the shadow of the ruins of Angkor Wat by these partners working through an indigenous organization called RHAC (the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia). Despite its name, RHAC’s focus is inclusive and represents the only health care provider that most village Cambodias will ever use.

The participants in this week’s workshop of the professional elite of this country. Nearly all of them are doctors – women included – who work sacrificially long hours in smaller urban centres with huge responsibilities and little government support. Yet they have come to Siem Reap to learn how to be even more effective at what they do, and especially learn teaching techniques that the workers they are responsible for can carry into the more remote villages that dot this largely rural country.

It has been my privilege this week to teach among them during the Chinese New Year break. Now I must fly back to Malaysia and my regular job that supports Pam’s portion of this valuable work. The two of us are amazed that this is now happening here in Cambodia. A year ago it was just a prayerful dream that these three organizations could work together to bring this about. A year ago they barely knew of the existence of each other. But through Pam’s vision and effort this dream has now become a reality. We praise God for what He has done through us and commit to His care the outcome in furthering His kingdom among the ruins of this ancient country.

The historical markers couldn’t be more symbolic. Here we were in the shadow of Angkor Wat conducting lessons in moral values that were largely derived from Christian theology to the descendants of that ancient Buddhist Empire. The park surrounding Angkor Wat was deliberately chosen, not by us, but by the recipients of our training who wished to break away from the barren and demoralising teaching of the past to give their communities new hope for the future.

And hope was what this training was all about. Hope that the communities of Cambodia would be able to meet not only the health challenges that they face, but the social and psychological and more importantly the spiritual changes that lie ahead. Those who work on the front lines of community work know that this holistic approach to community development is needed. We know as Christians that only cultural transformation can bring this about. And this has to happen at the personal level first.

Today’s lesson’s focused on developing this personal relationship with our ‘students’, most of whom are doctors, running clinics in various parts of the country. They have given up a week in their very busy schedules, not to have a vacation in the countryside, or at the beach, but to spend it listening to us teach them things that they hope will be useful as they try to meet the health needs of Cambodia. We have been encouraged by their response to what we have said and are praying that these series of lessons are going to be mulitplied in the near future.

While Pam goes to Phnom Penh to plan for the upcoming moral values workshop, I am in Chiang Mai, Thailand doing a cram course in CHE teaching technique. CHE stands for Community Health Evangelism, and it is a loosely based organization that was originally developed by Medical Ambassadors International for use in the rural villages of Africa. However, it has long outgrown its parent organization, and to use internet-speak, has gone ‘viral’, being dessiminated now in 90 countries by many who add to its lesson database in much the same way that Wikipedia grows through its contributors.

Its lesson structure would be familiar to anyone practicing modern pedagogy: the teacher is a facilitator; there is no heirachy but rather a collection of colleagues; everyone sits in a circle, no one stands; the emphasis is on relationship; and empowerment of the learner is a priority. Lessons rely on small group interaction and are developed through role-play, stories, and discussions that rely on the knowledge latent in each learner. Learning materials are deliberately restricted to what you would be able to use in a village with no electricity and few resources other than shelter.

My trainers for these two days have been David, Leslie and Andrew, who have graciously adapted their week-long training model to just the few hours that I have had available before I have to teach next week. I am grateful for their expertise and their flexibility. Lessons and discussions have been lively and productive, and the setting – one of Thailand’s more historic and lovely cities – has been an added bonus. I only regret that my compressed timetable has not allowed me to see more of the city and the surrounding countryside.

Tomorrow I will fly to Phnom Penh to join up with Pam, Bill and Sharon to put the final touches on the material that Sharon has prepared for the coming week. I am looking to putting into practice what I have been learning and making a positive impact in the lives of ordinary Cambodians.

It is Chinese New Years so Steve has a week off from school, which we intend to put to good use. Steve flew up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand on Tuesday right after school. He is doing a two day crash course on the strategies and teaching principles of CHE so that he can join us in the training and also assist with the writing of new lessons and stories. This project is growing very rapidly and we will clearly need all the help we can get to keep up the pace.

Today I will head to Phnom Penh to ensure all is in order for the second week of Moral Values Training for RHAC and get the new manuals printed. Bill and Sharon are enroute from Canada via New Zealand and will arrive in Cambodia early Friday for a day of meetings and planning. Steve will join us in PP Friday afternoon in time for us to meet up for supper with some Canadian friends from Rattanak Foundation with whom we hope to collaborate in the future. We will have Saturday to finally sit together and go over the lessons and schedule for next week. I will try to get in a visit to the TWR office to attend a farewell party for Paul and Kathy, TWR missionaries who have served in Cambodia for about eight years and are now moving on to Guam.

On Sunday Su Min and Sing Yu will arrive and we will meet up with about thirty doctors and program managers from RHAC for a five hour bus ride up to Seim Reap. This will be a whole new group who have had no exposure to the training and we are looking forward to this informal opportunity to build relationships with these amazing Cambodians who have a desire to change the moral fiber of their country.

This time we will hold the workshop in the field on the terrace of one of their clinics in Siem Reap. They asked if they could have one day right in Angkor Wat, as a symbol that they want to see the very roots of their cultural values transformed! Interesting isn’t it, coming from secular Buddhists? We don’t know if that will happen due to logistics, but it certainly shows some deep thinking going on. They have begun to change the leadership style of the organization and want to ‘permeate’ it with this teaching… pray they will be drawn as well to the Source of all that is good and who also gives us the power to live it in real life through His transforming Spirit within us.

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