Archive for December, 2012

Christmas in Cambodia

We have had the most amazing week within Elim Cambodia, mixed with missing loved ones so much at Christmas that you could say it has been an emotional rollercoaster.

I have said many times that when we returned to Phnom Penh in February there were only about 15 attending church of which 10 were in the worship group and all were in the leadership team. After months of teaching and with the help of numerous Godly people we reached a point where things started to change. We could sense God moving in people’s lives around us, Chamnap’s preaching went to the next level and he has such a big heart for everyone. Our church has been growing not just in numbers but also in maturity.

We decided to have a proper Christmas service and over a period of three weeks challenged people to invite those whom they love and care for. Most of you are familiar with those appeals by Pastors and many of you are like the me of old, too frightened of what people may think or say. Really it doesn’t matter what people say if they refuse and are rude, at least you tried.  But what if they say yes! Friends we should never block the possibility of God speaking to our loved ones. How awful would it be if they missed the chance to hear simply because we were too scared of what they might say. We need to be Christians with backbones!!

Thankfully in Cambodia people are open and don’t care what people think about them, so after much prayer the invitations went out. The team worked really hard, our program was put together with dancing, drama, worship, the Word, special singers and at the very end a visit from Santa. Everybody practised so hard, a special thank you goes to Dorea, Nita, Mong and our drama team.  We had been working on a drama for Christmas but it just wasn’t ready so we had to the change the programme at the last minute.  Thankfully the older actors used their experience and did the same drama they had performed at Easter. The younger actors will get their turn at the end of January once they have had a little more practise.

The ladies preparing the food

The ladies preparing the food

More chairs delivered

More chairs delivered

The stage arriving

The stage arriving

30 minutes later!

30 minutes later!

When we arrived on Sunday morning I was quite emotional to see over 200 chairs sitting in what would normally be our car park.  A stage was hired and decorated and it looked really impressive.  It was very humbling that God had brought us so far in such a short period of time. Now we just needed the people to come and Praise God they came, over 300! We could never have imagined that we would see that many people and children.

The welcome party

The welcome party

Khmer dancers opened the service

Khmer dancers opened the service

Being led in worship

Being led in worship

David and Chamnap

David and Chamnap

The program went well, with no major setbacks and many people heard about Jesus for the first time. It was an honour and the congregation sat and listened carefully to what was being said.  Please pray for these people that something new will have started in them. Cambodians don’t make spare of the moment decisions they need to weigh up everything but that means when they decide to follow Jesus they do it with every fibre of their being. After I finished speaking Esther, Ryma and Nita sang Silent Night to the church and it was really good.  Then Santa arrived and we were able to give out 79 presents to children, it was simply amazing.  A lunch of chicken curry was made and served by Bong Paula and our ladies group.  There was such a buzz and everybody thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Outdoor church

Outdoor church

Birds eye view

Birds eye view

Lunch cooking

Lunch cooking

Chicken curry lunch

Chicken curry lunch

Thrilled that Pon and her Mum came

Thrilled that Pon and her Mum came

mesmurised by Santa

mesmurized by Santa

Please pray that people will come back this Sunday.  Our usual congregations between 70-80 so we are eagerly waiting to see what happens this week. I want to thank each one of you who prays for us or financially supports us or the work because we are a team and this has been possible by us all doing our part.  We pray a special blessing onto you all for your faithfulness.

Christmas Day was always going to be hard, we love our families so much and like most of you have traditions and we missed that so much. But we took measures to try and help us through the day; we had a short communion service where neither I nor Chamnap broke any kid’s toys!!

A special treat we had as a church was having 2 special friends Julie and Sarah sing “Joy to the world” acapella, it was simply beautiful.  They practiced in the tuk tuk on the way to church! Julie has been our best friend (and younger sister) from when she arrived in Phnom Penh from New Zealand one week after us last year.  We have known Sarah for many years from when she first came to our home church.  She is now working in Bangladesh in a Christian school.

Julie & Sarah singing Joy to the World

Julie & Sarah singing Joy to the World

Friends - old and new

Friends – old and new

After church it was straight home to start preparing for our Christmas dinner.  Our party was made up of 4 from Northern Ireland, 4 from the Isle of Wight, 3 Kiwi, 1 Londoner, 1 Cambodian and finally 1 American. Esther as usual excelled in her decoration of the table and favours (a gift that I believe has been passed on to our wonderful niece Jessica). We had the works melon for starters, traditional Turkey and Ham with all the trimmings and then we found someone to make the desserts; raspberry cheesecake and passion fruit and mango pavlova. The craic was 90 and we were as happy as all could be, everyone had the same feelings about being so far away from family and friends but we thank God for bringing us together and the support we give each other.

The table all set

The table all set

Emma's place

Emma’s place

Selection of desserts

Selection of desserts

Happy to have this one with us for our first Christmas in Cambodia

Happy to have this one with us for our first Christmas in Cambodia

We would like to finish the blog by wishing you all a very Blessed New Year, we pray that as we all move into 2013 that God will reveal His plans for each of our lives. I just want to challenge you as Christians to listen to God’s voice and take risks this year.  Step out of your box and do the unthinkable for Jesus and I assure you the rewards will blow your mind. Friends and family who are unbelievers stop looking for all the answers, you don’t need every i dotted and t crossed; Jesus will take care of that. Jesus laid down his throne for you; He surrendered his crown so that you could be found, what bit of that doesn’t deserve your life. He hung and died on a cross for you, yet that’s not enough and you need to have more! Friends we love you, we care about you and we don’t want to sound harsh but as this year ends and another begins what more does God have to do to prove his love for you? It’s time to simply trust and believe.

Jesus is the reason for the season!

Before we came to Cambodia Christmas was always a busy time for the both of us.  David worked countless hours making desserts that by the time he had eaten his Christmas dinner he would disappear for a much needed snooze.  For me working in the office of our home church Bangor Elim was also busy but in a wonderful way with various departments having Christmas parties and special carol services taking place.  This year we are celebrating our first Christmas in Cambodia and this past week has been extremely busy with preparations and special moments.

On Saturday we held our first open day at the Early Learning Centre with the majority of parents and children in attendance.  The program was organised by Nita, our manager, with David acting as MC and Chamnap as interpreter.  Nita and I gave a brief report on the daily running of the centre thanking the parents and the staff for their dedication and support.  The children sang a couple of songs which they had been practising although stage fright did get the better of some of them.  The audience were then told that a special visitor could be joining us if they sang loud enough, it was great fun to listen to everyone singing ‘Jingle Bells’.  The door opened and Santa waved at all the children as he made his way to his special chair beside the Christmas tree.  One child was not afraid at all and straightaway made his way to the front and climbed on Santa’s knee.  It was amazing to watch the reaction of the children, some screamed and hid, and others were quite happy to meet him.  The one I enjoyed the most was from 8 month old Alen who was mesmerised and not able to take his eyes of Santa’s white beard.  We are thankful to Mercy Teams International who donated shoeboxes filled with gifts for the children and we know they were received with gratefulness.  The families stayed for snacks and refreshments – there were no mince pies or Christmas cake but we did have clementines and watermelon!

The children ready to perform for their parents

The children ready to perform for their parents

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One little boy receiving his gift

Gifts for the boys

Gifts for the boys

I just love this moment of Alun meeting Santa

I just love this moment of Alun meeting Santa

Presents for the girls

Presents for the girls

What a happy little boy

What a happy little boy

Snacks always go down well

Snacks always go down well

On Sunday afternoon we were honoured to spend the afternoon with our friend Lisa who is the Country Director of Ratanak International.  David was teaching the girls who live in the RAP home how to bake Christmas cookies and German biscuits.  Lisa also blogs and you can read all about the fun we had here:  http://ratanakmissions.blogspot.com/2012/12/baking-christmas-cookies.html

We were thrilled to go to the airport on Wednesday to collect two friends who will be spending Christmas with us.  Both girls are called Sarah and have been working as teachers in Bangladesh for the past 4 and a half months.  We have known one Sarah for many years from our home church and when we knew she would be living relatively close to us, we asked her to come to Cambodia for Christmas.  We were over the moon when Sarah M accepted our invitation during a Skype call where we also met Sarah N, who comes from Kent, for the first time.  We love having the girls with us and they are equally enjoying Cambodia.  They cannot get over how quiet Phnom Penh is compared to living in Dhaka, and find the roads and traffic very civilised here!  We are learning about each other’s lifestyles and cultures, similar in some ways but then also vastly different.

First journey in Cambodian tuk tuk

First journey in Cambodian tuk tuk

The Sarah's welcome party at ELC

The Sarah’s welcome party at ELC

Sunday is our special Christmas service, 150 invitations have been given out and we are praying that those who have been asked to come will accept.  Today will be especially busy as the church comes together to put everything in place and hold final rehearsals for everyone who is taking part.  Most of the people who have been invited will hear about Jesus for the very first time on Sunday.  Please pray for everyone who will participate, that everything will go as planned.  David will be bringing a gospel message, talking about the reason we celebrate Christmas, sharing the wonderful news about the Saviour of the world who came as a baby born in a stable in Bethlehem.  Jesus is the reason for the season, and it is our prayer that as you celebrate Christmas with family and friends, giving and receiving gifts, that you think about the greatest gift ever given – Jesus!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Homecoming and Celebrations

 At the start of this blog I would like to give a special mention to my youngest sister Rose who celebrates her birthday today.  Happy Birthday Rose and I hope you have a wonderful day whatever you have planned!

This week we had another two trips to the airport.  First of all on Monday as Paul and Viv’s placement with us had come to an end and they were returning home to Northampton.  Then we were back again on Wednesday to collect Sokhom who had been in the UK carrying out a three month placement with Elim International Missions.  Sokhom is the Assistant Manager and pre-school teacher in our Early Learning Centre and was greatly missed by all of us during her time in England.  Sokhom’s sister Chantee, Nita and Naomi accompanied us to the airport and we waited with anticipation for her arrival.  There were hugs all round when Sokhom came through the arrival gate and we teased her about taking her passport from her so she couldn’t leave us again.

Happy Sokhom is home

Happy Sokhom is home

We drove straight to the centre where the staff did not know Sokhom was returning home, instead they were preparing for a foreign visitor who they thought was coming to see around.  We pulled up outside where I got out of the car letting Sokhom climb into the front seat.  I joined the staff and children who were lined up ready to meet the special guest.  They had even made a ‘welcome’ banner.  When David drove into the centre, the sunroof was open and Sokhom was standing up, waving to all the staff.  Their reaction was of complete surprise and delight, cheering at the sight of their dear friend and work colleague.  It was wonderful to watch as they all hugged Sokhom and welcomed her home.  At this point we want to thank Elim’s Missions Director, Chris Jones, the staff in the mission’s office and everyone who hosted Sokhom during her time in England.  Sokhom has returned to us after having had an experience of a lifetime and has many ideas that she wishes to implement within the Early Learning Centre and the church from what she has learnt during her placement.  At our prayer meeting on Wednesday night Sokhom shared a little about her time in England giving thanks to God for making it possible for her to experience life and culture outside of Cambodia.

Staff and children happy Sokhom is back

Staff and children happy Sokhom is back

Sokhom reunited with her pre-school class

Sokhom reunited with her pre-school class

This week we have had three birthday celebrations – Dorea, one of our worship team celebrated his birthday on Friday, and as he loves coffee as much as me, the natural thing to do was treat him to a coffee.  Nita celebrated her birthday on Monday but because the centre was closed due to ‘Human Rights Day’ we presented her with a cake and present on the Friday before instead. Nita not only is the manager of the Early Learning Centre but a valued friend to each of the staff and they expressed their love and gratitude on her special day.

Happy Birthday Dorea

Happy Birthday Dorea

Happy Birthday Nita

Happy Birthday Nita

Emma celebrated her birthday on Thursday and we surprised her with a party after work.  She did find it strange that the staff didn’t sing to her during the day and they all played along with the plan perfectly.  All the staff gathered at our home where they wrote birthday messages on a party tablecloth and awaited her arrival.  When David and Emma arrived home she was totally gobsmacked when the lights were turned on and everyone sang Happy Birthday to her.  I joked that it was the first time I had witnessed Emma being speechless during her time here! Everyone enjoyed cake and ice cream and it was lovely for Emma to spend the evening with her friends from the centre.

Happy Birthday Emma

Happy Birthday Emma

This week we have enjoyed special events with friends – we attended a beautiful Christmas concert where our friend was in the choir and it was really special to hear the first verse of ‘Silent Night’ being sung in over 10 different languages – the audience joined in whatever was your native language plus any others you knew or wanted to try! Our friend’s children were also taking part in a Christmas ballet recital and we were thrilled to join with them and cheer Sophie, Sam and Tobey on.  Especially at this time of year we miss being with our loved ones so it has been wonderful to spend a few nights with friends doing ‘normal’ stuff – having dinner, playing a Christmas ‘name that tune’ quiz and enjoying treats sent from home which we can’t get here.

Of course, this past week has not all been filled with fun and laughter, there have been emotionally challenging moments also.  We visited Pon and her family on Tuesday and on this occasion I was trying not to show my fear as a rat ran in front of me as we entered the building.  I was praying for courage at the same time as my heart was breaking for the conditions this family and many others are forced to live in.  We chatted with the family, they can speak some English and Rotha our language teacher was with us which was an amazing help.  Pon’s mum has recovered from her accident but is so frail and lacking energy.  She allowed Rotha to pray for her and the family also showed no objection.  We are contacting a local hospital which provides medical care for underprivileged families and will be arranging for Pon’s mum to have some tests carried out to discover if there are any underlying issues.  Please remember this family in your prayers, we have given them invitations to our special Christmas service and are trusting God that they will come and hear about the very first Christmas and the greatest gift ever given to mankind.

Today we are having an Open Day at the centre for the parents whose children attend each week.  The children will be singing, Nita and I will give a brief update over the last number of months and invitations will be given for the families to attend our Christmas service.  Please pray as invitations are given out by the staff and church members to their friends and families that those who receive a card will accept and come along.

Countdown to Christmas

The countdown to Christmas is on and Cambodia has got the bug.  Our church and community are so excited about our Christmas programme starting with a packed out Christmas celebration service on Sunday 23rd December. Even Santa has heard and is going to drop in to bless the children with gifts. On Christmas morning we are going to have a praise communion service and on the 30th we will have an open mic for those who want to share how Jesus has changed their lives in 2012. Finally we are planning an overnight New Year retreat at L’Elephant Blanc, an accommodation that caters for teams and organisations.  At the minute we have 61 people attending and the number is rising.  Only 9 months ago 15 people attended our church and we expect to have around 80 at our New Year party, now that is worth celebrating!!!

 

Over the past 13 weeks we have had Paul and Viv Adams from Northampton Elim church with us.  Paul has been doing a placement in Cambodia. He has preached in church as well as leading the service and the prayer meeting. He also repaired the seven computers which have been not working since we returned to Cambodia in February. Viv has helped in the Early Learning Centre each morning and both of them have helped Esther by taking the English classes. We would like to go on record by officially thanking them for all their help and encouragement during their time here. We know it will be hard for them to leave on Monday and we would ask you to join with us in praying that God reveals the plan he has for their lives as they return home.

 

On Thursday night we had the joy of attending our fourth Khmer wedding. I was praying it would be swift and painless but to my surprise I found myself enjoying it thoroughly. The wedding was Nita’s cousin Ros Sokmony and her groom Lam Reat. Of course we had the usual fun before the wedding only this time it was multiplied by two with Emma here. We had to go and get their dresses, their shoes and their bags. Then they went to Open Arms and had make up applied, nails and hair done. Me, I had a shave and put on my Sunday best, yet it cost me a fortune!

 

We were joined by many of the church family and Early Learning Centre staff, along with several of my footballing buddies. Not surprising we knew a number of people because there was over 600 guests. We got stuck into the Khmer food which was ok but the crack was ninety and that kept our minds off what we were eating. The Bride and Groom, who I have to say, were a really lovely couple eventually took to the dance floor, closely followed by to my surprise by Esther with some of the staff teaching her Khmer dance techniques. I was thankfully busy doing some socialising with Nita’s family although Esther did get me up for one slow dance. Dorea, one of our worship leaders took to the stage and sang.  He received a great response as a large crowd danced Khmer style, well most people did. Viv who was amazing on the dance floor with her energy abounding definitely brought some new moves with her from England.

 

As I finish the blog today please pray for Paul and Viv as they head home to England and also for Sokhom whose time in England is drawing to a close.  Pray she will have safe travel back to us and that her experience will have helped her so much for the future.

Nita proof reading the invitation for our Christmas service

Nita proof reading the invitation for our Christmas service

The print and photocopy shop designed invitations for us

The print and photocopy shop designed invitations for us

With the Bride and Groom

With the Bride and Groom

Bride & Groom with their family

Bride & Groom with their family

Esther and Emma all glammed up

Esther and Emma all glammed up

Chamnap with his beautiful daughter Naomi

Chamnap with his beautiful daughter Naomi

Ready for wedding procession

Ready for wedding procession

Elim group photo

Elim group photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas preparations

At the very start of this blog entry I want to thank everyone for your prayers.  Suffering from a stomach bug and viral infection totally wiped me out but I was well cared for as David took on the role of Florence Nightingale, even though he himself was poorly for a few days.  Thank God we are all in good health again and for that we are grateful.

The city is unusually quiet this week at a time when normally millions of people visit from the provinces to celebrate the Water Festival.  Last month the government cancelled the three day celebration and boat races in honour of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk. They have said it would be inappropriate for millions of people to be celebrating in front of the Royal Palace while the former King’s body is lying in mourning.   People still have the three days off work and going by how quiet it is, many have chosen to spend the time with their families at their provinces.

David, Chamnap and Dana, our church elder, made the most of this holiday and booked an overnight retreat to discuss the day to day activities within the church and spend time praying and planning for the future.  The three of them work well as a team and David values their honesty and respects their cultural input as to what will and what won’t work amongst the Khmer people.

As the Early Learning Centre has been closed for the holiday, Emma has spent a few days in the province of Takeo with one of our staff members.  She is having a great time there and it is good for her to experience what life is like outside of the city.

So as I had two days on my own, it was the perfect time to put up our Christmas tree.  David had surprised us with buying a tree and lights and on Tuesday he took me out to buy decorations.  I did get a little teary at one point and had to pull myself together, when I thought that this will be our first Christmas not spent with family and friends at home.  But we are blessed with incredible friends and Khmer family here and we are looking forward to celebrating our first Christmas in Cambodia.  Do you think its okay to pray for snow?

Christmas for many is a time for joy and happiness. A time when families get together, exchange gifts and enjoy all that is good in the world. But there are many women and  children who are exploited by sexual abuse and this Christmas the Freedom Project is raising money to go directly to these people. To make their Christmas something to remember. If you would like to make a difference visit the  website and give the gift of freedom this Christmas! http://www.elimmissions.co.uk/christmas2012

Our Christmas tree

Christmas bauble from home

Rudolp the red nosed reindeer

Special tree ornament from my Dad a few years ago

Nativity scene from New Zealand