September 2012

We appreciate that many of our readers have been praying for one of our Cambodian team, Chantheng. It is my unhappy duty to report that he has now passed away. All of us who knew him are so saddened by the loss of our friend and Christian brother, who is now in the arms of his Lord. Chantheng was a very sweet and fine young man, a husband and dad and a caring nurse with a heart to change the lives of the people that he served.  He will be greatly missed by many.

In our very first training with the healthcare organization that we are working with, we met Chantheng. He was a  quiet and gentle young man and his interest was captured by the moral values lessons that form the core of our community health outreach into Cambodia. Within just a few weeks he had translated ten of the lessons and was using them at a Youth camp with five hundred Youth Peer Educators. He witnessed the effectiveness of the lessons first hand and as the Head of the Youth Program was in a position to lead their integration into the regular youth program. Perhaps even more importantly those lessons began to work their way into Chantheng’s own heart.

He showed up to visit with us at the second training session even though he was not a participant and when the organization decided to continue to explore the integration of CHE into their outreach, Chantheng volunteered to work with us.  We had a wonderful week with his team last November as we began our pilot project north of Siem Reap.  Chantheng delighted in introducing us to his four year old daughter and newborn son.  We were all quite surprised when he presented his plan to implement CHE, with God as part of the plan. The Lord was clearly at work through this man, and we rejoiced to see his enthusiasm for this project

This past December I had the real joy of chatting with him online and was able to respond to his comment during that conversation, “I want to be a son of God.” What a joy and a privilege it was to lead him through the Biblical steps toward a spiritual relationship with Christ. However our joy quickly turned to sorrow in June as we were all shocked to discover Chantheng was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was not expected to survive for long.

I am grateful that on my last trip to Cambodia I was able have one last visit with Chantheng, although it was difficult to see him so ill.  My heart went out to see him suffer so, but I was grateful to the TWR Cambodia staff who were a real support to both Chantheng and his wife through this difficult time. Please pray for Chantheng’s family as they struggle to make sense of this tremendous loss to them and their community. Pray for the workers that he has left behind that they might rise to a measure of this fine man’s enthusiam and dedication for the welfare of his country. Please continue to pray for the Lord’s witness in Cambodia; a country so desperately in need of the gospel of grace and the transforming power of Christ.

Moving house is fraught with peril in Malaysia so we are very grateful that the home that we settled into more than five years ago continues to meet our needs so well.  One of the real blessings has been the BBQ pit and  the air conditioned multi-purpose hall that we are able to take advantage of, at a very reasonable rental rate. A beautiful swimming pool is just the icing on the cake, especially for children who visit.

Over the past month we have become aware of a number of new expats who have come to teach in a newly opened learning center and to serve in campus ministry.  Last evening we had a great time hosting a BBQ for about thirty kids, young adults and a few older folks.  There was plenty of good food, opportunities to get to know new people and to worship together in music. With one guitarist from the older group and one from the younger, we had a nice mix of music.

We do love our fellowship at national churches and the many national and international believers that we have met there. It adds a whole new dimension to worship when the worship team is largely made up of our African brothers and sisters. However we have met very few western friends who share our faith and our burden for ministry.  Had some great discussions about ofthe impact missions over the years and our particular understanding of the best means of reaching out and developing communities.

We are praying that this will be the beginning of new friendships and opportunities to collaborate on ongoing ministries.

Although I live in Malaysia and do most of my ministry in Cambodia, the Asian head office of my mission, Trans World Radio, is in Singapore. Over the past several months TWR has made significant changes to the organization of their work in Asia. This week I went to the Singapore office to discuss how those changes impact my role. I had the opportunity to present my vision for ministry both verbally and in the form of a funding proposal that I prepared.

As I am not in the Singapore office on a daily or even weekly basis, there are many who do not fully understand what I do for the mission. (I dare say there are many in Canada who don’t either!) So it was entirely understandable that it took me a few days and several meetings to explain alll that I have been doing for the past five years. However, with patience and perseverence I managed to cover not only the particulars of what I do, but also my Christ-given burden and passion for the lost and desperately needy of this part of the world. Along with an increased understanding of my role, I left Singapore with a new job description as Co-ordinator of Wholistic Ministries for SE Asia.

I can understand if the title doesn’t convey much to you. It does sound like a fancy way of not saying much, doesn’t it? Perhaps I can help you put it into some kind of perspective. Last evening as I was doing some editing for the monthly report of the Community Health Project that we have been doing in Cambodia I came across a testimony from a pastor who had attended a lesson given by our TWR staff on moral issues. (I promise that in a near post I will give you an example of one of the scenarios we use in the field). His response helps to define what a ‘wholistic ministry’ seeks to achieve.

Romdoul is the pastor at Beth El Veal Rinh Church. He didn’t think that he would be able to attend the training because he was busy planning for a camping trip the following week. However, he felt compelled by God to come, and he was happy and excited that he had. He said in his letter, “I know it is not an accident but rather God who planned for me to be here. I feel so surprised and excited with all lessons I have heard because they are new and wonderful to me. Actually, I feel so sad and concerned because one of the kids in my church has died because of careless parents and an uncaring church.

“However after I learned one lesson about good health I started to realize that I am missing some part of taking care of my church. I care about the spiritual things but I never think about the physical. But this lesson motivates me to think about good health which involves spiritual, physical, social, and relationships (shalom). Good relationships is the part that I really love because it helps me to reflect about where I am right now. A good relationship is the source of good health.

“There are four parts of good relationships which are self, others, environment, and God. So, this lesson guides me to think about God’s ministry. After this training, I have a plan to train my church members to know about CHE [the program of moral lessons that we use] and develop my church and community. One village that I need to start in is named Tro Peang Ro Pove. In that village the people have no higher education and they never care about their family plan or children. I know it will be hard to develop and change their thoughts but I surely know that God is with me and I can do all things through Christ.”

This godly man has cared for the people of God for years, but never knew how to reach out into the community and begin to change the lives of the people in the broken places that they live. Alcoholism, unemployment, parental neglect and ignorance stalk the villages of South-East Asia like a plague. Simply preaching the gospel “at” these people is not enough to bring about change. Throwing money at the problem that simply disappears into the hands of the greedy and dissolute doesn’t help either. Change needs to come from the community itself.

That is what wholistic ministry seeks to do. What I seek to do is to bring many groups together using the resources of the country itself to bring about that wholistic change. It is a daunting and sometimes thankless task filled with misunderstanding and frustration. A new title is not going to change that reality. But it does give me a new place to stand. I would appreciate your prayers.

Pam and I love to travel. Given the nature of her ministry, she gets to do more of it than I do. But I really can’t complain as I truly do get more than my fair share. Pam just got back from Singapore, a missions related visit that was nothing more than a series of meetings with her peers and superiors; necessary, but essentially business travel. Next week she will be going to a local conference on participatory learning. We will drive to Port Dickson early enough to grab a bite to eat somewhere on the waterfront. Again, not a huge trip, but certainly an enjoyable afternoon for me, and a week at a nice hotel for Pam.

One of my colleagues is packing up to return to Canada. This is significant for me as I might have to cover her responsibilities in the short term (up to Christmas) to help out the team. What was more germane to this post was her email informing the staff of the importance of keeping a travel log, as the company we work for requires this on exit. I am hoping I don’t have to exit anytime soon, but I thought it might be a useful exercise as well as saving me some grief at some point in the future.

One purpose of this blog is that is serves as a useful reminder of where we have been and what we have done since we arrived here (thanks Jon for suggesting it and setting it up for us!). This is fortunate because all those little custom stamps on your passport are hard to read and it is useful to have a backup site to check dates and locations. So far I have compiled a list just shy of 40 trips. That doesn’t include trips within Malaysia, as they don’t get stamped. That is quite a list in just five years. I would estimate that Pam’s list would be at least twice that.

Some of those places have been nearby, such as Singapore, barely five hours done the road from here. Some have been wildly exotic, like the Great Wall of China and the Little Barrier Reef of Australia. Wherever, it has been a great privilege to live in this part of the world, and I thank God for the opportunities we have had to see some of His beautiful creation before age and finances drive us home for good. We will never see the world in the same way again.

A friend and colleague committed suicide last week. Staff and students have been understandably upset by this tragic and shocking event, while the local press have had a field day with sensational and largely imaginary stories and lurid photographs. Pam and I have done our share of grief counseling over the past week, helping others to gain some perspective on why someone would do this. At my friend’s memorial service yesterday I sang Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” as a reminder that there will come a day when all grief is gone. But as I have reflected on the events and conversations of the past week, I have been driven to consider the importance of that most fundamental of all Christian truths: the doctrine of forgiveness.

As a non-believer I can tell you that I struggled long and hard with my own need for forgiveness. Why do I need to be forgiven – with the emphasis on the ‘I’ – when there were so many people in the world much more wicked than I was? After years of study of Eastern religions, especially Taoism, I considered myself a very ‘spiritual’ person and my spiritual pride wouldn’t allow me to admit that I NEEDED to be forgiven.

By finally reading the gospels myself I came to understand what God’s standard for spirituality actually was. And quite frankly I was astounded. Because as I read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) I realized that God’s requirement for admission into heaven was nothing short of perfection; absolute sinless perfection (Matt. 5:48). That was a standard that even in MY vanity and arrogance I knew I could never obtain. Therefore I needed forgiveness; and I had to humble myself before a perfect God to obtain it.

Once I understood this, and understood that Christ had already paid for my sins by his sacrificial death, asking God to forgive me became not only logical, but easy. But accepting Christ’s sacrifice for my sins opened up a whole new realm that I hadn’t even considered. I almost at once began to feel lighter in my spirit. God had forgiven me! Not for what I had just done, but for everything I had EVER done. In one simple act I had wiped the slate clean! I was a new man and before me lay a whole new world of possibilities. Forgiveness had given me new hope and new purpose, and I couldn’t wait to see what God had in store for me.

Then I began to consider what my actions had cost others, and I felt strangely drawn to the idea of seeking their forgiveness as well. I had read in scripture that this was what I SHOULD do (Matt 5:23-26), but that was almost redundant; this is what I WANTED to do. I had set myself right with God, now I wanted to be set at right with others as well. It felt liberating as I made my way through past friends and associates making amends for thoughtless and unkind words and deeds. Understandably not everyone wanted to forgive me; in fact some were still pretty ticked and I dare say there are still some out there who remain so. But you know, pretty quickly I began to see that this was their problem, not mine. I just had to make it right with whoever was willing, and leave the rest to God.

That led to a further lesson in forgiveness; the need to forgive others for their offenses against me. This is a much harder lesson to learn, and it has occupied much of the time since my salvation. People are going to offend you all the time; people are going to let you down and do wrong things against you. Dealing with that – especially if they won’t admit their fault – is a difficult business, and I can’t really say that I have entirely completed my lessons in this area. But I am getting better at it, and I do recognize that God puts a reasonable limit on the process of reconciliation (Matt 18:15-17).

But the last lesson on forgiveness is possibly the hardest and most important lesson of all: you must learn to forgive yourself. If you don’t forgive yourself, then you are never going to be at peace with yourself and everything you do to paper that hole over with hugs and smiles and high fives will not silence the voices inside that tell you that you are not worthy of life. Forgiving yourself means recognizing that despite all of your efforts, despite even the grace of God that has saved you and given you purpose and hope in life, you are still going to mess up and hurt people because of your limitations and failures. God knows this, and loves you anyway and has already forgiven you not only for everything you HAVE done, but for everything you WILL do! That is the astounding power of forgiveness.

This is not to say that you should give up on allowing Christ to transform you, or thinking that it is okay for you to sin because God will forgive you. This doctrine of ‘cheap grace’ that has become popular in some circles is an insult to the sacrifice of Christ in paying for those sins. But it does mean trusting that God will never let you go. You have put your trust in Him and you understand that while there is nothing that you can do to earn your salvation – since you could never by your own effort achieve perfection – there is also nothing that can take you out of God’s hand; nothing than you have done or will ever do; not even taking your own life (Romans 8: 35-39). There will be no tears in heaven.

Forgiveness may look at first glance a difficult and even unnecessary act of humility. It seems to be something that we do FOR Someone else, and not for ourselves. But the longer I live and the more I learn about forgiveness the more I understand that it is for US, for OUR health and strength, for OUR peace of mind that God desires that we seek His forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift that He wants to give us. Forgiveness is what makes us whole.

If Christ is your Saviour, you are forgiven! Go ahead and have a great life!