About this time last year, Noelle and I were landing at Phnom Penh International Airport with 6 bags and open hearts. God had called us to full-time missions in Cambodia working with In His Steps International.
I'll never forget the Visa line - so crazy and chaotic. No one really recognizes the "personal space rule" that Americans love so much. We found ourselves jumping in (almost literally) head-first to a culture so unfamiliar yet quite exciting! I also remember coming out of the customs area and seeing a smiling face there to greet us. It was Ginny Hanson. There are so many great things I could say about Eric and Ginny Hanson. There we were, two newbies wondering what step to take next and Eric and Ginny were gracious and went above and beyond to ensure we were taken care of. We came home to our very own apartment that was clean and beautiful topped off with things we needed to get started - like silverware, water heater, glasses, snacks and water. We couldn't have asked for more. The next two weeks, they took us around, showed us the town and helped us get appliances and furniture. They were perfect and have been great leaders and examples for us time after time! I've learned a new level of hospitality thanks to them.
There is so much to reflect on for the past year. I wish I would have journaled more to capture everything, but it just didn't happen. I do often I think about things I especially loved this past year and then I think about things that were difficult or challenging. I find I have more memories about things I love then things that were hard.
I decided for this blog I'd name my top 10 memories (disclaimer: number 1 does not necessarily mean it's better than number 10) for my first year. Here we go.
- Change: I enjoy change, especially when it's in my heart. God has done some things in me that are difficult to describe, but I know they are significant. Maybe one of you smart people out there could help me understand.
- Valuing relationships more: This sounds like I was cold when I lived in the States. I don't think I was, but when I started to have relationship with people here, God began to help me see the importance and value in genuine relationships. My relationships here go deep to a level that seems very authentic. I think I'm beginning to see why that's important. I have friendships in the U.S. that are like this too, but now I can see and understand more the benefits of true friendship.
- Relationship with Jesus: Thanks to frequent worship throughout the week at In His Steps and living in a country that has deep spiritual roots, I'm more in love and in tune with Jesus. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings are normal times of worship/prayer/teaching at IHSI. It's great. I always feel full spiritually, so I have plenty to give out! Also, Cambodia has deep roots in Buddhism and many other beliefs that quite honestly freak me out sometimes. I've never been to a country that has more rituals than the amount of idioms I know. Everytime I look around, there's some sacrifice being made or some monk gabbling his language at a funeral or wedding - it's crazy!! My discernment has become more sensitive. I dream more. I get to teach and use my giftings. There are so many areas where my relationship with God has increased. It's quite wonderful.
- My marriage: I love Noelle. She's my bride and she makes me smile just thinking about her. Since coming to Cambodia, we spend more time talking then we ever did in the States. I think we were just too "busy." Now, we find time intentionally and just chat about the day, about what we appreciate about each other, etc. Our marriage is so great! Of course we still get in silly fights and have conflict, but more and more we come out of those conflicts stronger and more in love. I think that's how Jesus designed marriage, didn't He?
- Ministry: There is lots happening at IHSI. We are blessed to be part of an incredible ministry producing tons of fruit. It's really exciting to see God's hand at work. Personally, I help out wherever I can, but I specifically help in the technology department with website and various other technology needs, photography, short term teams and visitors. I also work with Sopheak in the province and teach a discipleship group to some of the boys from the Loaves and Fish Program. I love those guys! They are like sponges.
- Visitors: I LOVED it when our Dads came to visit us. It meant so much to me that our first visitors were our Dads.
- Driving the moto: One of Noelle and I's favorite dates is to take the moto out and explore. There's not many places we haven't at least driven through in Phnom Penh, so we are going to have to start being more clever to find some places we haven't been yet. But nonetheless, it's so much fun and adventurous driving off into the sunset with my Babycakes.
- Going to Dairy Queen: Ginny always says, "What do we do for fun?" Then we say whatever it might be that night. In this case, it's driving to Dairy Queen at the airport. Dairy Queen is a commodity around here. Quality ice cream doesn't really exist here unless you a) want to spend $14 on a pint of Haagen Daaz or b) want to drive to Dairy Queen. We often times choose b. It's fun and adventurous to make it to the airport in one piece and to have our tuk tuk function correctly there and back.
- PeachPit: I never met our first baby, but I know PeachPit would have been beautiful. Unfortunately, we had to experience this nasty thing called miscarriage. I am thankful for a warm and loving community here, in the States and in Thailand that was incredible during that time. We were so grateful to have Ryan and Jaime Opfer waiting for us at the Thai airport. They were so great! Oh, Thailand has amazing hospitals that don't cost that much. I am looking forward to visiting Thailand again for a more favorable outcome.
- Pace of life: Our pace of life is different here. We don't have a traditional 9-5 job here. It's more like 24/7 and on-call. No, we don't actually work 24/7, but ministry as many of you know is very different than your typical corporate job. I love it. Monday thru Friday, we can typically count on a routine schedule, but then we have extra bonuses jump in there every once and awhile. For example, spending the night in the province to build relationships or going to participate in the Saturday programs. We love it! But we also understand the value of rest. So, we go to the pool occasionally, or head to the coast for a lime shake and some R&R.
Of course, these are just some of my memories. I have many great and wonderful thoughts I could share, but I would need a book. I thought I'd give you just a glimpse!
To finish things off, I thought about adding a few photos from our first year.
Noelle modeling our new home in March of 2010.
Give me a break. It was 1:30am in the morning.
Working out at the Cambodian gym...which didn't happen for very long.
One of my best friends here - Solomon. He's a great guy and just got married to one of the international staff members of IHSI, Emily. Here, I'm enjoying my first cup of sugarcane juice. Now, one of my favs.
At the office!
At the Foundation Center property in Saang. One of my most favorite places to be!
This is Mara! She comes to our house twice a week and helps out. She's an incredible lady with lots of knowledge on plants. Oh, she gives incredible shoulder rubs, but they are quite painful.
Some of the In His Steps Staff. From left to right. Vouen, Solomon, Sokra, Pheaktra (just had a baby with his wife), KongKear and Sopheak.
Here is the In His Steps staff picture taken back in April I think. There have been a few staff members added since then.
One of the many floods we experienced this past year. This was taken just outside our apartment at the market during an unusual rain in April.
Hanging out with Sokra during my first stay in the province.
Emily and Noelle hanging out on a Saturday afternoon during the children's programs.
Eric and Ginny Hanson - friends and leaders of In His Steps International. Great people!! They are standing at the opening of Father's House. Father's House is a safehouse that was recently completed to house at-risk kids from the Saang community. IHSI is really doing some great things.
The beautiful coast!
Jacob and Noelle at the coast.
Beautiful sunset in Saang.
John and I. John is one of the boys that lives at Father's House.
One of the beautiful villas in Phnom Penh, probably owned by a government official. If you look closely, you can see Eric getting some shots.
This was taken when our Dads came to visit. Loved our time with them.
Bruce getting ready to teach some English to some willing students. English is one of the many programs taught, free of charge at the Foundation Center property.
Aaron, a boy in IHSI custody often comes over to Boo Jacob and Ming Noelle's house to play.
Some of the Sak Saum girls praying for some older ladies at church.
The Goodlin moto. Love it. 2003 Honda FTR 223cc,
Ginny, Noelle and Theavy at a Sak Saum sale here in Phnom Penh.
Stuffing my face with one of my favorite foods - Pho.