Fall is always a busy time of excitement and change back to the familiar. The unstructured chaos of summer gives way to a season of schedules and routines. Alarm clocks beckon all of us earlier in the morning for the daily rhythm of the school calendar. The words “school bus,” “homework,” and “test” reenter our vocabulary. (And, of course, so does the word “touchdown.”) The season is tinged with the anticipation of upcoming holidays and family gatherings. For us this particular fall, the anticipation will be amplified, but it will also carry the bittersweet recognition that long-awaited reunions and gatherings will be preceded by some hard “goodbyes.” So many things are different for us this year, but there is nevertheless a welcome familiarity to the arrival of fall. Here are some of our highlights as we move toward our last quarter in Cambodia.
1. First, some great news from the office. Our IJM-Cambodia Legal Department is continuing its 2017 winning streak. We have now fully completed six trials, and our undefeated record has brought 14 convictions (!) against those involved in the modern-day slave trade. Some of these victories fall into the “miraculous” category, and we have no doubt that we are watching God’s hand at work. It’s humbling, encouraging, and inspiring to be a part of what God and IJM are doing in this country, and we are so grateful to all of you for your help in sending us here. If interested, here is a recent article about one of our victories.
2. We finished a seventh trial last Monday, and we have our eighth tomorrow. (Our Labor Day holiday was on May 1, so Sept. 4 is just another work day in Cambodia. While our U.S. friends are firing up the grill tomorrow, we will be hard at work in court seeking to stop those who exploit others for their labor. What a perfect Labor Day!) Verdict announcements on those two trials will come later in September. Please pray for justice, and enjoy a hamburger or a hot dog for us!
3. In case you’ve ever wondered how to celebrate a big trial victory in Cambodia, it’s pretty simple: a tasty afternoon snack of water buffalo meat. I’m really not sure why we don’t do this in Austin….
4. In mid-August, Thais and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary at the Phnom Penh Foreign Correspondents’ Club. This is a historic place where western journalists would gather to write and edit their stories for the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. in the years during and immediately following the Vietnam War. These corridors have become a history museum, displaying news stories written between these walls. It’s a great venue for learning about the past, watching the bustling riverside area from a magnificent balcony, and looking out over the Mekong River as the sun sets behind you. Good times.
5. We have felt so helpless and heartbroken as we have watched horrific news back home of the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey. Unfortunately, Texas is not alone in having experienced late August flooding. Monsoon floods last week in South Asia (India, Bangladesh, and Nepal) have taken more than 1,200 lives and have left millions of people homeless. Our team has prayed for Texas and South Asia alike, and we will continue to lift up all those who have lost life and property in these devastating storms.
6. In our mid-day time of prayer and worship at the office, we have been working our way through the Psalms in sequence since April. This past Wednesday, as the floodwaters in Houston and South Asia were peaking, Thais was on tap to lead. The calendar told us we were reading Psalm 69 – a prayer from David pleading for help in a time of flooding:
This was another in a long line of “coincidences” this year, where the Word lines up with our work or our lives with urgent relevance. Like David, we pray for rescue for all those in harm’s way (Psalm 69:14-15), and for God’s help as we “rebuild the cities.” (Psalm 69:35)
7. Praying for all of us in the aftermath of Charlottesville as well -- for healing, peace, and racial reconciliation. A whole lot of God-sized problems in this world, and the U.S. is proving that it has just as many of them, and just as big, as the developing world.
8. Tomorrow the kids start their 4th week back at school. We now have a high schooler (9th grade), a middle schooler (6th grade), and one still in elementary school (4th grade). It’s safe to say they have all learned a ton in this year we will never forget. So proud of all three of these kids!
9. For those who have followed the saga of the knee injury, Naeda is now off her crutches and her knee brace, and she reports being at least 90% healed. She is well enough that she is participating in volleyball practice, now with the high school team (!), and she plans to play in the first game this Tuesday. We are grateful for her quick recovery! And if you missed this story, just check out the last blog.
10. Some of the greatest blessings of this year have come in very small but impactful moments. Here is one example. Every school day as I walk the kids to their 6:50 am bus stop, we encounter the same familiar faces. Two of those faces are women who sell drinks and cabbage sandwiches from moto carts just one block north of our apartment. There has always been a language barrier, but they recognize us, and we greet each other warmly every day with a smile and a nod of acknowledgement. On the first day back to school, there was such deep concern on their faces when Naeda showed with visible evidence of a real injury. They were truly worried about her. And there was no way for us to explain that she would be ok. Well, you should have seen these two ladies beaming and overjoyed with happiness when Naeda was back to walking again with no crutches and no knee brace. We shared an indescribable moment of warmth, relief, joy, and celebration. I still marvel at the kindness of people here, and the powerful and unifying force of a smile, compassion, and love for others across cultural and language barriers. People can be so good, and God is so good for bringing so many of those people into our lives.
11. We were surprised and thrilled to receive an incredible care package recently from the staff and the Mission Committee of Covenant Presbyterian Church, our awesome home church back in Austin. Thank you so much to each one of you for your kindness, thoughtfulness, words of encouragement, prayers, and support for our family. We are so blessed to be in community with you, and we thank God for you every day. Your precious notecards are on our refrigerator (because, of course), and everyone has delighted in receiving familiar treats from home.
12. Add “window washers” to the long list of things that are very different here. (I’m not sure OSHA would approve….)
13. Speaking of OSHA, aren't you glad you're not the one who has to re-wire this mess?
14. The constant presence of rain has liberating side effects. Last Monday Thais had a work project that kept her at the office a bit late, and I was done early. We had trial in the morning, and my day had started earlier than usual. I decided to head home on foot, with Thais coming behind me an hour or so later with our tuk tuk driver. About two-thirds of the way home, the heavens opened, and the afternoon monsoon rains began to descend on me. I was too stubborn to get a tuk tuk for the remaining five minutes of my walk. I had already walked this far, right? So I just kept on walking at a leisurely pace. The rain grew heavier and heavier, as though taunting me. But I would not yield. I got completely drenched, suit and tie and all, Gene Kelly style. I’ve never been so wet while wearing a suit, and it was fun to just not care. I laughed the whole way. What a year….
May all of you find laughter and joy in the small and big moments of each new day. God bless you all!