Somrong Young

One of the greatest pleasures I take in life is teaching young Christians so that they have a larger view of the world, equipping them with knowledge that will help them be successful in this global “Christian Economy” of God’s mission in the world.  English is the official second language of the nation and the Christian Church has grown tremendously the last 20 years in part because of the commitment of Christians to learn English.  English opens up partnerships all over the world, from the U.S.A. to Canada, Austrailia, Britain, and even South Korea.  I believe it is these relationships that helped to train and equip pastors so quickly in Cambodia.

And today, these partnerships are more important than ever, but Cambodia truly is no longer in need of the traditional missionary. Cambodia, still a very poor country, is in need of our financial support, not American agendas.

The finest young men and women of the nation have taken up the call to ministry.  Some are pastors, others are teachers and principals, others worship leaders and administrators.  God has blessed the Cambodian Church with every gift.

In fact, not many American Churches enjoy this “outpouring of the spirit,” this kind of blessing.  I for one have not served as pastor in a single Church that knows Jesus and loves Jesus the same as these Christians of Cambodia.

Maybe that’s because I’ve spent most of my life as a Lutheran, I don’t know.

Mega Churches?  They don’t get Jesus the way the Christians in Cambodia get Jesus.  Multi-staff parishes?  That’s more form over substance than it is Jesus as Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  The pastors making 80k a year in the average American Church?  You will be hard pressed to find one that works as hard and with as much commitment as the Cambodian pastor earning $150 a month.  And oftentimes that poor American Pastor, well kept, is dying of boredom in congregations that have the laziest leadership known to man- positions given to them by birth-right, because their daddy bought some chairs 50 years ago, rather than according to their spiritual gifts.

And the so-called “power is in the local congregations” that denominations like Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ seem to incessantly proclaim when it suits the national leadership, carry no responsibility for the success or failure of the ministries they serve.  Their hands are always clean because they get the big bucks to not get dirty.  Sure they plan one gathering a year and one leadership conference a year.  But why are all their churches dying?

I certainly don’t want to romanticize the Cambodian Church.  Some sectors are fraught with difficulties, particularly when American Missionaries get involved, but the American Church  runs after an idealism much the same as the American Socialists chase after a Communist utopia that is forever out of grasp.

Here, as in much of the world outside the United States, Jesus is the ideal. They are doing what Christians in America, at least in my corner of American Lutheranism, are faithlessly terrified to do.

They are following Jesus.

Identical People

One thing that I’ve noticed more than ever during my travels this month, is that people all over the world really are the same.  They look the same.  They react the same.  I’m not saying that every person is identical, but instead that there are “types” of people that can be found across all nationalities.  I’m convinced, simply by observation, that there really are only 5 or 6 “looks”- 5 or 6 ways that people look.

There’s the long face, the short face, the round face, the square face, the old face…

Then there’s the short and heavy, short and skinny, tall and heavy, tall and skinny, and somewhere in-between.

I can’t tell you what the average white guy looks like, or African or Asian Guy.  After seeing tens of thousands of people over the course of a few days, we all just look the same.  There is not much variety or difference between members of the human race.

And so what is this about diversity?  We get upset about the same things, we listen to music on headphones the same, we like to sit and have a drink of coffee or tea or water or alcohol.  When we call loved ones from the airport, the conversations don’t sound much different than anybody else’s.  In fact, love is so much an important part of the human experience that it is universal.

I watched people walk.  The tall people all walk the same way.  The pretty girls all walk the same way.  The old white guys all walk the same way.  And altogether, they all walk the same way.

I guess what I’m getting at, is it became very difficult for me to tell anybody apart.  After a while, I could see that somebody was asian, but they engaged the world no different than the black guy or the white guy.  I could see somebody was Muslim, but they were just as playful as somebody else wearing a cross and joking around with his college buddies.

Truth be told, I can’t tell white people apart either.  There is a sea of humanity that we all live in with all our hopes and dreams, pains and triumphs.

In the sea of people I encounter while traveling, I realize, there’s nothing at all different about any of us.  We literally are all the same.  We literally have the same values, the same love for humor, the same kindness and occassionally the same complaints about the same things.

So why is the chasm so wide between us?  Why is there war?  Is it really about people?  Is it really about customs?  Is it really about religions?

Or is it about Satan, who turns one against another?

God is in Cambodia Too

We just got back to the hotel from eating Steak Burgers at Spangles in Wichita.  The whole family is here to see me off tomorrow morning to Cambodia.  It’s stressful.  Knowing that I’ll be travelling for the next two days, living in airplanes and airports, isn’t the stressful part.  Being away from my wife and children is stressful.  It’s hard on the children, and hard on Mom who has to take care of everything on her own while I’m gone.

The truth is, I hate to be away from them too, but I’m on a mission.

This trip the mission may have changed, at least a little bit.  I learned today that my brother-in-law, one of the Minnesota 8, is scheduled to be moved by ICE from MN.  We’re not sure where he’ll be moved to.  He is Cambodian and grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He arrived to America when he was only 1 year old.

In Cambodia, his name is on a list at the deportee re-integration center- Cambodia’s resettlement service for deportees from all over the world as well as new immigrants resettling in Cambodia.  His wife and daughter wait.  In fact, it has been a long and stressful and heart-wrenching wait since he was arrested by ICE on a deportation order in August.  He showed up for a routine check-in with immigration services, just as he’s always done, when he was placed in detention.  A national movement and 6 months later it seems that Cambodia is going to receive him- and America is ready to send him- to a country he has never set foot in.

It feels hopeless, but our Christian faith is the substance of things hoped for.  So we hope.  We pray.  We trust God’s wisdom and His plan.

My brother-in-law is a Christian.  I can’t imagine how he feels, how his faith is being tested, or the questions he has of God right now.  The rest of us want to wrestle with the law, with our government, with the Cambodian government, but the greatest wrestling match for all of us is the one we have with God right now.

Jacob wrestled the shadowy figure, the stranger who knocked his hip out of joint.  Jacob wouldn’t let go until the “stranger” gave him a blessing.  Jacob was broken, he was struggling, he was wounded, but he held on for God’s blessing.

And not everything turned out the way Jacob thought it should over the course of his life.  We are like Jacob.  There are many things in life that don’t go our way, that don’t make sense in our understanding of God, that are painful, and that make us examine what we believe and who we are to God.

My brother-in-law might be deported to Cambodia.  It isn’t for lack of faith or prayer or believing.  It couldn’t be a divine punishment for sin.  It isn’t because God doesn’t know or understand our suffering.

But it does force us to face the content of our faith.

The truth is, when we lose everything else- house, home, material posessions, health, relationships, family- we still have all we need.  We still have God.  Even in our brokeness we still have God.  Ours is not a faith that says, “God isn’t faithful because He let me be deported.”  Ours is a faith that says, “Though I lose all, I still have Christ- because Christ will never let go of me.”

God is in Cambodia too.  God is in the dark and light.  He is in our grief and our joy.  He is in our pain and triumph.  He is in our sorrow and our celebration.  He’s there.

For us, the question we have to ask is whether or not we are going to hold on to Him- even after losing the wrestling match.  For us, we have to wonder: if that young man is deported, is it a loss or is God working a victory that we don’t understand- a victory according to His will?

Our greatest blessings are found when we stand in Him- and having done everything we can, to simply stand some more.  There is no greater consolation to a grieving soul than to know that this corrupt world can take everything from us; yet we still have everything we need.

When we’ve lost everything we realize that God was our everything all along.

Jesus Christ is sufficient for us.  He is our all-in-all, not just in America or in this moment, but in all places and all times from here to eternity.