A Better Country

Hello everyone,

Things have been a bit crazy here for the last couple of weeks (hence no blog posts), but here’s a little bit about what’s been going on:

I mentioned the discipleship/vocation program in my last post. Two
students in Angk’jeay, who will hopefully be going to Phnom Penh to study in a few months, are currently taking a gap year from school. Their names are Ouchea and Srey Sros. Right now, the goal for them is to be as well-prepared as possible for the challenges of transitioning from village life to college-in-the-city life. One common obstacle for villagers that prevents a healthy transition is a lack of the ability to use basic computer software.

Thus, for the past couple of weeks I have been helping them continue to learn the ropes of Microsoft Word (they’ve been studying with Sokha for many months now). Needless to say, columns are the bane of my existence, but I would like to personally thank Bill Gates for Ctrl+Z. If you don’t know why that is, try doing one of Ouchea and Srey Sros’s assignments – imitating a US Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization form in Microsoft Word. It was a party. Even in spite of some very hard assignments, Srey Sros and Ouchea learn very quickly and they have been an absolute pleasure to teach.

Luke took a bunch of the students and me to a local mountain on Sunday! Here’s some pictures:

A drunk guy really wanted to have a chat at the store. No, Khmer is not easier to understand when spoken in the midst of inebriation.

 

Yesterday, Samuth, the pastoral intern, and I met for the last time to practice English pronunciation. We’ve been meeting three times a week to go over some basic phrases for teaching and family life in hopes of building confidence in his English skills. He has noticeably improved even in the short time that I’ve been here and I am sure that he will continue to do so. Samuth helps with the classes here at the Smith’s, but he hopes to start a similar ministry in another village sometime in the future.

I have three full days left in Cambodia. In all honesty, that is a wildly foreign thought. Am I really going to take off on a plane, spend 30 hours in travel, and just like that be on the exact opposite side of the world again? Will I actually be going back to life as it is in the US? In many ways, it’s been hard to adjust to life and habits here (and I’m still very far from being “well-adjusted” if such a thing is possible), but now it all has become so normal. I expect to wake up with a beautiful village sunrise, a couple English and guitar classes scheduled for the day, and the faces of my new Cambodian friends. I expect that I’m going to have to ask some fourth graders how to pronounce the Khmer word for “color” for the fifteenth time. I presume that my day will end in basketball, worship, and prayer. The pace of life here markedly contrasts much about American life; there is structured time for rest that virtually doesn’t exist in the US, especially in college. I will certainly miss Cambodia very much.

This is not to say that I don’t miss home. I’m excited to reunite with family and friends (… and certain kinds of food). But nonetheless, I am sad to be uprooted again – to be thrown into another season of changing and adjusting. However, this summer has served as a beautiful reminder of the transience of life. Christians are not called to be comfortable. This world is extremely broken by sin; we are called to live in that brokenness, to hold our own comfort and interests with open hands, and to place our hope in a future when the brokenness will be no more.

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for he has prepared for them a city.” – Hebrews 11:16

I am longing for a better country, for the time when there will be no more adjustment – when the comfort and peace of God replaces all anxiety and uncertainty. I would greatly covet your prayers during this transition, and I thank you for all of your prayers and support thus far. They are very precious to me.

In Christ,

Caleb

Get me to the church on time. I may need a few alarms.

Hey, this is Caleb again, the Summer intern. Here’s my latest blog post!

This view makes early mornings worth it here.

Can you imagine a world in which church starts at 6:30am? Certainly not! Who would speak of such things? Cambodians would. Why, you ask? Cambodia is hot; and after 10am, the list of things that you want to do in a buttoned-down shirt and khakis is composed of exactly nothing. Not everyone has such an early tea time, as it’s only the younger kids who roll up for Sunday School at half ’til seven (on their bikes). Nonetheless, the regular worship service is usually underway by 8:00am and no one is a bit upset about it. I’m not. I promise. Quit looking at me like I’m trying to convince myself. Waking. up. early. is. easy.

Now, let’s talk about Sundays. First up, Sunday School; the only justifiable time for the use of flannelgraphs. Unfortunately, flannel doesn’t hold up great in unyielding humidity and heat, so we have to settle for whiteboards here in Southeast Asia.

Sunday School begins with a decent bit of socializing/playing for the students, which includes some games and activities organized by secondary school students. I often play along, but indiscriminately break most of the rules, because, as is the case with most things in my life, I’m only pretending that I actually understand what’s happening. After game time, everyone grabs a seat and begins to sing songs with some sweet hand motions (I also participate in befuddlement).

Pise, who is studying English in Phnom Penh, teaches Sunday School.

The next part of Sunday School, the Bible lesson, is my favorite, but I have to give a bit of a backstory to explain why that is. Luke and Sokha have been in the village for about five years now, teaching English and Bible classes the entire time. Thus, some of their students have graduated from secondary school. But what do they do afterwards? Well, that is where the discipleship/vocation program comes in. The Smith’s have arranged this program in collaboration with MTW to assist students, who are demonstrably committed to the ministry here and capable of attending college, to pay for their post-secondary education expenses. Students from the ministry then have the chance to attend college in Phnom Penh with hopes of getting jobs that will allow them to support their families, churches, and communities.

Why is this important to Sunday School? As it turns out, almost every weekend one of those students makes the two-hour trip back to Angk’jeay to teach the Bible lesson for the children in Sunday School. It is incredibly impactful to see the care that these college students have for their home village and the students who still live here.

Following the Bible story, older students and adults make their way to the front of the Smith’s home for a time of group worship. The morning is filled with Khmer hymns, liturgical readings, and a sermon, which for the last number of weeks has been given by the church’s Cambodian pastoral intern, Samuth.

Samuth and Kunthea

Samuth became a Christian as a young man in a similar ministry to the one being done here in Angk’jeay. He eventually attended Bible school, where he met his wife Kunthea, and decided to pursue pastoral ministry. The lives of Cambodian pastors are not easy to say the least. It is hardly a position that is respected in the social sphere as 95% of the nation is Buddhist, and congregations rarely have the means to give pastors anything near a reasonable wage. Bear in mind that an average Cambodian household income sits somewhere around $200 a month (substantially less in the villages). If you would like to read more about what MTW is doing to sustainably support pastors like Samuth, please click here.

All that being said, it’s hard to imagine that I only have a bit over three weeks remaining in the village; time feels like it has flown. I can only imagine that the rest of the time will go just as quickly. Please be praying that I use this time diligently and passionately. Once again, thank you so much for your prayers and support; I could not be here without them.

In Christ,

Caleb

Village Sustainability Project

Here is some information written by a former teammate a while back about Eternal Life in Christ Church’s pastoral intern, Samuth, and his wife, Kunthea. They are part of what we call the Village Sustainability Project:
I’d like to share just one more story about a young man named Samuth. Here he is pictured with his wife Kunthea. Like most, he was raised in one of Cambodia’s 14,000 villages, and like 96% of Cambodians, he was raised a folk Buddhist, his worldview dominated by the pursuit of good fortune, a fear of spirits, and ancestor veneration. In fact, when Samuth and Kunthea got married, most of their families did not attend the wedding where their ancestors would not be worshipped, but I’m skipping ahead.
Now one characteristic of Cambodia that is still as true now as it was nine years ago when this story begins, is that if you can speak English, your life can be radically different. There is just a world of opportunities that becomes available for you. And so in the second semester of tenth grade, Samuth began to study English with a missionary who had moved relatively nearby. I say “nearby” because not many missionaries come to live in the village; but I say “relatively” because it was still an hour away by bicycle. And so in order to study English, Monday through Friday, he began to stay at the nearby Buddhist temple during the week.
The following year, in some way perhaps foreshadowing what was to come, he left the Buddhist wat and moved into the student center the missionary had organized. And it was now English on weekdays, Bible study on weekends. He grew in his understanding of the gospel and grace, and the next year, he was baptized into the faith.
So if I may now skip ahead several years, Samuth has now completed Bible school and is currently serving under the mentorship of MTW missionaries Luke and Sokha Smith at Angk’jeay church plant, where some 30-35 of our brothers and sisters gather for worship every Sunday; and where they have baptized twenty-eight students over the past three years.
Every Sunday, Samuth now preaches or presides over worship in rotation with Luke. On Monday afternoons, he visits and reviews the sermon with two elderly adult church members and again to kick-off an evening outreach class. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, he now teaches English to about fifty grade school students; they’ve come to learn English just as Samuth had nine years ago. And once the English lesson is complete, he teaches from Scripture.
Once monthly, he travels to Phnom Penh to attend Presbytery meetings as well as review sessions to prepare for his upcoming ordination exam. And he hopes one day to plant a church in another village, perhaps one of the 12,000 villages in Cambodia that is still without a local, worshipping community of faith. It has been a privilege to see him grow in his faith and in the exercise of his ministry gifts, all through personal tragedies and trials that have faced both Kunthea and him.
Well, one of the most vexing questions we and others around the world face, is: “How we can more wisely and thoughtfully steward those resources God has given us to give?” And in particular, in contexts of extreme poverty, how can we do this in a manner that does not breed dependence, but rather promotes the long-term health of the local church?
Last spring, we were awarded an Ambassadors grant for a Village
Sustainability Project, which provided Samuth seed money to purchase cows. The income he generates raising cattle would provide for his family, while honoring both his past experience, and his local context, where he is eminently more relatable raising cattle – as others in his village are apt to do – than solely ministering while receiving foreign funds.
Through this grant, Samuth has a way to pursue his call to pastoral ministry and provide for his family, in a way that a community of young students and subsistence rice farmers never could. Because of the support of donors, we have the ability to implement a creative, contextually-appropriate solution to that vexing and urgent question: this has been a way to share our resources, generously and sacrificially, in a manner that dignifies rather than patronizes; that fosters healthy interdependence, rather than perpetual dependence.
We are still in year one of this project and it will be another year before the first calves will be sold, but Samuth is thrilled about its prospects and sincerely grateful for this partnership.

English… anyone, anyone?

Hey, this is Caleb, the Smith’s MTW intern for this Summer.

English classes; where open-ended questions make eye contact with the teacher just about as avoidable as the bubonic plague. Some of you may be wondering, what exactly is the point of missionaries teaching English? There are an immense number of answers, but let me try to put it simply: Learning English in Cambodia is like getting a good business degree in the US. It allows students to pursue further study in college, get good jobs, and support their families. Furthermore, most jobs in Cambodia require seven days of work weekly. On the contrary, jobs received after English or college training often only require five or six, allowing educated workers to invest their free time in serving their local communities and their churches.

Recognizing these benefits, many students, both Christians and Buddhists (the state religion here), are drawn to come and learn English at the Smith’s house from week to week. By means of English education, many in Angk’jeay have become friends of the Smith’s, are prepared for better futures, and have been exposed to and put their faith in Jesus Christ.

For those of you who haven’t had the chance to teach English as a second language yet, let me paint you a picture: Imagine playing UNO. Now forget that, because it’s is nothing like playing UNO. Teaching English is an attempt to reconcile the differences in pronunciation and cultural connotation that languages have adopted throughout centuries for the sake of attaining common linguistic understanding. Many phrases that are completely casual in one culture may be nonexistent in another. And even more frustratingly, there are sounds that are common to some languages that are completely foreign to others. For example, a couple days ago, I spent a decent amount of time working with students to pronounce the word “year” since the “ee” sound is essentially never used in Khmer. Oppositely, Khmer often uses the “sr” sound with a rolled “r,” which never occurs in English. On the bright side, students have gotten some good laughs out of me trying to pronounce their names.

In spite of some difficulty, the classes have been so much fun to teach here. As the son of a math teacher, I’ve grew up getting to see many people experience this whole “learning” thing, and I’m a fan of it. One of my favorite things about teaching, specifically in the public school, is that I’ve been able to try out some of the Khmer phrases I’ve learned. My use of those phrases is similar to Ron Weasley casting spells in The Sorcerer’s Stone. They almost never have the effect I anticipate (blank stares tend to be popular), but when they actually communicate what’s intended, it’s magic.

To discuss an experience teaching in the public school, I would like to draw your attention to the picture on the left, which is simply a cropped version of the picture above. Circled in red is a ledge that leads up to the chalkboard. Though proposed to be helpful for student sight and reaching high places on the board, there is a simple downfall of this mechanism (or at least in my use of it). Tuesday morning, I was teaching the numbers from one through ten and had them written on the board. I was randomly pointing at different numbers and the students would respond with the name of the number. Much like The Count from Sesame Street, I think numbers are pretty hype, so I was getting into it. As I swung back from the right side of the board to point at the “1” on the left side, I misplaced my back foot, slipped off the platform and nearly bit the dust about five feet from the classroom door. After regaining my balance (and whatever was left of my dignity) I took a bow, as the students enjoyed a great deal of laughter at my expense. I’m thankful for that moment. Even while being the subject of their amusement, I got to experience the sweet way in which laughter can completely transcend language.

Our hope is that my time teaching at the public school will create an even better relationship between the Smith’s ministry and the public school here. Perhaps some students will consider joining in the classes at the house. I will talk more about the language classes that go on at the Smith’s home in future posts, but this is all I had time for today. Thank you so much for your thoughts, prayers, and support.

In Christ,

Caleb

Toto, we’re not in Phnom Penh anymore

Hello, my name is Caleb Robey, and I am serving as Luke and Sokha’s intern for this Summer. I will be posting my blog updates here!
After about four days of getting oriented to Khmer culture and language in Phnom Penh, I finally arrived with Luke Smith in Angk’jeay Village last Friday! Being in the village comes with a few challenges (e.g. there are substantially fewer English speakers here than in the city), but the perks of the village are plentiful:
  • The people are kind, generous, and always up for a good laugh.
  • It’s incredibly beautiful.
  • There’s none of this…

  • or this…

As soon as we arrived in the village, I had the chance to observe one of the main ministries being done through Luke and Sokha; English classes. By 11:00AM, students had begun to pour onto the grounds around the Smith’s home to hang out with each other and prepare for the noon English lessons. Three days a week, the Smith’s (along with the help of Samuth, the pastoral intern) use the recess hours of public school to host English classes for beginners, intermediate, and advanced speakers. For the next seven weeks, I will be assisting with the teaching of these classes.

As Saturday morning came, we had the chance to talk with the public school principal in hopes that I would be able to do some english instruction there during my stay in the village. Fortunately, he seemed to like the idea… or Luke threatened him; frankly, I didn’t really understand the conversation since it was in Khmer.* Either way, on Tuesdays and Saturdays (yeah, they have school on Saturdays here… so quit complaining) I will be teaching 4th, 5th, and 6th grade english classes.

After our conversation with the principal, it was almost time to start guitar classes. Another large part of the Smith’s ministry to the village is teaching guitar classes to members of the church. Since Sokha is still in recovery with baby Asa, I will be teaching all of these classes (with plenty of pro-tips from her). Similar to the english classes, they are tiered into three groups based on skill level, and we are hoping to make them bi-weekly for my time here.

To my great pleasure, Saturday ended as most other days end here; playing sports. The students in the village love sports. They play soccer, basketball, and some others, but most of all, they enjoy volleyball. Not what you were expecting? To be perfectly honest, I was a bit surprised as well, especially when I was getting humiliated by students who are substantially smaller than me. You know what they say; it’s all fun and games until you’re getting spiked on by someone who’s six inches shorter than you.

Sunday was a huge encouragement as students that I had met earlier (along with some adults) came to church to teach Sunday School, play music, and participate in worship. Many of them live in homes that do not believe in Jesus Christ, but nonetheless they are committed to the church and its work here in Cambodia.

Already through all of these things, it has been such a privilege to interact with these young men and women. There is still much more to tell you about, but I’ll have to leave it there for now. Please be praying for the gospel to be even more clearly seen and heard in Angk’jeay.

In Christ,

Caleb

*For the record, Luke just confirmed with me that he did not, in fact, threaten the principal of the local public school.

Hello from the other side… of the world.

Hey, this is Caleb, the Smith’s MTW intern for this Summer.

For half of every year, the Country of Cambodia is exactly twelve hours ahead of eastern time (eleven hours ahead during EDT), which means that I am about as close to being on the other side of the globe from home as possible. Weird thought. Anyways, here’s some interesting stuff that’s been happening!

The four connecting flights were a good time. If you’re remotely curious, please read my Open Thank-You Letter to Qatar Airways for some thoughts. It was too much to write in one post.

Pre-Field Training!

PFT is a brief conference at Georgia State University where many of Mission to the World’s Summer interns meet to discuss a variety of topics related to our work for the Summer. Though I was aware of some things I will be experiencing in Cambodian culture, I hadn’t even considered many of the moving pieces regarding immersion in such a radically different country. Our time was spent discussing a plurality of topics including culture shock, adaptation, conflict resolution, child protection, how to ask the right questions, and much more.

What is that culture shock thing and how does it work, you ask? Frankly, I would be lying if I pretended to remotely know the answer before I’ve even spent a week in Cambodia, but I can tell you this: While in Hamad International Airport in Qatar, I experienced the desire to listen to country music. Like to actively seek out country music… and listen to it. If you don’t want that to happen to you, I can’t say that I would suggest traveling alone to the other side of the globe.

Undoubtedly, the best part of PFT was the chance to meet a lot of really amazing people going to places all over the world to do similar work for MTW and the gospel. Just from my group, there were people going to Japan, Canada, Belize, Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Cherokee Nation. It was so exciting to meet so many people who are passionate about God’s work all around the world.

What’s up now?

Luke and Sokha Smith’s baby was born! They’re baby boy, Asa, was born yesterday in the afternoon about an hour before I arrived. Please be praying for Sokha’s recovery and the transition back to the village.

 

 

Chum Mey, one of the few survivors of S-21 prison.

Personally, this week is a crash course in Cambodian (Khmer) language and culture before I get to go to the village with the Smith’s. This morning, I was given a short lesson by a Cambodian team member on the do’s and don’ts of general interactions. I also had the opportunity to visit S-21, a prison used to by the Khmer Rouge to carry out genocide in the late 1970’s (the Khmer Rouge caused the deaths of over one quarter of Cambodia’s people during its reign; visit http://www.cambodiatribunal.org/history/cambodian-history/khmer-rouge-history/ if you would like to find out more).

 

Me and my Khmer tutor, Nara

This afternoon, I also had one of the three Khmer tutoring sessions that last two hours each. I never realized how consistently I zone out during my classes until today. With tutoring, you markedly do not get that luxury. I imagine language tutoring is kind of like being interrogated by a foreign customs officer, except they’re not suspicious of you, but they are deeply concerned about the way you keep on using your throat to pronounce the “dteh” sound. Shout-out to Nara for an unbelievable amount of patience.

Lastly, tonight I had the chance to grab dinner with almost the entire MTW Cambodia team. They are pursuing the Lord in an incredibly inspirational way and are so passionate about learning from and giving back to the people of Cambodia. Joyfully, they are welcoming me with open arms, taking me into their homes, supporting me, and are laughing along side me as I make a fool of myself here.

Thank you all for your prayers and support,

Caleb

What and Why?

Hello, my name is Caleb Robey, and I am serving as Luke and Sokha’s intern for this Summer. I will be posting my blog updates here!

“Something went seriously wrong during your upbringing.” – my grandmother to me in regards to the tendency that my sister and I have to travel to “obscure” (her words) places in the world. She’s probably right. We are kind of strange. I talk while I sleep, secretly listen to T-Swift more frequently than I’d like to admit, and am not particularly fond of Netflix. For the sake of my life, I’ll go ahead and not give examples for Keelyn. But, in defense of my childhood, I’d like to talk about what I will be doing in Cambodia for the next seven or so weeks and why I am doing it.

What am I doing?

Good question. This morning, I am leaving for Atlanta, Georgia where I will be spending three days with a team of interns who are all traveling to various places in the world with an organization called Mission to the World. For me, the final destination is Angk’jeay, Cambodia (don’t try googling it; you’ll break Google). I will be spending eight weeks there. At this point, my responsibilities during my time in Angk’jeay could include a variety of things. Going overseas on a mission trip, I’ve been told that the best expectation to have is that your expectations are probably wrong. I like that. I do however know that I will be teaching English and guitar classes (possibly computer lessons and Bible studies as well) and generally be helping the church in the village any way that I am able.

More than all of that, however; I will have the chance to meet the people who live in Angk’jeay and spend time with them. A large portion of those people will be elementary through high school students, some of whom I’ve already talked to a bit on Facebook (shout-out to Veasna and/or Sophea if you’re reading this). This is the part about which I am most excited. I’ve never had the chance to be outside of the US for more than eight or nine days, and I certainly have never had the opportunity to develop sincere friendships with people who live in other countries. Thus, I am well aware that I have an amazing opportunity in this trip and am unbelievably stoked.

Why am I doing it?

If you have asked me this question in person, I have likely enumerated one of a hundred different reasons for why this trip is such an amazing opportunity. I promise that I wasn’t lying, but I seldom have answered with the most fundamental and the most accurate reason.

Namely, the reason is this: I believe that Jesus Christ was truly the son of God, that he was crucified on a cross, and that he rose from the dead to pay for the sins of anyone who would believe in him. I believe that he created a church, full of imperfect people, to continue his ministry in this world. I believe that this church is responsible to act just like Jesus did. It should help the oppressed, the afflicted, and the marginalized. It should gracious tell “all nations” (Matthew 28:19) about both the free salvation from sin and indomitable joy that come through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. And this church is neither American nor white nor black nor brown nor any one demographic, gender, or nationality. This church is universal.

That is why I am going to Cambodia. I desire to see, experience, and even assist in the work that Jesus Christ is doing in one of many nations that is not my own. In a place where Christianity is obscure and sometimes even ostracized, the church is growing rapidly in Cambodia. I am incredibly passionate about what God is doing there, and I hope that you’ll join in this with me.