Archive for February, 2013

Heading home too…

The title of this blog may be slightly deceiving, yes we are heading back to the beautiful Northern Ireland and we are so excited about reunions with family and friends but we would say that in the last year Cambodia has become home to us both. We have friends here who are like brothers and sisters to us and we would ask you to pray especially for Chamnap as he Pastors the church and Nita as she manages the Early Learning centre. We are so thankful for their amazing giftings and willing hearts to do God’s work and we will miss them all.

Nita and Chamnap

Nita and Chamnap

Over the past 13 months we have been kept extremely busy, when we returned last February we were asked to work at helping the church find its way and consolidate the Early learning centre. It meant that both of us came into roles that we were not necessarily experienced in and in our humanness would be expected to fail in, but thankfully our enabler was able to take the unqualified and make something happen. I believe this is when we always see God’s magnificence the most when we see things happen through those that are incapable because God is in no doubt undertaking.

We have been so blessed not because of who came to help at times over the past year but because of the quality of Khmer people that God has blessed us with in Elim Cambodia. For those that did come you know how much we appreciate you and how God was able to use you! But we give constant thanks to the leadership team within the church. Chamnap is maturing into a spirit filled Pastor with an amazing heart for his whole congregation. We have a strong Christian elder called Dana who brings maturity and wisdom, his wife Ryma is our wonderful worship team leader. Bong Paula oversees our ladies ministry and she does this with a full heart. Sarak and Sokhom lead the youth which is running weekly and growing in numbers. Nita heads up the Early Learning Centre, she is the most amazing boss and we never need to worry as she is always two steps ahead. Nita also runs the Sunday school and has this ability to encourage people to help out. Thank you God for blessing us with a strong Khmer leadership team, God has always got all the bases covered, and we have learned not to worry because as long as God knows we are alright, and that my friends should be reassuring to us all.

Nita, Chamnap with daughters Sarah and Naomi

Nita & Chamnap with daughters Sarah and Naomi

Phnom Penh Elim has about 80-90 regular worshippers each week and we thank God for the continuous growth. On top of that we have approximately 50 children and 16 staff in our Early Learning Centre, some of who have and are being helped to rebuild their lives. So as we head back to the UK we feel that through God’s hand and the Khmer people in our team that we have done what we set out to do and now we are excited about what the next chapter brings. We will be sharing in more depth what that means when we are in the UK, we would encourage you to try and come and here what God has laid on our hearts and His vision for Cambodia if you can. At the bottom of the blog Esther will put our itinerary for our time in the UK so you can plan to attend a venue if possible.

From a more selfish point of view we can’t wait to see our families whom we miss so much. We also are excited about potato bread, Chinese take away, Little Wing pizzeria, Maud’s Pooh Bear ice cream and of course we can’t forget about Piccolo’s. I’m looking forward to playing football and going to watch Bangor FC with my mates where the craics 90 and Esther can’t wait to shop and drink lots of coffee with her chums!

Over the last year we have had many visitors, too many to mention but you know who you are and we are going to see most of you when we are home or in the mainland. But it would be wrong of me not to say a massive thank you to Emma McKee who has lived with us for the last seven and a half months. She has worked in the ELC and helped in our various church and outreach ministries but also she has just been wee Emma and really like an adopted daughter to us both. We will miss her being here when we return in May but she knows she will always have a special place in our hearts.

With our adopted daughter Emma

With our adopted daughter Emma

A surprise farewell party was held yesterday for two staff members: Srey Phos whose first baby will be born next month was beginning maternity leave and Emma on the completion of her placement.  With any farewell there was tears, presents and of course, cake!  Please remember both young ladies in your prayers as they both begin a new chapter in their lives.

Our amazing staff

Our amazing staff

Celebration cakes

Celebration cakes

Finally we must say a massive happy birthday to firstly our niece Alex who was 17 yesterday! I can’t believe my brother has a 17 year old daughter, how old is he! Secondly our nephew Andrew whose birthday is on Sunday and is turning 13. When we left last February we knew him as wee Andrew but in the past year he has sprouted up and he is going to tower over Esther and possibly me. Thirdly Happy Birthday to our sister-in-law Helga whose special day is also on Sunday, we have no doubt Jonny and the kids will spoil you. Finally a very Happy 40th Birthday to Esther’s sister Deborah, enjoy all the celebrations and we look forward to seeing the fabulous cake you will have baked! We love you all and pray God will bless you with health and strength in the year ahead.

Well that’s us back to the packing and hoping to see you all very soon.  Due to travelling there will be no blog next week but we will give an update as soon as we can.

Itinerary

Sunday 3rd March         am     Stafford Elim

Sunday 10th March       am     Dewsberry Elim

Sunday 10th March       pm     Bradford Elim

Sunday 17th March       am     Bangor Elim

Tuesday 19th March      pm     Antrim Elim

Sunday 24th March       am      Navan Elim

Sunday 24th March       pm     Dromore Elim

1st – 5th April     Elim Bible Week

Monday 8th April          pm      Beersbridge Road Elim

Sunday 14th April         am      Lurgan Elim

Sunday 14th April         pm     Rathriland Elim

Heading home

Before I came to Cambodia I thought I knew what I was going to. David and Esther are like family to me and from speaking to them so often and being part of Bangor Elim’s missions team I was confident that I knew what to expect. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Cambodia is a country where everyone smiles, each day as I go into the centre I’m greeted by the playful smiles of children, and then the smiles of friendship from the girls I work with. On Sundays when we come to church I am greeted by the encouraging smiles of those who want to see the people of their church grow in numbers and in a deeper relationship with God. When we go out for dinner to different restaurants were David and Esther have built friendships with the staff we are greeted by the glad smiles of those who are grateful to have customers that really appreciate them, and then the thankful smile of a parking attendant when you give him a tip. There is also the laughing smiles of people as they drive past you on their motos, welcoming smiles when you go to visit friends at their homes and finally the gentle smiles of the older ladies in the province which warms my heart every time.  Behind these smiles there is pain and suffering like nothing we could ever imagine.  Discovering this about the Cambodian people has challenged me like nothing ever has before. The thing is these smiles are genuine; in the middle of their suffering these people appreciate the smallest things.

Art time in the Early Learning Centre

Art time in the Early Learning Centre

With ELC staff and children

With ELC staff and children

As I spend most of my time here working with the children in the Early Learning Centre I see a lot of smiling children, some tears as well but all children cry. What I love most about the centre is the opportunity it gives, thanks to David and Esther and the amazing Khmer staff. So many children in Cambodia never have the opportunity to just be children, to laugh to play and to smile. They work long hours with their parents collecting items for recycling, selling on the streets late at night, some help on construction sights and others take up the role as a parent from as young as four looking after and preparing food for their younger siblings. So to be able to be part of giving the children at the centre the opportunity to just be children is such a privilege, and I thank God for each one of the smiling faces. The centre is also a brilliant opportunity for each of the staff, as they are given a safe place to work with a secure income which prevents their families from pressuring them to work in beer gardens. Getting to know each one of these girls has been one of my highlights in Cambodia each one is like a sister to me we laugh together, cry together and smile together.

With children in Ou Dong community

With children in Ou Dong community

Another highlight of my time here has been the Christmas service. The whole day was a great event and everyone had so much fun playing games and eating together while also being told about God’s love for them in various differences ways. One thing happened around the time of this event that I would like to share. The Wednesday evening before we had our church prayer meeting, David had asked us to go around the room and name the people we had invited so we could all remember them in prayer. As we went round the circle the faces that smile at me each Sunday were smiling again as they said the names of their friends and family in anticipation and faith that God would speak into these hearts and they would accept him. This night was so powerful and got me so excited for what was to come that weekend. In Matthew 21v22 Jesus says “You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” And our God never fails, that night we all prayed in faith and over 300 people came to the Christmas service. The people in the Khmer church struggle as a lot of their families are Buddhist and make it difficult for them to live a Christian life, but they all have faith and so do I that they will smile someday as their families walk into church with them to worship our God.

With one of the children at church

With one of the children at church

I have many more highlights of my time here like the amazing people I have met, learning how different life is outside the city in the provinces and being part of a Khmer wedding. All of these have challenged me, but the challenge that always follows me is every time I see a smile. I know I do not smile as much as these people yet I want for nothing, they smile in their times of need. Please think of them in their situations. David and Esther and the Elim team do an outstanding work here but there is still a lot of people that need reached. Please pray that God will bring opportunity, support and wisdom as the team develop and grow in their ministry. I would like to thank Bangor Elim and Elim International Missions for allowing me to have this opportunity and of course David and Esther for having me and showing me the best ways to make the most of this experience. Going home will not stop me from being a part of what God is doing in Cambodia, please join us and be part of the reason these people smile 🙂

Wedding ceremony

Wedding ceremony

Fun photoshoot

Fun photoshoot

Being Khmer but only for a fun photograph

Being Khmer but only for a fun photograph

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Surprise, Surprise

Our week began with another trip to the airport but this time only a few people knew who our visitors to Cambodia were. Our very special friends Phil and Ruth had been secretly planning their visit for the last four months primarily to surprise their daughter Emma who has been on placement here since July 2012. Ruth is not only our friend but also the Mission’s Secretary in our home church and is currently busy with organising fundraising events as well as preparing to lead a team to Cambodia in August of this year. We were overjoyed that both Phil and Ruth would be able to see what Emma had been involved with during her time in Phnom Penh and also see first hand the work of Elim Missions and have a clearer picture of what the team can do when they are here.

We had told Emma to stay in bed on Saturday morning as she had been feeling poorly the night before, she thought we were going to a meeting and knew we would be home mid-morning. As we waited at the arrival gate David warned me to behave myself, my reply was that I couldn’t promise anything as I hadn’t seen my friend for a year and I was extremely excited! When Phil and Ruth eventually came through the doors walking down the corridor towards us I was so happy to see their faces, I couldn’t believe they were actually here.

Their comment as we left the airport grounds was ‘it’s like another world’, no amount of photographs or videos can prepare you for life on the roads in Cambodia. Phil and Ruth just stared out the window taking in motorbikes transporting several people at a time as well as carrying any objects, traffic weaving in and out with vehicles often driving on the wrong side of the road, crazy construction etc. I loved watching their expressions and hearing them gasp or laugh depending on what they saw.

A truck load of bicycles

A truck load of bicycles

Bunch of bananas anyone?

Bunch of bananas anyone?

Only in Cambodia!

Only in Cambodia!

Once we arrived at our home David went inside first to check the coast was clear and with Emma not in sight we tiptoed inside. Ruth sat on the sofa while Phil and I stood where we would be able to film Emma’s reaction when she came into the living area. David knocked Emma’s door asking her to come out for breakfast, the next two minutes were the longest in our lives as we waited for her to join us. The surprise paid off with Emma’s reaction a combination of shock, joy, unbelief, tears and laughter. We then discussed how long her parents had been planning this and therefore how long we had to keep quiet about the surprise even though we had a few close calls and almost let the cat out of the bag on more than one occasion.

Happy to be reunited

Happy to be reunited

Smiles all round

Smiles all round

First ride in the tuk tuk

First ride in the tuk tuk

Happy to be together

Happy to be together

We have had a packed week with Phil and Ruth wanting to shadow David, Emma and myself in our roles here and wanting to help out and be kept busy in any way they could. They have seen very quickly how blessed we are with the Khmer people we do life with and want to bring several of them back to Northern Ireland with them! I will also need to check Ruth’s suitcase as she has fallen in love with Khmer children and adores everyone who attends our Early Learning Centre. Ruth co-ordinates the child sponsorship scheme within our church so it was wonderful for her to meet the children who are being supported by individuals back home, and see for herself how happy and well cared for they are.

Welcomed at the Early Learning Centre

Welcomed at the Early Learning Centre

Storytime with the pre school children

Storytime with the pre school children

Ruth feeding one of the babies

Ruth feeding one of the babies

Phil was in his element when we showed him the engineering section of the Russian market, he could probably have spent the full week browsing through it but there was work to be done. On Tuesday morning Nita showed Phil a list of jobs needing seen to and along with his apprentice Rith, our newly employed handyman, they completed all their tasks during the week.

Happy guy

Happy guy

Phil and his apprentice Rith

Phil and his apprentice Rith

Ruth and I had the humbling experience of visiting a family whom we have just begun to support by supplying formula milk to a new born baby who is being raised by her auntie. Nita accompanied us and helped care for the baby as we visited with the auntie and grandmother.  We were made to feel so welcome and the family were extremely grateful for the help they are receiving.

For the past few months David has been using his baking skills teaching the staff of a Christian café how to make desserts and this week Ruth and I spent time in the kitchen showing the cooks how to prepare a couple of dishes as main courses.  This was much to the amusement of Phil, Emma and friends at home who are not familiar with Ruth doing a lot of cooking.  Her speciality is strawberry cheesecake and David and I are looking forward to having a slice when we are home in March! Ruth and I enjoyed our time in the kitchen, the staff were so amazing to work with and once the recipe was explained they knew exactly how to follow it.  We are looking forward to sampling the dishes when they go on the new menu in a few weeks.

Proof that Ruth was cooking in Cambodia

Proof that Ruth was cooking in Cambodia

During the week Phil and Ruth sat in on the English classes and were impressed with the students’ abilities and Phil accompanied David to football coaching and matches that take place.  The temperature has risen in the last week with even the Khmer finding it difficult to cope with, so playing football is definitely a challenge but one that Phil and David enjoyed together.

Ready for football

Ready for football

Likewise it has been lovely to do things with Ruth that I would have done prior to coming to Cambodia.  We regularly would have met for a coffee and a chat, and to be able to do this in Cambodia has been pretty special.  We are so thankful to Ruth and Phil for making this past week possible, it is one we will cherish forever.  They have seen for themselves why we love Cambodia and its people.  Please pray for the both of them as they travel back to Northern Ireland on Sunday where they will share stories from their time here.  Pray also for the team coming from Bangor Elim as preparations with fundraising are underway and organising the itinerary that they will know God’s wisdom and direction as to how they will impact the people of Cambodia.

Enjoying a cupcake together

Enjoying a cupcake together

Another highlight this week was receiving a parcel in the post from the Factory Kids, the children who attend Sunday school in Bangor Elim.  There were 64 Christmas cards designed by the children and we were extremely touched as we read them and looked at their beautiful drawings.  Thank you to the Factory leaders and helpers for organising this, it made our day!

Thank you Factory children!

Thank you Factory children!

Wedding and Cupcakes

At the start of this week’s blog we want to thank Sue Nicholls for the love she demonstrated to every Khmer person she met in the last three weeks.  She has been such a blessing to all of us and we have no doubt that this will not be the only trip she makes to Cambodia.  We agree with what Sue wrote in the blog last week that although we only met each other through the Lifelink trip we feel like we have been friends forever.

Friends for life

Friends for life

We were delighted that Sue was able to experience her first Khmer wedding during her extended visit and she actually ended up being our photographer as David, Emma and I were involved in the ceremonies.  The bride, Srey Mao is a member of staff at the Early Learning Centre and Emma was thrilled when she was asked to be bridesmaid.  Over the last few months Emma has been a great help to Srey Mao not only with all the preparations but with comforting her following the sudden loss of her father.  A few weeks before the wedding David and I were asked to support Srey Mao’s mother in the role of parents as it wouldn’t be easy for her to get through this first family occasion on her own.  We were humbled to be asked and it was an honour for us to help a family who mean so much to us.

The wedding was in Takeo province which takes about one hour  to travel by car but as the ceremonies would start early on Saturday morning we were able to spend the night before in the guest house attached to the church which the family attend.  When we arrived on Friday evening preparations were well underway with the marquee set up at Srey Mao’s family home and everyone working like beavers.  A meal was prepared and then David and I sat with the Pastor to discover what was expected of us during the wedding day which would involve a mixture of Khmer and Christian ceremonies.  A brief service followed for family and friends with the Pastor bringing a short message to the Bride and Groom on the subject of loving one another.  It was then back to work and I enjoyed helping the ladies prepare the trays of fruit which would be used for the procession in the morning.  Give me double sided tape and ribbon and I am very happy!

Gifts of fruit all prepared

Gifts of fruit all prepared

Over the past two years we have been guests at many Khmer weddings but I have never known how much work goes on behind the scenes to make it possible or how much time it takes to get the bride and bridal party ready for the big event.  Srey Mao will not mind me sharing this story with you from the morning of the wedding:

At 4am we received a phone call from Srey Mao to say the hairdresser and beautician were waiting for Sarah (Nita’s daughter) and me to get ready for the wedding.  So in haste we made our way to the house where the upstairs room was a hive of industry with sleepy faces getting made up and hair being styled while it was pitch dark outside.  I told Srey Mao that I hope she appreciated that I was up earlier for her wedding than I was for my own, to which she and the other ladies just laughed!  Traditions are different the world over, at one point I tried to stop the groom coming into the room but then stepped aside as he was getting ready alongside his bride!

bride and groom getting ready

bride and groom getting ready

The first ceremony commenced at 7:30 am with the groom and his family leading the procession of guests bearing fruit and other gifts to the bride’s house.  David and I stood alongside Srey Mao’s mother to greet the groom and his parents as they officially presented two boxes containing the agreed dowry for the bride which David and the bride’s mother accepted.  We then sat on the carpet while the fruit was presented to the Bride’s family with us tasting some of it to ensure it was good quality (it passed the test). While this took place most of the guests enjoyed breakfast and then it was time for the Bridal party to change into the second outfit of the day.

Groom and his family leading procession

Groom and his family leading procession

Family and friends bearing gifts

Family and friends bearing gifts

Greeting groom's family and receiving dowry

Greeting groom’s family and receiving dowry

The bridal party

The bridal party

Other Khmer rituals included the hair cutting ceremony, to prepare the bride and groom for their life as a married couple, their hair is symbolically cut, representing a fresh start to their new relationship together as husband and wife.  Along with the groom’s parents, bride’s mother and close relatives we took turns symbolically cutting the bride and groom’s hair.  This was performed in pairs with one person pretending to cut the hair whilst the other person sprayed perfume to symbolise cleansing.  Lunch was served allowing time for another outfit change before the Christian wedding ceremony.  Emma joined us briefly at lunch time where she had a few mouthfuls of rice before donning the third outfit of the day!

Hair cutting and cleansing ceremony

Hair cutting and cleansing ceremony

Bridal party greeting the guests

Bridal party greeting the guests

Srey Mao and Chantha

Srey Mao and Chantha

Srey Mao and Emma

Srey Mao and Emma

Formal photograph with the bride and groom

Formal photograph with the bride and groom

This was the most emotional part of the day for both David and me as it was his duty to escort Srey Mao down the aisle for the official ceremony.  I stood linking arms with Srey Mao’s mother as she was trying to be strong too.  I was so proud of David as he recited the lines giving permission for Srey Mao to marry with Chantha.  This was a very special moment that the both of us will treasure and hold dear in our hearts.  After the giving and receiving of rings, the bride and groom washed each other’s feet as an act of being in a relationship not only loving each other but to serve  one another.   Then they paid honour to their parents and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the marquee as they thanked them and then washed their feet, it was so humbling to watch.

Proud moment for David

Proud moment for David

Srey Mao washing her mother's feet

Srey Mao washing her mother’s feet

By 1pm the first part of the wedding was complete, while the bridal party went to a location for photographs the rest of the guests were able to rest before returning for the evening reception.  The evening was more relaxed with everyone able to enjoy the meal except for the bride, groom and attendants who greeted each of the guests as they arrived.  In the evening there were a few more wardrobe changes, in total the bride wore 6 outfits with the bridesmaids and groomsmen wearing four.  The finale of the night was the bride and groom’s procession round the cake (table of fruit) before being sprayed with silly foam and snow! The bouquets were then thrown which caused excitement amongst the guests trying to catch them!

Elim staff all dressed up for the evening

Elim staff and church family all dressed up for the evening

Srey Mao and Chantha totally enjoyed their wedding day and we want to take this opportunity to wish them every happiness as they commence life as husband and wife.  We are immensely thankful to Srey Mao’s mother and family for allowing us the wonderful privilege of taking part on her special day, they will never know how much it meant to us.

Finally I just want to share a few photographs of the staff enjoying a farewell treat from Sue which they enjoyed on Thursday – Bloom Café makes the most amazing cupcakes in the world and I wish I had videoed the staff’s reaction when the box was open and they were encouraged to choose a cupcake and enjoy!

Bloom cupcakes

Bloom cupcakes

Excitedly choosing a cupcake

Excitedly choosing a cupcake

A quick photograph before the cupcakes are enjoyed

A quick photograph before the cupcakes are enjoyed

Sokun thought her cupcake was too beautiful to eat and took home to enjoy later

Sokun thought her cupcake was too beautiful to eat and took home to enjoy later