Cambodia remembered

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2009 at 8:24 am

It has only been a little over a month since we returned home from Cambodia and already it feels farther away than I like. Lately my days pass easily along in a world that moves much faster and with much greater financial ease than the one I briefly visited in Battambang this past July. There are several things that have resulted from my time there though that I believe are God given and would like to share.

The day before we left for Cambodia I began to read a book called “what Jesus meant” by garry willis. I read through the entire book throughout our trip and I believe strongly that God put the book in my life specifically to teach me more about about the kingdom of God in relation to what I was experiencing in Cambodia. On the plane ride over I spent some time reading the book and then moved over to my Bible. Reading the gospels made sense since that was what my book was covering. After reading a few chapters I stopped to pray, and then had one of the most real encounters with God that I have ever had. We were about ten hours into the flight. Phil was asleep beside me…as were most people. What looked to be one of the worst movies ever made was playing on the screen and there I was practically in tears. I had this revelation that will probably sound rather odd.

You see I realized that I can never be Jesus. Obvious yes, but how many obvious parts of God/Jesus/anything do we really ever have a great grasp on for long before our humanity takes over and messes it up? For me this had become another one of those messed up and/or ignored realities. God was so real to me on that plane. I had a brief glimpse of how immensely huge she/he is and ohhh how I paled in comparison. I was in the presence of a great God who was the only one capable of saving the world.

In recent years I have stepped out of an evangelical circle that stressed mostly personal faith and have discovered the other half of the Christian walk that much of the Bible points to- the social gospel. I have begun to realize that loving Jesus means that I have to love others not in word as James would put it, but in deed. A few example: I have begun to love Latin Americans to the point that I have demonstrated to have the School of the Americas closed. I have begun to love my enemies and thus have marched on the Pentagon as a Christian witness against war. I have begun to love the poor and have realized that my vocation should be to fight for justice for the poor and oppressed. I am currently going to school, learning from those around me, and seeking God to learn how to do this. God knows I have a lot yet to learn but I am trying to love others. I read a lot and much, if not most, of my personal reading involves God and what it means to follow her/him. The message I get often is to be Jesus to the world. As Paul wrote to the Philippians to be an “image bearer”. I do still believe that we are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet to our world…but on the plane I was reminded that I will never actually save someone. That is the domain of Jesus alone. Jesus many call us to break the chains of poverty and oppression and to rescue those who are trapped within addictions and enslavements of many different sorts (sex trafficking, the American dream) but we can never save their souls. So yeah. It was a great moment with Jesus. A moment where I walked away more in awe of who God is and what she/he can do. Throughout the rest of the time there my heart was much more attuned to look at what God was enabling her people to do, while also remembering to call on him to actually do the saving part.

On the drive from thailand to cambodia I read a chapter about how when Jesus was on earth he was stronly against religion. At that time (and sadly in ours as well) religion had created a huge hierarchy with each level being more important, better, and more powerful than those below it. Jesus would have none of this. He spoke out against their accumulation of wealth and property (Luke 16:14-31), their pursuit of power (Mat. 23:8-10), their system of hierarchy by instead promoting egalitarianism (Gal 3:26-28), and their use of violence (Luke 6:27-38, John 18:36) among other things. Jesus was creating a kingdom where all were welcome.

While in cambodia I was given a beautiful gift to witness this first hand. On our one sunday there our team split in two to visit two different churches. I ended up at a church on the outskirts of town. Shortly after coming in worship began. A young women and man led worship. After a few worship songs a group of young children, mostly girls, came in and sang a song and danced. Worship continued and then another group of girls, this time adolescents, came in to sing and dance. After worship the pastor thanked another church team that was wrapping up a mission trip to their church. He brought the team’s leader up to preach a sermon. Afterwards the preacher brought our team up front for introductions. From there we moved into more worship.  A few songs later it was the older women in the church’s turn to come up and lead the church in a song of praise. When they were done an older man stepped up to the mike and proceeded over us taking communion (in the form of crackers and grape soda :). When we had finished communion the church sang a few more worship songs. For the last half of worship there was a toddler that wondered throughout the front of the church. She periodically climbed onto the stage where she would dance and walk back and forth between the different musicians. I took some time after watching her to sit down and ponder all that I was seeing and experiencing. God brought back to mind the chapter I had recently read and then lead me to consider the church I was in. The thing was there was both young and old involved in the church. No one became upset about the toddler running around. No embarrassed mother rushed to pull her off the stage. The little girl was allowed to be there because she was just as much a part of the church as the worship leaders. Both men and women took part in leading the church. Anyone was allowed to be a part, including me. Most of the girls, both young and adolescent, who I mentioned before were former prostitutes who had been rescued from brothels. Their home was now literally the church.

It is hard to fully explain how beautiful it was to see what God was doing and to realize that it was what Jesus had preached all along. As I later discussed this with the group Phillip commented “what matters more to Jesus- a well organized sacrifice or a pure one?” Since the trip I have come home with fresh eyes about what the kingdom of God really is and who belongs there. It is a new and radical arrangement of people who live under the love and grace of God and it is a place where former prostitutes lead worship and two year olds receive as much respect as the pastor. This kingdom is the only one I see worth serving and it has the only leader that can actually save us.

grace and peace to you all. thank you to all of you who helped Phillip and I get to Cambodia through your prayers and support. thank you most of all to Jesus for your severe mercy.


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