Warning: this post is of a religious nature. If this is not what you came for, read on anyway. I’m sure you can take something from it!
Today, I was reminded of one of my favourite passages from one of my favourite books. It’s from The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. She and her family hid Jews from the Nazis in their home in Haarlem, the Netherlands. In this passage, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, have just arrived at Ravensbrück concentration camp.
‘Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’
We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.
‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’
‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.
In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…”‘ It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.
‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’
‘Oh yes:… “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”‘
‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
‘Such as?’ I said.
‘Such as being assigned here together.’
I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’
‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.
‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’
‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.
‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’
‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘
The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’
‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.
And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
(If you want to discover whether Betsie was right about the fleas, read the book.)
I’m well aware that moving to a different country and being immersed in a different culture can have its difficulties (cold showers, busy traffic, constant noise at night, power cuts, mud and dirt, dubious food…). Fortunately, I’m still in the stage where these haven’t become overwhelming and I am still loving my time here. There have been some days, of course, that have been more difficult than others. However, Cambodia is nowhere near as bad as the experiences Betsie and Corrie ten Boom went through, and they learnt to be thankful in the face of that. I thought I’d try to take a leaf out of their book.
So here are some things I’m learning to be grateful for:
- The cold showers can be really refreshing after a hot day. Also, when I am finding it difficult to wake up in the morning, this is the perfect remedy.
- The busy traffic can be exciting and exhilarating. Also, on days when I find myself stuck inside my head, a quick walk snaps me out of it as you have to be constantly aware of what is happening.
- The constant noise at night is another reason I am really grateful for my fan. It keeps me cool, it keeps the mosquitoes off me and it drowns out the sound of barking dogs.
- As I am writing this (11pm), sound from, I presume, the local karaoke bar is drifting through the otherwise still night air. The positive side of this is that, to put it politely, it’s entertaining. (It also might explain the barking dogs.) Also, Cambodians don’t seem to be self-conscious about singing like people in the UK often are. This is just really refreshing and nice.
- The recent power cut, although inconvenient, prevented me or my housemate getting arrested. During Pchum Ben, the temples played prayers through loud speakers from 4 am. The power cut stopped this (and I think the sound system was damaged and couldn’t be used for the rest of the week). (See this article about someone who did get arrested due to a similar problem.)
- Mud and dirt make me thankful for towels, soap, showers and baby wipes.
- Despite eating some concerning cuisine, I have not been seriously ill, which is something to be really thankful for.
- Ants. This one I found difficult. However, I am amazed at their persistence, speed and efficiency. The long lines they form, which can be traced for metres upon metres, just to collect food seem so well ordered and organised. It’s really quite incredible.
- Mosquitoes and mosquito bites: I will have to get back to you on that… Maybe I should at least be thankful that they aren’t fleas.
If you ever catch me moaning about Cambodia (which is great, in my opinion) or its people (who are great, in my opinion), please remind me to be thankful for the fleas.