“I have spoken these things to you so that in Me you may have peace1” Jesus.
I was teaching in a local prison recently to a group of women. Some of these inmates had been in prison for years and some for just a few months. The scripture we read was this:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
I asked the question, “Do you love Jesus?” Every hand went up immediately. I felt compassion for them as I knew these ladies were at the bottom of the pit of despair for their lives. I couldn’t even give them soap to wash their clothes because of previous suicidal attempts through ingesting laundry detergent. The last thing I wanted to do was to put a burden on them to follow commands or rules. As I was walking in the prison gates earlier that day, I asked the warden if he had seen a change in the prisoners since many had accepted Christ and were reading the Bible. He responded, “yes, less fights, less suicide attempts but as soon as they get out of here, they are right back to their lives of sin.” We know a few exceptions to this statement he made that day but for the most part, he was right.
Therefore, on this day, I knew we had to begin discipling these ladies, teaching them to follow all of Jesus’ commands as he told us to do (Matthew 28:20).
This reminded me of the time I was in the midst of anxiety and tried to find comfort in his Word. But it seemed every sentence I read made me feel guilty and increased my anxiety. What was wrong that I couldn’t find comfort in His Words? How could I be comforted by the command “If you have 2 shirts, give one away” (Luke 3:11)? All I would think was God have you seen my closet? Or the burden I felt when I read “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Take up my cross? It almost felt like the pain I was going through He was saying that I just needed to toss on my back and walk forward. But such a weight to carry!! I knew He never intended for me to feel that weight as I knew Jesus promised this:
“For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:30).
That is when He spoke to me in the quiet, dark, space of my prayer closet. Where it had been silent for days and days before with just my anxious thoughts to bear! Finally, His sweet whisper came with such power. The answer had been in front of me all along. It was how he taught us to pray but it sounded so simple and I had used it in ritual prayers but had never understood the depth of its meaning nor the diamond it truly was when applied to every piece of His Word and of my life:
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven” Matthew 6:10.
At that point, after silence and awe, my mouth opened up with a prayer similar to this. “Your way and how you want it, not my way, your way of seeing it, not my way, your perspective not mine. Your will, your way. I am not you Jesus, I am not Paul, I am not my preacher, I am not a Khmer first-generation believer, and I am not Lottie Moon, I am Ann and you know me. Therefore, Your way in me; it will be different than it is in them. It will look so different and that is your plan. I trust that what you want is better. I surrender to you every command and every part of my life, my thinking, my attitude, my rest.”
That was the beginning of healing. Now, applying that concept to every piece of my life from the verses in the Bible to my feelings and thoughts, every day was for me to do but just like He promised His burden is light.
This is why, fellow believers, we must pray continuously. He can change it all but we have to let Him in. He will not push and shove His way into each part of our lives, we must surrender them but the surrender is sweet and the result is peace. In the next post, let us take on some of Jesus’ teaching which many find hard to swallow. I will apply what I will call the surrender prayer to verses that many find hard to swallow.
In summary, getting what we want or doing things our way, will never lead to happiness, peace, or fulfillment but it’s through surrender to Him, to His commands, that He fills those needs in our lives.
Next post: Jesus’ Teachings: From Anxiety To Peace
Please share your thoughts and feelings about this post! Comment here or email me contact@acoffeewithfriends
“God cannot give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.” C.S. Lewis
Upon graduation from college as a nurse, I began working at a mental health center for youth. I thoroughly enjoyed this job. The responsibilities in nursing to start IVs, give injections, and insert other objects into people’s bodies, frightened me and mental health nursing appealed to me as it seemed less likely that I could harm someone. Anyways! I liked listening to their stories and felt I could help these teenagers overcome unhealthy ways of overcoming their issues. But, over time I became discouraged. As a nurse tech, I didn’t interact as much with the parents but as a nurse, I began to sit in the meetings with these families. I saw so much brokenness in these fractured families and it seemed that the child was just a pawn in so many situations. I knew no other solution but to share Christ with them and teach them to pray. I knew they were with me for only a few weeks and then they had to return to their broken families where true love didn’t seem to exist. By helping them find faith and giving them the tool of prayer in Jesus’ name, I could give them the one thing I knew would be with them in their darkest moments. Obviously, in a secular hospital setting, this was frowned upon. I left mental health care at this point and decided it was better to take on the responsibilities that came with being a nurse in a medical setting.
I’ve often reflected back on those days as I struggled myself with anxiety and depression. One thing I know for certain is that I cannot talk about my personal struggle without saying this: it is impossible to overcome mental health issues outside of Jesus Christ. I can’t lead you out of the darkness you are in without leading you to the Savior sent for all people. To know that you were created by God for a relationship with Him and that you are an eternal being with higher purposes and that this is an essential truth that is foundational to healing. Anything else is a bandaid that will come right off when difficulties arise.
You may think, “Ann, how can you be so certain about this?” The Bible has many promises to support this. Over the next few blogs, I will be sharing several of these with you. I personally have seen God move more times than I can count and I hope to share many of these with you. Here are a few of the times that come to mind.
That is the foundation of healing. I can’t lead anyone on a path that I haven’t traveled myself. That is possibly how I am different than your family, friends, and therapist. I have traveled a path and on that path I fell into a deep dark well. I cried out “please God get me out!” but He said to me, “I’m not going to quickly heal you, I am going to teach you the way out so that you can teach others the way out of the darkness.” Little did I know how long that would take and how thoroughly He would sustain me and those around me as He walked me out of that dark season of life.
If you’ve read this far, I am glad you are still with me! Let’s continue on this journey together. I have so much more to share and we have only gotten started. If you would like to share where you are on this journey feel free to comment here or email me: email@example.com.
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“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7 NKJ
There was a time in my life when I believed that I did not have a sound mind yet a troubled-chaotic out-of-control mind. That was over 10 years ago. God has brought me through. What has changed my life and walk with Christ, I share with you. The format that I have chosen to share is a daily devotional. I have chosen this format because I believe going from a troubled mind to a sound mind takes time each day.
Throughout my life, I have read and memorized many verses in the Bible about worry, anxiety, and stress but so often I found myself on a sleepless night or wasted day worrying about something I said or was done. How do I obey Christ by not worrying? How do I think about “what is good, righteous, lovely….” How? What does it mean to “take every thought captive” or “transform my mind.” What does that look like? How do I do that?
Over time, I realized that my mental health was physical, spiritual, emotional, and social. It took combining the scientific reasons and the Biblical teachings together to find my journey out of anxiety, worry, and fears. This is how I did it. It is what I did and still often implement each morning to keep my mind clear of the clutter in order to best serve Him.
This journey began years ago but the journey out began most recently. I had spent years struggling with my anxiety and panic attacks which inevitably led to depression. I had strategies to calm myself but found it very disruptive to my life and holding me back on many days. My most common strategy was to use medication prescribed to me by a doctor. This reaffirmed the idea that I had a “disease” in which I had little to no control over and needed medical treatment. Then, something major happened to me. I watched my young daughter endure her first of several panic attacks. As she was curled up in a ball on her bed sobbing uncontrollably, I knew I had to figure the way out of my own anxiety, without the use of medications, if I were to help my daughter.
I prayed harder than ever before and opened up to friends who also prayed for me. God used these friends and Godly wisdom to bring me the resources and truth into my life and destroy the lies that I believed for years.
God showed me that there are 2 verses that I had to un-package and apply in order to be free:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 1 Timothy 1:7
The first key truth is that God has given me a strong, healthy sound mind that I lead. Not the other way around. With confidence, His power, and love, I can turn my thinking around.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV
EVERY thought captive. Even those beliefs I held on to about myself; ”I’m lazy…I should be working instead of resting…they don’t like me…I’m too emotional…I’m weak.” And those beliefs about my life; ”Our marriage has problems…this environment is not good for my kids…if my child is injured there is no one to help.”
This is what was causing anxiety! Not some disease or chemicals in my brain but me! These thoughts that I was allowing led to the chemical imbalance in my brain worsening the fears and anxiety. I was choosing the thoughts or they were there and I was doing nothing to rid myself of them. Once I realized this, I took a turn and was able to help my daughter take a turn for good too. From then until now and for the rest of my life, I will be practicing the “changing of my mind” in the morning for good mental health, to be ready to receive from God, so my heart is ready to embrace others with love, So I will grow more Christ-like, so I can be happy and free, so that I can be the best me that I can be.
In this process, God taught me several important things. First, was my need for peace of mind. I came to realize even more that God’s desire for me is to experience peace. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you….” (John 20:21a), awareness of our thoughts “…take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and mental health in order to grow in His likeness. I was created in His likeness. I will become more and more like Him.
Secondly, I learned that my mind and brain are separate. I control my mind; my mind controls my brain; my brain controls my emotions and physical responses. This is where our choices and unique responses come to play.
Third, my thoughts take up physical space in my brain. They look like branches on a tree. Each one is complex and individual and helpful or harmful and knowledge about how this works helps decrease anxiety. Because I realize God will accomplish His plan for me for good! I came to realize that the more mental health skills I gain, the more confident I am and in control of my mind instead of my emotions and hormones controlling me. I have a choice, that’s free will.
Here is the following process I followed and hope to walk you through it over the following days.
How to make long-term changes in your mind and break toxic thinking habits:
When you focus and study a topic for many days it becomes a long-term memory. There is physical brain growth during this time. It takes repetition over days to prevent denaturing of new thoughts, and truths, that replace a lie which is a toxic thought. Your mind does control your brain which affects your body. Mind over matter. You make proteins with your thoughts: good or toxic. Our brain does not control us. Our genetics are only a piece of who we become. By intentional thinking, we can become who we want to be. It’s your thinking, feeling, and choosing that gives you mental health. This is the freedom of choice that God gave us: free will. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6.
This is lifelong: life management. Unless something is a habit, it can’t change your thinking. It takes days of a new thought (just a few minutes a day) for this new thought to replace your old toxic thought. Spend time each day to make it a lifelong habit. Similar to learning to ride a bike. Now, you can jump on a bike and ride it no matter how long it’s been. This is also true of our thoughts. Over time of purposefully changing our thoughts, we create new ones that become habits. Then, in a time of stress, instead of thinking fearful thoughts, we can have a new pattern of confidence and positive self-talk which becomes easier over time and with practice.
I hope you experience what I have. I have gained a clearer mind which is able to listen and receive more from Christ without the feelings of guilt or shame I had in the past. My mind is clear and I desire to learn more about everything! My relationships with all around me are stronger as I am able to go deeper with them and not be overly concerned with myself and my feelings. I am also sleeping better with way more energy each day. I realized this: “It takes more energy to keep toxic thoughts than it does to deal with them. Dealing with toxic thoughts will make you a better person. It can increase your energy, healthy relationships, joy and happiness, and help you make better choices” (Leaf, 2013).
Thinking – Feeling- Choosing
I wish all the world would know that all painful toxic thoughts and memories can be restructured!! You can learn how, anyone can. This is God’s grace that anyone can change for good with His power. Essentially, you will be doing your own brain reconstruction. Adding new positive thoughts and allowing the lies to go away.
These are simple ways anyone can learn to take any and every moment of anxiety and or a stressful thought or decision and reconceptualize it and use it for good. Here are the steps we will learn and practice:
Remember: you do not have to let a thought control you but God gave you a sound mind to un-package the thoughts and make action. Each following lesson will help you understand this process and get better at it. So let’s get started!!
If you missed my blog post, written several years ago, about my struggle with depression, you can find that post here:
Adapted from Leaf, Dr. Caroline. Switch On Your Brain. Baker Books, 2013.
After one year of silence, I have decided to rerelease this blog which to me sums up my heart and purpose in life. Why have I been so quiet? Honestly, I feel as if I lost purpose in my blogging. Distracted by, well…me. It’s time to begin writing again, and prayerfully continue the purpose given to me in my life. My purpose is this to love God and love you! Enjoy.
I hear a lot about evangelical tools. I’ve read books about church planting methods. I own tracts (somewhere in a dark closet collecting dust). And, I’ve preached hell, fire, and brimstone. But, after trial and lots of error, I know the most underutilized, most powerful, and most effective tool for evangelism today. Friends, we are told to boldly share our faith and need to know how to do that without sounding fake. I feel like I need to share the full story with you about my experiences in Gha Nget with the hopes that the story will remind you of love as a beautiful path to salvation. (Featured picture is Nary, Vanny, and me in 2002)
Just yesterday, Sumpooa (pictured with me in her red-flowered dress), when asked if she was ready to accept Christ, said “no-one has loved and cared for the people in my village more than Ann. She helped the crippled man. She helped the lady with burns when no-one else cared.” Why do I share that with you? I want to start from the beginning. Hang in there.
Marc and I had moved to East Cambodia with 2 motives: find some quiet to be refreshed from burnout and no-one else would go to share the gospel there. With God opening the doors rapidly, we knew this was his plan. I was happy about this plan but after about 6 months of living in rural Cambodia homeschooling my kids, I got an itch. I prayed to God “Lord, I don’t want to be on the sidelines of sharing my faith. Please let me use my skills again to lead people to you.”
About that time, we had a visiting team from Florida. They were going to a difficult to reach, distant community, in a really hot place to build a rainwater harvesting tank for a school with no water. Getting out there felt awesome. I finally got a breath of fresh spiritual air when I got to share God’s love with the students.
The darkness and lostness was evident too. Seeing Gha Nget, with no known believers and no knowledge of God’s love pricked my heart but I was uncertain whether I was ready to handle such a place after an exhausting year in my life. I went home and prayed another prayer “Jesus, I know your plan is for all 41 villages of Gha Nget to know you. Please just let us be a part of bringing the gospel to them.” With stateside on the horizon, we only had 4 months left in East Cambodia. I decided to go once a week to teach health and share the gospel. I had not been in this role in quite a while and was nervous.
I have trained many community health teachers and my role has been mentoring them while they enter new areas. But, there was no-one to go but me. I asked our partners to go with me the first week to explain the health classes. The first day I went was with Nary and Tharith, my Khmer partners. We met Sumpooa who sells a few things from her home on the corner by the school and whom we met when building the tank. When we talked to Sumpooa, she didn’t seem to understand our plan or what we were doing. But, she agreed to use her front porch for the health class. She also let us know that she didn’t expect many to come.
I went home and prayed and prepared my first lessons on staying hydrated. I printed out a couple of pictures, demonstration for making a rehydration drink, and bought a few coconuts to share with the group. The first day I went, I picked up a farmer boy who recently accepted Christ. I gave him a coloring page about creation, some crayons, and mat, and told him to take the kids aside and tell the story and have them color. We left at 6 AM for the 2 hour drive to their village. That was the first of many trips to that same place. Surprisingly, many people attended each health class. Only lasting 20 minutes, I taught basic health lessons that any American would know. I used creative methods to help them enjoy and understand it. Then, I sat and listened to their stories. Even the village leader and his wife enjoyed the class. Their favorite part was at the end when I would take all of their blood pressures. This was the time that they would share with me and I shared with them. They were stressed, worried, tearful, lonely, scared and I listened and told them about Jesus who loves them.
After four weeks, I wondered when a big opportunity would come. Then about week five, I overheard the ladies talking about a woman who was burned from a gas fire. They pointed to her house and explained that the house was being burned down. They believed this woman was cursed so burning down the house would end the curse. The conversation in my health class deteriorated as they said “she deserves it because she is rich and doesn’t help anybody. Her husband is corrupt.” And, on and on. I told the class that I would be visiting her house afterwards if anyone wanted to go with me. I had one volunteer.
She is one of the most needy people I have ever met and her name is Puon . With an abusive husband and piles of debt, she has come close to committing suicide many times in her life. I shared about Jesus but felt she was only half heartedly listening to me as she was blinded by her circumstances and helpless condition.
After class that day, we walked to the lady’s house with the burn named Sreyone. She was laying on a table behind the house which was currently on fire. Her face was beautiful but had fear, pain, and hopelessness all over it. Her burns were deep and began from her shoulders down to her feet. Weeping, infected wounds dripping with yellow pus and even in the creases behind her knee and at her elbow.
I felt this was the moment. A kind of light bulb went off in my head. A prick in my body from the Holy Spirit. I felt compelled to pray. The gardener boy who was my assistant tried to explain who Jesus was but I saw a look of confusion on her face and her husbands face. We prayed for healing that day. I left the village and immediately called our office in Phnom Penh to order the needed supplies to start wound debridement the following week. We prepared for a long process of scrubbing deep wounds which would be painful but necessary for healing. The next week I arrived to the health class with Marc on hand (he’s the wound guy!). Immediately, the class began to gather and shared with me how much better Oun was. I didn’t believe them. I walked to her small hut that her husband built her and as I saw her sitting up, my jaw dropped! God had healed her. Every wound was dried up. No infection. No deep burns. Nothing to clean. Just scars as a reminder. For those of you who understand burns, you realize that there was no logical explanation. I don’t even think she grasped how miraculous this was as her first question was “do you have any ointment that I can put on not to prevent scarring?” We shared about Christ with her some more and gave a speaker with the gospel and worship music on it. They loved listening to that speaker. A month later, she left that village never to be seen again.
Stateside came and went. I told this group that I would be back. When January rolled around and we got settled in, I prepared myself to return for a visit. Again, we had a visiting team from Florida building a rain water tank in a nearby village. The first day I saw Sumpooa, she hugged me. Both of us felt an excitement to be together again. One by one, many of the villagers ran to greet me with hugs and questions. I now felt a bond with them. My heart ached for them to know Jesus. This feeling was deeper than before.
“It’s time to see who is really interested in Christ,” I thought. I want them all to hear the real message. I also felt a kinship with them. I wanted to be there. It was no longer a feeling of obligation but a feeling of love. It doesn’t make sense. These people have nothing to give to me. They were considered unlovely in many ways. With no water at their homes, no toilets, and bad hygiene practices they were often sickly, needy, self focused, and smelled like fish paste. But, I felt love in my heart. I pictured myself sitting and eating curry with them for holidays. I wanted my kids to play with their kids. They had never left their village and seen the beautiful waterfalls only an hour drive from their home. I wanted them to see that waterfall. I knew they struggled with depression and anxiety and they knew it too. I asked if they were interested in learning strategies to overcome. Of course they agreed! My main strategy was Jesus, but overcoming negative thinking, sleep, and a bit of diet was in there too.
I had no one to go with me. I prayed and sought out partners. I had a new plan in mind. There are many different villages on the road that leads to Sumpooa’s house and several after. Those past her house are the Bunong hill tribe people. They were in greatest need of help but did not feel welcome to come to my health group the year before. My plan was to first stop at Sumpoa’s house, followed by teaching health in the 2 Bunong villages beyond. I knew I needed Bunong partners to get into those villages with trust. I found a willing partner and the first week was interesting and good. The first group, being all Khmer, it was obvious to me that this was not enjoyable by my Bunong partner. I began to see the wall between these 2 groups as she saw their seeking Jesus as fake but the Bunong seeking Jesus was more real. I saw that there was not much difference in these 2 people groups.
The next week the partners changed. Somehow, I spent the next 3 weeks with Bunong partners who were not believers. It was awkward but I found their familial connections with these Bunong villages to be essential in getting in with trust. Nary and I did get to share the gospel with these ladies but “not yet” was their answer.
After the first month, these new partners found themselves too busy to go. I went on my own. This was not my husband’s preference but I reminded him that he needed to be with the kids and that this was God’s plan. I loved those days. I spent 3 weeks alone and the drive was quiet, meditative, and peaceful. I also found myself exploring new areas in need of the gospel. Sumpoa’s group were watching me closely. They were shocked that I would go there alone. They felt that I needed a friend with me to go to the Bunong groups. Puon was my new partner and a Bunong man who had recently accepted Christ, agreed to go too.
Puon was funny in these Bunong areas like a duck out of water. The first week she witnessed 40 Bunong people attacking my coconuts that I was carefully cutting and pouring into cups to evenly share with the group. She watched in shock as the men shoved the women and children out-of-the-way to take the coconuts to their home like savages. I just did the appropriate Asian laugh that they do when they see this wicked behavior. It was actually pretty funny to see these naked men, except for the see through Krama cloth around their waist, as they held the coconuts like a football player running towards the goal.
Following the health lesson, we attempted to teach the group on prayer. The drunk men behind us clung to the word “Amen” as they repeated it mockingly comparing it to the sound a pig makes in labor. On to the next group! I know that when a Khmer tells you that a group is just a bit that way, they point their finger as if behind that tree is what you are looking for. The Bunong new believer Toe-ee pointed his finger and explained that there was this group wanting to accept Jesus, with no clean drinking water they were waiting for us to go. “Will you go with me?” He asked. How could I say no. We planned the trip for the following week and Puon agreed to be the partner.
It was noon and we had just taught the first 2 classes when I arrived at Toe-ee ‘s house. With 12 ceramic water filters, Puon, and Toe-ee’s whole family in tow, there was barely any breathing room in the car. I told Toe-ee that I had brought enough rice and pork for our car load to share and asked if he wanted to stop on the road before we get there in order to eat. He said “no, they don’t have much food so we need to wait and share it with them.”
Our journey to this distant, very distant, extremely distant path (not a road) began. An hour and a half later, driving through one deep ravine, a river, a mud pit, and almost high centering my car more than once, we arrived. A group of huts next to a river with no building in site but lots of people. I think that my car was the first they had seen in a few years and am certain I am the first white person there.
The village gathered in a small hut who I later realized was the son of Toe-ee who lived there with his wife and 2 small children. Chatter began in their Bunong language and we entered the home.
I was very hungry and thirsty. The unbearable heat was so intense. I realized these people made an income by cutting down every single tree within miles of this area leaving only small bushed behind. There was no shade and the sun pierced down on my previously white face. I entered the house where a fire was going. Expecting to begin with lunch, I sat with the ladies to see what we would do next.
They were cooking their latest prize, a small bunny. Not a rabbit but a bunny they had found in the forest. It was all bones. They added some green leaves freshly picked out of the river, she made her pot of food. I looked at the group of about 30 adults and way too many children too count and realized my 4 servings of rice and pork needs a Jesus-moment-of-feeding-the-thousands big time.
But, these obviously starving people did not have food on their minds in this moment, but rather wanted to know what I had to teach them. I taught the lesson on hydration and about the filters which I was selling for a dollar. After the lesson, we talked about Jesus. They talked about Him with love and affection but had only heard of Him 2 months ago. No one in this village was literate. I told the story about how Jesus had healed the woman who was bleeding for years and was healed just by touching his robe in faith. They clung to every word and toe-ee helped translate. They wanted to begin their church and Toe-ee’s son agreed to teach them.
The miracle of feeding the thousands unfortunately did not happen that day. I snuck a serving of rice and pork to Puon and her 10-year-old son, they quickly ate the food while hiding behind the car. It was an hour later, now 3-o-clock before we ate and drank water. My heart broke as I realized the feeling of hunger and thirst that I felt was a daily occurrence for them.
We would return to that village 2 more times before the rain waters made the ravines and rivers impassable but Puon wasn’t able to go back with us. When I asked Puon if it was because she didn’t get to eat till 3? She told me “no, not at all. I would trade all my food to experience the joy that I felt going with you that day!” But, she said she returned home that night to her drunk and hungry husband who beat her for not preparing food for him.
Life is so hard for these people and I saw it up close. In the past seeing that kind of pain on a regular basis would have burdened me. At times, I would lose a whole nights sleep thinking and strategizing a way to take their pain from their lives. But, not now. I’ve come to realize 2 things. One, when I meet people in pain, it is the pain that leads them to Christ. It is the hole they can’t fill in their hearts where Jesus steps in. He does that in His timing. Not mine. Their hunger, thirst, abuse, hard labor, and evil that surrounded them was why they were so attracted to Jesus, to prayer. His love was the first touch of love they had ever seen or experienced in their life. Second, they needed to learn to pray and have faith in the unseen God to meet their needs. Not me.
Which reminds me of a moment on the road in Gha Nget where I met this lady. Sitting on the side of the road with a look of hopelessness on her face. Immediately, the Spirit told me to pull aside. I approached her with the prayer that God would wipe the shock and horror off my face.
The bumps were grotesque and covered every inch of her body. The discomfort and pain she experienced every day and night of her 40 years of suffering was unthinkable as she carried this incurable disease. My only thought as I approached her and she looked away in shame was to touch her, hold her hands, and listen to her. She shared her struggles but surprisingly, her perspective was more about how people had cared for her. How villagers had fed her. Then she paused and said “I have only been touched twice in my life. Once 20 years ago, I met a foreigner like you. He hugged me apologizing to me for not being able to take away the pain. He prayed for me in the name of Jesus.” She spoke of this moment as if it was the best moment in her life. One hug. Here I was holding her hands and realizing the impact of this moment in this woman’s life. I prayed for her alongside Nary and peeked for a moment to see her mouth moving in prayer too. Power in that moment. I haven’t seen that woman again but I hope I will in heaven.
Word got back to our national partners in Phnom Penh that I was going to Gha Nget alone. Nary wouldn’t have it. She decided to join me one week. This day began to be the best day of the week for both of us.
Nary was 14 when I first moved to Cambodia. She was a neighbor who wanted to know English. I was a foreigner who wanted to learn Khmer and how to cook Khmer food. She and another friend moved in downstairs before Marc and I had kids (years ago!!) Every evening we had a group of 5-6 that we taught English Bible stories and they taught us back in Khmer. We laughed a lot together and watched Nary grow up. When she was 18, we hired her as a cook. She made the most delicious Khmer food. We sent her to an English cooking class in Phnom Penh and she learned to make the best spaghetti, fried chicken, and pizza you’ve ever tasted! We were blessed to have her.
She was with us for about 2 years when she began to change. She had a lot of rich friends in the city and would talk forever about the clothes they wore and how much their jewelry cost. No longer did she want to study the Bible but her evenings began to be filled with social activities. This was the time that I had a newborn so I didn’t mind the breaks from the daily Bible study of the past. One day, as I was exercising, I ran up to find her in my purse. I had been missing money lately from my purse and at this moment suspected the reason why. It was not a surprise to me as my Bible study “friends” were often found digging through my drawers and quite a few things had walked away. But, we knew we had to let her go. The church made a plan for her to be alone for about 6 months. She shared with me later that during this period of time in her life, she prayed and God changed her heart. She decided that she wanted to help people. Her husband Tharith also felt a similar call in his life though spiritual pursuits were not yet on either of their hearts at this time. She spent four years working on a pharmacy degree and we spent little time together.
I was busy learning how to do health groups and trying to find willing partners who got the vision for meeting health needs and sharing the gospel faithfully in one village for long periods of time until the church is established in that village. It was the specific call God had put on my heart but I spent years teaching people who seemed to go out the back door as quickly as I taught them. Tharith began working with me as he was close to finishing his medical degree. I began meeting with Nary and Tharith who after having their first child shared with me their burden to see mothers healthy and raising healthy babies. I knew it was time to give Nary another chance. She had grown spiritually and was ready to be discipled, I taught Nary everything I knew. We walked together daily.
I began discipling a group of health teachers everyday. We met Monday thru Friday and spent an hour in Bible study and prayer. These ladies were growing leaps and bounds! We had a group of about 16 ladies and several of their husbands who learned to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, to lead people to Christ by love and sacrifice, whose gift of faith grew beyond mine, and were passionate about sharing Christ and starting churches with health groups. But, Nary always stood out to me.
For 2 years, our group grew and saw many miracles, experienced many unexplainable occurrences, began many churches, followed by a painful fire. The bonds we felt in this group made me feel like one body. It was like a strange organism with one brain. We began to read each others minds as our minds were led by one Spirit. We knew each others spiritual gifts so every opportunity flowed like a perfect waterfall. It felt magical and the power in the air was evident. Churches were bursting from the seams! Our group of 30 grew to 100 and we were hosting events all around to lead more.
Then, the most horrible thing happened. Hate, gossip, and lies filled our group like cancer. Months before this, several began having strange dreams. One elderly man in our group who we call “Lazarus” had a dream of a giant, fierce, angry monkey with horrid long teeth and dripping saliva. In his dream, he walked towards the evil beast and when he did numerous other beasts came running out behind and he was surrounded by smaller sized evil monkey-like creatures that were there to kill. When asked where the monkey was, he pointed to one of our most faithful members. No one talked about that dream but we were to realize a year later what it meant.
Confusion broke out and it seemed like no-one in that village was free from it. Unexplainable hate and anger filled people who use to be about love and healing. The church was a mix of glares and eye rolling when it use to be a place of love and acceptance. My heart was broken and I felt like a broken jar with no way to help anybody out of this pit.
I pulled myself up to go to our normal morning Bible time to find myself with absolutely nothing to say. Everything I had taught before was from the Holy Spirit but the words were gone. I had taught thoroughly about gossip, hate, lies, but the devouring had already happened. So many were a part and I had no clue who to believe. A few months later, we made the announcement that we were closing the program and reopen in distant locations. We let most of the people in that room go. We all went our separated ways.
The church went back down to 30. Several of the church plants we began disappeared or associated themselves with other church leadership. It was a season of sifting. I know that now but back then I felt like a failure. God was quiet. And it wasn’t just me. We were left with a core group. Tharith, Nary, Lazarus, and 2 other couples who were willing to move away to distant area.
The first day this core group met for morning prayer after all the others had gone, we were all quiet but felt something new we hadn’t felt together in over a year. It was the beautiful presence of the Holy Spirit. We sat in silence. Ashamed. None of us were innocent. Confession began and healing restored this small group. What could we do with the many church starts, brand new believers, and the sense that we had nothing to give to anyone. As a group, we decided to continue on. We held our normal once a month “Bible teaching event” and it was more painful than joyful. Like coming off a high point in life with the understanding that the special spirit of revival we felt before was gone, probably forever. It was just quiet.
As we made our decision to leave and move to Mondulkiri, few understood our move. Some felt that we left at a bad time and we abandoned them. But, I knew we had to. I knew if we didn’t get out of that center of gossip, hate, and lies, that we would sink. The hardest part of leaving was the core group. Persecution, hate, lies, and gossip was far from Marc and I now but all of it fell on top of the core group who decided to partner and work with us. Family members cut them off. Villagers glared at them. They were no longer invited to attend events. They were extremely lonely.
Nary choose to stay in her room at home between her work hours and pray. Her mother was so worried about her. She called me begging to help Nary. I didn’t know what to do. I knew God said to pray for her but give her time. She was broken. The closer she got to me, was seen with me, if she invited me to her house for a meal, she was persecuted by others because they questioned her motives for my friendship. She distanced herself from me. Until she heard I was going to Gha Nget alone.
Our conversations in the car going and returning from Gha Nget were beyond description. So much mutual pain and deep spiritual understanding that I had with no-one else on this earth. The loneliness yet presence of God in ways that no-one else understood. She knew it. We cried at times and would talk through the details of the past 2 years and at times we hurt so bad that I would pull the car over and pray with her. Our pain was the same. Though it hurt to relive it, finally the veil of confusion was removed. We were able to put pieces together and realize the cause of the fall.
Nary is a compassionate woman. One story she shared with me was about her cousin who got married. Her cousin was hired by her. She felt compassion for her because her cousin couldn’t find a job. This young girl attended all of our discipleship groups and learned the health lessons well. She was a great village health teacher with no complaints. We loved her and she loved us. This young girl fell in love with a Buddhist man and agreed to marry in a Buddhist ceremony. As family and friends, Nary had a serious conversation of warning with this cousin with gentleness, prayer, and love.
When the wedding day came 6 months later, Nary was in the pit of her loneliness. She was shocked and excited to be invited to her cousin’s wedding by a relative. She thought to herself, “this is when everything will turn around!” She spent the day getting dressed and assured her husband that all would be fine. She rode her moto down the street to the wedding and was seated at a table alone. All of the villagers knew Nary and they came in one by one past her table, which was towards the front of the wedding entry. Many walked by with glares, whispers, and sat far from her. Maybe they blamed her for closing down the program. We still are unclear about the whys. Nary held back the tears. Many of those people had been patients of Nary’s. They are people she helped many times before. Her heart broke and she had to leave. She was about to burst into tears. She quickly got home and shut the door to her room screaming in tears and agony with God. Her family heard her and they were worried but Nary refused to leave the room. As she shared with me, “all my pain had to go to God. If I talked to anybody, I knew I would sin. I was on the verge of hate and it wanted to enter me. No one understood my pain, no one could understand why it was necessary to suffer but God told me it was.” We traded these painful events back and forth on these car rides but they became less and less as our joy of being together increased.
After knowing Nary for 15 years, I now saw a new Nary. There was something incredibly attractive about her. When she taught Bible at Sumpoa’s house, you could hear a pin drop. The words from her mouth were more than human words. Its like the pain and suffering in her past caused the flesh to die and what was left was a spiritual being. She now had more to offer than physical healing but a power that came from her. Not only that, for the first time in 2 years, we got to experience the whole one mind, one heart thing again. We were now a much smaller organism but rarely needing words to know what the other is thinking.
One example was when we were teaching health in the first Bunong area. The group was extra ordinarily large and wild this day. The men had begun drinking since early in the morning. For the third week in a row, we attempted to share about Jesus, prayer, and lead some songs of worship. Every week, the men disrupted this part of our teaching. But this week their words hurt as they began making fun of Jesus. They made of Jesus’s name and each time they did I felt a deep piercing feeling inside.
We ended our lesson talking about nutrition and food groups that day and I was busy cutting oranges into bite sized pieces to share with the group when a man shoved the women and children aside and grabbed the knife from my hand swinging it in the air. I was so distracted by the knife that I didn’t realize another man was reaching for my phone and car keys. Nary yanked the phone from his hand and I looked up momentarily only to look back and see my oranges being scooped into the krama skirts of the men as they tripped away. But, the biggest man of the group (later I find out he is the police man of the group) stayed right next to me. Three men came around and tried to pull him back. I made eye contact with one of these men. I saw kindness in his eyes. But, this police man was stronger than all of them and I began to realize their was a satanic strength in him. I reached forward and gently pulled the knife from his hand and quickly returning to the car to put it away. In the chaos, I looked aside to find a sweet woman who I have wanted to share Christ with since day one. She had a look of pain in her eyes that filled me with compassion. When I made eye contact with her, she wiped away tears from her eyes. The Spirit told me to go to her house. I raced to tell Nary. Nary was attempting to deliver the filters to those in need at the car when the drunk man pushed her aside and refused to let us into our car. In that moment, Nary and I looked at each other and prayed out loud. Nary handed him a water filter and said, “will you help me hand these out?” For some reason, he agreed. I looked at Nary and said “lets hurry, God wants us to go to her house” pointing at the woman with tears. Nary gave the drunk man the last filter which he appropriately handed to the last person in need and we locked the car with just our Bibles in hand.
Her house was the last one in the village about a half mile walk into the forest. We were followed by about 6 others and a few children laughing and playing. I was surprised to see the kind man following us too. All of the drunk chaos was behind us now.
We entered into her little hut uncertain if the floor would hold us. As we gathered in a circle, the wife of the kind man took on a role in that circle as a leader, a seemingly natural leader. “Please tell us more about Jesus,” she said. My jaw dropped.
Maybe those of you who have never done missions over seas, think that his happens to us everyday. But, the truth is that this has probably happened to me only twice in my 15 years. Most people we meet are blinded from the gospel and it takes lots of prayer and work to take the blinders down. Her blinders were down. The group listened eagerly as we shared stories from the Bible. How Jesus is the perfect sacrifice and they did not need to sacrifice their animals to spirits. We explained how Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit instead for our protection. They were in awe!
I was in awe. I worship Jesus often but rarely do I get to see people realize that they no longer have to waste their precious meat to evil spirits who want to cut off their heads! What freedom! They believed immediately. They were happy and excited to hear this good news. God doesn’t want their meat but wants their heart. For some reason, this group found no issue with giving God their heart. I think it is because no-one ever wanted their heart before.
There is so much more to share but I want to end with the events that happened just yesterday. We were fortunate to have a couple who are national partners with us yesterday because their car broke down on the way to their village where they are teaching health. They saw the broken car as a sign from God to go to East Cambodia to help us.
The first group was small due to villagers leaving to plant the rice fields. I was a bit disappointed. More of a fear that those who have been anxiously learning about Christ forgot Him and there may be nothing to return to in the coming day. I hid that fear and kept a smile on my face. Sumpoa and her husband Pisay sat with us on the front porch and we spent an hour doing small talk. She loves to cook and he is the rice wine distiller for the community.
To someone who doesn’t know Asian culture, this hour may have seemed like a waste of time but I know different. It’s like Nary said in the car “she is watching us closely. She will accept Christ but only when she is certain that we are the real thing. That we practice what we preach.” So as the hour passed, Nary asked if we could sing songs. Happily, Sumpoa showed us a video on her phone of her husband and daughter singing the praise songs and dancing. We had given them a speaker with Bible and songs and they told us how they play it every afternoon and night. They pray together as a family now. They have peace and joy like never before. She said they decided to no longer do Buddhist ceremonies but during the holiday they spent their money on hosting their parents for a big meal instead. They took down the idols, Chinese cloth, and other items from their home alongside 2 other families in that village. We spent another hour singing songs, answering questions, and preparing a Baptism time for the future.
We headed to the Bunong group which was pleasantly calm. No more drunks with knives. We now do all of our Bible teaching after the health lesson in the home in the back. The kind man and his wife? They are Boo Tang and Ming Huin. The first couple to accept Christ in that village. They are listening to the Bible stories each day. New people are accepting Christ there every week we go.
But life is not easy for these people.
Yesterday one of the ladies attending our group was distressed due to her son being taken away by the police. I asked what happen and she shared this story:
Her son went into the forest and his pregnant wife was home. A drunk neighbor came to borrow money and the woman refused to give it to him. He took a knife stabbing her side. The husband returned and found her badly wounded. He grabbed the neighbors face and pushed into the fire where their food was cooking. Police came to take them both away. The mother and baby both died that day. As I listened to her story and saw how it brought discouragement to the new believers, I was filled with the Holy Spirit and told them “where there is Jesus evil will flee!” At that we all agreed and I expressed the urgency that they must share the gospel with all of their friends and family. We prayed for their family members together and the mom who lost her daughter-in-law and grand baby accepted Christ that day.
“At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” Matthew 11:25
Just last week, when I went to teach, I found the Bunong village quiet and no-one was there waiting for us to teach. A few villagers walked up and told us that there were soldiers in town from the big city and they were there to talk to the villagers about elections. Not much else was said at that time. We taught the health lesson about worms and parasites. We gave out garlic instructing them to increase the garlic in their foods to decrease worms. After that we entered Boo Tang and Ming Huin’s house for the Bible study. The women looked scared and were quiet. Ming Huin shared with us why. The soldiers told the villagers that they heard there are Christians in that village. They said that anyone who follows Jesus is a criminal because Jesus is a criminal. Ming Huin explained that the soldier actually stretched out his arms to show a cross and said that the soldiers nailed Jesus to a cross because the government decided he was a criminal. Therefore, he is a criminal. The soldier went on to say that the Bunong people are spirit worshippers and they should remain that way. We asked Ming Huin what she thought about that. Here was the response of this illiterate, poor, sweet, hill tribe woman:
“They can kill me or even cut my head off but they cannot take Jesus from my heart. If I don’t have Jesus I have nothing!”
What great insight from this friend of mine. Do you want to know how to better support Christian workers on the other side of the world? Read more!
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