Saturday, December 31, 2005

Reclaiming Our Manhood as a Society

This is a journal thing I wrote a year or two ago, but goes along well with the last post I just wrote. Again I'd love your thoughts. This one is written more from an exclusively Christian perspective and my views have changed a bit since I wrote this but I still generally agree with the spirit of it. Let me know what you think.


I’ve realized over the past while that as a society we are facing a crisis that not many are aware of. We are losing masculinity and femininity. Why is it important that there are recognized distinctions between the genders? We are made male and female separately we are not the same and need to be real to who we are as God’s creation. It is only in the unity of male and female that we see the full characteristics of God who created both genders separate but in his image. It is important for healthy sexuality for men to grow up knowing they are men and that women are other and for women to grow up knowing they are women and that men are other. These are vital to our sexualities and our desires for one another in true love.

The crisis arises in that as a culture we have lost all idea of what is male and what is female. We have decided to define male as what is not female and female as what is not male. The problem with this is that perhaps because of the feminist movement in western society (a generally positive movement, I believe) pretty much everything is now accepted as female. Thus because of our definition of male as what is not female there is an ambiguity as to what this means. What we are left with is a view of male as an extreme form which few women have taken on as feminine. It is an extremely superficial, greedy, brutish, slob, thick headed view of the person. This is what is becoming accepted as what it means to be a man. The sad part is that for the most part of society we have accepted this view. This is not the idea that God had in store for us. Men do more than fight, love more than sports and want more than sex. Many of these things are healthy desires in men, and I don’t in anyway want to say that these things aren’t great and unmanly; they’re really needed in our society and are definitely something that applies to mainly men. The problem is that these are the only things that are seen as manly. If a man does pretty much anything else it is seen as feminine. This is not so we have let the feminist ideology trample over us, actually we have surrendered with open arms to their claim on many practices.

One example of this is dancing. Back in biblical times dancing was not seen as a feminine activity. David, one of the most manly characters of the old testament lead the entire nation in dancing. Do you think at the time anyone was laughing at him and calling him a woman? No, of course not, he was the mightiest warrior in the nation. But he danced with all his might before the lord. Am I saying that dancing should then be a male activity, no, not anymore than playing the guitar should be a gender issue. David probably was not doing the same motions and moves as the women were. His dancing was distinctly male. The issue in our society is not that feminine dancing has been labelled feminine but that the entire category of dancing has been labelled only feminine. In our society what is the choice for men to dance. Either they must learn to dance as women and in doing the things that women do, lose a sense of their God given masculinity or they must refrain from dancing. There is very little room for male dancing. Male dancers are often mistaken for homosexuals as homosexuals have found the freedom of dance but in a style that is still very influenced by femininity but since having a homosexual identity this is expected and encouraged by society.

This should not be, men need to recognize the areas of society that their involvement has become limited in since it has been given the name feminine.

I also am not trying to condemn the woman’s lib movement. Masculinity and femininity are always spectra. There is a wide range of people and characteristics in each gender and many of these characteristics overlap as we are also singly the image of the divine. I think it is important not to limit a gender as a whole in what they do. God gifts people differently from different genders. Should we not let a man who is extremely gifted with bringing up children in the lord teach Sunday school? Should we not let a woman who has been gifted with the gift of prophecy speak in front of the church a word from the lord that he wants us all to hear? My mind always runs to Deborah who was a gifted leader in the book of Judges, she was recognized because of her gifts, she was not condemned for leading nor did anyone believe she led because there was an absence of male leadership. She led because she was uniquely gifted by God in that circumstance for leadership of a nation. And she followed God’s call on her life. During the entire time though she was seen as a woman, the woman of God that she was. So why should we be so quick and thoughtless about categorizing certain things as man things and certain things as women things? Shouldn’t we let people be who God has made them and not so limited by human categories?

Friday, December 30, 2005

A long coming rant on society's masculinity....Please read this.

Well, I've been wanting to write this rant for a long time, and have already written about it a lot in papers, forum wall postings (for those Wheaton people who know what that is), and in journals that will probably remain forever unread on my computer. But I was recently reminded of it again. What am I ranting about? Well I think our western English speaking culture (I can't really speak for other cultures) is experiencing an outright offensive on masculinity and manhood (and on femininity and womanhood for that matter), and I hate the effect it's having on us.

I was reminded about it the other day when I was sitting with two women and they were saying how the boyfriend of one of them is such a "woman." I asked what made him a woman? They said, "well first, he eats chocolate." So chocolate now is another thing that makes a man less manly. It wasn't necessarily this comment that I get worked up about, but more the general culture that's behind it. Somehow over the past 100 years our society has been increasingly narrowing down the definition of what masculinity can be. It seems that the image of masculinity that our society allows now as truly masculine only really includes a reckless, aggressive, maybe violent, physically intimidating, character, such as a rugby international, or a soldier. It almost seems that anything less than this warrants a questioning of maleness or even sexuality.

I think at all times in all places there have been societal conceptions of things that are masculine and things that are feminine but I believe it is at our time that these conceptions have become surprisingly narrow and to think of the tolerant and accepting society values that we seem to be trying for, it looks as if we are going the opposite direction that we supposedly intend to be going. Michel Foucault who wrote about many things, one of them being sexuality, wrote that society may seem like it's becoming more accepting of various sexual behaviours and tendencies but infact it is becoming more controlling of them. I'd agree with this. Instead of our society becoming more open in terms of gender and sexuality we are becoming more closed by having to place people in simple categories, that they don't naturally fit into.

Let's take an easy and obvious example of this, homosexuals. Back in the 80's the media would portray homosexuals in a sort of Village people look, dressing in leather and dog collars (sort of the image in Police Academy 4- just on T.V. yesterday) we tolerated the presence of homosexuals back then as long as they stayed to our societies rules, they had to stay in their dark underground bars, wear this special uniform and only come out at night. Nowadays things have changed, but only ever so slightly. Now we put certain constraints on homosexuals which if they stay within, we will tolerate them, but if they deviate, our acceptance will ware extremely thin. These today are things like language, the words they use and the way they speak (a generally higher voice), interests (they should be interested in things like fashion and pop-culture rather than football and car engines). The fact is if we see homosexual men that don't fit these cultural expectations, we get a little uneasy. Just think of how many sports professionals that you can think of who are openly homosexual? Let's look at rappers, how many of them are openly gay? Now let's look at the other side of the spectrum, when we see men Flight Attendants or nurses what is the first expectation about their sexuality? When we see male interior designers or fashion commentators, isn't it the same assumption? We have culturally approved roles and categories that if people venture out of them it challenges our comfortable social construction.

Okay, so now you're probably thinking, "what does this talk of society and homosexuality have to do with an offensive on masculinity?" I'll get to that shortly. As a society we've given away too much from masculinity. We've made masculinity about certain activities, physical attributes, personality, and forgot that basically masculinity really depends only on one thing, maleness. If your a man and like art, your no less of a man for it. If you're a man and find that you're pretty good at the old American Football, that doesn't make you any more of a man. You're automatically masculine because you're male. The same goes with women, if you're a woman, and love fixing cars, that makes you no less of a woman, and if your a woman who is obsessed with makeup that by no means makes you more feminine. You're feminine because you're a woman, that's it. Why do we limit ourselves so much, and really miss out on so much of what it is to be human.

So where's the connection with homosexuality? I was watching an interview on Conan O'Brien the other night with one of those television interior designers who is homosexual. He had just written a children's book about a child who is homosexual. He said that even though he had written the book about homosexuality, it was a book for all people who were different. What he left out though, is that is was a book that required it's protagonist to be different in a very particular way. Some people believe that you can know if you are homosexual even when they're children (even before they've reached a sexually aware age). Many times people say they've always felt different, that they weren't interested in the same things as "normal" young boys are interested in. I've heard this a thousand times on T.V. and from friends of mine. The fact is though, that there is no absolute standard of "normal male" that they feel different from, but only from what the particular society in that particular time portrayed as normal. If a male child wants to play with a baby doll rather than a toy tank, why should we question that child's masculinity? Are we not just forcing that child into our preconceived classifications that have no real basis?

I've just arrived back from Cambodia, where men are very touchy with one another, and no question of masculinity is ever raised. You're friend will grasp you on the inner thigh if he is sitting beside you, just like an affirmation of friendship, something that in our closed culture, only really has one meaning. It's a society where you're best male friend might sit there and play with your hair, it's a tender behaviour and doesn't fit anywhere into our categories.

I was reading a book by John Eldridge one time called "Wild at Heart" talking about A man's Christian walk, I seriously threw the book across the room because I was so sickened by it's scarily narrow view of masculinity. It stated somewhere in the first few pages that little boys love to run around outside and get dirty, and that you'd never see a little boy care about having a clean room or being neat and tidy. It wasn't so much that I was personally offended by what Eldridge was saying (if you know me, you'll know I never really was all that neat and tidy) but I do know kids currently who are like that, and people who have told me they used to be like that. What Eldridge is doing (I'm sure unintentionally) is alienating boys and men who don't fit his mold of masculinity. These classifications are meaningless and usually just harmful. In alienating young men from believing that they're masculine they are turned to huge insecurities and other relational problems.

I've only scratched the iceberg on my feelings toward this issue. I'd really welcome your comments. If you think you agree but don't know how you could help change this huge societal trend, just pause and think the next time you say something like "men always" or "that's a woman thing". Once we realize how socially molded we are we can start remolding society.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Happy Christmas Everyone! First I'd just like to say, that please go to my brothers Blog and read his Christmas post entitled "The World Right Side Up". He writes a lot of the things I'd like to write but don't always have words to express.

So a quick vote, which is more festive? The picture of 4 generations of Kingsleys gathered together around the Christmas tree or Eoin with both fingers in my nose? It's a tough decision but I know which one I choose...

Today was a great day. Our church meets in a local school and every year we need to find a different place to meet for the Christmas day gathering because we can't really expect the school's caretaker to come in on Christmas. This year two different families opened up their homes and we had a great time coming together. I was blessedthat many of the people who came to the house that we went to were people that I've grown up around in Church. I really felt like I was with family as we sang carols and shared Christmas memories, prayer requests and the importance of in incarnation in our lives. It was so nice to be informal and unstructured, they had a piano there and I decided to play along to the carols with my dad, we didn't have most of the chords, but we figured it out. It was a lot of fun.

Then we got home and Matt, Hailey and Eoin came over around 1:00 and we opened gifts together. Christmas comes alive again when there's a kid around, even though we're more excited about the toys we're giving him than he is. We had just opened our last present when the Taylors, arrived and shortly after the Covells. The Taylors and Covells are good family friends of ours, and have spent several Christmases with us. In all we had 16 people over for dinner. We had a good time and we were all thoroughly full by the end of it. My mom's cooked ham (which takes about 24 hours to cook) was the best as always and we'll be eating that for the next week till mom has planned to cook another one for New Years...

Most amazingly though, is that my sister-in-law Hailey, did great for most of the day. She even felt well enough to try some Christmas dinner. Thanks for you all you've been praying for her, it means a lot.

Well, that's it for now, I'm up late watching stupid random programmes on the telly and I'm the last one up so I should get to bed. Happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas is the one time of the year we experience real life...

Growing up, it seemed that Christmas was the one day of the year that my dad didn't work. I mean he definitley did work, but not the type of work that he really doesn't like, such as writing reports, required correspondence, and the like. He still usually had to organize carols and the Christmas day service for our church (which many times was held at our house- imaging having 70 people cramming into your home just after opening gifts Christmas morning). But during that day, the work that we did (like cooking, cleaning the house, and all that fun stuff) was for the purpose of being with each other. The day is focused on community and just being with each other. My family sadly reflects the wider pop-culture everyday, and eating altogether around a table is only an occasional occurence, we usually eat on our own schedules and almost always infront of one of our televisions. It's strange though, even though we're reluctant to spend time together throughout the year (we're too busy), on one of the busiest day of the years, that seems to be all we want to do. Human's were designed by God to be communal. We need to live in close relationship with one another for full lives, psychology confirms that. But most of the year we live under the same house and miss it. This is one of the days of the year that reminds us who we really are.

There's been two people these past few weeks who have really given me a lot to think about...

My Grandad.

Grandpa Kingsley had his 83rd birthday the day after he arrived about tw weeks ago. It's one of those strange things for everyone in the family including himself to see him getting older. He's still the wonderful guy that he's always been but as we get older we just don't move as quickly as we used to do, and recent health problems haven't helped things either. My introduction to philosophy professor, who in his 20s suffered an accident that left him with serious physical disabilities once exhorted us to work on our strength of character as it will be something that remains. He said he decided to give up swearing when he was first in hospital when he was our age. He was in a room with an elderly man who was getting to the end of his life. This man was too weak to give out the nice clean, friendly, public face that we all put on when we are conscious that there are other human beings around, and what was left of this man was a complaining, annoyed, bitter and who's every second word began with an F. Our professor had been told that this was a generally nice and genial man, but when weakness and ill health got to him, this is what came out. In turn our professor promised himself that day that he would stop the habit of swearing so that even when he was not in volantary control of his body vulgarity (as he described it) wouldn't be what people associated him with. I keep remembering this story as I see my grandfather age graciously. I have been struck by my grandad's generous and servant heart. At every stop of the day he is there eager to serve, even though with his diminished strength, there are fewer ways that he can help out. Whenever the car stops, he is the last one in the house, after waiting to see if anything needs to be brought in. We were at the carol service of the College my dad teaches at the other day, and my grandad was helping with cleanup by holding the power chord for the man that was hoovering the main floor. At every meal he is offering his food to others, even when he has a great appetite himself. His generosity and selfless behaviour has become second nature to him. Even at this moment everyone has left the kitchen and he is doing the washing up (I think his third time doing it today). I'm sure that even many years from now, when my grandfather is coming to his final time here with us on this earth, his servant heart will still be completely evident and something that I need to learn from.

My brother.

My brother has shown me a real life Christmas. My sister-in-law Hailey has been incredibly ill and in constant pain. The worst part is that she can't keep any food or water down, and so every few days she is needing to go into hospital because she is becoming inceredibly malnourished. On top of that, the day after Christmas my brother is in charge of leading a group of 12 youth from all around europe on a 5 day trip to Ireland, and he needs to finish the last bits of organization that keep coming up. My brother has been amazing though. He's got a son to look after still, and even though he is getting loads of help from my parents and his Christian community, he's still got a ton to handle, not to mention the thought of your wife being in hospital over this Christmas time. You've got to laugh at the image of Hailey on her hospital bed in pain on the day before Christmas, in a room with 4 other women (all at different stages of pregnancy) while they're trying to get some sort of festive feeling in the clinical sterility of it all by blasting Christmas carols, when the hospital decides this would be a great time to start testing the fire alarm system. All matt and hailey could do was cry at the absurdity of it all. This is Christmas reality. Why is it that sometimes when things hurt the most and we're feeling the most intense emotions (whether high or low) is when we feel the most alive? And why do we feel that way so infrequently?

Happy Christmas Everyone!! God bless!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Defending the doctrine while betraying science.

I just finished watching a news section that was on the Evening news from Channel 4 (based in the U.K.). It was discussing a new decision in the American courts that "Intelligent Design" was not science and therefore could not be allowed in the classroom. I am little informed about the whole politically, culturally and religiously charged debate happening in the U.S. and I'm not sure the exact changes to the curriculum that were being proposed by the Dover School board, but I have been extremely surprised by the way that the issue has been reported.

I guess I should first say where I'm coming from, I'm not entirely sure, and I wouldn't stake my life on it, but it seems to me that macro-evolution is the best theory that we have at the moment to explain the formation of the universe and life on Earth. It's not a perfect theory, but it's the best we have at the moment. I'm surprised though that people feel they are defending science by silencing any voices that would question darwinianism. It seems to me that through out western history it has been only through the testing and questioning of theories that we have been able to make progress in our understanding. It really seems that the tables have turned, it used to be that the authorities had it in for scientists like Galileo and Darwin and tried to silence their views, not because of scientific reasons but because it shook their world view, now it seems the same is happening at people who would raise issues with current evolutionary theory. It is not in the spirit of science to try and silence dissenting voices. Instead, scientists need to take any proposition and deal with it on a scientific basis, not through a heated argument including calling of names. Let us not be so attached to our scientific theories that we aren't free to question them, if we hadn't questioned our previously held theories we would still believe that light was simply made of particles and that the atom looked like a plum pudding.

When people point to weaknesses in evolutionary theory (e.g. what intelligent design proponents call irreducible complexity) we should not take that as an attack that needs a reactionary and political response, we should instead take the challenge so that we can relook at the theory and improve it if necessary. The way many have been approaching this issue in the name of science, by trying to silence opposing views, seems scarily similar to the Christian Church of pre-Reformation Europe.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Latest.

Hey Everyone! Thanks those of you who made it to my Cambodia night last night, and sitting through what I was talking about. It's difficult to know how to summarise a 6-month life changing experience in a way that others can understand and be interested in, but you were all very gracious to me and thanks for the support.

First of all I'd like to ask all of you to pray for my sister-in-law Hailey right now. A few weeks ago Hailey and Matt found out that Hailey is pregnant. Hailey's last pregnancy was really difficult where she was sick almost straight through it. Well this one so far has been much worse. She has basically been bedridden for the past two weeks and can't keep food or water down. She's been taken into hospital twice now for severe dehydration and the doctors are saying the entire pregnancy could be this way. She's in hospital right now. Not great right before Christmas, and especially as this is her first year in Ireland since about 6 years ago, so I'm sure she's missing things being familiar. My brother has been writing updates about her condition on his blog.

My grandparents arrived here from California today, it's great that they're able to come for Christmas this year, although the trip is getting more difficult as they are getting on in years.

It's getting more and more difficult to get the motivation to keep working on my research for Wheaton, but I know I need to keep going and not get distracted. So let's just say if you suddenly see an overwhelming surge of blog posts over the next few days, it might not necessarily mean I'm having a spell of inspiration.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Well, I'd like to invite anyone and everyone who can make it to my house for a night where I'll talk about my time in Cambodia. I'll put together some pictures and (never before seen!!) video shots of my life there and people that I began to love. It will be on Saturday night the 10th of December at my house at 8:00, I'll probably start talking at 8:30.

I'm going to try, but no promises, at having some Cambodia things to nibble on, at least just to taste, and I promise no Spider unless I get really desperate. I may have to change that though, because there's not much in the whole "snacking" area in Cambodian cuisine.

Transitioning with out forgetting...

Well, I'm now well and truly back. Today marks the 2 week marker of me being back at home. I have an unbelievable amount of work to finish before the new year, (my research to finish and a huge paper for the HNGR programme to turn in). And instead of doing that right now, I decided it would be a good time to reflect on my first two weeks here.

I really believed that coming back would be much more difficult than it has been. I suppose part of it is that I'm a person who's used to transition and jumping between countries and cultures, but I thought it would be different after such an experience in one of the most broken countries in the world. I thought the wealth and materialism would be more shocking and that I would be more cynical, but instead I am finding myself falling into the temptations of such comfort.

That's not to say it's been a completely smooth change from a Cambodian slum to my life in South Dublin. My first few days especially I did have quite a few experiences of how strange it was to be drinking water from a tap, or to have warm water and a shower. The sensation of being in an airtight room was unnerving (but welcome in the freezing weather) and the realization of living in an 11 room house with just 3 people from a 5 room house with 17 people has been almost scary in the silence and aloness of the place.

The temptation I'm finding with myself is to just try and not think about my time in Cambodia, to imagine it was a dream. This is because acknowledging the reality of both places co-existing at the same time is a bit too painful and difficult to allow. I know though, that I have a responsability NOT to forget. If I don't change my life, my habits, as a result of this experience, is there any hope for the rest of us who haven't gone and who haven't seen?

Part of the difficulty is that again I'm in transition (I only have a month left in this current place), I also have all this academic work to get done (or to avoid as the case may be) which is impinging on the free time that I could be using this time of year. I look forward to getting back to Wheaton where there is a community of people who will keep me accountable to living the life that I have chosen and where I have a certain amount of stability and place in my school, church and (hopefully, if they take me back) job.

If you believe life, and God's plan, is all about relationship, it's difficult to begin something new when you have such a short time in a place.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

No luck for Dorr!!

Well, I know what you're thinking, but Rachel really doesn't have an abnormal love of hugging stone crosses. She's unusually close to this giant celtic cross since there's been a tourist ledgend that's sprung up which says if you can put your arms around this cross and clasp your wrists, you'll be married within the year, but no such luck for Dorr. Posted by Picasa
So last wednesday a friend of mine who I knew from college (a fellow Anthropology major) is now working in England and we planned last spring that she would come over and visit for Thanksgiving. It's been really fun to have someone from Wheaton here and who know's a lot about cross cultural living and travel, as I transition back into life here. Thanksgiving was fun, we spent it with some long-time American friends, and it really felt like family. On Friday we took a short trip down to Glendalough which is an ancient celtic Christian monastery. It was absolutely, bitterly cold. But the reason we're laughing in this photo is because a dog has just come out of the river that we are standing above and shook itself off right beside my mom as she was trying to take this photo. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Well, this is going to be my last post from Cambodia. I leave the day after tomorrow to go back to Dublin till I return in January to Wheaton. Last night some people had a small good bye party for me, it was such a perfect night. We went to the top of the "training centre" where I've taught english so many times, and put out mats and ate cocunut (all different type of cocunut). The sunset was so beautiful (not captured well in this picture) and Sopee set up some music which was this really classy piano instrumental music, to be going in the background. It was one of those perfect moments. We sat around and laughed most of the night and then when it got dark and the food was gone, we changed the music to some good old traditional cambodian and did a bit of dancing. That's a great way to end my time in Cambodia.

Thank you to all of you who have been keeping up with me as I've been here, emailing me, praying for me. Please keep praying for me as I leave and re-enter life in the west. It's going to be difficult. I was realizing last night just how difficult it's going to be to readjust as I was taking my nightly shower. It dawned on me that now it's become perfectly normal for me to put a krama (cambodian trad scarf) around my waste, go down stairs, take river water from a giant pot in the middle of the room and fill an old dirty paint bucket with water in order to take my shower in the corner of the room. That's completely second nature now and something I don't think alot about, little things like that tell me it's going to be a huge shock returning home. Please also continue to pray for those in my community that I'm leaving behind, this life is not a life that they can leave, it is the supreme expression of my wealth as a westerner that I can freely (not in the financial sense) come and go. Please pray that God will continue to bless them and the new long-distance demention of our relationships. Posted by Picasa

Good Bye Party from Younglife

This is a picture of a group of my ex-students and some co-workers who organized a small goodbye party for me. It was a really fun time, and sad as well, but I'm so thankfull for these people and the memories they've given me. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Well as most of you know, I spent last summer in Jordan learning Arabic language and culture really getting to love the Jordanians, Palestinians and Syrians I got to know there. Well, I'm definitely not the most informed person over here in Cambodia, but I have heard of the latest bomb attacks. I've received emails from a few friends still in the area and they say the nation is very tense at the moment but that the government is taking very good measures to keep the peace. It's particularly strange for me because I know the locations of these attacks quite well. The leader of our group while we were in Amman lives less than a mile away from two of the hotels that were attacked and we passed them everyday on our way to class.

Please pray for all the families (mainly Jordanians) who have been affected by this unexpected tradgedy. Pray that there will be freedom to grieve appropriately and that normal running will be restored to the country soon. Pray that all Christians (Arab and Western) in the area will not be targeted in their communities as reasons for these attacks and pray that all will be kept safe in the future. Again pray for peace in the middle east, not only for a lack of violence but for a restoration of justice for those who are oppressed, reconciliation of torn relationships and for God's kingdom to be evident clearly there.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Here's another one, Can you spot me? (yet another chance to strain your eyes)... Posted by Picasa
So this is us at the beach, I love this shot, it really gets the kids excitment at the opportunity to swim in the ocean. The big guy in the front is a friend of mine named Sopee, he works with younglife and is amazing with the kids and teens. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Weekend at the BEACH!!

So I just got back from a weekend at the beach with over 200 AIDS orphans at a camp put on by our organization called Project HALO. It was an unbelievable time of games, singing, crazy dancing (Cambodian style) and of course swimming in the ocean. The water was so warm! It was great. For most of these kids this was their first time seeing the ocean, and so is especially a good treat. I had to keep reminding myself that these kids were all orphans, because they were just like any other great group of kids aged between 7-15 having fun together. Some of my friends also went along as volunteers and helpers so it was also a fun time of hanging out and working with them. They even judged my Cambodian good enough to where I could lead one of the games (they had about 13 games set up that the kids would give you tickets to play at). I think the best thing about the weekend was the dancing. Khmer dancing tends to be pretty slow and reserved, but this stuff was more like the crazy stuff you find in Hindi Films.

Two of my host siblings were able to go too. When we got back, one of them, Terum, shared some questions he had with me. He asked, “What do you have to do to accept Jesus?” He also asked “What happens if you used to believe in Jesus and then stopped?” I shot up a prayer for wisdom in what to say to him, and then tried to formulate some answers in Khmer (especially hard because there’s a different vocabulary involved when talking about God). I hope that some of what I said was helpful to him, but I’d really appreciate your prayers for him as he’s obviously wrestling with some serious spiritual questions, and there’s no one really that he’d feel comfortable asking these things to. I’m sure it’s one of those times where you really miss having a father and mother.

Thanks for all your prayers for me. I’ll be seeing some of you in about 2 weeks time (believe it or not).I’ll be arriving home in Dublin on Friday the 18th of November, but leaving here on Thursday morning. (And, if you’d like to come to the airport to collect me, my host mother has gone and bought me a traditional Khmer suit for me to wear on my journey home, so you’ll get to see me in that). That’s most of the news for now, I’ll probably post at least one more time before I leave, and I’m sure I’ll be posting more as I go through reverse culture shock when I get back to the western world.

Monday, October 24, 2005

I just found this picture that I took in Chicago, and had been meaning to post. There may be decomissioning but the real problem seems to be in the U.S.

So as I was buying a pack of shampoo from my host aunt who runs a small shop from our house, I was surprised to see a very familiar logo. So if anyone in Ireland figured we weren't a part of globalism, think again. Look up towards the right hand corner and see what's on sale in the middle of a slum outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Here's a closer look.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Siem Reap Story

So the day has finally come and gone of bringing these guys to Siem Reap. It was really fun to see this dream coming true. I'm sure I'll never understand just how much a trip like that means to Cambodians, let alone poor Cambodians who'd never dream of this becoming a reality. But now it's come and gone.

I wish you all could have been with me on the trip and known everything that went on, but it was so busy that it would take many lines to write out everything that we did, and I'm sure I'd forget a lot of it too. But here's some "highlights".

Sunti- the 19 year old girld- insisted on making us lunch for the bus ride there. She insisted and so I at least convinced her to use some of the money I had been given for the trip, I gave her 5 dollars for making meals for the 5 of us, that was more than plenty, but I don't think Sunti was quite experienced at making packed lunches. We each ended up with like a half pound of dry rice, and a few pieces of meat, and cold fried egg (which my host brothers didn't even end up eating). The packages that you could buy from the side of the road, suddenly seemed like a much better option, but experience is the best teacher. We all thought it was pretty funny.

We went with a group of 13 other people, my co-worker Nay was taking a group of girls she mentors and works with in an income generation project (all orphans aswell). After the 6-7 hour bus ride, we arrived in Siem Reap, and checked into our basic, but comfortable hotel then hit the Cambodian Cultural Village, which is sort of a disneyland of Cambodian culture (excpet no rides). There's a bunch of shows going on like a millionaire's wedding, or a harvest festival dance, then there's the ethinc group shows, like the chinese dancing, or the tribal ceremony to pick a husband, all of these shows have audience participation as well, so it's usually a good laugh.

First night restaurant we took them to a $3 all you can eat Thai BBQ restaurant, where you choose the meat and cook it yourself at the table. They all had tons of fun and was an experience I'm sure they'll never forget, everyone was overly full by the end of it. This was as nice a restaurant as most of them had ever been too.

The next day was at the temples, We spent about 2 hours in the first temple and got progressively quicker through the 5 other temples we visited throughout the day as temple fatigue hit in. We had some good down times as well, just to look at the view.

That night we took them to this great themed restaurant on the main street in town that was about 2-4 dollars a plate. The restaurant was like you were eating in one of the temple ruins, had great lighting and a really fun atmosphere. It was a thai restaurant again (which seemed adventurous to most of the Cambodians with us-cambodians aren't known for liking a wide range of foods-), but some of the really adventurous even tried western dishes (most not finding them too satisfying though). They had a good time though, and we went downstairs and found a snooker table and a disco ball set up with a small dance floor so we danced and played the night away. It was really fun to see these girls and my boys all acting just like normal aukward teenagers. They had a good time though, and we finished the night off with their choice of ice cream and soft drink. (yeah, okay so we spoiled these kids, but if any kids deserved to be spoiled it's these ones).

The next morning was spent relaxing and at the local market buying gifts for friends and family at home, then made the long treck home.

All in all it was a great trip, and my family were all pretty happy (but admittedly worn out) when getting home. I'll try and post some more photos soon.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Well we had a great time in Siem Reap! I don't have time to tell you all about it right now but here's a few pictures of our time there. This one is of us crouching infront of a miniture version of the royal palace at "The Cambodian Cultural Village".

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Leaving for a few days...

Thank God for the past few days. It's been the festival of Pjoom Bun here and I've had a great time. Sunday night I went out around town with a friend of mine named Phanna, he's just two years older than me, and has really been great to me since I've been here. He's also an AIDS orphan and used to live in one of the areas where I teach, he also used to be part of a gang, so he's really good and giving me insight to some of the things I'm coming across.

Monday afternoon I spent with Teara, Tearum and Sunti and we went to visit their grandfather and grandmother as this is a family holiday. Their grandad is an Ajaa which is sort of the buddhist equivalent of a priest or pastor, unlike the normal monks he's the one who organizes everything, givers "sermons" (I'm not sure of the buddhist word for this) and arranges funerals and weddings. Currently they live in the temple because their current house is almost underwater. We spent a bit of time with them (I had never met them before) and then took a boat and hung out at their one room house. It was fun just spending the afternoon on the boat, and then also on a one man innertube with plank on it. Teara's best friend Boyaa came with us and ended up falling in to the pretty scummy water.

Yesterday I spent mainly at home with the family and then today we had a Servants retreat where we discussed a lot of team issues and had an afternoon of swimming, so that was relaxing.

The last fewdays I've been eating non-stop. All neighbours and relatives come by and give food so we've been eating pretty well, and if I ever had any doubts about Cambodian cuisine, not anymore, I've never had such delicious food. When Cambodians spend money making their food, it's unbelievable. One of my favourites (which I know doesn't sound very appetizing) is this food which is like a brick of semi-cooked sticky rice with spices surrounding various things (either banana, beans, or -my favourite- pig fat...yes I knowI'm disgusting). It's then wrapped and kept in banana leaves. You can eat it straight from the banana leaf or sometimes they cut it up into slices and fry it, making it really, really delicious and pretty greasy. Praise God though that if there was any day I should have had food poisoning it should have been over the past few days, but as of right now I'm still doing pretty good, I had a bit of an upset tummy this afternoon, but I think it's passed now.

Tomorrow I'm finally off on the trip bringing my host siblings to Siem Reap. Thank you those of you who have contributed greatly to this trip, I'll definitely let you know how it turned out when we get back. If you get a chance pray for us. The weather's been pretty bad lately (last night we had a crazy strong storm that pretty much flooded our room) and so I'm sure the roads are pretty bad too.

All the best for now,


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

These two pictures are of the 3 days I spent in a really poor province of Cambodia, which is normally a desert. They had a little rain for the past two weeks so everything looks amazingly green and healthy, but this is a really poor area and the families here are depending on this rain for their lives.

I've got to say that scenes like this, after you've spent the previous 4 months living in a tight-packed, smog filled, urban slum, become sort of magical

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sorry it's been a while...

Well I wish I had a really good excuse for not keeping you all up to date recently, but I don't. I was going to try and say that since we were out of internet for a few days at the office and had to use internet cafes for email that it would have been too difficult to blog, but I really could have if I had made the time. The truth is that I've just been busy. I have a long day. I leave the house each morning just before half 7 and then get back home at night at about 7:00 at night. 3 days a week I get to eat lunch at home but other than that I'm running. I love it though generally.

I'm really getting into this drug research, finding out all sorts of things, and also about health conceptions. It's really interesting. The fact that I taught all my interviewees English for 3 months before I started interviewing means that the majority of them are really comfortable with me and willing to open up to me. I didn't plan on that so that's definitely great how it turned out.

Since I've last written, I've spent a few days in the country side. It was amazing, I was there to accompany one of our organizations doctors who goes down to work with patients at a small health center there once a month. Just being out of the city was amazing, and this province was unbelievably beautiful. The country life is such a contrast to my slum life. Amazing, and a real retreat. I also spent two days at a conference on contemplative prayer and spiritual formation, I know that probably sounds weird to most of us, cause it is a bit out of our usual vocab. But it was good a restarting my times of prayer as meaningful times and remembering that it's not just about me speaking but me listening aswell.

What else?... I've been able to get to know a few of our youth group members a little bit more, which has been good and met some other youth in the community. It's good to get to meet more of the non-Christian young people in my community because I haven't had many chances to interact with them. Cause I work at the day and there usually not around much at night.

Well, It's currently the Cambodian version of Halloween, called "the festival of meeting". Here though the festival goes for about 15 days. It's the time when all the spirits are let out of the afterlife and come back, so everyone is extra specially giving offerings to their ancestors and even to ancestors of people who don't have any living relatives. I guess that's very charitable. But, It's a big family time here (and also a time when everyone has the creeps). From October 1st -5th everything will shut down, so servants is having a one day retreat to use the time wisely. I'm hoping to get some rest too.

Well, I've got to run off and teach my evening class. I'll try and post some pictures soon.

Keep the emails coming! I love hearing from you all.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Taking my mind away from the slums...

Well, I spent yesterday afternoon doing something very frustrating. It wasn't necessarily frustrating because of what I was doing but more because I had to do it here in Cambodia, where I feel I could be spending my time in better ways.

Yesterday, I went about researching different UK universities that offer 5 year and 4 year medical degrees. There are suprisingly many medical schools in the UK, compared to just the 5 in Ireland. Since I'm not like a normal applicant (in that I already have a degree) I fall into the non-traditional applicants section. Thankfully the UK has had much more experience in this that Ireland has and so most schools are happy to consider me. I spent the afternoon figuring out which schools I can apply to (whose requirements I meet) and asking other schools who I wasn't so sure of what they would think of me. This meant lots and lots of emails and navigating more or less navigatable websites. The UK application forms are all due on October 15th and I will have to have narrowed down my choices to the 4 maximum that they allow by then.

I know this is important for my future but right now it is difficult to find the motivation, especially with the guilty feeling that I shouldn't be spending this much time on the internet, especially not in Cambodia. But living in Cambodia doesn't mean I can avoid all the real decisions I have to make about my future, as much as I wish it did. Anyway, I'd appreciate prayer for the right decision in which schools to apply and that one school would deem me worthy of offering me a place. Pray that this process would be easy and not terribly expensive (as I'm sure I'll have to travel to interviews if anyone is going to consider me).

Pray also that I won't let myself get wrapped up in the process to the detriment of the real reasons why I am here.

Thanks you for all of your support and prayers.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Just sitting here...

So I'm sitting here in the office, writing up an interview and it's lashing rain. I thought what a perfect time for another post.

I'm enjoying this part of my internship a lot. I've been having enjoyable times with my family and my work and PRAISE GOD, that this week has been really easy in terms of communication. Each week I feel that my level of understanding and speaking changes, but this week it's been pretty good, no huge frustrations.

So one funny thing about this week has to do with my host siblings. One of my t-shirts that I've had for a long time (and originally bought in a thrift store) fell in a puddle which had some oil in it, and so pretty much I think it's dirty for me to wear. But my little brother Tearum has decided that it's not too bad and has worn it several days this week. When he started wearing it, everyone starting calling him "Bong Michael"- meaning older brother michael- and them me "Ba-oan tearum"- little brother Tearum- it's been really funny because sometimes (like last night) when my 3 siblings were eating together they pretended as if I was eating with them. Tearum did an excellent job of intimidating me, and my struggling with Khmer, and then they tried to speak in english for a little bit (but that failed after about 3 words...). It's been a really fun week just messing around with my host siblings. We've been slagging each other right and left (and finally I know at least a little bit of how to respond).

Anyway, it's been a good week and I'm doing alright.

Some of you might appreciate this. I was sitting in a prayer meeting at our church last night and one of the leaders in the church was praying for unity in the Christian church in Cambodia, he prayed that all the denominations, catholic, protestant, baptist, 'mormon', methodist and presbyterian would be one in Christ. No one else in the room except for the pastor and myself new what these words meant so it doesn't really matter. At least his prayer was an expression that there's very little denominationalism here in Cambodia and that's a good thing.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It makes me think...

So wednesday morning class is the one of the week that I probably dread the most, but also the one that I usually find the most challenging and meaningful. There's a few things that make this class different. One is that the kids really are kids. The oldest is about 12 and I'd say they're all about 9 or 10. Another difference is that they love coming to class. They're always waiting for us. Today, my co-worker had a late meeting in the morning so we arrived late. Class is supposed to start at 8:30, we came at about 8:40. The kids came and said they'd been waiting for us since half 7. Another thing that makes this class different is that these kids are probably the poorest. Glue sniffing combined with a lack of any education has definitely affected some of them so that the "easiest things" academically are really quite difficult. Writing any letters (khmer or english) can be a really difficult thing. They are to tough for their age. One of them tripped on his way to the front of the class and fell on the sharp corner of our white board. It ripped up the side of his stomach and he just sat to the side of the class wincing in pain for a few minutes, but didn't make any noise.

It's just downright wrong that these kids have to live like this. They live in a really rough slum that floods. The only way to get in and out of their neighbourhood is to walk through a working fish factory (the smell is pretty hard to take at first). These kids are visibly hungry. They're families usually aren't ideal situations. School is not an obtion for most of them. Their only escape from this life is through the glue that they buy with any bits of money they get from begging or scrummiging through rubbish. I know I've talked about these kids before. And people probably get tired hearing about their condition, but I can't get away from it, I can't just click to a different web page. They're still here.

I'm struck during class though, at their joy. They smile so big when they answer a question correctly, even when they get it wrong they're still happy. When we play games they go nuts! Even boring games (sometimes my co-worker isn't the most creative person). And even though we play the same 3 "games" every week, they are so happy to play them.

Again, life shouldn't be like this for them. This is NOT God's desire for their lives. God will use these experiences as he makes beauty from ashes, but this can't be God's desire. How can life come into a place where kid's best experience of life is on the glue that they sniff. I don't know. If there's a place for God's kingdom to come it's here.

It's hard for another SERVANTS worker here who has been living in this community and seen some of these kids grow up since they were babies. It's hard for her to see this as their life and forseeable future. Sometimes "development solutions" just don't come fast enough.

There is hope though. We know that God is on their side. We know that God wants to use the church (with it's some billion members) to make a difference and bring his peace to the World. But the sort of scary reminder there is that "wait, WE are the church." We (in Christ) are God's plan to bring peace to the world. Not a comfortable thought.

Friday, August 26, 2005

In the middle of the day.

So during the busyiness of the past couple of weeks, I have to say my mind hasn't really been all that reflective. I've been more worried about trying to get everything done, keeping appointments and figuring out what I'm going to teach more than sitting, thinking and praying about the situation of the people I find myself with in Cambodia.

Yesterday though as I was running out to the library at Medicam (a co-ordinating organization of all medical NGO's) and then a meeting with the country director of Pharmaciens Sans Frontiers (PSF), I went to the front of the alley way that our office is located down to find a Motor-bike Taxi. I found one, but right before we left he got a call on his mobile so I had to wait for a few minutes. I looked up and saw a 'normal' immage. There were two young boys rummaging through the giant rubbish bin right infront of me. One was half inside it and the other was holding a bag that they used for collecting items they can sell for recycling. When the boy who was half inside the bin came out again, I was a little taken aback. He was one of my students from my wednesday morning class across the river. It wasn't that I was incredibly surprised. I knew that this is what most of those kids do with their time all day, to try and help their family make ends meat, but I had never seen any of them actually doing it, especially not in my neighbourhood. I gave him a smile as we finally headed off, I don't even think he saw me though. But it did force me to be more reflective and to pray for these kids, whose lives are unimaginably (to me) difficult.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

This whole phenomenon of flooding is really interesting to me. I've definitely never experienced anything like it. So my Tuesday class that I've been teaching is located about 15-20 feet from what used to be the river bank. We used to drive up to here on motor bikes and everything was fine. Well since the wet season got fully underway, the banks have burst and now we have to park the motorbike at a school about a mile away, and go by boat to the house that we teach English in. It was surreal, boating down the road that I've been down so many times, passing children floating on various things between houses. This is a picture of the house where we teach and some of our students. You can see that the flood waters are actually completely under the house, there's the boat that we used in the background. The oddest thing about this, is that this is just incredibly normal to everyone who lives here. It's true that their way of life has adapted to these conditions, but I think it just highlights another form of their poverty. It's sad that having a river flowing through your house has had to become normal, because you can't afford to buy land anywhere else. Having the water there provides a load of it's own problems, let alone the inconvenience, but it's incredibly difficult to maintain any sort of hygiene when your constantly wet. But, I guess that poverty can seem just normal sometimes.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Dreaming of Siem Reap...

Let me set the picture for you for a second. Siem Reap (a province in the North West of the country) is a magical place. It's where the temples from the Angkor period are located. The temples are a wonder of the ancient world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Angkor temples hold a special place for Cambodians. They are the only remnants of a time when Cambodians were prosperous and leaders in the region. The temples are so masterfully constructed that it confounds us as to how exactly they were constructed. The main temple complex, ANGKOR WAT, is the main symbol of the Cambodian flag. Over almost every door in the house where I live is a picture of Angkor Wat. People in my community dream of going there but it is a distant dream. The poor can't afford to go there. It's not the admission to the temples that's the problem (they are free for Cambodians) but the travel, guest house, and food prices (not to mention the expected gifts brought back for the extended family) that make it prohibitively expensive to go.

Myself, I've now been to Siem Reap twice. The first time was a one off opportunity to go with my organization, TASK. I was the lone foreigner amongst a group of Cambodians. It was a great experience, they appreciated it so much more than I could. Every school child learns about each of the temples and it's history and folklore. This was a life long dream come true for those who had never been before. After I returned from this trip though, I heard some comments around my house about how us "poor" people will never be able to go to Siem Reap. I felt a real wedge come between us as I realized again the difference in experiences between me and my hostfamily. To make things a bit worse, in only two weeks time I was going to go again. I went last weekend because my advisor came to visit me from Wheaton. Since he has a lot of intrest in Archeology (and has taught archaeology before) he's been looking forward to going to these Temples since January. I was very happy to accompany him and myself and another wheaton student used the weekend as sort of a retreat to discuss our respective times here. I was happy to go this second time, but again it reminded me how this type of a trip was completely out of reach for my host family.

So, I've decided to go a third time (WHAT!?). But this time I want to go just to bring some of my host family. I'd love to bring the 3 orphans (Sunti 19, Teara 15, and Tearum 14) who have really adopted me as their older brother, and who have given so generously to me out of their lack of resources. I also want to bring May Saa (13). His life is so dificult. His doesn't have a father and he and his mother both have to run a small stand outside our house selling odds and ends. When the other kids are playing in the street he can't because he has to watch the stand and sell. (There's pictures of May Saa, Teara and Terum previously in this blog).

Originally, I was thinking to pay for this trip myself, but I know that some people have been asking how to support me financially while I'm here. I personally don't need any money, but if someone had a desire to help pay for these 4 people to go to Siem Reap that would be an incredible encouragement to them. The trip would probably cost somewhere in the realm of $80 (USdollars) (the main expense being hotel and transport) for the four of them. I'm very happy to cover this charge myself, but several people have been asking myself and my parents how they can help, and so this would be a great opportunity to do so. If you're interested or want to know more, please email me at . Email me also if you'd like to know of other ways that you can support the work that God is doing in Cambodia.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I had to share this picture. This is of the neighbourhood that the kids from one of my classes live in (the same kids in the picture below). Since it's the wet season now and this neighbourhood is on the river bank it's begining to flood. It's just the begining of the wet season really, so these waters will rise a lot higher. To get to the house where we teach, take that first plank on the left and then the first ladder up to the room, you can't miss it.

These are some of my students (we teach english to them and play some games). They're each holding bags of rice generously donated by the Czech government. These 8 kids (young teenagers I guess is a better word) were selected from the community because they all have problems with drug addiction. Even though their English is not the best -although they are learning little by little- through the classes we're teaching them valuable skills about listening, learning and paying attention. Through the organizations continuing involvenement with them they know they have someone to turn to and someone who cares about them. These kids have come a long way since the first day when we had to break up 4 fist fights and when one of them (the on in the front on the right) wouldn't stop sniffing glue in class.

Well since I've visited there twice now I thought I'd post at least one picture. This is of one of the temples in Siem Reap. There are loads and loads of temples there. This one is pretty cool because it hasn't been restored and there are trees growing from the ruins, literally tearing the stones apart. These temples are vital to Cambodia's economy and are pretty much the main reason any tourists come here. They're well worth it though.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

This is a picture of his room and our trying to get it clean.

About a week ago, on a saturday, I was told to bring my camera somehwere because the pastor needed to take some pictures. I followed my host brother up the alley and then down a smaller path, turning the corner to find a part of my neighbourhood I didn't know was there. This man you you see, just a few weeks ago was a healthy and active member of our church. He's faced a constant battle with alcohol, but is still a valued member of the community. The last week or so he's been pretty reclusive and has turned back to the alcohol pretty strongly. My pastor found him in this state. He was comatose lying on the ground, in a room with no access to toilet or water. His room was completely filled with rubbish and old clothes (i have no idea where he got all this stuff). He was in a desparate condition and having seizures. He couldn't speak and as you can see is extremely frail. The church got itself organized and we had about 20 people helping to clean up this house and try and get this man in better condition. The house was in such a mess. All the trash was soaked in alcohol, urine and human excrement. I was careful enough, but at one point I picked up an old pair of jeans to find my hand feeling a bit sticky and looked and saw the literal "crap" that I was holding. But we all had to pitch in and we all had situations like that.

The pastor's wife is the local 'injectionist' (which means she knows how to give I.V. medicine) and gave him something (I didn't see what it was) to try and help him out. We got half the room cleaned up before dark, on the first day.

The next day, after church, we went back. The man now looked in worse shape and was going through regular seizures (although he looked a bit more responsive). We prayed for him a lot, and did what we could but he was in a pretty desparate condition (by the ammount of medicines and tablets this man had-most of them in unusable condition-, I also wouldn't be surprised if he had some other underlying condition). A few of us went home for dinner and then when we came back, we found out that he had died already. This was a sad moment. The pastor and his wife were crying (very rare for a society where emotion is not shown like that). We started getting everything in order for the funeral ceremonies. This man had no family nearby and no money to his name (he had a daughter and son, who we got in contact with, but they wouldn't be able to get here untill 2 days later, and were just as poor themselves).

I was so proud of my church. For all it's other faults, they know the meaning of community and really were this man's family. The following two days we held 3 services a day, where we prayed and sang songs. Some church members took monday and tuesday off work (remember these are poor people who need money to get enough to eat). You don't normally take off work even for your good friend's funeral. My host sister said, "he doesn't have any family, we are his only family now." We all took turns sitting by the body (there's lots of traditions and ceremony that go along with the three day funeral preparations) and sitting at the donation table.

The normal way of funerals in Cambodia is being cremated. But the only crematoriums are in Buddhist temples. Most churches are okay with having a Christian funeral and then going to the buddhist temple for a cremation, but another (richer) Cambodian pastor came and convinced my church that Christians have to get burried. This made me really angry as there is only one cemetary in all of Phnom Penh, and each plot costs $250. They bargained the price down to $150, and the Pastor who suggested the idea said he'd pay for the transportation- (but there is no way that my church could pay that much money). -You sort of get the feeling that that Pastor who convinced my church of buriel was getting a cut of the deal-but that's mere speculation and may not be the case at all-.

The church started calling up every rich person they knew. Thankfully, no one from the church put too much pressure for me to give. At that time, I was running short on money and had only $50 available to me at all, so I needed to save it for next month's rent. The pastore simply told everyone to pray that the money would come in and to give what we were able to give. I DID feel pressure though -a lot of it- from the pastor who suggested the idea in the first place. He made a big deal about my presence and repeatedly asked me to give more and more. I gave what I could, but I think he was hoping for more.

The funeral was really nice. We road out there all piled into the back of a pickup truck. It's sad to think that this is now the precedent set for my church, that "Christians get burried" my church can't afford to do this for everyone who dies, I fear that we'll get in a lot of debt because of it.

Despite all, I learned so much from my church about what community means and what it means to be one family in Christ. They live believing this, and we sing a song that says this every week at church.

Well, I guess I have to include this picture, on the way up to Siem Reap is one of the best places to by roasted spider, and you can by 10 for about for 3000 rhiel which is about 50c Euro and about 70c American. They really don't taste all that bad, they're actually kinda good, they're all spiced up pretty nice too.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

This is us at Bayoun temple in Siem Riep. this is most of the younger TASK male staff except for "Mr. Koye" who's at the very front. I love that guy so much. He's one of the oldest (and by far the deafest) member of the staff. He lived through the Pol Pot times and had to face incredible hardships, but all that's in his heart is love and grace. He's a carpenter and spends his days making special equipment (like chairs and carriers) for disabled children so that they can have somewhat of a normal life. At one point of our visit he reached out and took my hand and so we walked hand in hand for a few minutes (it didn't feel weird-it's normal here- but I just felt honoured by it).

I don't quite know how to tell you this but I got married...well not really. I went up to this resort town called Siem Reap, with the staff of the organization that I went with (they were given a gift of 1000 dollars from an ex-missionary for them to go do something fun, they really diserved it). While we were there we went to what's called the "Cambodian Cultural Village" it's a bit like Bunratty Castle where there's old homes set up and "real Cambodians!" walking around doing things from each of the ethnic groups. They also have perfomances, like this one of a tribal wedding where the woman gets to choose her husband. I think it was because I stick out a little here (I was the only white person in the crowd) and about the right age that they chose me to go up and get married. So I did. It was really, REALLY funny, and my staff friends got loads of great laughs and pictures from it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bringing it all back to the point...

Today, during our weekly team meeting, we were encouraged to find a quiet place and silently reflect and pray. We were at a place called "Potters Hands" which is a place set up with small nooks and crannies to go be alone for a while. All this reflection was really good for me and I wanted to take a moment now, as I've just crossed the 2 month here mark to reflect again on just "why am I here?" (I'm thinking more generally here. If you want to see why I chose to do this HNGR program and what it's all about, read my post from a few months ago).
The truth is that I can't answer that question. I'm partly here because God has drawn me here and I probably won't know why exactly for a long time, if ever really. There are reasons that God has used to make me want to come, so I'll try to share a few of those to remind me about why I decided to come in the first place.
I came because, as most of us do, I recognize that there's something wrong in this world. Everything is not alright. Maybe those of us who have been born into wonderful families in very comfortable situations can forget that at times, but that realization is always waiting for us if we will open our eyes to others in the world. I came then, because I wanted to immerse myself among those who have gotten the rotten end of the deal. I wanted to be with those who are broken, to be with those who suffer. The truth is, however, that I didn't need to come to Cambodia to be with people like that. They're all around us whevever we are. In the West, we tend to be very good at blinding ourselves to the needs and hurts of those around us and those of us who have needs and hurts strive hard at covering them up and pretending they aren't there. But we know that there are many in our society without real fathers and mothers and who have never had the love and encouragment that we were meant to have.
So I suppose there must be another reason. I came because of my hard heart. My heart tends to look at my own needs and my own wants and doesn't look at those of others, so maybe if I surround myself in human suffering, then I will wake up for just a second and realize that I need to serve others more than myself. Following that, I suppose, I came because I knew that if I was here I would see just how weak I am to be able to serve others more than myself. It's true, I've been making a right mess of it. I've been getting frustrated at other people because they're stepping on my pride. I've realized that it's really hard to serve others when you're in an uncomfortable place, sweating uncontrollably, wearing wet clothes that won't dry and feeling sick. I've seen here that my own love is not big enough. It's things like that which help me to appreciate God's wisdom in the bible, in that he acknowledges that OF COURSE we can't do it by ourselves, but that it has to be God working through us, his love and strength don't dry up the way that mine do (I know that probably sounds trite. But it loses a bit of its triteness when that's what you need to get you through your next day and not pack up and come home).
The final reason that I came was to know people who have had such a different experience of life than mine, and to be known by them in return. This is turning out to be the key to all I've been learning here. Think when we're in Dublin, Chicago, Ventura, wherever, how difficult it is when a beggar on the street asks you for money. Most of us have a real dilemma, we think "What's really best for the person?" "Maybe they'll use it to buy drink or drugs." That dilemma (because it's been ingraned into us westerners since we were kids) doesn't suddenly go away here in Cambodia. Here we might think, "is this kid that's begging being forced to because his parents know that he is profitable and so don't let him go to school?" There's all sorts of things that we can ask ourselves, and they're probably good questions to ask.
BUT when you Know the person that's asking you, a lot of those questions go away. It's not a random person that just came up to you, now it's your friend, or someone you see every week, or maybe even the father of one of your kids' friends. Taking time to live in this slum is also helping me to see the needs of the poor that don't go out to beg but who might need my help just as much. When the non-poor come into relationship with the poor, everything changes. That doesn't necessarily mean that everything get's easier. Relationships - as I'm finding- are extremely complicated (especially when you don't speak the same language very well) and bring a lot of their own problems and pains. But I'm starting to feel that the relational element might be what's been missing in my dealings with a lot of poor people before.
There's a lot more that I'm thinking about and learning, but I wanted to share just few thoughts about these things. The reason I'm here is not to eat "crazy" foods or have "weird" experiences, those are really a byproduct.
Please keep giving me feed back about what you think I'm saying. I've enjoyed writing back and forward with some of you about the issues I'm meeting here and the issues you're meeting where you're at too.

Monday, July 18, 2005

This is a picture of the office that I use to send email and write in the blog. It's really nice and could be anywhere in Ireland or the U.S. It kinda makes me forget where I am sometimes, needless to say, I try and limit my time here.

This next shot is of some of the neighbourhood kids. I really love playing with them and I think (or hope) they like playing with me too. The kid in the back is named May Saa and lives in my house his younger sister Srai Gon is on the far right of the picture.


The red is really pronounced against the colour of my white skin ( I need a tan). Sorry that the pictures look a bit like a "victim shot" it's really not like that. I was just trying to teach my younger brother how to use my camera. It looks much worse than it is. Coining is a medical practice that both Christians and Buddhists use. It doesn't have any spiritual connotations (unlike other practices). Coining is said to release the "bad air" that's trapped inside you (pre-modern Europeans had similar practices). Most older people you meet in Cambodia swear by it and so I wanted to see what it was like. My language teacher says his mom gets it done once a week and almost uses it like a drug. I think everyone's got to do it at least once. And in case you're wondering, yes, it does hurt. Nay, a Cambodian-Newzealander here says "it's just like getting a hard massage", but then her husband Craig pipes in, "yeah, except it's a massage with a razor blade."

Friday, July 08, 2005

This is a picture of me standing just outside (what is acting as) the International Headquarters of Servants, here in Phnom Penh. This is where I check my email and write my papers. You actually can't see the office though (no it's not that house in the background) cause I'm facing it.
So now I know what you're all thinking. How can a guy like him, who's living in the slums keep himself looking so good?! Well, I wish I had tips to give you -especially for you other HNGR interns- but sorry, this beauty is all natural.

Monday, July 04, 2005

This is right outside our room (to the left). Teraa (my roommate) is studying and his younger brother Terum is taking a nap. In the background is a woman that I only know as Bong Srai (older sister). She spends the days working in a garment factory. Her husband lives here too and works as a security guard.

May Saa and our Water Supply

This is a quick image of the inside of our house, on the bottom floor. This pot is the house's water supply. We use the water here for everything: cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, taking showers, some of the people who live in the house (remember there's about 15 of us) use this also as drinking water because they don't have water filters. Recently the water has changed from a sort of pale yellow colour when I first arrived to a darker brown colour. You definitley can't see through it now. To the right of the pot is the area where we shower (you can barely see the white buckets on the ground, we fill those us and then scoop water over our heads). Just behind the shower area is the toilet. To the left of the pot is my host mother Ming Huong's room. She keeps all the more expensive stuff in the house in her room since it's the only room we can really lock effectively.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Why do we do this to ourselves?

For the past few weeks I've been seeing small articles and rumours about something called the "Minuteman Project." This project is a volunteer program where civilians (many of them armed) go down to the Mexico/U.S. border and using latest tracking and night vision technology patrol the border and look for Illegal aliens crossing into the United States. Even though many of these volunteers are armed they claim that they will use no force and when illegal immigrants are found they will notify the proper immigration officials.

When I first heard about this, my heart sank. What type of people will give up their time and volunteer in harsh conditions for such a cause? Definitely not the type of people you'd like to see walking around armed with weapons. Here is a quote from the project's website. It states that if we do not take action soon:

"Future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures with no common bond to hold them together, and a certain guarantee of the death of this nation as a harmonious "melting pot."

This comment makes little sense. Anyone can look back into American history and see that this thought is not new. With each ethnic group that has arrived in America, there have always been those who wish they did not come. But eventually, each finds its place in society. America is an adaptive society and will adapt to new cultures and new situations.

If people are truly worried about the future of American civilization, they should worry at the disregard of the some of the nations founding principles. In the American "Declaration of Independence" the writers state, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal." This has been modified in our modern day to the effect of saying, only American men are created equal. If these Minuteman volunteers truly wanted to protect America from collapse they would spend their time and resources on finding solutions to economic inequalities in the world that cause many people to leave their lives and everything they know to make the treacherous journey towards the hope of better life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I just thought I'd show people that Americans like to take St. Paddy's day pretty seriously. A friend of mine, who last year spent the day wearing only green, white and orange (with face paint to match) toned it down a bit this year only going for the socks.

I need help to think about this....

So I first heard about the case of Terri Schiavo a couple of weeks ago when my pastor raised the issue during a prayer time. My attitude was a little bewildered at first, I couldn't figure out why this case was receiving so much media attention. The case seemed the same to me as the difficult decisions many families have to make every day about keeping loved ones on life support or not. I thought that the conservative right had jumped into this one mainly because the woman was a Christian, and her husband had already started a family with another woman. But now that I now a little more about the case, I don't think this is the only motivation of the political right. I have to admit that I really don't know how I feel about this. At what point and what situations should the government step in to overrule the courts? What do we feel about life and health? Is quantity of life our ultimate goal, no matter how many resources we use, should we keep ourselves alive as long as possible even if we don't know what's going on? but then again, can we make that decision for someone who can't respond? (I guess this would be a good point to remind us all that we should make a living will so others don't have to make those decisions for us). How do we know what type of life terry is living when she can't respond to us? Is she aware of everything that is going on, but just can't tell us? How do we approach this?

Part of me thinks, of what a privelege it is that we even have the chance to debate about these issues. For the vast, vast majority of the world, there would be no second thought given, there simply aren't resources to keep people such as Terry alive. The fact that Terry can receive such media attention for so long reminds us of the millions who have died in such a way, going unnoticed and without a second thought by the rest of the world.

Please help me understand this.

Is the Gospel Revolutionary?

As I was reading my brother's blog today, I found a post of his where he talked about our desire for a revolutionary Gospel. He points out that sadly, the revolution that Christ's Gospel brings is not the one we're looking for. Christ's revolution is much harder than that one's that we might fanticize about, but it is the only one that can bring peace to this world. Last semester I had the chance to listen to an incredible Chrsitian thinker from the Philippines (I really wish I could remember her name), she made the point that the difficult (and wonderful) thing about Christ's Gospel is that it is not revolutionary at all (I might not go that far but she did).
Revolutions deal with tearing down social structures and building up new ones. This is not necessarily the message Christ shows us. Instead of being revolutionary Christ's Gospel is transformational. Think of how God approaches humans, he comes in and works with us as we are. Instead of extracting the poison inside of us out, he places himself in the middle of it all and turns what was evil into good. I think it may be the same way for societies. Societies need structures for life, so maybe tearing down these structures before new ones are in place will cause more death than life. God loves to bring transformation and make structures that were once meant for evil now for good.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Guess Who?


This is one of my favourite pictures that I have. The summer after getting out of High School, my parents went with their school all around Europe. This is them in Corinth, Greece.

Random Pictures #1

Okay, so I guess somehow I've lost the cord that connects my camera to my computer so I can't put any new pictures online just yet, but here's some old favourites in the meantime.

(This picture marks the occasion when I ate my first entire apple (core not included), for those of you who know my extreme HATRED of fruit you'll know how big of a step this is for me...I'm getting really healthy, i'm up to about half a serving of fruit a week!)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

HNGR 101

I just spent the last 3 hours in my HNGR preparation class. While I was in California over Christmas, I got the idea that most people really didn't quite understand what this HNGR thing was all about. Most thought I was going over to do something good for the poor people in Cambodia. That's really not what this program is about. In class tonight I was again struck by some of the main goals of HNGR.

First of all we are going to learn. We are not going to learn how to do development, or how to help people or how to do ministry. Instead, we are going purposefully to learn from the people we are living with, the poor. I am not going in order to show people how they should live or act, that would be idiotic. I come from a completely different culture, class and background (not to mention language). How on earth could I teach the first thing about how to live in Cambodia? I am going to instead to try to understand what life is like for those I will be among, what is important to them and what concerns they have. Even after the 6 months that I spend there I will just be begining to understand life in Cambodia and who Cambodians are.

People also ask me what I will be doing there. Godwilling, I'll be working in a medically related national organization with whatever they want me to do. Besides that I really don't have a clue. I'm requred to do an independent study while I'm there on a topic that I'll have to figure out while I'm there (and hopefully one that will benefit the organization), and also will have to do some reading assignments and papers throughout the internship. The focus of HNGR though, is more on just being rather than doing. In reality, especially for the first while that I'm in Cambodia, I'll be more like a baby than anything. I won't know how to communicate, how to eat right, where to go to the toilet, proper manners. I really won't be in much of a position to DO anything really helpfull at all. Hopefully, in time, with the help of my hosts I will begin to adjust and learn how to interact in society and serve in whatever ways I can.

So why am I doing this then if I probably won't be really helping anyone? There are a lot of reasons and most have to do with God. It is in the times when we are least in control, when we are most uncomfortable, that we are forced to rely on God for our strength. God desires us to be in situations of displacement in order to reveal himself to us. God called Abraham to leave everything he knew to follow him. The apostle Paul, a beacon of Jewish religiosity was sent to minister to Gentiles. Barnabas and Paul were in charge of the first multi-ethnic church, in Antioch. I pray that God will use this time to teach me more about who he is and his love for those who are different from me.

I also am going to learn more about God's heart for the poor. Throughout the Bible, God talks about love and justice for the poor almost more than any other topic. His heart is with the poor and so I want my heart to be there too. This is hard when I surround myself with my comfort blanket of much material wealth, so I hope these 6 months will be an opportunity to identify with and rely on those who are without.

I also don't want to be entirely pessimistic about my internship too. It is entirely possible that God will decide to use me in whatever way he likes. He often likes to use us in our weakest moments. Often the simple act of learning can be empowering to those who are teaching and in that way I may help to empower the poor who will be my teachers and my family.

If you have any questions about the HNGR program, or anything that I've said, let me know.