As I sit here by the pool, on a 76 degree Saturday afternoon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, writing this message, I am struck once again by a flood of thought and emotion that can’t be processed and summarized in quick, pithy phrases. (How a US President expects to govern vastly more complex situations in 140 characters I will never understand. But that is an entirely different blog.) Here is one of the many things I’m wrestling with: So much has come together this year, but so much seems broken.
It took an astonishing confluence of hundreds of events, people, feelings and situations to bring our small family of Kildays from Austin, Texas to this pool in Cambodia. Loved ones died. Loved ones became healthy. We met and became friends with refugees, we fought for green-energy producers, we met and worked with foster children. Walls were built in our neighborhoods; walls were threatened on our borders. Muslims ate at our table and loved our family; Muslims were called our enemies. Events seemed to push us to look outward, and an unexpected opportunity appeared. Our world shifted this year so dramatically and unexpectedly, I am certain that only God could put this whole thing together. I believe there is a plan and an order.
I am sitting here, 9-stories up from the noisy streets, by a quiet pool, with my iPad and my wifi, writing to loved ones across the world. My children are safe, healthy, and educated. We have what we need and they will be ok. That is not the story of most of the people in my new country. Children are sleeping on sidewalks. Women are preparing meals in driveways. Men are hustling all day to earn $1-$5/day to provide for their families. God’s children have vastly, vastly different experiences, and it breaks my heart. I'm sure it breaks the heart of God.
So here we are, we five small Kildays, plucked up by God and placed in one of what must be a million little God-made intersections between what seems so right and what seems horribly wrong, with a chance to see, and learn and participate in a small slice of life. What an amazing blessing and adventure. What an amazing God.
For the worriers among you, we are all fine. In fact, we are good. We are well cared for by the staff of International Justice Mission (IJM), by the staff of our temporary hotel, and by our family and supporters. We arrived after 27 hours of travel into an airport that was warm both in temperature, and in human kindness. Walking out into the night, we were immediately greeted by three enthusiastic IJM staff who brought signs, a van, smiles, and American-style snacks. (The van was especially helpful as the Kildays brought our full airline allotted 8 duffle bags, 2 trunks, 5 roller bags and 5 backpacks.) Also on our flight was the other IJM Fellow coming to work in Phnom Penh with his family of 6, and all of their luggage for the year. What a sight we must have been!
For the parents (and grandparents) among you, our kids have done ridiculously well. They slept well from the very first night, they are eating well, they have great attitudes, they have bounced around their school campus, and they have smiles on their faces 99% of the time. (OK, the boys do. The teenager has a smile on her face 70% of the time, and isn't that the same thing?!) We are so grateful, and we know that it is God, your prayers, and their beautiful spirits that are making this possible. Our eldest actually started school only 36 hours after arriving in Cambodia. She made friends the first day and walked out smiling. What a girl. The boys got to tour the school, meet their teachers, and play on their new playground this week. They start school on Monday, when big sister will be off at “secondary school camp” (think Christian youth group retreat) for 4 days. Yes, our 14-year-old is leaving home and town to go away for a 4-day camp less than one week after arriving in a new country halfway around the world from everything she knew. (Did we tell you she was brave? Did you know her Mama was that trusting?!) It’s a great school. It’s a great God. (Prayers still appreciated for camp, new school week, and this Mama!)
OK, for those of you who know Doug well, you will not be surprised to know that he is in his element. He is glowing. I think maybe I’ve caught him in a bad mood for about 45 seconds once or twice this week. (Don't even ask. I do not attempt to maintain those same lofty statistics.) We have a new adventure and he has walked (no, floated) around a new city, taking in the sights, the smells, the sounds. He is loathe to ride the tuk tuks (the local mode of transportation – a carriage pulled by a motorcycle), only because he hates to spend the $2 someone generously gave, and he loves to explore new cities on foot. (The rest of us would gladly forgo the exhaust and Frogger-like experience of walking on the street for the tuk tuk ride, so we compromise with only riding when it is 10 or more blocks or so!)
For those of you interested in our long-term self-sufficiency, we have a realtor (an expat with a lovely accent recommended by IJM, thank you) and have just put down the deposit on a 3 bedroom apartment. Yay! We will be living in the middle of the “ex-pat” neighborhood, BKK1. This means we are 2 blocks from a school bus stop, a short tuk tuk ride to work, walking distance to plenty of restaurants and coffee shops, there are sidewalks on some of the streets, and yes, multiple tuk tuks on every block. We expect to move in next weekend. We’ll have access to a pool, an exercise room, and a game room with a ping pong table. What fun! These things are good, we find, not only because it rains for 6 months of the year, but because Phnom Penh is not a very walkable, or exercisable, city by US standards. There are few sidewalks, lots of exhaust and dust, and (by US standards) lots of trash, cars, and mopeds on the street. There are few crossing walks, few traffic lights, and not much grass to speak of. (So far, only two of us have nearly been hit by a moped.)
So our small family of Kildays (and other Westerners and fortunate non-Westerners) exercise or swim, several stories above the exhaust and the trash, and look out on the colorful rooftops. We send our children to good schools where they learn to read, write, draw and care about the world. We breathe the fresh air through the open windows (the mosquitos can’t fly above the 6th story, and neither can the dust or the smell), and we are grateful. This is what we need after hours in these streets to bring equilibrium and balance back to our (relatively fragile) US minds and senses, and to prepare our children for the future. But we are also pained. Because driving around at all during the day, or reading any book, or just opening our eyes, we know this is not the experience of most everyone in this beautifully warm and friendly country. It is not the experience of most of the people in God’s beloved world.
Let’s get to work.