Thursday, December 30, 2010

Water Festival Tragedy - in Cambodia

 As we arrived at the water festival, there were all sorts of snacks and toys and decorations. You could tell that everyone in the city from the very young to the very old were enjoying themselves. Ryan looked up information about the water festival online and discovered that
"Bon Om Thook (Khmer) n), the Khmer Water Festival, is a Cambodian festival celebrated in November. Every town and province joins in with the festival but the biggest celebrations take place in Phnom Penh. For three days, workers from every province join with the city's residents to celebrate by night and day.
The festival lasts for three days, and commemorates the end of the country's rainy season,[1] as well as the reversal of flow of the Tonle Sap River.[2] It includes boat races and concerts, and attracts several million people each year... The Tonlé Sap is unusual for two reasons: its flow changes direction twice a year, and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. From November to May, Cambodia's dry season, the Tonlé Sap drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. However, when the year's heavy rains begin in June, the Tonlé Sap backs up to form an enormous lake." - Wikipedia
This is different from the other water festivals in southeast Asia which commemorate the new year.
 The streets were packed with people - mostly young people.
 We saw the traditional boat races. This tradition is an ancient one.
 People were flooding the area around the river to watch the boat races; There they said that over 1 million people typically attend this festival.
 We headed down by the palace where the king of Cambodia lives. The people really love their king, although they do make jokes about him being single and enjoying ballet.
 To our surprise, army and police officials began to line up - and a few moments later the king himself came to join in the fun at the water festival. Jayne Anne McKewin was thrilled to see the king! She always was a bit starstruck by him.
 Kids were everywhere - playing with small tires, small fish-shaped boats, they were digging in the sand and running around - sometimes holding a younger sibling on their hip.

 This is photographic evidence that Jayne Anne saw the king. And that was our water festival experience - until later when we went to the beach and heard through the grapevine about the tragic events of 11/22/10. "At least 349 people were killed and hundreds injured in a stampede in Cambodia that broke out while thousands were celebrating a water festival on an island in a river in Phnom Penh late on 22 November 2010." -
The people we were staying with were all horrified - They felt the way Americans did on 9/11 - but it was much closer to home for them. The population of the entire country is less than 15 million and the entire country is only about twice the size of Ohio.
 This is the bridge where the stampede took place. We went to see it after we arrived back in phnom penh from the beach.
 These golden papers were littered everywhere around the scene - I'm not entirely sure of their significance.
 The vendors came with their wares as the mourning people congregated in the area.
 There was caution tape around the scene and monks visiting. Family members and friends gathered together in a somber mass around the river. Many people were crying or praying.
Some people (maybe some of the monks?) spread a rumor that was going through the city. People believed that there was an evil spirit that was like a dragon and killed people and might kill again if the spirit was not appeased. Additionally, it was said that only bananas would appease this specific spirit - so demand for bananas skyrocketed raising the price to $10 a bunch. The equivalent of a month's wages for some. Then the expensive bananas were left out in shrines such as this one as an offering to the spirit.
It was pretty wild and sobering to experience this national tragedy firsthand. I felt like it would be good to share some of the photos with others who might be interested in what went on there.

"First They Killed My Father" by Loung Ung

A biography about a child survivor of the genocide in Cambodia; this book is haunting and hard not to read in one sitting. I read it in two sittings; but in less than 24 hours. And it was in my dreams and thoughts for many days afterward. Is it worth reading? Absolutely.
From 1975 to 1979, 2 million people were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot. This book gives a pretty graphic snapshot into that time. It is told through the eyes of the main character and biographer, Loung. The story starts when she's 5 years old and the Khmer Rouge evacuate the capital city of Cambodia. Later, there is a scene of her in a camp by herself - taking care of herself, walking the road alone to find her mother - and she's 7 years old; the age of my daughter Lexi.
Anyway, I won't tell the whole story, and it isn't the sort of book you take quotes from, but I'll share a short passage. The context for this passage is that a neighbor boy has just died of starvation.
"The two girls and Chong have taken a turn for the worse since the death of the boy. A few days after his death, his two sisters decided to go to the forest and look for food by themselves. They were so hungry they ate mushrooms that turned out to be poisonous. After they died, Chong ran hysterically over to our house. "They were shaking all over! They kept calling me to help them, and I couldn't! They kept crying. They didn't even know what happened to them!" Ma catches Chong in her arms as she falls to her knees.
"They are resting now. Don't worry, they are sleeping." Ma holds Chong in her arms.
"They turned all white, the hair on their bodies stood up and blood came out of my babies' pores! My babies shook and cried for me to help them, for me to take their pain away. I couldn't do anything for them. They rolled on the ground screaming in pain, asking me to make it stop. I tried to hold on to them, but I wasn't strong enough. I watched them die! I watched them die! They died crying for me, but I couldn't help them." Chong sobs uncontrollably, sliding to the floor and lays her head in Ma's lap.
"There is nothing we can do now. They are resting." Ma strokes Chong's arm, trying to soothe her pain. But no one could save her from the pain; she cries and howls. She reached her hands into her shirt to massage her chest as if trying to exorcise the pain from her heart.
Standing beside Ma, I watch the girls being buried near their house. I cannot see their bodies, but earlier two villagers had brought out two small bundles wrapped in old black clothes. The bundles looked so small that it was hard to imagine that they were once the girls I knew. I wonder if the Angkar cares that they are dead. I remember when we first arrived at Ro Leap, the chief told us that the Angkar would take care of us and would provide us with everything we need. I guess the Angkar doesn't understand that we need to eat." p.86

Thursday, December 23, 2010

laying a foundation - from haggai

Last night I heard that someone used an analogy from Haggai to describe a danger in adult work. In Haggai, the prophet speaks out against people who leave the house of God in ruins, yet work hard to make their own paneled houses beautiful. The idea for the current day principle/application would be to build up God's house and not just our own households.
Today, I decided to read Haggai - and the ideas were really thought-provoking and encouraging. I was especially struck by the following verses:
"The word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore, consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough. You drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes...Because My house lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house...Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts...Since the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you." (Haggai 1:3-6, 9b, 2:4b, 3:18b-19) 

I'm not saying that we can reach a magical day where the Lord begins blessing us more - to say that this book is teaching that would mean I was employing terrible hermeneutics. But, I do think that there is a universal truth principle to be gleaned from this book. We must not give up on doing the Lord's work. We can't be satisfied with simply building and feathering our own little nests. I think this principle is especially good for those in our sphere - since we are new and "laying a foundation" that will hopefully benefit many future people.
Love you guys! Have a great holiday - and don't forget spiritual goals in your New Year's planning. xxoo

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Members of One Another" by Dennis McCallum

So, my dad's new book is out! I've read and re-read the book through the pre-published phases, but I still look forward to reading through the finished work. The sub-title "How to Build a Biblical Ethos into Your Church" describes the goal of the book - it's an argument for NT style church as well as a practical guidebook on how to do church. Exciting to have this book to refer people to!

This book is not for the weak to read - it is over 300 pages, and it covers a lot. But, if you've ever had anyone ask you about why Xenos seems like such a weird church, this book would make an excellent read; it would make for a great gift too. It's long, but it's easy to read and get into.

The weird/funny thing I have to mention is that it has part of a naked guy on the front cover. That, and it's called "Members" - there are some jokes in the making there to be sure.

I do plan to write up a complete review once I finish reading the book again. It may be a while though, because I am hoping to read through this with a friend - and those reads always tend to be slower and more thoughtful. But, I wanted to help get the word out there so everyone will run out and pick up their copies this week and get extras for xmas presents too.