Archive for May, 2011

Team Cambodia Reunion

Comfort parcel from home


This week we were delighted to be re-united with John and Ann when they returned to Phnom Penh.  They had been home for 6 weeks in order for Ann to undergo surgery and spend some precious time with friends and family. 

 We were very happy when we received some comfort parcels from home with essentials such as coffee and chocolate plus a copy of our nephew’s Year 7 school play on DVD.  We were like children on Christmas morning when we opened our gifts!

On Thursday one of the neighbours came to the centre and asked if we minded if they used the front of our building to hold a wedding which would take place over the weekend.  We groaned at the prospect of this but as you can’t really say no, we hoped we would have easy access to the centre and not have to cancel our activities!

Wedding Marquee Entrance

As we left the centre on Friday evening the marquee was being set up with no space around the framework as access giving us no choice but to walk through it.  On Sunday morning we arrived at the centre just after 8 am with the wedding celebrations still in full swing.  Traffic was at a standstill because the marquee took up one side of the road, and yes, there is a lot of motos, tuk tuks and vehicles on the road at this time of the morning.  We had no option but to walk through the wedding reception, smiling and saying ‘Sok Sabay’ – ‘Hello, how are you?’ to the guests.

We were on foot but most who come to the church travel by moto or bicycle so they had a bit more of a challenge but thankfully this didn’t put them off.  David was scheduled to speak in the Khmer service and did so over the noise coming from the loudspeakers.  He was delighted when 2 young men responded to the gospel message especially as one of them belongs to the football team which David coaches every weekend!

With Team Cambodia together again we spent this week planning and praying for the future work in Phnom Penh and we are excited about the journey God is taking us on.  Watch this space and keep us in your prayers.

Numbed by history

One of the buildings at Tuol Sleng

Last weekend Esther and I decided to see some of the history in Cambodia, in particular Phnom Penh.  We chose to visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum also known as S21 Prison and Choeung Ek.  Both of us were born in 1970, so were just too young to really know what was happening in those days in Cambodia.

In the early 1970’s the communist group the Khmer Rouge had started civil war under the leadership of Pol Pot.  On 17th April 1975 they advanced on Phnom Penh and were greeted by massive crowds celebrating as the troops arrived.  The people thought that they were an answer to all their problems but that was all to change, as by that evening almost all who lived in Phnom Penh were made to leave their homes and the city.  They were told that the Americans were going to bomb the city and it wasn’t safe.  This was only the beginning of their problem as over the next four years approximately 2 million people were butchered or starved to death.  Pol Pot and his men went about asking for all those who were intelligent to come forward so they could be looked after and work for the Khmer Rouge.  Little did they know that when they stepped out of the crowd they were condemning themselves to Tuol Sleng and ultimately death.  The regime wanted to kill everyone who could be a threat to them; doctors, teachers, scientists, lecturers, anyone who was educated.  Pol Pot dreamed of an uneducated nation that would be easy to control and along with his communist party tried to make 17th April 1975 as year zero, day one; in a way he wanted to play God.

A single cell

The buildings at Tuol Sleng, which was formerly a high school, are preserved as they were left when the Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1979.  The regime kept extensive records, including thousands of photographs.  Several rooms of the museum are now lined, floor to ceiling, with black and white photographs of some of the estimated 20,000 prisoners who passed through the prison.  The site has four main buildings, known as building A, B, C and D.  Building A holds the large cells in which the bodies of the last victims were discovered.  Building B holds galleries of photographs.  Building C holds the rooms sub-divided into small cells for prisoners.  Building D holds other memorabilia including instruments of torture.  The prisoners were tortured daily as they were hung from beams, half drowned in large tanks or hit and beat with hoes and other sharp instruments.  When prisoners had out stayed their welcome, they were transported in a truck to a place called Choeung Ek better known as one of the Killing Fields. 

Like the prisoners we also followed their final journey from the prison to the Killing Field.  It is situated about 15km south of Phnom Penh and was originally a Chinese graveyard.  Nothing could prepare us for what we were about to witness.  Mass graves containing 8,895 bodies were discovered at Choeung Ek after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.  In addition to the victims already exhumed, another 43 pits have been left undisturbed and the final shocking total is believed to be close to 20,000.  Many of the dead were former inmates from the Tuol Sleng detention centre.  We walked around the mass graves and several times had to stop to try and take it all in. 

skulls of the victims displayed as a mark of respect

As we followed the trail we came to a mass grave where over 100 women and children’s bodies were found. The most distressing thing was the tree beside the grave called ‘The Killing Tree’ where executioners held babies and children by the feet and their heads were smashed against the tree before being thrown into the open grave.  As we were trying to process this, we realised the path we stood on had fragments of clothes and bones coming through, as each rainy season passes more history is washed to the surface.  In the centre of the memorial grounds stands a Buddhist Stupa where more than 5,000 human skulls are displayed.

 This was probably the most horrific experience either of us has endured, but one we needed to do.  In able for us to be effective in all ways as missionaries, we need to understand the people we are trying to reach.  In this awful history we come in contact with all sorts of hurts.  Firstly we have those who lived through the killing fields, the memories and the brutality and for many the loved ones they lost for no reason whatsoever.  Then you have the soldiers of which a high percentage was under the age of 18; boys and girls who were made to kill or be killed.  Now, as adults they have to deal with the guilt of what they were made to do and they are living day in daily with the people whose loved ones they killed.

My friends, I apologise, we have shared things that are very troubling and we hope you understand why we needed to share this with you. 

Buddhist Stupa as memorial

We ask that today you will take this nation upon your heart like never before and pray, for healing as a country and also for individuals.  That people will know full restoration, but most of all that we will see a wave of salvation throughout this country like never before. 


Khmer Wedding

The day had arrived; we were going to experience our first Khmer wedding ceremony!  On Saturday morning our alarm went off at 5.15 am (no, that is not a typing error) and we began to get ready for stage one of the day’s proceedings.  We were collected at 6.30 am and made our way to the venue where the wedding breakfast would take place.

The wedding procession

As we arrived, we saw a long queue of guests bearing gifts such as trays of food, fruit and beverages.  We joined the line and waited for the procession to begin.  Cymbals were sounded and we were off!  We walked along the main road with policemen directing traffic around us and made our way down a short hill to where the wedding marquee was set up.  We greeted the bride and groom and found a table where some of our friends were already seated. I was very impressed with the individually packaged bowl, spoon and glass at each place setting. When all the guests were settled food was served.  It was porridge, but not as we knew it!! Rice, pork and shrimps in a stock with vegetables, I was served a bowl and David – well he had an apple!! 

The bridal party

 The marquee was set up next to a house and this was where the bridal party sat. I was able to go up the few steps, wave at the bride and take a photograph, the outfits were amazing.  During a Khmer wedding the bride will wear approximately nine costumes and her hair and make-up will be altered to suit each look. This part of the ceremony could last about 6 hours but those we were with were happy to leave once they had finished breakfast so by 8 am we were back home catching up on some sleep!  

In the afternoon David went to the Elim Centre to take the Bible for Beginner’s class and Sokhom, one of the staff from the Day Care Centre, met me in Open Arms, a Christian run beauty salon, where we got our hair and make-up done in preparation for stage two of the wedding.  This was great fun although I was a bit scared when the false eyelashes were applied!

Lisa in one of her many outfits and me in Khmer dress!

We arrived at the evening reception at 7 pm and were greeted by the bridal party except for the bride who was changing into one of her many outfits!  Food was served onto a carousel which was in the centre of the table and as each course finished, the next was brought to us.  The food included spring rolls, rice, duck and fish.  We are still getting accustomed to using chopsticks so there were a few laughs from our Khmer friends.

  Once we had completed our food, the bridal party assembled onto the red carpet with the bride and groom leading the procession to the front of the room where they both gave a short speech and then each lit a candle on the cake and prayed a blessing.  

Our first Khmer wedding was definitely an experience and we thank Lisa and Bora for inviting us and we wish them God’s richest blessings as they begin married life together!

The Bride and Groom - Lisa & Bora

News Headlines …..

It has been a big week in the news.  Last Friday we all looked on with pride as Prince William and Kate Middleton got married, at last a royal couple who seem to genuinely   love each other, there may be hope for our nation yet. We as Christians need to pray that as they commence married life they will find Jesus and not only find him but then use their future roles to change the way Great Britain is run. Imagine the knock on effect if our King and Queen truly found Jesus, we really need to take this on our hearts.

Then on Sunday  night or Monday morning depending on what part of the world you live in we got the unexpected news that the world’s number one terrorist Osama Bin Laden had been executed in an undercover mission.  I have to say this news brought a smile to my face but mainly because so many innocent people had been murdered by this tyrant.  Whether it is right or wrong to be relieved that this rule of terror has come to an end is for you to decide, but I know people who have been personally affected by death because this man and others decided to make our world unsafe to live in. I do pray for his family who mourn today, they need saved as much as any of us, and although he was what he was we must remember that Jesus died for him too.

Naomi Esther, 5 days old


We have had some big events take place over the last week ourselves.  I was privileged to be with our friend Chamnap, when his wife Nita gave birth to a beautiful baby girl Naomi Esther. It was one of those experiences which I was glad to be a part off but would be quite happy if I didn’t have to do it too often!

We ask you to pray for Chamnap and Nita, he is a Pastor in our Khmer church and Nita is Manager of the Day Care Center so they are both important, influential people whom we appreciate and rely on a lot.  Please remember them as little Naomi is now home from hospital, and for her older sister Sarah who will be a good help to mum and dad.

On Saturday by the time you are reading this Esther and I will be getting ready to experience our first Khmer wedding, the bride is a young girl called Lisa who attends the Khmer church.  Needless to say Esther was delighted when we received the invitation and I’m a man so I will try to keep my emotions under control.  I will not say much about this because I am sure Esther will give you the full wedding report in next week’s blog including photographs.

Finally I would ask you to remember John and Ann as they continue their break in Northern Ireland. I say break but it has been far from that for them both, we ask you to pray for Ann that her vocal cords would heal quickly and properly, and that they both will have an amazing final 10 days or so to enjoy time with families and friends. We cannot stress enough what an amazing job they do in Cambodia and we are so excited about the way ahead.  Please pray a refreshing upon them as God prepares to take us all into the next chapter of Elim in Cambodia.