“Leadership is the lifting of a man’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a man’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a man’s personality beyond its limitations. —PETER DRUCKER”
― Samuel Chand,
When did I come to realize that we were unusual? It was a personality test we took 17 years ago. Marc and I both scored the same score. Do you know how rare that is? But even more rare is that we were both strong leaders, strong thinkers, with determination as part of our profile. I wasn’t exactly excited about these results as I probably made the same face you are making now. What? We are going to offend the world. And, that’s where we begin.
Step forward to where we are now. Our leadership roles have many circles. We have family, colleagues, international partners, and gatherings from across seas. We interact within each of these circles as leaders. We both want to be the best leaders we can. If we are to accomplish the goal stated above “raising of a man’s performance” then we must understand who we are and who we are not. Apologize for our mistakes and work in our strengths 90% of the time. It is in these personalities where the pain and good play out.
My vision for what I want to accomplish is big. It better be. I know as a leader that not accomplishing everything I set out for will lead to regret. I also know that my vision is more than a man-made dream but a God given task and calling. Pushing towards that goal will make me and others uncomfortable. The discomfort is often misinterpreted by the one experiencing it. It is at that point where our gifts and calling can be the cause of great pain. But, as the following quote says. .
“1. Comfort is overrated. It doesn’t lead to happiness. It makes us lazy—and forgetful. It often leads to self-absorption, boredom, and discontent. 2. Discomfort can be a catalyst for growth. It makes us yearn for something more. It forces us to change, stretch, and adapt. 3. Discomfort is often a sign we’re making progress. You’ve heard the expression, “no pain, no gain.” It’s true! When you push yourself to grow, you will experience discomfort.” Michael Hyatt
Pain is absolutely necessary in good leadership but why? The people you lead must see that you are willing to suffer to meet the goal and that you will work hard to get to that goal. Then, they will believe what you teach.
I remember in the beginning of leading in our organization when my commitment was tested by those I led. Being a nurse practitioner in a third world country, a lot is expected of me by those I work with and those I serve. One day, the TV news showed a woman in a car wreck who couldn’t pay her medical bills. Being all over the news channels, I felt certain someone would care for her and she did not live near the areas that we were currently helping medically. I got a phone call from one of our employees telling me about this woman’s dire situation. I responded with my felt confidence that the woman would be cared for and that I did not feel she needed my intervention. Without my knowledge, I quickly became known us uncompassionate and not caring by several of those who we worked with. There were quite a few whispers and looks when I walked into the work place the next day but I could never seem to convince the employees that I was caring and compassionate. A month of quiet continued until the mother of the employee who stirred the pot, got severely ill. My husband and I drove far to visit her and walked her through her illness. After that month, the employees stopped the gossip and I was able to lead again with more trust and respect than I had had before.
Important things to remember from this example is that I am confident in what my gifts are. I am compassionate and caring and I don’t change my opinion of myself based on criticism. It takes loved ones in my life who can help redefine my gifts.
When it comes to your gifts as a leader, the key is to use these gifts sacrificially and never expect more from those you lead than you are willing to give yourself. Many will still choose to reject you but your true followers will be loyal to the end.
Some love us and some hate us. Not because of mistakes but often just because of who we are. You need to hear that. Because of this truth, rejection often doesn’t make sense. Because it doesn’t make sense, it is often even more painful.
“How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win. —G. K. Chesterton”
― Samuel Chand,
When you lead from your heart, this truth plays out: for every 1 that hates you, there will be 10 who love you. I don’t know where I’ve heard this before but it is true in my life. The sooner this people-pleasing woman figured this out and accepted it, the better leader I became.
I’ve also come to realize that when people fail, they seem to often blame their leader. I’ve never understood that but have found it true. I have had many different leaders in life and some are naturally good, some work at being good, and some just don’t try and therefore are pretty bad! But, if I fail in achieving my God given goals in life, then I am the only one to blame. Not my leaders. But, like it or not. Every leader will be blamed at times. But, I had to decide, what was I going to do with that blame?
“I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.” Elisabeth Elliott
When God chooses pain as part of our path in leadership, we have been chosen to a select group. A group of people who will enjoy His intimacy in a deeper way. People who are stripped of their desire to please all people but are plunged into a flow of people who live for eternity on their mind. I want to be that person. Do you?
People always say “be careful what you pray for!” I believe that’s true. As a kid, I was always the one to take the dare. Yes, I caused my mom and dad much leadership pain!
When it comes to prayer, I’m pretty much the same way. I want to always be purposeful for impacting lives around me physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I want to change this world and not be just a drop in a bucket. I want to be what He wants me to be even if it hurts. The pain I have felt and will feel, I trust Him. I truly believe that all pain is temporary and by His choosing. Because of the way I now view pain, I can accept it when it comes into my life.
My question back would be “why would you want to?” If the greatest leaders in life including Jesus choose pain to bring their followers the best things in life, shouldn’t we?
“The art of leadership is understanding what you can’t compromise on.”
― Samuel Chand,
Pain is a part of growth because we should have essential pieces to meeting our goal that are so important that we refuse to compromise. Everything that grows experiences pain. If I avoid pain, I’m avoiding growth.
Several years ago, as I was struggling with pain in my own leadership, my Khmer friend (and employee) saw the emotional weight I carried. Underweight, sunken eyes, red from tears, she could see the pain in me. She stared at me and pointed at the mango seeds lying on a mat in the road. The mango seeds were being dried of all life so they could be replanted. She described this process and said “death is necessary for that seed to bring about delicious fruit for all to enjoy!” How wise is she.
Avoidance of pain is a natural reaction. Being a good leader requires going for the bullet. I have had to make decisions that were right but not accepted by others. It’s those moments when you realize “I am going to say this but I know there will be fallout.”
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” Luke 14:28
Count the cost before stepping in. Leadership may or may not be your place at this time. Your time and emotional energy will be depleted. As mentioned many times, in order to lead it requires blood, sweat, and tears on your part. I meet many leaders who I truly believe if they had known how difficult it would have been, they would have turned down the offer to lead years ago! But, sometimes we are blessed by not seeing the future. The question for you is “are you willing to make the sacrifices required and continue to work hard when the pain comes?”
95% of leadership is endurance. What’s the 5%? The calling and vision! And, thats what will keep you there and the reason why there are those who want to follow you.
Lead on friend!
Many of the quotes seen in this article came from this very useful book:
I’ve lived overseas for 17 years!! I began young and free and now . . .well lets just say that I’ve learned a lot and caused a lot of damage to my body. After meeting a lot of you out there, I find one thing in common: expats and world travelers are notorious for not taking care of themselves! That’s right. It works when your wild in your twenties and spending a year or two traveling but if you’re looking at longevity and enjoying this life for many years, this has to change now!
In order to be vulnerable, I’m going to share some before and after pictures with you. I’ve heard a few people say “Ann, you look so healthy now, what has changed?” So here is the answer. Instead of ignoring my body, I began taking care of myself leading to way more fun in our crazy overseas life! (And looking a lot better doing it!) These before and after pictures are both wearing the same makeup (except eyeliner and mascara in picture 2) and have no filters.
You’ve heard it and ignored it. I want to approach this in a unique way to motivate you (it worked for me). I watched this video awhile back and decided, with my husband, to give it try! Well, it works!
How do you know that you are hydrated? You know your hydrated when you are urinating often and the color is pale yellow. This is so impossible on those long bus rides, train rides, car rides through places with no toilet, and so on. Therefore, day-to-day when a toilet is available, you need to work extra hard at this. I know that I have lived most of my days in the tropics with a constant state of dehydration. Once I got control of this and kept my bottles of water on hand, I realized that it gave me energy, less diarrhea, and better skin.
I am the worst at being prepared. Often I’d leave home and just decide to buy some food along the road or not eat for hours while out. This often left me fatigued and underweight for most of my years here. I enjoy the Asian flair and if you are traveling, you probably enjoy many of the foods where you are. But, many of the foods we enjoy may not have the fresh ingredients our body needs to keep us from getting sick.
What do I do now? I carry a Ziploc bag with my favorites to eat alongside the great Khmer, Vietnamese, or Thai food I get to enjoy. What’s in my purse? Everyday I keep a bag of almonds. On trips, I add an apple, orange, bell peppers, or cauliflower to snack on too. In our home, you will find cut up carrots, peppers, and broccoli on the table most days. Our family will grab and snack throughout the day. I also enjoy the natural spice and flavors from my region knowing that God put them there for my good. Foods in Asia are rich in garlic, peppers, and turmeric which is essential for preventing known parasites and preventing skin cancers known in this region. (Isn’t God good!) So put away the peanut butter sandwich at meal time and devour what they offer you especially if it is served hot!
Skin issues and fatigue come from too much sun. To read more, check out my page on skin health issues and see what I’ve done to give myself younger looking and healthier skin again. Skin Care Tips For The Young Woman In Her 40’s And Beyond!
Choose sleep locations carefully! If in the tropics, spend the extra 5 or 10 dollars to stay somewhere with an air conditioner or good fan. Why is temperature so important? Temperature above 67 degrees or 19 Celsius causes frequent awakening and prevents the deep sleep. (Temperature Can Prevent Sleep Disorders) In Southeast Asia, it is difficult to have a room that cool but the closer you get, the better sleep you’ll get, the less likely you’ll be to get sick, and the more enjoyable your travels will be!
Second of all, is sleep aids to help jet lag or sleeping in strange places. Melatonin works in small doses and should be taken at awake in-the-middle-of-the-night times. Since it stays in your system for 2 hours, it can be taken every 2 hours that you wake up until 2 hours before you plan to start your day. Again, low doses such as 1-2 mg are recommended. The higher the dose does not increase its effectiveness.
Be prepared to be delayed. When you have a connecting flight, say to yourself “I may be connecting in __ city, if I arrive on time.” This gets you mentally prepared for not arriving on time. Everything is fixable so don’t panic. If you “freak out,” you will ruin the experience of the journey for yourself and all around you. Trust me, I know! How to plan for these delays? Make a plan b before hand. Second of all, have your source of destress activity ready or a productive activity to do during your wait. You never know if you will be in a productive mood or a stressed mood during that time.
If there are foot massage places nearby, take advantage of that service. If there is a delightful cafe, sip on your delight slowly! This is YOU time!
Many expats I meet struggle with their weight. Some underweight like me and some overweight. Keep your diet and weight under control while you travel to maintain health and energy for longer travels in the future.
You know yourself. You know your weaknesses. As a nurse practitioner and a daughter of a wonderful mom who struggled with extreme obesity, I have learned so much about weight loss and dreaded yo-yo diets. The biggest lesson learned was that healing from obesity requires an inside out approach such as healing in relationships, love and acceptance for your self, and receiving strength and confidence from God. With this said, I also know this is a long process while your body is picking up bad habits and coping mechanisms along the way! Travel with help. I don’t know a better long-term plan for weight loss than Plexus. There are several options and you can browse through this catalog to read about them. Please email me for any questions about this. I would love to help you.
Lastly, is the topic that will set all expats, world travelers, and even short trippers on a toilet for long periods of time when they would rather be on the beach or productive! I got some tried and true tips here from someone who has lived it, treated it, and still knows how to beat the beast of diarrhea, indigestion, and vomiting overseas!
When people travel, stress often increases, jet lag requires changing eating schedules, food is often higher in bacteria, and the food is unusual for your palette. All of this leads to many overseas digestion issues. Long term travelers often spend years struggling with this problem. The good news is that there are solutions:
Where are you heading? Check the best prices here: hotels.com
Note: The above is friendly advice and not prescriptive! After all these years living and loving Asia, my only regret is not taking better care of myself. I hope the changes that I’ve made this year give me many more years to come. Please comment here about things that have helped keep you healthy on your travels.
What do I do when I have deadlines, obligations, paperwork, bills that needs my attention and I could name 500 things I would rather be doing? It’s Monday. But friends, it could be the BEST Monday ever! Over the weekend, I read a great post by a Facebook friend: Carrie Owensby Wilkerson who is an author, encourager, motivational speaker. These ideas are a few of hers and mine mixed together for a perfect Monday morning kick!
Monday multitasking: waste time, be unproductive, and procrastinate all at once.
1.Get looking cute! Not kidding, I don’t care if you are leaving your house that day or not. Put that makeup on, fix your hair the way you like it, and put on clothes that feel and look good.
2. “This is the day the Lord has made. I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.” Its the first thing on my mind and mouth every morning. Your day is a gift! Sing it. Joy is a choice.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Most fatigue is simply dehydration. What do I do? I crush a cinnamon stick and put it in my water. Makes it tasty all day! Or a drip of essential oil such as lemon. Refreshing.
4. Remind yourself where you want to be in 1 year. Put that goal on paper and stick it in front of you. You want to accomplish those tasks because you care about the end goal!
5. Pray. Pray! Pray!! He is behind you. He is on your side. You need to ask Him for motivation and He will deliver.
6. Burn some good smelling incense. Candles, essential oils, lotion on your body, the smell will revive you! My favorite? Pink: Sweet and Flirty (So not natural, I know, but makes me feel pretty!) Check out this price t@g! Victoria’s Secret Pink Sweet & Flirty Body Mist 8.4 Oz
7. Move. 7 minutes of movement before you sit all morning will get the blood flowing to your brain! I suggest simple core activities that are quick and hit those essential muscles in the abs and back that need to be strong for hours of desk work. I’m sharing a fave routine here!
8. Protein your breakfast up and stay low on sugar and carbs. Sugar and carbs give quick burst energy that comes and goes before you are done with your work. Instead choose an egg breakfast (toss on some bacon for some real eggs!) If sugar cravings are an issue for you, order Plexus Slim as it balances your blood sugar giving even energy all day. Contact us for more info.
9. Get a playlist ready ahead of time! Keep it upbeat and motivational. Who do I like for a kick? Fireflight, Hawk Nelson, Hillsong Young & Free, Imagine Dragons, 80’s hits, Sara Bareilles: Brave, Hollyn, NF, Zedd, I could go on!
10. Environment is everything! I can’t accomplish a lot with kids on my lap and neither can you. If your task is overwhelming, get help with the kids and separate yourself. Find a quiet place with the right temperature, right chair, and motivational surroundings (I love a beautiful view out the window!) Find a fave coffee shop where you can sit in a quiet corner and focus.
If your still dangling on by a thread, start from the top and go again!
Have a blessed Monday! You can do it!
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!”