Another New Year and Language Study

Greetings from Cambodia,

The Cambodian New Year started yesterday. It is a three day celebration where most people return to their hometowns to celebrate with their families. The first day of the celebration is used to welcome new angels who will come for one year periods of time to take care of the earth. People often go to the temple to get blessed or mediate at home in hopes that an angel will stay with their family throughout the new year. The second day is a time when gifts are exchanged and donations are given to the poor. The third day is filled with more ceremonies at the temple centered around forgiveness for misdeeds against the elderly and blessing for the new year. Many businesses are closed and the city looks a bit like a ghost town, since most people return to their hometowns in the countryside. I am enjoying a few days without language school and trying to keep cool as we are now in the midst of the hot season.

Speaking of language, last week I started my second class at the Institute of Foreign Linguistics. Here is the course description of the class I am currently taking: “Students review consonants, vowels and consonant feet, and construct sentences. Topics include shopping, going to the restaurant, going to the post-office, family, school, housework, and seeing a doctor.” I have learned much in the past six months, but still feel like I have just begun the process.

Thanks for your prayers and support,
Luke

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Cremation and Buddhism

100_0370The traditional practice of Theravada Buddhism, which is the majority religion in Cambodia, is to cremate the dead body. In an article on burial practices in Cambodia, Rosemary Shewry writes, “After death the body is kept in the home in a closed coffin for three days, on a block of ice and with copious tea leaves (frequently replaced) to freshen the atmosphere. Lucky paper is burnt at the foot of the coffin. The coffin is opened (so the spirit can listen) when monks visit to chant but the face remains covered with a white cloth. On the third day the body is removed to the temple (pagoda) for cremation, the body is exposed for a farewell look and the cloth covering the face is retained for good fortune. A white flag is displayed outside the house during this period and children of the deceased shave their heads and dress in white. Cremation is usually carried out in the temple and the ashes placed in an urn. The urn is placed in a stupa (also called achedi) in the pagoda grounds or within the pagoda itself” (Aspects of Burial and Cremation in Vietnam and Cambodia).

Here is a thoughtful blog post by R. Scott Clark about cremation and burial and the Christian implications to think about: To Bury or Cremate.

Supernatural sightings…

Greetings from Cambodia,

The following story comes from a local newspaper:

Supernatural sightings are being blamed by some for a rash of high school girls falling faint and writhing uncontrollably at two schools in Kratie province, local officials said. Dr. Cheam Sa Em, provincial director of the Kratie health department, said nine students from Prek Prasap district’s Chambok High School became faint and writhed on the ground while 10 other female students displayed the same symptoms in Kratie City in incidents that occurred on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Though the principal at one of the schools affected believes the convulsions were brought on by the appearance of a ghost, Dr. Sa Em offered a less spooky explanation for the girls’ strange behavior: bad diets. “The affected students were the same. They are on diets to be slim and only eating two times a day. They are lacking glucose,” he said. Dr. Sa Em said that the military police and doctors are investigating the incidents, closely monitoring what the girls are eating and drinking and have ordered the schools’ grounds to be cleaned thoroughly. He added that drugs or poison could also be a possible explanation for the students’ symptoms. However, Vin Sokheng, principal of Kratie City’s Preah Mohaksatany Kossamak High School, said that he believed the reason for his students falling ill was supernatural. “When they entered the classroom, they were scared, shouting and then some of them became faint and were writhing on the ground,” Mr Sokheng said of the possession-like symptoms of the teenaged girls studying in 10th through 12th grades. Teachers at the high school and parents of the students were not taking any chances either and invited local Buddhist monks and pagoda laymen to hold a prayer ceremony at the school on Thursday. However, two students showed the same symptoms on Friday and the religious figures were invited back to continue their efforts to bring to continue their efforts to bring an end to the problem. – Chansy, Chhorn. “Girls’ Convulsion Enigma: Ghosts or Crash Diets?” The Cambodian Daily

I would say that the above article provides a fairly fitting description of the spiritual mindset in Cambodia. Obviously, it is much different than what most of us are used to in the States. The Cambodian Daily is daily mainstream newspaper that is mostly written in English. I think that before I came here the only time I saw a headline like the one above was probably on the cover of a National Enquirer in a supermarket checkout line. Most Cambodians believe in a very rich supernatural realm. The religion here is usually described as a type of Folk Buddhism that is Buddhism mixed with a belief in guardian spirits, ancestral spirits, ghosts, and Brahman deities.

Back towards the end of October, I was walking around the Buddhist temple that is close to my house. A monk greeted me in English and invited me to sit at a table with him and talk. I spent about an hour with him. I did not really think that I would see him again when I left that day. But after about 5 months, I have been able to see him 2 or 3 times per month. He is in his early twenties and studying English literature. It has provided a good opportunity for me to practice speaking Khmer and to learn some about Buddhism, and he enjoys practicing his English. His main duty as a monk is to pray for people that come to the temple with health or other problems. Many of the prayers that are recited are in the Pali language, so the average person often does not understand the content of the prayer.

Language learning continues to plod along. I am getting more comfortable using what I know in talking with Khmer people. It is always a bit of an adventure talking to people when your vocabulary is so limited. It is a random of assortment of questions that I know how to ask now ranging from: “What is your favorite color?” to “Does your family have ducks?” so many of my conversations are not very cohesive. Please pray that my ability to speak Khmer progresses, and that I would find my strength and comfort in Christ as I continue to adjust and learn to function in this culture.

In Christ,
Luke

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The Harvest Fields…

Greetings from Cambodia,

Well, here in Cambodia we are in the midst of the cold season. That is if you can consider a low of 72 degrees at night to be cold. Nonetheless, I am really enjoying this weather compared to the weather when I first arrived. But I hear the hottest weather will come in April. While the weather here hasn’t reminded me that Christmas is only a few days away, the “consumerism” spirit of the season seems to be alive and well here in malls and other businesses. Hopefully, someday soon more people here will hear about and embrace a distinctive Christian understanding of Christmas as the incarnation of our Redeemer. Learning the Khmer language is progressing, but learning a new language is much more like a long distance race than a sprint.  I am not for sure that I am all that fast at running this race, but it seems like if one runs long enough that fluency will eventually come. For most of you, I am sure that some days your jobs are enjoyable and other days they seem somewhat monotonous and at times boring. I feel the someway with language learning.

As you will see from a couple of the pictures, I recently had the chance to see firsthand what rice harvest in the countryside is like. The couple that lives next door invited me to come along for the day to her family’s village. Although I have seen some modern machinery being used, most of the field work in Cambodia is still done by hand and with animals. The family in the village is representative of about 80% of Cambodia’s population who are subsistence rice farmers. While I grew up on a farm and spent several years studying agriculture in college, practices here are much different. The field that the family spent most of the day harvesting would have taken about 5 minutes to harvest with a combine. The process of hand harvesting involves several steps. First, the seed head and upper part of the stalk are cut off with a hand sickle and tied together in small bundles. The bundles are left to dry on top of the stubble for several days and then hauled to the threshing floor. Threshing is often done by beating the bundles against pieces of slatted wood. The final step before bagging is cleaning the grain. This can be done by winnowing which involves tossing the seeds in the air and allowing the wind to blow away the lighter chaff and weed seeds. But often machines are used for this last step. I was reminded of the many Bible stories about harvesting as I worked. I thought about Gideon who was threshing wheat in a winepress to hide from the Midianites. But ironically the Lord calls him a mighty man of valor and tells him that he will be with him as he delivers Israel. And such are you and I – ones that are weak and timid, but are used by God because his grace in Christ is sufficient in our weakness.

Thanks for your prayers and encouragement over the past few weeks. I am feeling much more settled in than when I last wrote. I pray that you know the love of our God to us, his undeserving children, as you celebrate the incarnation of our Savior during the Christmas Season.

In Christ,

Luke

First few weeks…

Greetings from Cambodia,

Last night was the three week anniversary of my arrival in Cambodia. I arrived on a Wednesday evening. The next morning I left with the MTW team for our annual retreat which was along the coast. It was nice to spend a few days getting to know the team to start my time here. After we arrived back in Phnom Penh, I started unpacking and getting things for my house. I have started to feel more settled in this week. My time is spent meeting with a language tutor four or five days a week, studying the language, and spending time with a few Cambodians that I have met and some of the team. I have been eating most of my meals with a Cambodian Christian couple that live across the street from me. We sit on the floor to eat and we have had rice with every meal but one. Life here has been about as different as I expected. But it is much different to hear and read about these differences than to actually live in the midst of them. I am reminded of a David Powlison quote where he says, “Love of comfort and ease leads to every sort of evil…love of pleasure, love of excitement, the desire to never be bored…love of good health, love of control, love of adoration, love of good looks, love of getting your own way, love of what people give me, love of self-righteousness…these are profound idolatries.” I probably didn’t realize how much I loved my relative life of ease and comfort in the US until I stepped off of an airplane a few weeks ago and it was gone.

Prayer: You can pray for my cultural adjustment. I guess being a white guy in Asia has its limitation to fitting in, but you can pray that I fit in appropriately. Also, pray for my language learning and that I am disciplined in my study. Finally, pray for me as I am in the midst of many adjustments and frustrations at times that I would take comfort in Christ’s gospel.

Thanks,
Luke

The entry to my house
The view from the back of my house

Leaving for Cambodia…

Friends,

I don’t think that it has fully sunk in for me, but I am leaving for Cambodia on Tuesday morning. I remember just a few months ago having lunch with a  friend after church and telling him that I was at a loss for what to do next in the support raising process. Yet, even in all my doubts, God was faithful to answer our prayers and bring in the needed support. It is easy now to look back on this initial support raising process and think that it was much easier than it was. There were many joys along the way from seeing ways God provided and from many encouraging friends, but some days were filled with disappointment and frustration. You have prayed with me during this time, and now you can offer thanksgiving to God with me for answering our prayers and his faithfulness during this time. I’ll write more in a few days to give more details about moving to Cambodia.

Thanks,

Luke

Ordination/Commissioning Service

Friends,

I want to invite those of you in the DFW area to my ordination/commissioning service. It will be on Sunday, September, 20th. It will be part of the regular service at my church, New St.

Peter’s Presbyterian Church. It will start at 9:30 am. We meet in the main theater of the Dallas Children’s Theater.

Here is the address:

5938 Skillman Road

Dallas, Texas 75231

If you don’t regularly attend New St. Peter’s, let me know if you plan on attending.

Thanks,

Luke

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Ordination Update

Dear friends,

I passed all my ordination tests this weekend at presbytery. With this now complete, I’ll start preparations to move and focus more time on support raising. There is about 15% more needed in monthly pledges before I can leave. Depending on how the next couple weeks unfold, I am tentatively planning on leaving for Cambodia the first week of October. Also, this upcoming weekend, September 4th – 6th, I’ll be preaching and speaking at New Life Mission Church of Northern California (PCA) in San Jose.

Sermon: On August 8th, I preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Godfrey, IL. Here is a link to the sermon: John 15 sermon

Prayer: You can join me in thanking God for his faithfulness during a hectic summer of travel, training, study, and testing. Also, the weeks ahead will be filled with many transitions and goodbyes.

Thanks,

Luke

P.S. In case you are curious what the ordination process looks like that I just completed, below is the description given in the Book of Church Order.

Trials for ordination shall consist of:

a. A careful examination as to:

1. his acquaintance with experiential religion, especially his

personal character and family management (based on the

qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:6-9),

2. his knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages,

3. Bible content,

4. theology,

5. the Sacraments,

6. Church history,

7. the history of the Presbyterian Church in America, and

8. the principles and rules of the government and discipline of

the church.

A Presbytery may accept a seminary degree which includes

study in the original languages in lieu of an oral examination in

the original languages.

b. He shall prepare a thesis on some theological topic assigned by

Presbytery.

c. The candidate shall prepare an exegesis on an assigned portion of

Scripture, requiring the use of the original language or languages.

d. He shall further be required to preach a sermon before the

Presbytery or committee thereof, upon three-fourths (3/4) vote.

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