27 August 2010


definition: A transformation or transition from one state, condition, or phase to another

The season of change is upon us. We are transitioning from the warmth of summer to the glory of autumn. School will be starting in a couple of weeks. On a personal level, much change is occurring within the next month.

We are moving.
I don't need this size of a house and I can't keep up the exterior on my own. So, I am having a new house built--new roof, new windows, new furnace, small lot. You get the picture. The big day is September 7 and it is closing in fast.

Family is coming to visit.
My brother comes from the West next week and my aunt & uncle are visiting from Ireland. This is the first time in years that we will all be together...and it may be the last.

Jared is leaving.
He flies back to Vancouver on Labour Day for his final year of high school. We've had a good summer and I will miss him. He is getting tired of the perpetual question "what are you going to do when you're done high school?" because he has no answer. But who knows what a year will bring? Next summer's planned service trip to Peru may prove pivotal to his future.

Ashley is home.
She spent the summer at MYW and did a lot of her own changing. While her brother may be uncertain of the future, she is firm. A career in teaching appears to be where it is at--"it's just in me, Mom"--something I recognized early on in this child! She is looking at university in the States--hard to believe that it is only two years away! So, my new nest will be very empty, very soon.

There is a career change.
After nearly thirteen years in the private sector, I am going back to my clinical roots, but to a management position. It is hard to believe that this is my third career shift--apparently, there is room for one more! I am also looking at the possibility of some graduate work, but I need to get through the immediate changes before taking this on!

So, if you think to, pray for me over the next month! The stress level will be on the high side but good things are happening! Like they say, the only time that change stops is when you're dead.

And I'm not dead yet!

01 April 2010


definition:  a clear, colorless, odorless, and tasteless liquid, H2O, essential for most plant and animal life and the most widely used of all solvents

I have been mulling this over for nearly three weeks, since the first weekend in Cambodia where we had the opportunity to go to Siem Reap...

It has long been recognized that we need water to live, specifically clean water. So, in the First World there are water treatment plans, sewage treatment plants. We can afford to be fussy about how our water tastes, even when purified, to the point where we will buy bottled water, rather than opening the kitchen tap and drinking what comes out of it. Our water is so pure, in fact, that when we travel to places with a less dependable water supply, we have no choice but to drink bottled water (and clean our teeth with it), otherwise we will suffer from "Montezuma's Revenge", or worse.

While in Siem Reap, which is renowned for being the location of Angkor Wat, we had the opportunity to visit the Floating Village on Tonle Sap, Cambodia's largest lake.  This village is populated by ethnic Vietnamese fishermen & their families.  They literally live on the water.  There are floating restaurants, floating stores, a floating mechanic, a floating basketball court, floating schools, floating churches.  The primary mode of transportation is boat, there is no electricity (unless you have a diesel generator) and the main occupation is fishing.  Everything about their lives orbits around water.

And what water...

It is not in line with the definition at the top...opaque brown, emanating a slight, indescribable odour, and teeming with bacteria.  We would never get in it, no matter how hot the day (and it was VERY hot!!) and most certainly would never drink it.  To our western sensibilities, this water is not a source of life, nor a sustainer of it.  In many ways, it contains death. 

Two Bible passages always come to mind when I think about water--Jeremiah 2:13, where the weeping prophet confronts the people of Israel on their choice of water source, cisterns where water stagnates and that need to be replenished because they are broken and therefore leak; John 4, where Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well.  The Samaritan woman had sought to quench her spiritual thirst from broken cisterns but Jesus offers her living water, which is water directly from the source; it is pure & endless in supply.  When given the opportunity to slake her spiritual thirst, she jumped in whole-heartedly.  She knew she was thirsty.

So, all this thinking about water made me think, yet again, do I hunger & thirst after righteousness?  Do I go to the source of Living Water to quench this thirst?

I think I need a drink...

29 March 2010


definition:  being intermediate between extremes, as on a scale: a player of average ability;  usual or ordinary in kind or character.

So many posts have been running through my head of late, but this will make you laugh...hopefully!

My son is now in that phase of life where the "rest of his life" must be considered.  He has resisted doing this, apparently not cognisant of his own abilities, saying he just wants to be a tradesman.  No problem...but don't decide on this without first investigating the alternatives has been my recurring mantra.  So, a couple of weeks ago, he gave in and attended a university information night; his reaction was "it's so hard to get in, Mom!".  This from a boy whose grades are good, who will receive positive recommendations and goes to a good school.

The follow-up to this was the following conversation....

"Mom, look, I'm just an average joe.  I'm not going to be one of these super Saint over-achievers.  I'm just going to be an average joe French teacher, or construction worker, or framer, or whatever.  I've looked into a few schools where I can do French but I'm just going to be an average joe."

"Which schools have you looked at?"

"Well, I looked at Cambridge and the Sorbonne.  If those don't work out, I can go to McGill."

All of the above are definitely average joe schools...

19 March 2010


definition:  act of leaving; starting out, as on a trip or a new course of action.

Bonny and I left Phnom Penh on March 17 at 1820h local time.  For me, it was not without sadness and a desire to stay.

On Tuesday I was in the store by myself for most of the morning and I shed many tears.  We had both felt that we had a "sanitized" version of Cambodia, in that we weren't out in Svay Pak or doing more hands-on work in terms of the problem of child prostitution.  But upon reflection, I realized that we were just at a different part of the spectrum of hope.  Things like Rahab's House and Hagar are the entry points in that spectrum, in that they are where first contact occurs.  Helping to set up the Daughters store is at the end of the spectrum of hope.  It is where the girls have been rescued, shown Christian compassion & introduced to Jesus Christ, given alternatives for living and are now ready to apply those things in their own lives.  So, I wept at the prospect of hope fulfilled for those girls; at the desire to see this project through to completion; the hearing of the call to do more.  The weeping continued later in the day upon receipt of a hand-made "thank-you", created by the girls at Daughters and with lots of Khmer written on it.  I have no idea what the words say but I know what it means.  This is a treasure.

We are now safely back in Canada.  This was not without adventure during our overnight in Hong Kong, which included a "tour" of the airport, a shady taxi driver, changing Bonny's flight, ensuring that my bags got through to Toronto from Phnom Penh and shopping in their designer shops on the departure level (I didn't buy any designer items--just books--althought the Mont Blanc store held great sway for me!)  It was good to sleep in a bed with a pillowtop mattress, to have a shower in my own bathroom, to do the laundry and go grocery shopping at Zehrs.  But I have left part of my heart in Southeast Asia.

I don't know what my future now holds, except those broad categories of parenting, working, paying the bills.  But I can do those things in whatever context God holds for me.  I need to wait on God to show me the context.

13 March 2010

All in a Week's Work

As I look over my journal to get an overview of this past week, I see alot of lists.  The lists changed from day to day, sometimes because the work was accomplished and we could move on to next steps; other times spanners were thrown into the works, which necessitated a change in tack; sometimes things got carried over from day to day because we just couldn't finish.

On Day One, I sat down with Jennifer, the store designer, and got the lay of the land.  The goal was to open the store as soon as possible. A list was already in place in order to make this happen, but without someone on-site to manage the work, nothing was being accomplished.  There were willing workers but there was no leader.  Kind of like sheep without a shepherd.

So, there was this huge pile of garbage outside directly in front of the store.  What do we need to do to get it removed, was the first question.  Inside the store, there was 1000 square feet of ceramic tile that was dirty & paint-splattered and badly needed cleaned.  There were paint touch-ups on the walls, fixtures that needed to be painted, over 100 wooden coat hangers that had been painted but didn't look great.  And garbage was strewn everywhere.

It seemed easy enough to start painting.  But the brushes weren't great--more craft brushes than paint brushes--and while I discovered that there was one roller, there was no paint tray for it.  How does one paint with a roller without a tray to roll it in?  Well, apparently, there are two methods:

  • dip the roller in the paint and then brush the excess off; roll on the wall but with lots of drips & paint running down your wrist

  • dip the brush in the paint and apply to the roller; roll off on the lid of the paint pail but pick up flecks of dried paint in the process which then have to be removed from the wall
Another problem with painting.  We had one roller but were using two colours.  This meant that only one person could paint at a time, leaving two more standing around waiting.  Not very efficient.

Let me interject at this point and be very clear.  I found all of this rather humourous, so this is not a rant or a complaint, merely an overview of the things I experienced this week.  I was blessed with some great help in the form of a young Khmer man named Rath (pronounced Rat), who was more than willing to do anything I asked and would ask if there was anything he could help with when finished his task.  His English isn't great but we've had some great chats.  Today, he told me he was singing two songs in church on Sunday.  When I asked him which songs, he simply replied, "Christian songs".  That made me chuckle!

I began to think we were actually making some headway on Wednesday when we started cleaning the floors off, but the smell was absolutely acrid.  I immediately recognized it as the acid that Dave used to use to unclog drains!  So, there was Rath and his brother, with their shirts tied around their faces and no shoes on their feet dripping this stuff on the floor, then walking through it, hunkering down and scrubbing!  The bottoms of their feet must be like leather because this chemical burns!  But at the end of the day the floor had been thoroughly cleaned.  It just needed a good washing to remove the residue.

However, progress was not to continue.  The tile at the back of the store, near the spa area, consisted of two different patterns and Ruth, the director of Daughters, wasn't happy with it.  Enter new tile, a pile of sand and cement mix.  Needless to say, a large mess ensued, bringing any further floor cleaning to a halt.  So, I returned to painting fixtures.  By this time, I had located a paint store and purchased a couple of paint trays, along with two decent brushes and two small rollers.  This certainly improved the painting efforts.  Rath was very impressed with the small rollers & the roller tray!

Huntley Street has a film crew here at the moment filming a documentary on the work that Ratanak is involved in.  Brian had the idea that "maybe" they could do a little segment on the Daughters store.  This was fantastic motivation for getting the front of the store cleaned up!  Garbage removal is not routine here in Phnom Penh and you generally have to arrange for it yourself--no curbside pick-up!  But removed it was and the outside began to improve.  Too bad we won't be part of the documentary!  They didn't have time to do it.

Next step in outside improvements was to clean the plate glass store front.  Rath and I set about this yesterday after I made my second independent shopping trip in Phnom Penh.  I went to Lucky Mart, a Western-style grocery store, and purchased Windex, shop towels, floor cleanser, and some chamois-like cleaning cloths.  It's very cool to get into a tuk-tuk (the motorbike taxis) and give them an itinerary, then getting driven around the city--a great way to sight-see, but not for the faint-of-heart!  It took us about an hour to clean both sides of the window but it was very gratifying when one of the neighbouring business owners (a wood carver) gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up when he saw us working!  It is so clean that today, when I was going to dump a bucket of water at the curb, I banged right into it!  Fortunately, it didn't break!!  And I'm okay, too!

So, by the end of today, we are in pretty good shape.  The new tile is not only installed but completely cleaned; the front of the store has had all of it's painting done, including fixtures.  All of the fixtures are in the shop area, albeit pushed to one side because only half of the floor has been washed--no point in washing all of it until the new tiling had been finished.  The spa area is cleaned.  For next week, some painting & floor cleaning are all that's left.

Every night I have come back to the hotel grimy, sweaty and bone tired.  But I've also been completely contented.  Remember back to my post about my requirements, one of which was to be doing something I was completely incapable of performing?  Well, on the surface it may look like this is something exactly up my alley and in terms of the actual work, it is.  But there is something deeper going on here.  Ruth, the director of Daughters, has begun to put her trust in us because we have been able to accomplish what she was afraid might not get done.  Organizations such as Ratanak and Daughters are very dependent on volunteers to achieve their objectives, but not all volunteers prove to be as reliable as might be hoped.  Gaining Ruth's trust isn't something I could have gained on my own at all.  God placed both me and Bonny in a position where we now have some credibility, which means she will be more open to anything else that we might be able to offer.

It's amazing what God can accomplish when we are willing to do the task He sets before us, even if it is just washing floors!

08 March 2010


definition:  the act of excusing a fault or an offense; pardon; renouncing anger or resentment against.

I am finding it very hard to blog/journal every day.  The days start early and end late.  It is the hottest place I have ever been, so by the end of day, energy is at a premium. 

We spent the weekend at Siem Reap, where we visited Angkhor Thom & Angkhor Wat, the ruins of the 11th century Khmer kingdom that Cambodia is famous for.  This Wonder of the World is an incredible site to behold!  Another wonder that we saw was the Floating Village, a community of fishermen who literally live on the water of Tonle Sap.  I have several thoughts around these things, but more later.

As I had mentioned before, there is no one here who is unaffected by the Khmer Rouge genocide.  Everyone lost family; some are the only survivors in their families.  The national psyche carries deep wounds, often unexpressed.  Today, Bonny & I visited Tuol Sleng, the high-school-turned-prison where over 20,000 people were tortured and then transported to the killing fields for certain death; only 7 people survived Tuol Sleng and they escaped, not from the prision but from the killing fields.  The Killing Fields were emotionally soft compared to the graphic presentation of Tuol Sleng.

No one was safe during the Khmer Rouge's reign of decimation.  Meticulous in their documentation, they revealed that they trusted no one, not even their own.  In the gallery of victims, there are hundreds of pictures of youthful faces, all wearing a cap, indicating that they were "combatants", or Khmer soldiers.  One picture depicts the wife of a high ranking officer, holding their baby.  She & her child were tortured and murdered because he was no longer trusted.  They didn't target individuals; they targetted entire families.  To paraphrase a Khmer Rouge saying, you couldn't just cut the grass, you had to dig out the roots.

The hardest thing was not knowing who the enemy was.  It could be your neighbour; it could be your brother.  And today, they must live side-by-side, not knowing.  Think of the implications this has on rebuilding this nation.  One of the exhibits are the statements of those who served in the Khmer Rouge.  For many their motivation in joining was to be one what they thought would be the winning side.  Others were very young and were removed from family & "reeducated".  Some are remorseful; others are unrepentant.  Still more declare their innocence, in that they didn't kill anyone or participate in any torture. 

On our first day, our cab driver told us he was one of three brothers.  He lost only one brother.  The rest of his family survived but they experienced hard labour and starvation.  Our cab driver in Siem Reap, Samreath, said very little, but he was missing three fingers on his right hand.

This lady was our tour guide at Tuol Sleng.  She was eight years old in 1975 when Phnom Penh was evacuated.  Her family consisted of her parents, two brothers and a sister.  They were sent to a work camp near the Vietnamese border, where her father and brothers were killed.  She escaped to Viet Nam in 1978 with her mother & sister by walking at night through the jungle.  They returned in 1979 when the Vietnamese army invaded and overthrew Pol Pot.  She has been coming to Tuol Sleng since it opened and yet it is a highly charged experience for her, even today, to be part of the commemoration of the genocide.  Her mother cannot come because it brings back too much.  I asked why she gives these tours and her comment was "it is time to forgive"; I asked how she felt about Duch, the former commandant of this prison who has accepted responsibility for the crimes he directly perpetrated (the torture & execution of over 12,000 people) and is currently awaiting the verdict of the war crimes court.  At this, she was visibly agitated, saying he was only saying what the court wanted to hear in an effort to not be punished for his crimes.  Interestingly, of the four leaders on trial, Duch is the only one who has "stepped up" and this is because he has become a Christian.  In a country where forgiveness is not the norm, it has sparked debate about what forgiveness means to Christians.  This woman moved me deeply.  Her pain is still so real, in spite of the acknowledgement of the need for forgiveness.  Before I left, I gave her a hug.  I couldn't think of what else to do.

This is Reaksa Himm and his sister.  They are the sole survivors of a family of thirteen from the Siem Reap area.  When Reaksa was thirteen, he was hit in the back of the head with a hoe and left for dead in a mass grave under the bodies of his mother & several of his siblings.  His entire story can be read in "Tears of My Soul", which I recommend.  Eventually, Reaksa came to Canada where he became a Christian and obtained a PhD in psychology.  He never intended to return to Cambodia but eventually did.  He tracked down those he knew who had been directly involved in the murder of his family and forgave them.  He has now established himself in the village where he lived as a child (his father's house is in the background of this picture).  He has a desire for the Khmer people to come to the Lord and has established several churches; he is also in the process of building a community centre, which I had the opportunity to visit.  He is a Ratanak partner, and with the assistance of Brian McConaghy, has received tentative permission to spend extensive time with Duch, the man mentioned in the previous paragraph.  The plan is for a book to be written contrasting their experiences under Pol Pot, and then bringing it together as brothers in Christ.  This is something so difficult to comprehend but it smacks not of the talk of forgiveness, but the actuality of a forgiveness that can only be divine.

So, what is all of this talk of forgiveness?  Each day that I have been here, I have prayed that the Lord would open my eyes, this morning included.  I didn't expect it to come in the form it came in, nor that it would be directed at my own heart.  I was confronted with the fact that there is much I need to forgive before I can be effectively used.  And this was before I went to Tuol Sleng.  I have been walking around on the verge of tears all day.  I think I have not been honest with myself about a few things that I "thought" I had let go of.  But when I am honest, it would be fair to say that I am guilty of the same offences that I have been hanging on to.  In light of the experiences here, most of my hurt is rooted in pettiness and unrealistic expectations.  I am not trying to inflate my pain, because it has been real.  But now, I need to step out and let go of the thing that weighs me down.

Ultimately, I need to do some of my own forgiving.

04 March 2010


Definition:  small parts broken off or detached

Today was a full day, lived in fragments.  A trip to the airport to pick up missing luggage, visiting the Killing Fields, getting a glimpse of the Daughters' Cafe & catching the vision, eating at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, shopping at the Russian market.  All these parts , seemingly unrelated, made up our day.  I only have time to post about one, the Killing Fields, and I will let pictures be my words (or most of them).

One cannot come to Cambodia, nor have any understanding of the Cambodia of today without visiting the Killing Fields.  No Cambodian is unaffected by this.  Our driver was thirteen when he was separated from his mother and three brothers and sent to a work farm.  He was beaten and starved but managed to survive, as did his mother and two of his brothers.  Throughout the country there are many "Killing Fields", or mass graves, where people were brutally killed, usually by being hit in the back of the head with a hoe or a hammer; others survived the blow and were left to die among the already-dead; children were battered against trees in full view of their mothers.  Tragedy is not a large enough word to describe what happened.  Sin seems to be more adequate.

The Choeung Ek Genocide Centre is just outside Phnom Penh and had previously been a pottery before it became a killing field.  People were transported from Tuol Sleng prison in the city to this location and subsequently brutally murdered.  Today it is a site where you see the skulls of victims housed in a memorial pagoda, but the bones & clothing of those who died still come up in fragments from the shallow graves.

Eighty-six out of 129 mass graves were unearthed and 8985 bodies were found.

Bone fragments

The indulations in the ground are locations of mass graves.

A piece of clothing coming up through the ground.

It is late (again) and I am having trouble formulating my thoughts.  Today's sights gave me much to ponder.

Tomorrow, we are off to Siem Reap to see another Ratanak project.  Pray for safety, pray for health, pray for grace.