Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reflections from Cambodia: Looking for the Lovely

I'm sick. A cold bug hit me four days into our stay in Phnom Penh. Now I sit on a metal chair watching young missionary families stream through the door for the Christmas service. In spite of the fever I feel, I can't help but tear up at the sight of these willing servants devoted to sharing Jesus with the Cambodian people.

Later, after a variety of musical selections and message, I venture from my seat, refreshment plate in hand, and visit with a few missionary moms. One's a veteran of 20 years, another a newbie to the field, but both testify that applying Philippians 4:8 (looking for the lovely) in the midst of sewer rats, rotting garbage, people darkened by sin and deception, oppressive heat that stifles the breath, language sounds that are foreign to the American ear, and a host of other challenges, was the turning point in their ability to endure daily.

I smile, a thrill skipping up my spine. Their words echo my heart. Part of my personal quest in coming to Cambodia is to embrace God's adventure and look for His beauty at every turn. I'd found Him in the faces of these missionary wives, my own daughter included, who sat a few feet from me smiling and talking with another young wife. These are precious reunions for missionary families spread out over the provinces, who only come together on occasion to worship and encourage one another.

Though weak from my cold, I'm empowered by what I've witnessed tonight, determined to continue my quest to enjoy the journey God has for me right now, right where He's placed me.    

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

New Release Coming in June!

A blind woman seeks refuge at Camp Hope only to encounter the man who took her sight.

On the verge of college graduation, Loni Parker seeks employment as a music teacher, but no one will hire her since she’s blind. Or so she thinks. To take her mind off her troubles, her roommate invites her to spring retreat at Camp Hope in the gorgeous North Carolina mountains. Unbeknown to Loni, Michael Ackerman, the director, is an ex-con responsible for the accident that caused her blindness. When Loni warms up to camp and wants to return as a summer counselor, Michael opposes the idea, which only makes Loni want to prove herself all the more. Though she doesn’t expect to fall for the guy. Still, her need for independence and dream of teaching win out, taking her far away from her beloved Camp Hope . . . and a certain director.

From the moment Loni Parker steps onto the camp ground, Michael knows who she is, and he doesn’t want anything to do with her. Yet, in spite of his guilt that drives him to push Loni away, he can’t deny his growing attraction to the determined woman. After all, she reminds him of himself. Beyond that, she seems to see more with her heart than the average person does with his eyes. But her presence also dredges up a long-buried anger toward his alcoholic father that he’d just as soon keep hidden. When circumstances spin out of control, Michael is forced to face a past that may destroy his present. 

Coming in June, just in time for vacation! Add this one to your summer reading list!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Reflections from Cambodia: A Walk with Chuck

I wake up eager for that walk with Chuck before the temps rise and sweat drips. While reading his Bible, he glances at me. "You know, I sweat so much yesterday I went through my entire closet of clothing . . . multiple times!"

We'd gotten used to washing out our items at night, hanging them in the bathroom, then transferring them to the iron window bars for a thorough drying. This typically does not take long. So Chuck could rinse out his shirts and have them back on by the afternoon.

After breakfast, we head out. We stroll down the dusty street past one vendor after another.
I purchase lettuce and a variety of other greens, four bunches for $2.50 US. At another booth, we purchase three pounds of apples/oranges/one pound of grapes/jack fruit, all for $8.00 US. I leave satisfied with my treasures.

Young Buddhist monks in orange robes hold umbrellas in one hand and a metal bucket in another. They stop at establishments and offer a blessing to the owner in exchange for a donation. Many parents send their boys to the monastery to secure an education. When they are grown, they can either choose to stay or launch out into the world.

We pass ducks hanging upside down; raw meat on boards; a man squatting over a metal pan, holding a small mirror while shaving. A little boy greets us at the entrance of his booth.

A lady dries chopped, split sugarcane in the sun. An architectural firm beckons us inside to cool off from the heat. Later we purchase fresh coconuts for 3000 Riel (0.75 US) from another street vendor. We suck the nourishing water, a complete blend of electrolytes, from a straw.

At home again, we eat lunch, then rest up for the evening service and fellowship hosted by a missionary organization. It will be good to visit with the missionaries from around Cambodia and prayerfully encourage them, even as they encourage us. 


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Reflections from Cambodia: Toul Tom Poung

With sweaty palms, I clutch my daughter's sides, leaving what I'm confident are wet wrinkles in her tee shirt. We're off to Toul Tom Poung, or the famous Russian Market, in Phnom Penh. Motorcycles or motos as everyone here calls them are a common sight. Only a handful of times have I ridden on one, however. I lean into Rachel for protection, and my visor bumps into her helmet as she careens in and out of traffic. So proud of my daughter who's been driving a moto for several months now.

We slow up and snake into a parking space beside a row of other motos. The attendant tags the bike, for all of approximately 12 cents US currency. A multitude of people mill about, some Khmer, others foreign. A gaping black hole signals the entrance to the market. Once inside, life takes over in a ream of color and activity. The Cambodian version of an American mall.

Adjacent vendor booths boast everything from hardware to hairspray. Cambodian clothing and keepsakes, jewelry, stationary, wooden items, kitchenware, and food galore spread from one end of the narrow brick aisle to the other, with many offshoot aisles to wander (and get lost in). Pans of fresh veggies and fish (one still crawling around) urge shoppers over for a look see.

Rachel practices her purchase negotiations in Khmer, with an exchange of nods and smiles with the vendors, and I walk away with two Cambodian wrap-around skirts for $8 US. Nice going, Rachel. 

After we exhaust our efforts at Toul Tom Poung, we straddle the moto once more for a stop at the small grocer. I browse the aisles to check prices, passing a spirit house in the process. Buddha sits inside. An apple on a plate rests in front of the tiny house alongside a cup of coffee. I'd just complained to my husband, Chuck, that very morning about how much I longed for an apple. And here sat a big, juicy one! It took all my willpower not to grab that lovely familiar fruit.

Back home with our treasures, I climb the two flights of steps to our bedroom, plop on the bed and gaze out the barred window to the neighbor's house. It's lunchtime, so the family eats on a mat on their lanai, the food spread out in bowls.

My stomach growls as the lunch bell rings, signaling me back down the long flights of steps.

A fine morning at Toul Tom Poung with at least one more shopping day planned.

For a video glimpse of Toul Tom Poung, see the next post.

Russian Market (Phsar Toul Tom Poung) - go shopping in Phnom Penh - Trav...

Monday, February 26, 2018

"It's a Death Garden, Grandma!"

"Look, Grandma, it's a death garden!" Grandson Gabe beamed and pressed his face to the car window as we passed the cemetery.

I couldn't help but chuckle. Where did he come up with these things?

On further thought, it occurred to me that it made perfect sense to call the flower-strewn cemetery a death garden. After all, it housed dead bodies and lots of flowers!

Gabe's name for the cemetery popped in my mind the other day while taking my quiet time walk. At the opening of the field, I typically pass a giant tree trunk with branches yawning to the ground. I've never noticed what type of tree it is. I'm too busy thinking about how it reminds me of storybook pictures I've seen of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39f)). I can almost visualize Jesus kneeling by the tree as its leaves arch over him. It dawned on me that Gethsemane was Jesus' death garden.

During that prayer time as He fell on His face and agonized before the Father, sweat becoming like drops of blood, knowing what sacrifice was to come, He said, "Not my will, but Thine be done." He died to His will to accomplish the Father's will.

And when He did, out of death, came life. The sweet aroma of redemption for all who would believe and receive what He accomplished through His literal death, burial, and resurrection.

Forgiveness of sin. A relationship with the Father. Eternal life!

Sweet. Fragrant. Colorful. Alive!

But the death comes daily. I must take up my cross and follow Jesus each new day. In the words of the late Billy Graham, "I put to death my own plans and desires, and then turn my life over to Him and do His will every day" (

In doing so, I bring glory to God and experience His profound peace and joy.

In the midst of death springs life!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Reflections from Cambodia: Spirit House

I peer out my bedroom window at the neighborhood. A golden spirit house sits in front of a cement wall. At breakfast I ask my missionary kids what these structures are all about.

Apparently, a Buddhist places this small house outside where a deceased male ancestor can reside. The family leaves the ancestor food and drink so that the spirit of the ancestor will not harm them and will watch over the house.

Between bites of breakfast, I wonder out loud: "Well, don't they see that the food has not been eaten?"

"Yes," my kids reply, "but the Buddhist claims the dead ancestor has eaten the 'spirit' of the food, extracting all flavor. So who would want to eat it?"

Onthe inside of a typical Cambodian home, another spirit house, this time wooden, is built into a wall bookcase. According to Buddhism, this tiny structure houses the spirit of the dead female ancestor who protects the occupants while inside their home. The family gives her food, too, so that no jealousy or anger crops up between the deceased male and female ancestors.

My daughter uses the space to store kids' books, and during Christmas, the manger scene, as you can see in this picture. I have to smile. What more fitting and striking contrast to Buddhist belief and superstition! Only the power of Jesus expressed through the Holy Spirit living within a believer can dispel fear and provide peace and protection (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The Cambodians employ one other spirit house, this one for a deceased child, five years old and under. The "house" is actually a small fruit-filled basket sometimes tied to a tree or post. The spirit of the deceased child watches over the living children of the home and plays with them.

Business owners also place spirit houses in their establishments. Later that day, we walk into a guesthouse lobby where we stay while touring the coastal town of Kampot. And sure enough, a spirit house rests against the stair railing.

In addition to spirit houses, Cambodians wear spirit strings for added protection. From birth, kids wear white strings on their wrists. If a child falls down, his mother will cry out to the spirit not to abandon her child, then she will retie the string so that the spirit will stay.

Adults wear red spirit strings. Police officers and soldiers wear strings around their bodies to ward off danger.

My heart is moved as I consider how deeply entrenched the Cambodians are in fear and superstition. How I pray they will see Jesus, believe in His death, burial, and resurrection on their behalf, and receive Him as Savior and Lord. Then they will become temples of the Holy Spirit. He will live inside of them! No longer will they be caught up in satan's deception and need to rely on the false protection of man-made spirit houses.