Presbyterian Missions Weblog

Day 6 Cambodia-Myanmar 09

Posted in Cambodia,Myanmar by lenpine on November 16, 2009

A Long Hot Day

When we walked out the door early on Monday morning, we were met with a blast of hot, moist air…hotter and moister than any of the previous days. We were coming to the end of the relatively cooler rainy season, and it was beginning to show pretty dramatically. The day was supposed to be a hot one, in the 90s, and it lived up to its billing.

On our way out, we stopped again at a village to pick up fruit from our usual vendor, and Karen and I took a stroll through the rest of the market while Mark dickered for the fruit he was after. We met a boy in the market who had a stall from which he sold purses. He was excited and wanted to practice his English, which was understandable…certainly better than my Khmer! I don’t think the folks at that market were used to Westerners coming through, as we were stared at everywhere. When we smiled at folks, some weren’t quite sure what to do, but most smiled back and seemed glad to see us (not to mention sensing a chance to sell something to us!).

Pbaom Brunch

Ready for lunch

We enjoyed our fellowship and meal with the lay leader and his family again. Fish today, grilled beef, some chicken soup, a delicious mango dipping sauce for the meat, and rice, of course. Once again, the chickens and dogs were happy to see us, as the bones and gristle were tossed to the floor as usual. We also took the opportunity to buy some of the special silk cloth that the family weaves as a gift for our family members back home. The cloth is used in special occasions like weddings and funerals, and is quite heavy (for silk), and of beautiful patterns. Each weaver has his or her own pattern, and the process is quite time consuming and tedious. The results, though, are spectacular. We picked up a 4 meter piece.

Our hosts

Group shot with the lay leader's family

We had the same VBS schedule that we ran on Saturday. The program went from 12-4, more or less, to accommodate the kids from Prey Pdao, who had to be picked up as before and whose school schedule was a little different that the Pbaom kids’. Mark taught the red page, on the crucifixion of Christ and his atonement, and Miriam taught the white page, on resurrection and purity from sin. The kids had no trouble remembering the meaning of the various colors, and really enjoyed the lessons. Their attitude in general is excellent and eager. They come ready with their Bible memory work everyday, and we can see and hear them working on the verses before and after VBS, as well as on break times, all on their own initiative. There are prizes for the memory work: nothing big, just some stickers, puzzles, and small games that the kids really like. They work hard for them.

Snack Time

Getting the bread ready was a major operation

This was a huge day in terms of numbers: 213 did the crafts, which were simple scratch hearts and crosses, and home-made tambourines. They loved those, and made a lot of noise with them. Again, the adults had fun making their own as well. We played Cat and Mouse, which was chaotic in the small space inside, and a game where everyone makes a circle and has to sit at the same time on the knees of the person behind them without falling over. Very fun to do and watch! Builds trust, too. We went through 150 loaves of bread today for the snack, and I don’t know how many cans of sweetened condensed milk. The ants had a field day, though. That stuff gets everywhere.

It was a great day…but with over 200 children, in 90+ degree heat, we were worn out, soggy, and dusty as we climbed back in the van for the ride back to Phnom Penh. We cleaned up a little and then went to our little, low-key Khmer place for a light supper before getting back to the hotel. I should say, too, that the Goldiana Hotel has a great swimming pool that Miriam took advantage

VBS Crowd

What an awesome blessing to have this many children to teach about God's love!

of every night, I think, and Karen and I enjoyed a few nights as well. Really refreshing way to end the day, as the water was surprisingly cool for an open-air pool. And you could stretch out on the deck and relax without worrying about mosquitoes. Never saw one in Phnom Penh, though there were a few in the country.


The Goldiana Hotel pool on the third floor open to the sky!


Day 5 Cambodia-Myanmar 09

Posted in Cambodia,Myanmar by lenpine on November 5, 2009

The Lord’s Day in the Cambodian Countryside

An early start on a warm day greeted us, and we piled into the van with our water bottles and other paraphernalia that we needed to do our tasks for the day. We stopped at Prey Pdao first, where Mark holds services at the home of a Christian family. Attendance has been down here after persecution and intimidation on the part of a local man, an alcoholic with a nasty temper, aimed at keeping people away. How sad that the very faith that could free him of his bondage is what he most wants to avoid, and  also that he wants to keep others from the same freedom. Well, we enjoyed a very nice meal with the family, who waited for us to finish our meal before they ate (the usual custom). Mark had also thoughtfully brought along a thermos or two of iced café mocha, which we made short work of. We then held a Sunday School for the children, of which there were about 20. Many of the kids had attended the first

Prey Pdao Sunday School

Karen's SS class under the house

day of VBS over in Prey Pbaom the day before, and had told their friends, so it was a good group. Around 8 or 9 adults also sat in on the lesson (the story of Noah – Karen led the class). The rest of us helped get the craft going with the kids, again blessing the ladies of Grand Island BPC for preparing everything so that all we had to do was just hand everything out in order. More kids and adults showed up after Sunday School, and we held a simple worship service: song, prayer requests/prayer, sermon, song, prayer. All of this under the house in the shade…still quite warm, but the breeze and the shade made it comfortable enough.

During the service there, a funeral was also going on in the village. Blaring chants and the traditional droning music, the funerals are designed to “guide” the lost spirit of the deceased to the right path of eternity. Needless to say, preaching about god delivering the lost (Psa 107:4-9) contradicted that idea rather directly. At one point it felt like a war going on – the music and chants kept getting louder, especially when the Scriptures were being read. At one point, as Socheat, our translator, read the text, I prayed in my heart for silence, so that the Word could be heard without distraction. Moments later, all was quiet, and remained that way until we finished. (We heard it fire up again as we left the village.)

Socheat Translating

Worship Service at Pdao

Then, in the middle of my sermon, the alcoholic walked up! He slipped in quietly, made no trouble, and listened intently. I didn’t know who he was until afterwards…but when he showed up I was dealing with freedom from bondage (Psa 107:10-16), and using alcoholism as an example. God’s providence is perfect. We’re praying that the Lord will use his Word to change this man’s heart and give him true freedom in Christ. The powers of darkness are definitely there, but God’s power is greater.

From there we traveled on to Prey Pbaom, and repeated the service schedule. About 80 children and a dozen adults greeted us there, and we had a wonderful time of fellowship with them. Far off in the distance we could hear another funeral fire up, but this one caused no disturbance to us. The presence of God’s testimony is stronger in this village, since there are many believers here. There has been no oppression from the neighbors. Mark seemed very encouraged by our work there, and we headed back on the long ride, anticipating further fellowship as a team together that evening. Mark is a good cook, and we all enjoyed his Cambodian

Sunday at Prey Pbaom

The Pbaom Sunday crowd

curry (sweeter and milder than Indian curries) at his house. I confess that I fell asleep in the living room while Mark was cooking, and I think Miriam did, too. When I woke up, she was nowhere in sight, and I heard movement behind the wicker sofa…she had lain down on the tile floor to take advantage of a little coolness there and conked out. Anyway, the brief rest helped our conversation to be more coherent around the dinner table – I hope! We caught a tuk tuk back to the hotel and enjoyed a blissful night’s sleep.

Day 4 Cambodia-Myanmar 09

Posted in Cambodia,Myanmar by lenpine on October 30, 2009

First Day of VBS

We got up early and met Mark downstairs after our breakfast at the hotel…a mix of Western and Burmese dishes. Best to avoid the Western stuff for the most part, since it’s just not quite right and will disappoint you. Stick with the food of the land, and you’re better off. So, rice and vegetables, fruit, and an egg or two. Karen did take advantage of the toast and jam, however.

The Van

Our Ride

Mark hires a van through a local company. The driver happens to be a Christian guy named Pbo. He’s a good driver, and a great guy besides. Anything pleasant like that is a blessing, because the roads are terrible. Not so bad right around Phnom Penh, but after that it’s all about dodging potholes (and motos, and trucks, and pedestrians, and bicyclists…you get the idea). It’s a two-hour ride one way down National Highway 2, and you get bounced around a good bit. We were thankful for the AC, for sure. Mark used to do this ride on his own moto every week, but the jarring so abused his wrists that he’s had to stop doing that. Much easier to haul all his gear out there, anyway, and one can arrive in fairly decent condition to actually do something. The second half of the trip is on unpaved roads, and the jarring gets worse, and the noise (from going over the bumps) is loud enough that you have to almost shout to be heard sometimes. Mark told us that the van has to be periodically and frequently in for service just to tighten up all the bolts underneath. I believe it.

We made three stops on the way, one to pick up our translators. Along with Mark’s usual translator, Socheat, we also hired two others, Soka and Salteya. These two young ladies were excited about serving the Lord with us. Soka had quite a bit of experience, and we could not have asked for anyone better to help us get started off properly with our VBS. Salteya was quiet and sweet-tempered, but new at the translation thing, so we put her to use in the craft and game times, for which she served very well. Anyway, the second stop was a little south of Phnom Penh at a bakery where we picked up 100 loaves of French bread (long baguettes, really) for the children’s snack that day, and the other stop was in a village about half way down to pick up some fruit for our host family in the village.

We arrived sometime between 10 and 11 in the morning at Prey Pbaom, and found that many children were already waiting for us at the church, even though we weren’t scheduled to

Opening Day Crowd

First day group quietly waiting for us to get started.

start until noon! We dropped off our gear and walked over to the home of our hosts, the lay pastor and his family, for an early lunch. It’s common for extended families to live together in the same house, or in adjoining houses, and that is the case here. So there were quite a few people gathered at the house. In addition to growing rice, the family also weaves silk cloth (mostly used for weddings and funerals and other formal occasions) with looms set up under the house. We were also joined at our meal by various and sundry chickens and dogs, who were eager for the scraps of chicken bones that we all tossed away. A few yards away the pig and the cows were tethered, and so our alfresco brunch was colorful, noisy, chaotic, and delightful all at once. The food was basic Khmer fare of rice, vegetables, seasoned and boiled chicken or fish, and an additional treat of grilled beef as well. In addition, we also were served prahock, or “Cambodian Cheese,” a paste which is made of fermented fish. Very salty and intense. Mark loves it. The rest of us took our “no thank you portions,” though I did take a little more after finishing the firsts off.

OK, VBS. It was an incredible first day. The kids (100+ of them crowded into a hot little sanctuary) behaved marvelously. We had no discipline issues, and it was only a bit on the noisy and chaotic side due to the sheer numbers of them. This was all very new to them, and they had no idea of what to expect or to where to go or what to do, with very little point of reference to try to understand what we were asking of them. Miriam and Mark did the lessons, on Creation and the Fall of mankind into sin and rebellion against God. I should say that we used the wordless book concept as the structure of our lessons, but from a Reformed perspective and with our own ideas of how to use the colors. So, blue was creation, black represented sin, red the Cross of Christ, white was resurrection and purity, green was growth in Christ (sanctification), and gold was heaven. In addition to the actual “books” we put together for teaching, a Christian bookstore here in Buffalo had given us several boxes of teaching

Creation Class

Miriam teaching in the "outdoor classroom"

materials from which we put together a great selection of teaching tools, all of which we left with Mark and the Kimas in Myanmar when we left. Thanks to the hard work of the ladies at the Grand Island BP church, the crafts we used to reinforce the lessons went astonishing well. Not only the crafts themselves, but the way they were prepared for our use…all the parts already bagged in workable quantities, or everything needed for a particular item all together in one bag made it easy to distribute everything and help the kids keep what they needed right there with them. We did over 120 craft items the first day (the adults joined in, too!),

Creation Mobiles

The kids made mobiles that featured what God created...a big hit!

and did the craft session in the allotted time of 15 minutes, and that was with translation. We also did games with them, and they enjoyed learning some new ones (or games that were variations of things they do over there already, like “Duck, Duck, Goose” – their version is a little more violent). Bible memory was a big emphasis, and they really got into it, and we did lots of singing, too, teaching them new songs and working on ones they already knew, too.

All the while, the neighbors next to the church sat at the property line and listened in. They wouldn’t come over, but they didn’t leave, either. The owner is the local music teacher, and also heads up a little traditional ensemble that plays for weddings and funerals all over the district. We generally had the traditional music as a background all day long. When we finished up about 4, we trooped over next door to see all the instruments and the guys over there played us a tradition song. Great stuff.

We headed back to Phnom Penh, very tired, but elated at how well everything had gone. Went to a great restaurant around the corner from the hotel called Khmer Surin…great Khmer food and atmosphere. A satisfying end to a satisfying day.

Day 1-3 Cambodia-Myanmar 09

Posted in Cambodia,Myanmar by lenpine on October 29, 2009

En Route

Karen and I had an uneventful trip, arriving on in Phnom Penh after a brief but very helpful night’s sleep at the airport hotel in Bangkok…what a good idea, I intend to stay there every time I make this trip in the future. Actually felt human when we got to Phnom Penh. It was awesome to have Karen travel with me and share the adventure!

Bangkok Airport Hotel Lobby

Yeah, that's the inside of the building!


Rev. Baldwin enjoying taking up the entire back seat of a tuk tuk

Rev. Mark Baldwin met us at the airport with a big smile and nice van. He’s doing well, and was obviously very busy with last minute preparations. Just as obviously he was excited about the prospects of a great ministry together. We got settled in at the Goldiana Hotel in Phnom Penh. Very comfortable, very reasonable, and the staff is genuinely courteous and helpful. Besides, in Karen’s opinion they have the world’s most beautiful elevators. It’s a small car, but the interior is all hand-carved wood. Since we were only one floor up, we felt a little embarrassed to ride the elevator, but Karen’s love of the elevator would not be denied. After dumping our stuff off and taking a rest, we enjoyed lunch and then dinner later at a couple of different Khmer restaurants in the neighborhood within walking distance. Good stuff.

Lounging in the Lobby

Ladies in the Goldiana

Miriam’s flight down to PP was a little more eventful. Her connection was delayed and then cancelled, and she was two hours late. Since she was supposed to land at around 9 pm, it got to be a very late night for all concerned. Nonetheless, we were delighted to finally see her smiling face…and then get her into her room down the hall from us and rush back into our own bed! We had an early start ahead of us the next day.