Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cup bearer to the king

This post will be pretty short. It goes with my favorite picture from our trip to Cambodia. Saturday was fun day at HPC when the kids can come and simply be kids. They color, dance, play games, do science experiments with eggs and straws...and they laugh. The workers dress up in crazy costumes and play along with the kids.

On the Saturday that we were there, in addition to helping with the games, I had the privilege to also be cup-bearer to the king.

There was one small boy, he looked to be about 3 years old, and he caught my eye early on in the day. He didn't really play the games the bigger boys played, mainly because he was just so young. Then, when they were finished coloring, I noticed this little fellow diligently working to pick up all the crayons and make sure they got back into the bag. Such a little worker!

At one point, he went to get himself a drink of cool clean water; and like most little boys he filled his cup WAY too full. With every step, he spilled a little of the water. I came over and offered to carry his cup for him. That was all it took. Before I knew it, I was standing there holding that cup for my new little friend. 

He would run around the room and stop back for a sip of water. Then he'd dance a bit with the group and stop back for another sip. Sometimes I think he ran around the room simply so he could come back and get a sip of water from the "lady." And I have to admit - I was loving every minute of it. I laughingly nicknamed him "the king" and I was his cupbearer.

I don't always think "spiritually" when life is happening, but later when I look back on things, I realize just how much God was a part of what was going on. That's what happened when I later looked back at my pictures of me with "the king." I realized I had been given the opportunity to do something truly serve as unto Jesus. My husband reminded me of the verse that says when you do something for the least of these, you do it unto Christ. 

I had no idea that I was doing something ''great" as I held the cup for this little fellow, but according to God's Word, it's a pretty big deal. I remember thinking I wish I could play music like some others in the group, or sing, or dance or SOMETHING...but I was only holding a cup.... I wonder how many other times in our lives we have the opportunity to be "cup bearer" but since it doesn't seem as special as what others do, or because no one takes a picture of it, we never stop to realize that it really is something more. 

Every dollar that was given to help us go on this mission trip - you held the cup for the King! Every prayer that was said for safe travels and for ministry guidance - you held the cup for the King! Every encouraging word, every loan of materials for skits, every meal prepared for our families while we were gone - you held the cup for the King!

And now that we are home, I need to remember that every thing I do for our fellow man - I am holding the cup for the King. The kind word or tip to the cashier who has worked so hard all day; the smile given to the weary person walking past; the encouraging word given to a co-worker or student; and every act of service done so that your fellow man can, just for a moment, stop and get a "drink" from the well of living water that flows through you...all are holding the cup for the King.

May your days be blessed, my friend. We have been given a wonderful hold the cup for the King.

Matthew 10:42

The Message (MSG)
40-42 “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”

Matthew 25:40

The Voice (VOICE)
King: 40 I tell you this: whenever you saw a brother or sister hungry or cold, whatever you did to the least of these, so you did to Me.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Life with God is an adventure!

It's hard to believe that one week ago I was in Cambodia, preparing to teach at the "Wat", (sorry my Cambodian friends...not sure how to spell that!) The Wat is the park in Phnom Penh that sits at the base of an ancient shrine. The group from Hard Places Ministry go to this park daily and have "Kid's Club" - something you just have to see to believe.

These workers, I sometimes wonder if they aren't simply angels in disguise, play jump rope with the children, teach them about Jesus, color pictures with them, and share a healthy snack...all at the base of a Buddhist shrine. On the park benches that surround the open pavilion where the kids meet, you see young girls waiting for customers. Yes, that means what you think it means.

The first time we went to the Wat, I noticed those around us and prayed that somehow they would hear the gospel message we were sharing with the children. I have to admit, I fumbled the lesson that first day. I've never worked with an interpreter and definitely never worked with an interpreter while also dealing with jet-lag! Hopefully the message that God heals broken hearts still could be heard. (This is a picture of the team doing "heart" surgery.)

This time, I was hopeful that the lesson would make more sense. I worked on ways to teach skits and object lessons through an interpreter. I worked on slowing down how fast I talk - evidently I tend to talk really fast when I'm excited. We had to split our group in half so that we could teach in two areas, and I prayed that we'd somehow be able to make it all work. Fortunately, I was on this trip with some pretty amazing people and I knew they could pull off anything I threw at them. (That included my pastor with his "Blah, blah, blah" in a Transylvania accent as the devil.)

This time the lesson was to be about how the darkness cannot overcome the Light. We were going to teach the kids about praising God and speaking His Word no matter what the devil tries to tell you. Praise to God will send the devil running! I was excited but apprehensive about sharing this lesson. I knew the people with me would do great, I just didn't want to "mess it up."

When we got to the park, one of the "girls" who sits on the benches caught our eye to let us know there were kids already waiting on the other side of the street so that we could help them cross through all the traffic. I marveled that despite the darkness she faced daily, she was looking out for these little ones.

We began the lesson, and I looked up to see if that young girl was still within earshot, hopeful that she too was hearing the truth of God's Word. She was gone. Instead, as I looked out across the children, I saw another group coming toward us. About 10-12 police officers (honestly to me it looked like about 50!) were headed our way. They made their way to the gazebo and walked up the steps to where we were teaching. They stood behind the group of children, some of them leaning against the columns along the side. They looked like an entire army!

I'm not really sure WHAT went through my mind at that moment. I wondered were we about to be told we'd have to stop teaching. I even briefly wondered if I might be arrested or something. (Did I mention we'd spent the Friday before visiting the Killing Fields?) But then, I remember looking at the faces of the Khmer workers and since they seemed unfazed, I figured I was okay. 

I continued to try to teach the lesson, trying to push any worries out of my head. I tried to pretend it was just like any other teacher observation I had been through, but my mind was still racing! My poor interpreter had to deal with my southern drawl combined with fast talking brought on by nerves. She did an amazing job.

The lesson went on and as we taught, some of the police left the gazebo. Others stayed almost the entire time. It wasn't until later that I discovered these police were there to "sweep" the area for those who usually sit on those benches. They had come up simply to watch and listen, just like the children. 

I'm sure that to some this is a pretty anti-climactic ending to what sounded like it might be a very exciting story....but it was PLENTY exciting enough for me!

It all seems a bit like a dream now. One week ago today...I stood in a country that only a year ago I had never really even thought of, and here I was - sharing the Good News. I guess you just never know WHAT God has in store for you when you let down your guard and say "Yes" to His lead.

I am now back into my regular routine...but I hope I never forget what it was like to stand in that park, sharing the good news of Jesus to those who sat on the benches, the children who gathered at our feet, and the police who wandered up just to "see." 
Wow - life with God really is an adventure!

John 1:5

The Message (MSG)
3-5 Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

This is what love looks like...


There are many images that will forever be burned into my memory from Cambodia, but I think the ones I love best are those of the workers loving on the kids. I think, for just a moment, I got to see a glimpse of Jesus.

The staff of the Hard Places truly are an amazing group of people. Most are young, some with families of their own, but all shining with the love of Christ in a very tangible form.

When I went to Cambodia, I went knowing that we would work with the kids. I had no ideas of grandeur - no thoughts that we'd come in and show them "how it was done." I went only thinking I'd take some of my best "object" lessons and my own favorites to share...and hopefully we'd bring some joy and laughter with us to help lighten the load. But I didn't really expect to learn so very much from them.

I've worked with kids for over 25 years in one form or another, but these young workers taught me so much. Mainly, they taught me how to let down my guard and simply love. I watched as they lovingly clipped fingernails of the children who came to the kid's meeting in the park. They diapered those who came up wearing nothing but their birthday suit. They cradled those same children in their arms and softly sang to them as they first fussed, then fell asleep in the safety of the workers arms. They lay them down on a makeshift bed instead of simply putting them down onto the hard concrete they were probably used to sleeping on.

These workers meet to plan lessons to reach these little ones. They get down on the floor with them and talk and play. They help them laugh and sing. They help build creativity and hope. They help them learn how to work together to problem solve in creative lessons involving an egg, some straws, and some tape! Then after a full day of working with these little ones, they go on home visits and check on parents and siblings. They know each of these children, not just by name, but who they really are. They aren't just "workers" - they are pastors of the youngest in the flock. 

There is much I will remember from Cambodia, but it won't be of the landmarks or the tourist attractions. It will be that I saw Jesus, surrounded by children. I saw Him in each one of these amazing young people who give their lives for those who some consider to be "the least of these." 

Thank you my friends for teaching me so much. 

Matthew 19:14

The Voice (VOICE)
Jesus: 14 Let the little children come to Me; do not get in their way. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to children like these.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Not forgotten...

Cambodia is still so much in my mind as I try to re-enter my daily routines. Were we really only there for 6 days? It seems like we packed so much into each moment and yet it also seems like we were there for only a couple of days. So how did this place on the other side of the world capture my heart so readily?

Yesterday I wrote about our first home visit while in the country. Today, will be about the second visit while we were there. 

On the second day, after a full day of working with children, the staff went on home visits again. This time we went to see a family that lived right next to the center. Again, we entered into a dark alleyway and up dark stairs. These were a little lighter, or was it that my eyes were finally adjusting to walking in darkness? At any rate, we made our way to the "home" of one of the boys from the center. 

In this small room - smaller than my kitchen even - sat the boy's mom and her new born daughter. Of course, she sat on the floor - everyone sits on the floor. Our interpreter, my team mate, and I all joined them on there. It was such a small the room there was also another woman, who I never did figure out the relation to the family, the grandmother, and 4 other babies. The father walked in and out of the home - sometimes to the balcony that was about as big as a small table. Before we left, assorted others entered and left the home. The son popped in and out during our visit as well. Did I mention it was crowded?

For about half an hour, we visited with this precious family, and of course I played with all the babies that ranged from the new born to about 2 years old. Each had such sweet smiles and they seemed fascinated by this strange white lady in their home. One in particular could not take his little eyes off my team mate's beard! Pretty sure they'd never seen a beard that big.

We learned, through the interpreter, that dad had lost his job and hadn't been able to find something else. Mom, who normally painted finger nails on the street to make money, had of course been unable to work since having the baby; so they had moved in with grandmother for a while. Grandmother kept little ones to help pay bills. Mother was very worried because they could not afford to send their son to school. I looked up at this young boy's face and thought of my own students. He wanted to go to school...loved learning, yet they could not afford the 50 cents a day it would cost. They also couldn't afford to get him to and from school each day. (Oh, how we take what we have for granted!)

Everything in me wanted to run back to my hotel and pull out the cash to send this boy to school, but I realized enough that I needed to talk to the center and make that happen the best way possible...not just throw money at the problem.

The time came for us to leave and we made our way back down the dark stairwell, which didn't seem as dark as it had before. I just kept thinking that this woman and her family was so much like my own. This woman was worried for her son and how they would provide for his education. Never did she say a word about her own needs...sitting on that hard floor cradling her new born daughter. Her only thoughts seemed to be for her children. My heart also went out to her husband. I have seen how hard it is when, through no fault of his own, your husband finds himself out of work...desperately wanting to provide for his family and yet finding every door closed. 

Our visit came to an end and we prayed for this home and this family. Once we hit the streets, I talked to our interpreter and asked about a million questions. I know money will help, and I encourage ALL my friends to support the center and the work they do, but there was something more that I learned. 

Our interpreter explained to me why it was so important that we made the visit to the home.

I noticed that at each visit, they had asked us to tell how long it had taken us to get to Cambodia...well, over 24 hours. To tell where we had come from. I thought this was just idle conversation until he told me that it was important to these people that we had come. Please forgive me if I get some of the details wrong, but in essence, these people feel like cave people. They are sometimes referred to in such a way, and to be honest, going into these tiny homes was a bit like going into a deep dark cave. They are looked down upon and feel forgotten. By sharing how far we'd come to see them, it was a sort of reminder that they were not forgotten. They are important to God. 

Oh my....that fact hit me so hard. In this city of what seems like millions, in the dark little corner packed together like sardines, God sees them. Each one. He hears the cry of their hearts. He wants to send His He allowed us to be his servants to send the message - you are not forgotten.

Not forgotten. It still rings in my heart and soul. Amidst the noise and the chaos, He still hears you...sees you...loves you. Right where you are, wherever you are not forgotten.

For more information about this wonderful work in Cambodia, go to

Isaiah 49:13-16 (MSG)

 Heavens, raise the roof! Earth, wake the dead!
    Mountains, send up cheers!
God has comforted his people.
    He has tenderly nursed his beaten-up, beaten-down people.
 But Zion said, “I don’t get it. God has left me.
    My Master has forgotten I even exist.”
 “Can a mother forget the infant at her breast,
    walk away from the baby she bore?
But even if mothers forget,
    I’d never forget you—never.
Look, I’ve written your names on the backs of my hands.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Same Same, but Different

I am sitting here, quite jet-lagged from a 24+ hour trip from Cambodia and trying to figure out where to begin telling about this extraordinary experience. Right now my mind is about as chaotic as the streets from which we just came...filled with images fighting for attention. I finally settled on two special encounters from the first two days of our trip - home visits in Cambodia. (Tomorrow I will update with the story of the second encounter.)

After a full day of working with kids and staff on our first day there, it was time to go on a home visit. We walked a few blocks from the center where we had just shared Bible stories and danced and sang and colored with the children. (It was amazing that despite the fact I could not speak even one word of the language, we found a way to celebrate together.) As we got nearer to the home of one of the children, the staff member filled me in with some of the things this family was dealing with. The mother was sick and we would be not only checking on the child, but the mom as well. As we neared the "home", I tried to make sense of my surroundings. 

We entered the dark stairway leading up to their home. Everything in Cambodia seems to be "up stairs." When I say dark, that really does NOT begin to explain what we stepped into. No one in their right mind would willingly go into that unforgiving darkness, yet this is the path this family took daily and that I now followed the center worker into. Another member of our team was with me and honestly I was worried for her more than myself...or maybe my concern for her simply let me ignore my own fears for a moment.

The steps leading up to the home were uneven and broken. You never knew if the next step would be a full "step" or a part of one. The Khmer staff worker that went with us used her cell phone as a light to guide us through the darkness. For my friends who are repelled by germ-y surfaces, you'd have been appalled as I had to touch through the darkness at times to find my balance. The walls beside me, though shrouded in blackness and the unknown, were my only means of support.

Finally we made it to the top of the four flights of stairs, thinking at some point that we'd finally see some light...there was a tiny sliver of light by the time we reached the top floor. We entered the home - not what you and I would call "home" - merely a small room with a dirty concrete floor with a couple of small rag rugs that provided little relief from the unforgiving surface, a slat bed in the corner, an ice chest on a table and a slatted door that you'd expect to find as you entered an old barn, but not someone's home. 

"Mom" sat next to the cluttered wall, "Grandmother" sat across the room....both on the hard concrete floor. They were so gracious - offering to allow us to sit on the side of the "bed" rather than the floor. In the background...was there really a background in a room this small? In the background, a little boy about 3 or 4 years old was busily "building" something with scraps of wood, arranging and re-arranging the pieces of 2 by 4 sections that had probably been gathered from the street...or maybe they had fallen off some part of the house. His mom described him as "busy busy" and a good son. Curious neighbors came to the door, and then just came in and joined the others on the floor. I'm sure the two foreign women who sat on the one of the only pieces of furniture in the room had something to do with that. 

As we talked, the interpreter let us know that "Mom" was concerned about her middle son. Isn't it always the middle son? Her oldest son, who had some sort of handicap and used a walker to get around, was also a good son. (My mind raced - how did that son get up those dark uneven stairs?) The little boy who was so "busy, busy", was a good son, but it was the middle son, the one who was skipping school, who she was concerned was hanging out with gangs, that son was her concern. 

Wait - how in the world could I be across the world and dealing with the same kind of problems we have here at home? Here was a mom, just like me, concerned about her child. Worried that he was making wrong choices. It was like sitting in some weird third-world parent conference! 

Before we left, we prayed for this mom and her son. I even had the opportunity to pray directly for her son since he came in just before the end of the visit. Wow - wish I could do that at the end of parent-teacher conferences! We reaffirmed in that prayer that God has a purpose for this boy - and that he is a good son, not a "bad" boy. We prayed for Mom, Grandmother, and the son. 

Then it was time to leave. We made our way back down the dark stairwell, stepping over the two cats that appeared from somewhere. Going down the stairs wasn't any easier than going up, or maybe it was. At least I knew I was going toward light - toward familiar. I wonder what it must be like to live in a place where going home meant such a difficult journey into darkness. 

In Cambodia we learned a phrase - "Same, same - but different." It is used often when talking to people like me, who do not speak the language. For example, if you asked for a Diet Coke, they would hand you a Coke Light which was "Same, same." So many things I was beginning to encounter fit this phrase. Life in Cambodia - the people of Cambodia - so much really was "same, same" as life on my side of the world. We love our children. We worry about the choices they make. Our "hearts" become sick and we wonder what to do. We are the same. 

As I write these words, I am struck with another it possible that this is true not just of those across the globe, but also of those I walk alongside each day? Is it possible for me to realize that no matter how "different" we may seem, we are all the "Same, same"?

One of the object lessons I used while in Cambodia was a rope trick where I take three different lengths of rope and make the analogy that sometimes we feel less than others. We all have times when we feel "different" and less worthy (or even more worthy) than someone else. But in God's sight - we are all the "same, same" - loved by the most high God. We have been created with a plan and a purpose. We are not the "good son" or the "bad son" - we are loved wherever we are.

Same-same....but thanks to this trip to Cambodia, I am now different. I have been changed - forever.

Romans 2:11 (Voice)
"God has no favorites."

Acts 10:34

The Message (MSG)
34-36 Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Packing for the journey...

I have spent much of the past two days packing for our trip to Cambodia. One suitcase is totally packed - filled with craft items to share with the workers there. It is a veritable treasure chest for children's workers. 

My suitcase, however, is another story. It is not yet packed, mainly because I'm simply not sure what to expect. I know what the weather will be, but what each day will hold is a complete mystery to me.

Then there's my object lessons. I'm a bit concerned that my checked bags might take some sort of detour and leave me without my "props." Anyone who has ever worked with children knows just how important the props can be! I finally decided to stuff those in my backpack. 

Next, since I'm diabetic, I don't want to trust my food source to chance. That means I've probably WAY over packed in the snack department. Those, too, have to go in my carry on bag. So does my medicine (stupid diabetes), my change of clothes (it's going to be a LONG trip there), and my Bible and study notes. So much for traveling light! 

There is one part of me that travels 'light', however. My heart! I am almost giddy with excitement at what I expect the Lord will do with us in Cambodia. 

I have never been what you would call a "missions minded" person, but somehow that all seems to be changing. We go, not just to share the Good News, but to stand alongside those who work so tirelessly to reach the children. My prayer as we go is that we will take with us laughter, joy, and refreshing. Please pray with/for me and my fellow team members. I realize like never before how much those prayers mean. It truly isn't just the "team" that is going - all who contributed and who pray for us are going as well. We are all working to help hold up the hands of those who serve.

There probably won't be a blog entry until I return since I won't have a computer with me, but I have a feeling I will have lots to share when I get back. For now, I guess I really should get back to packing.

Exodus 17:12

The Message (MSG)
10-13 Joshua did what Moses ordered in order to fight Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. It turned out that whenever Moses raised his hands, Israel was winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, Amalek was winning. But Moses’ hands got tired. So they got a stone and set it under him. He sat on it and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on each side. So his hands remained steady until the sun went down. Joshua defeated Amalek and its army in battle.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Total Blackout...

Have you seen the tv show where contestants try to win money by going into a totally dark room and then trying to identify different things that they cannot see? According to the show's website, "Total Blackout is an extreme game show in which contestants battle each other and their fears in a series of challenges, confronting their own worst enemy - themselves. However there is a twist - all challenges are played in complete darkness: no lights, no blindfolds, and no-holds barred as players face their fears and unexpected surprises in a series of nerve-wracking games."

For some perverse reason, my family loves this show. They laugh at contestants trying to identify a sheep and calling it a snake (who in the world would guess snake?!?!) The contestants are usually freaking out in the first few seconds of the challenge, because they are TOTALLY in the dark and their imaginations take over. Even though they KNOW the studio isn't going to put them in any real danger, their minds imagine the very worst and their actions follow. Very few remain calm...and of course those who do probably wouldn't be on the show because they aren't as much fun to watch.

I honestly thought this was a show was some new idea. I didn't say a GOOD idea, but a new one all the same. Who ever thought of doing something like this? Then I remembered WAY WAY back when I was a little kid. Our school used to put on a "haunted house" every year. We would go through the darkness of the back of the auditorium, sometimes without even enough light to see your hand before your face, and we'd touch the most gruesome of things - cold spaghetti, grapes in get the picture. I don't remember any of the things that jumped out at me, but the things I got close enough to touch - those I remember vividly!

You might be wondering why, here in the beginning of March, my random thoughts are on this subject. Well, it's all because of a devotional I read today. Now, mind you, my thoughts have been on darkness quite a bit lately as we prepare to go on a mission trip to Cambodia to work with a ministry that truly battles in some of the darkest of areas. It was, however, this devotional that smacked me in the face today. Don't know why I've never seen it before.

It was based on a passage from Exodus 10: 21-23 when God told Moses:

21 Raise your hand up toward the heavens, and a great darkness will cover the land of Egypt, a heavy, oppressive darkness.
22 So Moses raised his hand up toward the heavens, and a deep darkness settled over all the land of Egypt for three days. 23 It was so dark that people could not even see each other, and no one dared to venture out from their houses for three wholedays. But all the people of Israel had light where they lived.
It was that last part that caught me..."But all the people of Israel had light where they lived."
Can you imagine living in TOTAL darkness. Everything you touch becomes frightening and unfamiliar...but you look in the distance and you see a light. You might even want to get to the light, but you can't see how to get there! A few brave souls might make the journey, fighting dangers real and imagined, but most will just sit and wonder at why there is light over there and not here. They might even become angry and declare the light to be some sort of evil thing.
We, as the people of God, have light. It is within us because Jesus lives within us. People desperately need that light, even if they have grown hostile toward it. But most will not be able to come to it. They are too far off, too trapped by darkness, or just too afraid. So it is our job to go to them, for wherever we go, we take the Light. It's not that WE are doing something grand. We are simply a vessel. Wherever we go, we take Jesus...and I have the feeling He wants us to step out more. He lives in us, yet we are content to sit inside our own little dwellings, happy that WE have the light and don't suffer in darkness. 
Does that picture strike anyone besides me? Suddenly, watching others stumble in the darkness isn't so funny anymore. 
I've given myself something to really "chew" on today. It's time to move out of our comfort zones and let the Light shine...for "the darkness cannot overtake it" if we will simply be unafraid to walk toward that darkness and share what is within us - Jesus.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine...let it shine, let it shine, let HIM shine!

John 1:5

The Voice (VOICE)
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
    blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.