It’s a hot mess

I have a colleague who has a favourite saying, which is best said in her Mississippi accent: “It’s a hot mess.” That perfectly sums up life in Cambodia at the moment. It’s reaching 38 degrees. Piles of rubbish rot in the hot sun. It has only rained once in the last three months. There are rolling power cuts every day (I either have power in the morning or the afternoon, but not both). I sometimes have to shower from a bucket when I have no running water. And to top it off, my digestive system is finding a new way to torture me each day. It’s a hot mess. And these difficulties seem to force the ugly sin out of me like the sweat from my pores. I’m grumpy, impatient and ungrateful. My clothes stink; my body stinks; my heart stinks. 

But through it all, there is so much grace and goodness. In the heat and the sweat and the power cuts and mosquitoes, God is so, so good.

Cambodia quickly teaches you that you are not in control. Your plans are quickly waylaid; each day throws a different challenge in your path. Power cuts, traffic jams, tuk tuk drivers losing their way, stomach bugs, sudden rainfalls (not for the next few months, though), ATMs eating your cash, not being able to make yourself understood, photocopiers jamming, the internet cutting out in the middle of a Skype call. The list goes on. They all serve to slowly steal any semblance of control you have. However, even if I’m not in control, God surely is. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21) It is God who I can rely on. God’s purposes prevail. His perfect and pleasing purposes prevail. God prevails. Praise the Lord.

There are those little “inspirational” phrases you see popping up on Facebook. They seem fine on the surface then you realise they are simply not true. One of them is “You can’t always control your circumstances but you can always control your attitude, approach and response.” Well, that’s a lie. Paul says in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Human hearts are ugly- none so more than mine. In the tiredness and the frustrations I become rude, impatient and insulting. Sometimes I’m able to hide my callousness under a fake smile and a stiff upper lip. But in my heart, there are cruel and hurtful words. I’m quick to judge others and I’m all too willing to store up bitterness. My heart is a hot mess. However, no matter how ugly our hearts are, God’s grace is far more sufficient, far more beautiful and far more faithful. No matter what the heat and the sickness and the piles of rubbish churn up, God’s goodness can deal with it all. No sin is so ugly or mistake so big or attitude so selfish that it can ever nullify the work of Jesus’ death on the cross. Praise the Lord.

Cambodia quickly teaches you how weak you are. I’ve been ill three times in 2019 already. It’s near the end of a thirteen-week term with very little let-up. I’m tired. My classroom is on the top floor and by the time I get there, I sometimes feel dizzy. I rely on sugar and coffee to keep going, only for my energy levels to crash and burn. I have aches and pains. “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall,” Isaiah 40:30 tells us. My body is – yes, you’ve guessed it – a hot mess.

It’s not just my physical body that is weak. My self-control is woefully lacking. I procrastinate. I’m distracted. I’m not prioritising my relationship with God the way I should. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I’d like to say that it’s because I’m in a spiritual battle. But that’d also be a lie. There’s very little fight coming from my end and the devil is probably very happy to leave me well alone. I’m doing a good enough job of causing my problems on my own as it. I’ll tell myself I’ll pick up my Bible or I’ll pray about such-and-such or I’ll listen to a sermon but I’m too lazy or too busy watching pointless Facebook videos. I’d like to say my self-control is a hot mess to be in-keeping with the theme, but, frankly, it’s non-existent.

But God took murderers and liars and adulterers and those running away as far and quick as they could, and he used them. God breathed life into dead bones. The verse after Isaiah 40:30 tells us

but those who hope in the Lord

    will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

    they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31

God can take the hot, weak mess of my body and soul and change it and use it and restore it. He can give me strength to do all things. And I sure know I need it. But I also know I can rely on his promises and goodness to sustain me. Praise the Lord.

So, why am I telling you this? It’s not for words of pity or sympathy. Nor am I looking for people to tell me I’m doing a great job (I’d simply think you didn’t read the blog post properly). No, I’m asking you to pray. I’m asking you to pray that I know God’s goodness and love and joy throughout my time here. I’m asking you to pray that God will be my first love. I’m asking you to pray that I prioritise my time and energy and strength to seek and serve God with earnest and passionate focus and determination. I’m asking you to pray that God renews my weak and feeble heart and breathes life into these dead bones.

I’m also asking you to pray, thanking God that in the hot mess of life, he can still use these situations to teach me to give him control, to acknowledge my weakness and to seek his plan for my life. Praise him that the power cuts and the heat and the rubbish is slowly (sometimes, I feel, too slowly) making me more like Jesus. So, once again, praise the Lord.

Khmer Sing-Along – ព្រះចាត់បុត្រា – God Sent His Son

I’m trying to build up my repertoire of Khmer songs. Christian ones are particularly helpful: I know the tunes and I can get the gist of what they are singing as it’s pretty close to the English. Therefore, I’ve been using simple and rather repetitive songs to build my knowledge of Khmer words and phrases.

Again, I’ve transcribed it and transliterated it twice, using two different systems. Read (or don’t) about some of the thought processes behind how I’ve done it here. It goes some way to explain why what you read might not be exactly what you hear, especially in songs.

ព្រះចាត់បុត្រា – God Sent His Son

Khmer and English

ព្រះចាត់បុត្រា នាមថាព្រះយេស៊ូវ
យាងមកស្រលាញ់ ប្រោះ និង អត់ទោស
ទ្រង់រស់ និង ស្លាប់ ដើម្បីលោះបាបខ្ញុំ
ឯផ្នូរទទេ នោះបញ្ជាក់ថា ព្រះខ្ញុំទ្រង់រស់



Chorus

ដោយព្រោះទ្រង់រស់ ខ្ញុំមិនខ្លាចទេថ្ងៃស្អែក
ដោយព្រោះទ្រង់រស់ ក្តីខ្លាចរលាយ
ដោយខ្ញុំដឹងថាដឹងថា ទ្រង់ជ្រាបអនាគត
ឯជីវិតខ្ញុំមានតំលៃ ព្រោះតែទ្រង់នៅរស់


 

God sent his son,
They call Him Jesus,
He came to love,
heal and forgive,
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there
to prove my Saviour lives.

Chorus

And because He lived, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives all fear is gone,
Because I know, I know,
He holds the future,
And life is worth the living
just because He lives.

Romanisation and IPA

Preah chat botra niam tha Preah Yesu
Yeang mok sralanh braoh ning attouh
Troeung roeuh ning slab
    daeumbe luoh bab knhom
Ae phnuo tote nuoh banhcheak tha
    preah knhom troeung roeuh

Chorus

Daoy pruoh troeung roeuh
    knhom min khlach te thngey saek
Daoy pruoh troeung roeuh
    ktei khlach roleay
Daoy knhom doeng tha doeng tha
    troeung chreab aneakot
Ae cheivet knhom mean tamley
    pruoh tae troeung novroeuh
preah cat ɓotra niəm tha Preah Jesu
jiəŋ mɔk srɑlaɲ ɓrɑh niŋ aʔtoh
troəŋ roəh niŋ slap
    ɗaəmɓəj luəh ɓap khɲom
ʔae phnu tɔte nueh ɓɑɲciək tha
    preah kɲom troəŋ roəh

Chorus

ɗaoj pruəh troəŋ roəh 
    kʰɲom min kʰlac te tʰŋɨj sʔajk
ɗaoj pruəh troəŋ roəh
    kʰdəj kʰlac rɔliəj
ɗaoj kʰɲom ɗəŋ tʰa ɗəŋ tʰa
    troəŋ criəp ɑniəkɔt
ʔae ciʋit kʰɲom miən tɑmlɛ
    pruəh taj troəŋ nɨwroəh

Get the pdf version here!

A Cambodian Christmas

It’s 30˚C, it’s hot, it’s sticky, but it’s also Christmas. This time of year, I feel a little bit disorientated. The calendars say it’s December but the weather outside is not exactly frightful. I actually enjoy Christmas here in a way. Apart from shops having some decorations, it passes without too much attention. There’s no pressure to cook the perfect turkey, to buy the perfect presents and to make sure that you’ve sent out cards before the last post. Ironically, the lack of celebration perhaps allows more focus on what the story of Christmas is about.

After my Khmer lessons in the evening, I will often drive (well, get driven) down a long road that passes behind the international airport. It’s called Street 2004. In the day, it seems to be mostly metal workshops. However, when the evening comes, the metal workshops are mostly closed and the street is transformed. Karaoke bars turn on their bright lights and restaurants start blaring music.  There must be at least twenty karaoke bars along this street. It’s amazing that the workshops seem to wholly disappear (they are just tucked away in the darkness) and that the bars were there all along during the day.

Karaoke seems like an innocent enough past time. However, these bars often act as brothels or at least where girls get paid to entertain and host men. Each bar has a row of chairs outside, seating about a dozen girls, all in glamorous dresses and makeup, just waiting. Sometimes, these are school girls, pressured by family members – even their own parents – to earn extra money by selling themselves. Abject poverty can lead to terrible choices. Sometimes the eldest daughter, for the sake of her siblings or perhaps someone struggling in the family, is forced into prostitution. There is no free NHS, there is no social welfare, there is no bursary to fall back on. There is only sexual trafficking, petty crime or begging in order to survive.

So, at least twice a week, I am confronted by the brokenness of this country and the sin of this world. Cambodia provides a lot of opportunity for this type of wakeup call: the victims of mines begging at tourist sites, young children pulling rubbish carts and collecting cans and wires and anything that can be stripped and sold for a few riel. Cambodia’s beauty and vibrance is also mixed with sadness and hardship. Sometimes they are so intermingled its hard to know where one ends and the other starts.

My heart breaks to see the rows of girls; or the begging children; or the trash collectors sitting in among bags of rubbish searching for scraps; or the victims of the legacy of the Khmer Rouge still forty years on. Where is God in all this? Where can I find the Merry Christmas, or joyful tidings or season’s greetings in the dirt, destitution and degradation? It’s near impossible to reconcile a Cambodian Christmas with the picturesque Victorian images of Christmas the UK has inherited: a plump baby Jesus asleep in the serene manger, while the silent stars looked on over a quiet, orderly and clean Bethlehem. It seems so wrong and confusing.

But I think that the Cambodian Christmas is more akin to what actually happened in first century Palestine.

Jesus came to this damaged world. He didn’t arrive to live a life of cozy Christmas cards, tacky tinsel and steaming stuffing. Nor did he come to reject the poor, condemn the prostitute (or even the pimp) or to hang out with the rich and powerful. Nor did he, perhaps which is most confusing to us, come to wave a magical omnipotent wand and clean up the mess. That would just be sanitising the world, much like our cute version of the nativity does.

No, instead, Jesus (who had, for eternity, been dwelling in heavenly bliss) stepped down into the hurt and pain and hardship of this world. He visited the dead and dying, he invited the rejected, he blessed the outcasts. Jesus – the refugee, the carpenter, the rabbi from the backwaters of Galilee, the trouble-maker – had came to heal, to transform and to restore. Jesus, that little baby, had come to die so that a world reeking with death and decay could come alive once more. 

Simply, Jesus came because God’s heart broke.

God saw the pain and suffering far more than my fleeting glimpses as my tuk-tuk trundles along Street 2004. God knows everything from time’s beginning to time’s end. He sees the whole of humanity’s pain. God knows it and God’s love for his children and his creation surpasses anything that we could ever reach. 

And so he sent his son.

And because of Jesus, everything changed. We live in a changed and new world.

We live in the promise that we can be reconciled to God, our Father and creator. We live in the promise that Jesus can indwell within us and can provide us with the peace and the strength and the wisdom to navigate the hardships of this world. We now live in the promise that one day all tears will be gone and the world will be renewed.

This is the gift of Christmas. This is the good news. This is the news available for all, those at home and those in Cambodia. The priest, the prostitute, the pimp can all receive this gift. Not one person is too far gone or too broken or too unsightly that God’s love cannot reach them. For, the Bible tells us, whoever calls on the name of the Lord, can be saved. 

So I wish you all a happy Cambodian Christmas.