Category Archives: SE Asia: Cambodia, Laos, & Vietnam

Life Among the Shadows

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Psalm 24:1 

It was Friday in Phnom Penh, the sun high in the clear blue sky.  On this day of new life, we were reminded of dark days of Cambodia’s past.  Our team stood in front of the Choeung Ek Memorial Stupa looking up at some of the 9,000 skulls that filled the memorial reminding us of the mass killings of Khmer Rouge.  Following our guide, we walked around the mass graves stopping frequently to learn about the innocent lives that were taken for reasons that my mind will never be able to comprehend.

As I walked alongside the group, I thought about all that I had experienced this week.  I thought about the people that I had met and the spirit of the youth, a generation of people who are now shaping the future of Cambodia.

I stand behind the group staring across the pitted fields.  Looking down at the ground, I see pieces of bones still coming through the dirt, new fragments that appear with every rainfall.  Strips of clothing peek through patches of grass and dirt.  As I look out upon the group listening to the horrific details of the Khmer Rouge, something else emerges.  I can hear the songs of birds high in the trees.  I see butterflies zigzagging in and out of wild shrubbery.  Voices of Cambodian children echo from a nearby schoolyard into the solemn grounds of the killing fields.  These children will never know the pain that their parents and grandparents endured.  As we stand in silence, light emerges from the darkness that has left a lasting mark on the Cambodian culture.

That life.  Those signs of hope.  The new vegetation.  The children.  They are a representation of the spirit of the Cambodian people.  They illustrate the ministry of the church in Cambodia and the joy and passion of the youth that our team experienced this week.  But most importantly, these things represent how through death and destruction, faith and love prevail and bring hope to these beautiful people. Although I felt great pain for the lives that had been taken by the Khmer Rouge, my sorrow was overcome by the joy that I now have in my heart because of leadership of the Cambodian Methodist Youth and the presence of organizations like International Justice Mission in this country.

This day was a day of laughter.  It was a day of tears.  It was a day of reflection.  And it was a day filled with hope for the Cambodian people.  May peace be our mission and Christ’s love be our guide.

God is good. God is real good.



Sacred Welcome

Worship begins with a burst of energy. Guitars, drums and keyboard fill the air with vibrant sounds that echo throughout the city.  As over 100 youth and young adults passionately praise God in the courtyard, children press against the church gate…listening with awe, dancing with joy and clapping with the heartbeat of God.

Unwilling to allow past problems to dictate the present, church leaders open the gate. Many young children, youth and a couple of adults stream in. More chairs are set up so that all may have a place in God’s gathered community.

Looking into the faces of those children, you saw the very presence of Jesus. As more children appeared, they too were welcomed with the kind of hospitality that can only emanate from God’s heart.

Together…the children, youth,  young adults and our team praised God. We sang and danced together creating a new community where all who were present belonged.  Seeds of faith and possibility were planted in the hearts of everyone who gathered that night.

As we left to return for a night of sleep, a deep truth emerged from within my spirit…..

     True worship happens when strangers and outsiders are fully welcomed…

—Dee Stickley-Miner


Becoming Like Children

Wednesday afternoon was a good reminder of God’s love and care upon our lives. As more than one hundred kids split into groups and went into the villages around Battambang City to be the actual hands and feet of Jesus, I experienced one of the most heartwarming events in my life. While riding in a van with around 20 kids participating in the youth rally, laughter and noise dominated the environment. In the middle of all this, a young girl stood in front of everybody and commanded us to pray. Everybody followed her order and in less than one second the atmosphere shifted. After the prayer this same girl led some worship songs and obviously moving and clapping was part of it.

As we arrived to the small church around thirty kids were gathered. The other team member and I felt kind of lost since we didn’t see any pastor or adult to lead the activity so we went to the young girl who had led the prayer and worship in the van and ask her what to do. She explained us that we were to wash the children’s hair with lice removal shampoo and clip their fingernails as we tried to get ready for the task.  In a sweet and strong voice she told us “we need to worship first.”

After singing, dancing and clapping for a while we started to take the kids to apply the shampoo. I was asked to do the task of nail clipping. This was a life changing experience for me. It was not the sense of feeling useful, but the attitude of these kids. They were trustful while being quiet and docile. As I was clipping their fingernails, a sense of awe invaded me. These children knew that they needed the help and were eager to receive it.

Since I couldn’t talk with them all I did was smile, be gentle and in silence prayed for their lives as I meditated on this entire situation. How sometimes I’m aware that I need to receive the care and love from God, but instead of being quiet, trustful and docile as this Cambodian kids, I run away and try to get things solved by my own.

May God grant me the ability to change and become like little children.

Un abrazo.

– Manuel


God’s Kingdom on Earth

Today (Tuesday) was the first day where our whole team really seemed to claim their purpose through the work we were doing with the youth at the Rally. Jen started the day off by leading a Bible study examining lifestyles of compassion based on Christ’s example. Then we led three different workshops for the youth- Faith and Sexuality (led by Manuel and Collin, Heather and me); What it Means to Be a Christian (led by John and Jules); and Christian Principles (led by Dee and Anna). Many of the youth attending the Rally are ‘new Christians’ who have come to know the saving work of Jesus Christ in the past few years. It was amazing to offer teaching and discussion around concrete and abstract faith matters! These youth are hungry for Christ and desire growing their faith for the benefit of all people.

The youth made this very clear as we piled into different vans destined for different villages in need throughout Battambang. After a long and VERY bumpy ride, we arrived at our destination- a small, one room church with nearly 80 anxiously waiting children. Given my previous experience in youth ministry, I had been expecting to spearhead the entire visit to the village- navigating the songs and skits for the children, preparing each health area including nail clipping, hand washing and lice shampooing- but the youth had it under control. Their plan, unbeknownst to me, was unfolding like a perfect manifestation of God’s Kingdom on earth. I watched as the team of youth carefully organized the health kits our VIM team had prepared and carried in luggage across the world. I’ve always enjoyed preparing health kits, or sending items on a mission trip, but this was the first time that I saw a child receive the gift that I had prepared in packing and prayed over. I watched the eyes of these children light up as if the health kit items we were giving them were equivalent to Christmas or their birthday. In fact, this time of gift giving and personal hygienic care which our youth team provided…was Christmas or a birthday celebration to many of the children.

That night, after we had returned from our different places in our different vans, we shared together in worship. The VIM team opened the service with songs of praise. Then Collin’s message reminded us of Romans 8:35- NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. Manuel followed Collin’s message with his personal testimony. His words (and powerpoint) connected so deeply with the youth! Our worship service was concluded through prayer offered by Jules, which echoed the words from Romans 8:35.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. And in the words of our Cambodian friends:



~Rebecca (Srey Ca)


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Rambutan’s the Word

Today was the first day of the Cambodian Methodist Youth Rally.  Our team was a bit apprehensive, as we weren’t quite sure what to expect.  What we got in the morning was a congregation any person leading worship would be jealous of.  The worship leader made a comment about how there wasn’t enough movement in those gathered and ever since there has been jumping, clapping, moving, and screaming… yes… screaming.

During our time of worship in the morning we were reminded that we are children of God.  What  a beautiful reminder to set the stage for the remainder of the youth rally.

Our morning break time brought about another interesting food experience.  The Cambodian leaders brought us a basket of Rambutan.  If you have never seen these fruit, I suggest a google image search.  We endured lots of giggles from onlookers as we had to have opening and consuming the fruit explained to us.  In the end, most of us loved the fruit.  Dee, our trip leader, even made honorable mention in a rambutan eating contest.

Fruit was a silly manifestation of a lot of feelings from our team.  As the youth rally got underway, we realized that our expectations for translating were mistaken.  For large portions at a time our team sat together and wondered what in the world was going on around us, as no one translated for us.  In our evening reflection later, many team members shared that the experience served as a reminder that we are not here for us.  We are here to serve alongside the Cambodian youth.

All frustrations of the day aside, we were left reflecting on issues of how Americans deal with those whose primary language is not English, how sometimes our worship styles are uncomfortable for those seeking, and how issues the youth in Cambodia are facing are more similar to the issues facing American youth than we could have imagined.

At the end of the day we are all tired, but excited to dive into the second day of the youth rally.  To teach.  To learn.  To worship.

I personally was thankful that as I was trying to sleep on Sunday night, attempting to quell my anxieties about the youth rally, I knew that my new church (North Broadway UMC in Columbus) was praying for me alongside many others.  For all of those who are praying for us (yes, Carl, that means you), keep the prayers coming.  We can truly feel your prayers, support, good vibes, juju or whatever you choose to call it.

My prayer for the team as I prepare for sleep is for continued laughter, rest, energy, passion, and humility.

… And who’s to say that I’m not also praying for dinner that doesn’t look back at me 😉




God Chooses Us First

At church on Sunday, the song that was sung during the offering was, “I Surrender All.”  Hearing it, even in another language than English, brought me back to my 7th grade summer at Rawlinsville Campmeeting in Quarryville PA.  This was the song for an altar call one night.  It was the night when I responded to the need to pray by coming from the back “youth corner” of the open air tabernacle to kneel at the front.  An older pastor came over to talk and pray with me.  I think his name was Harold Young.  After the service, he stopped by our cabin and spoke to my parents.  I remember him saying, “your daughter is gifted and is going to do great things in ministry.”

Today, as some of us sang along, I couldn’t help but reflect on this memory and the fact that God has brought me back around to both working with young people in the ministry of my daily life and travelling to Cambodia to serve with our group to support youth HERE with the purpose of sharing God’s love, call and purpose.  God is going to do great things through them!

Before church, a group of us shared children’s songs with about 25 children.  Yes, some of you might have recognized such favorites as the Hippopotamus Song, Peace Like a River, and Funky Chicken.   We were invited both at this church and another to share briefly with the youth to encourage them in their faith as well and Heather and Manuel were invited to lead us in this time.  At the second church, I shared a game, John led us in a song and Jen shared a witness. (I brought my favorite Wooshball for the occasion.)  Let me just tell you how GREAT our God is!  Without planning, our message in both locations flowed together clearly and smoothly.  The message was consistent:

God loves you.

We learn about God’s love in Christian community.

We learn about God’s love in God’s creation.

We also grow close to God through prayer and service.

When we experience God’s love for us, we can’t help but respond with a desire to listen for God’s call/purpose and surrender our heart and will to God.

Walking back to the van after the second church visit, Becca and I were stopped by a young woman who thanked us for coming to share.  While she spoke good English, she acknowledged being afraid/nervous to speak and forgetting her words.  We didn’t need to speak the same language to know that she was incredibly grateful and moved by our visit.  We invited her to walk with us and she took my arm as we walked to join the rest of our group.  Her name is Srey Sin.  She told us that she wants to be a translator from English to Kamai so that more people in Cambodia can learn about God’s love for them.  In this brief time, I felt a strong connection with her and her sense of call.  She knows that God has chosen her.  Later I learned that she is the daughter of a chief and that slowly she is inviting each of her family to learn more about Christianity.  I will write to her to help her practice English so that she can become who she believes God wants her to be!

Through these interactions, I was reminded that we can ask ourselves daily, “God has chosen me, did I choose God today?” (John 15:16) OR “What did God ask me to surrender today? How did I respond?”  For me it is clear that choosing to come on this trip was choosing to respond to God’s love and call for my life.  Being a part of this experience will bear “good fruit” in the lives of many here and in my own.

PS I also admit that I surrendered to the dessert options at our lunch buffet.  The coconut ice milk with candied pineapple and peanuts was SOOOO good!  Tee hee!



As the Silk Worm…

Hitting the tarmac in Siem Reap, our little group of 11 hadn’t yet found our stride, but we knew we were in for a God-sized adventure.  After 30 hours of travel and a trip across the international date line, we weren’t sure what day it was, let alone what we would see tomorrow.  Tomorrow, rumor had it, was called “Saturday,” and would be a day of rest and rejuvenation, an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with Cambodian history and hospitality before a week of teaching, praying, and playing at the Youth Rally.

The jungle-claimed temple complexes of Ankhor Wat were a puzzle of eternity and immediacy, groundedness and permeability – climbing impossible temple steps and following now-empty holy paths through the jumble of stone blocks, it was easy to imagine that this place was holy to Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus of a thousand years since.

But it was really the Ankhor silk farm that brought me a sense of God’s presence.  In devotions together, so many of us reflected that it is truly a miracle that God could make something as meager and insignificant as worms and mulberry leaves into something as beautifully complex as silk.  As we toured the silk worm farm and met the women delicately caring for each generation of worm, individually picking and feeding them, I wondered at the way God does the same for each of us.  We don’t know what is inside of us – what silken possibilities may be unraveled from our short lives – but we know we are cared for, and that there is a great fabric we’ll become a part of, in some small way.  The larger tapestry may not be something we see or understand, but God knows the pattern it will take, and the steps necessary to weave it, no matter how little we are or how small our portion.

I have a great hope today that our mission in Cambodia, small as it may seem to us, will be a part of God’s great dream for this country and for this people.  I pray we will be as silk worms this week, knowing that there is a larger plan, in which our witness will be one strand among many.

Thanks be to God for the silk worms among us. Amen.

– Jules