Mango Heat

mangoA fellow missionary ex-pat posted on Facebook today that she was in mango heaven at the market.  The mangoes are sweet, plentiful, and oh so very cheap over here in the Mekong Delta this time of year.

This is on the tail end of some temps that had even the veterans among us and the Cambodian populace dripping with the heat.  It.has.been.so.hot.

The heat isn’t just something that you walk through.  It affects every part of your life.

Are you late for an appointment?  It may be because you are so sapped of strength that you can’t even make your body move faster.

Are you having cold sandwiches AGAIN for dinner?  It may be because you can’t bear the thought of turning on the stove.  OR you can’t make yourself enter the scorching sunlight to get to market for supplies!

Are you having any family time?  Well, that depends on if you call looking at each other across the room while you are each sitting in your own sweat “family time.”

The heat pushes us until we find that we are snappy…we find that we are grumpy…we find ourselves day dreaming of central air and its availability almost everywhere that is just a plane ticket away.

It makes me often wonder about Jesus and His time of wandering in the desert place when Satan tempted Him.  He wasn’t the only one that wandered.  Others spent long stretches in the dry, desert places or endured long famines.  What caused them to keep putting one foot in front of the other?  Their faith was not of the fast food and air conditioned variety.  It was one that was deeply rooted in and completely grounded.

In response to my friend’s facebook post, I responded with a short memory of our first year here.

When I say that the heat was so intense during our first “hot season” in 2005, I am not exaggerating.  It was not only our first time to walk through one so we were not used to the heat physically, but it was widely documented and reported as one of the hottest seasons on record.  So for us it felt like a double whammy.

A co-worker told us “Plan to get one thing done each day.  Only one thing.  If you accomplish that, it is progress.  But don’t beat yourself up over the fact that it is only one thing.”  In my prideful heart I thought to myself…One thing?  Well, he’s never met us.  We are going to get this thing whipped and start forward motion.

Aw…the fall that comes after the rise of pride!  We all found ourselves zapped each and every day.  That “one thing” that we would get accomplished???  Sadly, many mornings it was simply getting a breakfast on the table…sad…sad…sad.

About half way through that first scorching season, I was sitting at our homeschool co op and feeling like I could lay down on the floor and just cry.  I didn’t care who knew.  I didn’t care who saw me.  I was miserable.

A veteran mother from Australia came over to sit beside me and apparently took pity on this battered shell of a person.  She asked me how was I doing.  There wasn’t any pride left in  me…I just spewed about how miserable I was…it probably wasn’t very pretty for her to watch and hear.

She gently asked me what did I feel “was the hardest thing I was struggling with today?”  I told her…it was the heat.  Not the struggle of living in Cambodia with developing nation culture shock.  Not the language barrier or the struggle to communicate even the most basic thing with our preschooler level vocabulary.  Not the heartache of homesickness.  It was the heat.

A look of knowing and understanding passed through her beautiful eyes that had seen so much.  She leaned ever so slightly towards me and gave my arm a comforting squeeze.  She assured me it would pass and that one day I would notice that my focus had changed from the hot temps to the mangoes.

“The mangoes are sweetest when the temps are the hottest.”

That has held true.  I still feel the heat.  It still takes away my breath at times and I find myself in my fourth shower of the day wondering how can a body possibly sweat while taking a cold shower???

Yet, the mangoes are sweetest when the temps are the hottest.

It is during the times of intense battle that the Lord’s grace is upon us the most.

It is during the exhausting times of struggle that we find yes, indeed, His mercies are new every morning.

We learn the sweet taste of peace when we lift our hearts in surrender when all is shaking around us and yet we praise Him for His will to be done in all things.

If you find that your are in one of these hot seasons now, I pray that you will find that image that the Father is holding up for you to look upon and see the truth of hope.  Hope in His goodness…hope in His faithfulness…hope in His sufficiency.

The mangoes ARE sweetest when the temps are the hottest.

Breathing in, breathing out,

Rhonda

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Seeing Victory Over Temptation

A friend of mine recently posted a devotional from Joyce Meyer.  She didn’t state which devotional it was but I want to be sure to credit JM for the foundations of the following.  It blessed me and I pray that it blesses you. 
 
We all face temptation, it’s an unavoidable part of life. The question is not, “Will you be tempted?” The question is, “When you’re tempted, will you be ready?”

I really want you to get this: You can beat temptation. Stop saying, ‘Joyce, I just don’t think I can.’ Take ‘I can’t!’ out of your vocabulary.

In your own strength and by your own ability, you’re right. You can’t. But when you put God’s Word in your heart, when you lean on His strength and trust in His promises, there’s no temptation you can’t overcome.

Over the years, I’ve noticed five things that make all the difference in overcoming temptation.

  1. First, you’ve got to be wise. Think about the choices you’re making and the consequences before you make them. Wisdom looks ahead.
  2. Next, you have to believe that you can resist temptation. Condemnation, guilt and shame work off of momentum, if you stop them early, they lose their power, but once they get rolling, they’re hard to stop.
  3. Third, think of facing temptation as normal life. If you’re expecting a fight, you’ll always be ready.
  4. Fourth, avoid areas of weakness. Don’t put yourself in situations where you can easily fall. If you struggle with managing your money, don’t go to the mall when you can’t afford to buy anything!
  5. And finally, don’t give yourself too much credit. We don’t graduate from being tempted. It’s so easy to think you’ve matured beyond stumbling, and once that happens, you make yourself an easy target.

God wants you to trust Him to bring victory in every area of your life. By His grace, you can!

Thank you, Joyce M., for a nugget of great wisdom and practical application to our lives.

Breathing in, breathing out,

Rhonda

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Brennan Manning

You might not have ever heard of Brennan Manning but here is a quote of his…

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9),

I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”

This man has entered into his reward today. He has heard “Well, done, good and faithful servant.”11117_10151708674133054_1152711232_n

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Blue for boy/Pink for girl

So…I am working on a Sociology Lit. Review for one of the college classes that I have found myself in.  The Lord has blessed me in that my professors almost always allow me to modify such assignments in such a way that it can be useful or applicable to our life and work here in Cambodia.

My paper is on Gender Preference in Adoptive Families.  This is something that I heard MUCH about during our first adoption.  Many adoption agencies have policies of not allowing a family to choose gender.  They do so because most agencies are concerned with the totality of the orphan situation and these professionals find that they are fighting against a cultural bias in American (and actually this bias holds when considered worldwide) families.  These can be very serious for baby boys.  Time and time again, even when it means they will wait much longer for a girl, families will refuse the referral of a boy.  These children remain in the orphanages and year by year, month by month, more and more male children age out of the adoption programs and then have no chance for adoption.

It is documented and out there for everyone to see…the bias of adoptive families to prefer to adopt girls rather than boys.  It is the exact opposite of the cultural bias that we have when faced with the birth of a biological child…in that case, the proven preference is for boys.  There are some studies that indicate Americans like a “balanced” family that contains one of each child.  However, it is hard to duplicate those results and it is suggested that the reason lies in cultural preferences are constantly shifting and being remodeled.

However, when researching for this project and pulling together the studies and findings, I wasn’t surprised, as probably no one else is either, to find that one social cause of the adoption numbers being in favor of female children is the rate at which girls are adopted from China.  China is a popular country for adoptions and given their One-Child policy, baby girls are adopted at a higher rate.  When that societal cause is accounted for, we still see a very high preference for girls.

As internet research will do sometimes, the One-child policy stuff led me to gender-selection abortions which are prevalent in China, India, and other countries as well.  These abortions are skewing the population balances in these countries and the tip of the iceberg with problems is just being seen now.  There are now great shortages of girls for these boys who were not aborted.  They are unable to find wives.

Then a couple more waves of surfing and BOOOOOM!  My little surfing keyboard crashed down upon finding that sex-selection abortions are a serious problem in the U S of A!  This is not a problem in Asia…this is not a problem in those “other” countries.  Nope!  Right in my own country.

Do a little reading of your own at:  http://www.pop.org/content/ban-sex-selective-abortions-us

It is only illegal in four US states…but at least 9 states have bills pending and North Caroline pushed that number up to 10 just yesterday!

http://www.christianpost.com/news/at-least-9-states-considering-bills-to-ban-sex-selective-abortions-91318/

http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/04/10/2816448/bill-would-bar-sex-selection-abortions.html

I don’t know why I am surprised…I don’t know why…

It was only a matter of time that their slogan, “My body, my choice”…expanded to “My Child, my choice.”

How sadly ironic that in fighting for “so called” reproductive rights, legal abortion has killed more girls than boys.

This quote from Planned Parenthood kinda got me as well:

“What this means is that PPFA will happily perform – for a profit – a sex-selection abortion, except where it is illegal. And, of course, PPFA is absolutely opposed to making it illegal, and will work to defeat any congressman who votes in favor of doing so.”

These people will one day find themselves in the hands of a Righteous Judge.  The blood of these innocents will not fail to cry out for justice.

Breathing in, Breathing out,

Rhonda

 

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Ministry Myopia

Yesterday marked the first day back to online college classes for Mark and I.  Our break in school was not nearly as long as I wanted it to be.  However, we did have to pack a whole lot of things into those weeks off of school…Christmas for Bykota House is always a load of work…but we were again so richly blessed and I believe Jesus stayed the focus of our season.

Today I was reading in chapter 1 of one of my textbooks.  It is a marketing class that highlights many particular needs for non-profit organizations.  So it is likely to be another class that will be very useful here with the Lord’s work in Cambodia.

I was buzzing along in this first chapter and came across this section on marketing myopia.  “Marketing myopia is management’s failure to recognize the scope of its business.”  I stopped right there.  Why?  Well, because that is something that I have learned is a weakness that I personally have in my life and work…I get ministry myopia.

Because of the great amount of work that it takes to care for, provide for, and LOVE on 26 children and do all that it takes to run my own household, be Mark’s bride, and parent my own children in the home and keep up with those back in the States…I can really tend to develop a short-sightedness.

I can easily get focused on “Are the kids eating enough/right?” “Who has immunizations this month?”  “Is so-and-so going to school or playing hooky instead?”  “Are we providing enough English skills to equip them for their future?”

Or I can get too focused on the “desk work” that I have.  “Am I expressing enough thankfulness to our sponsors?”  “Am I praying enough for our sponsors?”  “GADS! It is time for annual/biannual/quarterly/monthly government reports!”

My pastor recently emailed and asked, “Rhonda, do you ever feel like a juggler?”

Yep, I do.  In fact, that is how I feel much of the time.  But that is because I forget to keep the one thing that is most important in the center of my radar.  That most important thing is a person…Jesus Christ.

I am/was created to be a worshiper of Him.  When that is my focus and all that flows out of my life and the work of my hands is simply an expression of my worship of Him…all is well.

When the juggling starts, more often than not, it is because my gaze has slipped just a tad bit off of His face and onto some other task.

Today I am praying for perfect 20/20.  How about you?

Breathing in, breathing out,

Rhonda

 

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“A Real Life Math Problem”

We have had a roller coaster ride with the Cambodian school system since the Lord established Bykota House.  Really…it has been something!

When we started BH in 2005 most of the children that we blessed with were from an orphanage out in the province.  Only the first five grades were available at their little provincial school.  Some had finished that school already and so were home all day in the orphanage and some were about to finish that school.

If we hadn’t brought them into town, that would have been the end of all their education.  Period.

We first lived in a far north section of town called Tuol Kork.  Immediately upon getting the children, we enrolled them in school.  The youngest child was Bee and he was enrolled in a Christian YWAM preschool along with Mary and Christopher.  It wasn’t easy getting the schools to cooperate with enrolling the children but they finally did.  We had kids from two different orphanages and no one wanted to cooperate without money and records and the schools in the provinces refused to release the records without money.  It was a mess.

But education is very important to both Mark and I. Thankfully, our MOU is worded in such a way that we aren’t required to educate the children in Khmer.  We are just required to provide an education.  It can be English, Korean, Chinese, or Martian for that matter…

Our experience with that local school wasn’t great, but little did we know, it wasn’t as bad as it would soon get.

We then moved to a new house. Our oldest BH girl was enrolled in a high school and the others were all enrolled in the elementary school.

At both the Tuol Kork home and at our new home, we provided Khmer  tutoring through a paid staff member.  Also, we held English classes on our own, with volunteers, and with our own teenagers.

Sopheak, Kuntea, VunThy…now Pisey…oh, I can’t even remember them all…Bong Marc,  Leap…all the people we have hired to help with Khmer schooling.

Then one day the children went to school and came home with Volet being beaten because he told them he was a Christian.  Now in retrospect, I wish we had taken a picture to show what had happened.

At that time, the Lord very clearly told us that we were to take the children out of school for a time of preparation.  It was a time for them to be taken out of this “world” so to speak for a time of immersion or at least as close as we could get it…not only for English education but also for a time of refuge while they became more grounded in who He is and their Christian walk.

We established School of the Nations, our private Christian school, for the children of Bykota House the very next month.

However, we feel that the Lord has directed us to enroll the children again in the Cambodian school system.  Our reason for doing this is simply obedience.  However, also we feel that 1.  things have changed and we don’t expect the abuse to be repeated again due to religious differences and 2.  Our staff has several years of training with us and we feel they know this system and can work with it from a Christian foundation.  Also, of course, 3.  the children will hopefully get their high school certificate one day but that is not our top priority.

The education here is supposed to be free.  Why then is only 37% of the Cambodian population functionally literate???  Why????  BECAUSE THEY CAN’T AFFORD TO GO TO SCHOOL!  That’s why.

The teachers charge $$.  Is there a homework assignment sheet?  That will cost the student 500 to 1,000 riel.  If you want a seat in the class…that will cost you 1,000 to 2,000.

That is it pure and simple.  The teachers are only paid $30-40 a month and that isn’t enough to live on.  So they turn to the students (or the families of their students anyway) and charge additional fees.

For their math assignment yesterday, the older boys of Bykota House sat down with Micah and worked through a real life math problem.  The assignment was to figure how just how much is this “free” education costing Bykota House.

Here was their assignment:

Bykota House has ten younger children going to Khmer school six days a week.

Gina, Thomas, Beau, DaLin, Bee, David, Heng, Rattanak, Timothy, and Gene all need 500 riel every day for “snack time.”

The teachers of 8 children require 10,000 riel every month for their attendance.  Two teachers was 15,000 riel.

We also have 8 children who do Khmer preschool with Hosanna five days a week.  Hosanna is paid 4,000 riel every day.

Rattana, Chantee, Volet, and Savorne are all going to the high school six days a week.  They need 5,000 every day for their teachers and their “break time.”

They each have sport class one day a week and each of them need 2,000 riel for the teacher.

The special math tutoring class for Volet, Rattana, and Chantee is 2,000 per day for three students.  They go to the special class six days a week.

Figure the total cost of Khmer education for Bykota House each month in riel.

 Answer: 

Then typical market trade for riel to US dollars is 4,000 riel for each dollar.

How much does the total cost of Khmer education cost Bykota House each month in US dollars?

Answer:

Now, my husband suggested that I have everyone do the math and then post the answer next week.  But who knows what will be going on next week…and who wants to come to my blog and end up doing a math problem???

If you did brave the math, the answers in riel is 870,000 which converts to US $217.50.

Yes, that is quite a number with our Bykota House budget.  It was money that wasn’t being spent in September but now is committed each and every month.  So plain and simple…this is a NEW expense!

We can’t send the kids to school and then not give them what they need to “play by the rules” in this game.

So now we have spent several hundred dollars buying school uniforms, backpacks, school supplies, enrollment fees, etc etc…Thankfully, we had that amount when we needed it.  Praise the Lord!

We are so thankful for each and every one of our partners and team members.  We feel like our organization is really blessed by folks who truly care and respond not out of our needs or the needs of Bykota House but instead, they respond out of obedience to the Father because He has imparted the vision for this work deep within their hearts.  Our partners are just as committed as Mark and I are and all give sacrificially to make sure our needs our met.  We are so blessed!

Well, even though it is Saturday, I better get moving!  Why????  Well, I forgot to make that really clear…Cambodian schools go SIX days a week…so that means Saturday is not a day off for us to play and rest any longer.  It is a school day!

Breathing in, breathing out,

Rhonda

 

 

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Now I lay me down to sleep…

Now I lay me down to sleep.  I pray the Lord, my soul will keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take.

My Aunt Janice taught me that prayer as a young child.  I remember asking her one night if a little kid can go to sleep and die before they wake up.  She got this wide-eyed look on her face and said, “Uh…well, maybe there was a house fire or something.”  The next day we talked about fire safety and that if the house caught on fire and I escaped out of the basement door, I had permission to THROW A ROCK THROUGH THE FRONT ROOM WINDOW TO WAKE THEM UP!!!  I was rather disappointed that house never caught on fire…sigh…I never got to throw a rock through her front room window.

This month is Pchum Ben, a Cambodian festival of the ancestors.  We are required by law to facilitate the children of Bykota House to join with any extended family they might have for this Cambodian holiday.  Some of our children have no one, but probably 2/3rds have someone who includes them in the gatherings out in province.

This year the holiday has been much more stressful and hard due to other circumstances in the ministry.  We have had to make some unavoidable changes that have been very painful.  It affected two children of Bykota House more than others.

These two young children have elderly grandparents that care for them and they also have a biological mother.  However, the mother suffered a head injury when she was pregnant with the youngest child.  According to her family, she has a great deal of difficulty thinking straight or making decisions.  They say it is very hard to talk reasonably to her.  The children were brought to Bykota House because the grandparents couldn’t care for them full-time and the mother wouldn’t and couldn’t either…due in part to lack of desire and poverty, but mostly due to this past head injury.

When these two children went for celebration, the biological mother heard of the changes we have had to make in the ministry here and she didn’t like it.  Not one bit.  So she got on a moto taxi and came into town to tell me that if I didn’t change things back the way they were previously, she was taking both of the children.

The changes had to be made…there was nothing that I could do about it.  We had no choice. However, I sat at my dining room table and begged.  I don’t mean that I argued a lot or cajoled or tried to reason with her.  It got intense and I put my hands together in a posture of supplication as the beggars here always do and I BEGGED for these children.  I did not care that in this culture of “shame” I was lowering myself and would “lose face.” I was more concerned about losing the children.  Still she refused.

She took both of them to province and said they would never be returning.  We were stunned…then we walked around numb for two days…then the pain of heartbreak threatened to smother me to the point that I couldn’t take a deep breath.  A little boy and a little girl… They have been a part of our Bykota House family for almost five years…then in one 20 minute meeting…they are gone.

So we prayed…

There was nothing we could do.  No help to turn to.  We know the Cambodian law.  We knew what it would take to get our case heard and then knew it would be to no avail.  We have watched other  ministries go through it too many times.

So…we prayed some more.

A peace that didn’t make sense to us came to rest on us but it was still hard to take a deep breath without it trying to turn into a sob.

Then on Monday the gate bell rang.  It was the grandmother and two dirty, hungry, scared and wild-eyed children were with her.

The mother had run out of money in just one weekend so she had brought them to the grandparents home and told them to take care of them.  In fact, when they arrived at 11 AM, they had both been over a great deal of road already that day to come back into town and they hadn’t had a bite to eat.

Toast with jam was made in less than a minute with a tall glass of milk for each and they devoured it and were ready for more in less than another minute.  With a mouth full of bread, the youngest told me that they didn’t have much to eat the day before.

I didn’t stop touching them and telling them how much we had missed them.  I told them we had been afraid.  I asked them, “Were you afraid?”

The youngest said, “I was a little bit afraid, but not a big afraid.”
The oldest looked at his sister and said, “I was a big afraid.”

“What were you afraid of, babe?” I asked.

“I was afraid that my mom wasn’t going to bring me back to Bykota House.”

It was another one of those moments when I found my heart up in my throat and my mouth suddenly dry.  Bykota House is not something that Mark and I have started or something that we run…it is a place of safety and refuge that God Himself has established and He uses as He desires.

I just sat there looking into his big brown eyes.  He swallowed a great big gulp of milk and he said, “I prayed to Jesus and he hear my prayer.  Now I back home.”

What does a person say to that?  This little one’s prayer wasn’t a little “Now I lay me down to sleep…” rhyme.  It was a cry from the heart of a scared little boy…

And at that cry, God Himself intervened!!  What a mighty God we serve!!!

“Yes, babe, Jesus heard your prayer.”

Breathing in, breathing out,

Rhonda

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