Wednesday, December 2, 2015

2015 Cambodia/Korea Mission: Healing, Hope, and Humble Service

sent by Ken Kieffer

It was a grand day – perhaps the grandest of the Cabinet’s entire 12-day journey to Southeast Asia and back.  I was privileged to be part of a group that joined our Bishop in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a brand new sanctuary.

Ironically, it was hotter than Hades on this particular Lord’s Day in the middle of November in the middle of Cambodia.  But I was thrilled to be invited, nonetheless.  The church building itself had begun years earlier, thanks to the bold vision of NYAC’s own Randy Nugent (then director of General Board of Global Ministries), the hard work of teams of imported Youth Ambassadors, and the blood, sweat and tears of countless domestic laborers from the village of Okroch (pronounce Oh croak).

I lifted not a finger during this decade-long endeavor, and yet there I was, rising from my 2nd row seat in the VIP section with a pair of scissors in my uncalloused hands.  Everyone on the extended cabinet cut just a snippet of the ribbon, leaving the lion’s share of the scissor-work to Bishop Middleton.

Following the ceremony, those present (just about everyone in the entire village) removed their dust-covered footwear and filed in for the 2-hour service.  Once seated, we were treated to an inspiring time of small children singing, the pastor praying, and our Bishop preaching (thanks to a translator translating).

But the most striking part of the service for me was a troupe of teenage girls dancing.  Now, I’ve seen liturgical dancers perform ever since my wife was in a high school quintet at the church in which we both grew up on Long Island, but the dancers at this special service did something I had never witnessed before.

The “something” they did, though, was nearly nothing.  By that I mean that all of the girls’ gestures were as small as mustard seeds - the tilting of a wrist, the extending of a finger, the angling of an ankle.  No grand sweeping anythings in this routine.  Rather, it was tiny girls making tinier gestures that made the biggest impression on me.   Sometimes, it's the little things…

Next on our itinerary was a bit of a bus trip to the Samreth Methodist  Church’s  Susanna Wesley school for middle and high school aged students (69 girls, 9 boys).  No sooner had we weary Westerners stepped onto the premises than our hosts formed 2 columns of kids, one on our left and one on our right, and started cheering wildly for us as we passed between them.

Following this grand entrance, we met these young, aspiring scholars, toured their dormitories (they go home on weekends), and then got down to the business of a Bible study. Now, if you have never led a late-afternoon Bible study in a sweltering room full of 78 teenagers who don’t speak English, all under the watchful eye of your Bishop, you’ll have to trust me when I say that it ain’t easy.

To make matters worse, the chosen topic for our time together was the question, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” (see Khmer Rouge, circa 1975).  But thanks to the students’ patience, the presenters’ perseverance, and the Holy Spirit’s presence, grace abounded and meaningful connections were made.

Officially, our program ended with the obligatory group picture in front of the school.  Since we all wanted this special shot of the students, the staff, and our fellow sojourners on our OWN cameras, this took considerable time, effort and smiling (say “kim cheese!”).  But this grand photo was small in comparison to the selfie I saw one of the female students insist on taking with her new BFF, Betsy Ott, my co-teacher in the Bible study.   Sometimes, it’s the little things…

According to our itinerary, the school was supposed to be the last stop of the day, and I for one was looking forward to taking a well-deserved nap on our long air-conditioned bus ride back to our rooms.  I could only imagine how tired the Bishop must have been, especially after having preached and speeched earlier.

Why, then, did I see her bypass the bus and head across the dirt road?  Was there another village VIP to meet & greet, another GBGM staffer who wanted a personal episcopal intro, or another grand opening of another grand building?

What could be so important?  The answer soon became clear.  After exchanging traditional Cambodian greetings with the young family of Christian converts (Cambodia is 90% Buddhist), we were told that the husband was active in the Samreth Methodist Church and the wife was active in the Woman’s Program sponsored by the GBGM and their 3 small children were, well, just active!

We were about to bid adieu when we overheard that the woman, Chhok, had a pressing health issue - something involving her heart.  The Bishop was so moved by the woman’s plight that she gently placed her hands on Chhok’s head and offered a prayer for healing in a language that the woman did not speak. But by the time the Bishop said “Amen”, Chhok was in tears (not the only one).

Sometimes it’s the little things…the tilt of a dancer’s wrist, the selfie with a newfound friend, the prayer for a person in need, and a baby born in a manger.