Faith and vocation
We recently requested your prayer for two crises, one of faith, one of vocation. Your outpouring of encouraging emails and assurances of continued and increasing prayer have been an immense boon. Thank you. One of our partners wrote about the visa crisis that she put a sticky note on her Visa card reminding her to pray for our situation every time she used it! Our response: “Shop ’til you drop: spend and be spent!”
Here’s the latest on both matters. The new restrictions on visas are explicitly designed to target people who draw a salary from within country but who are not paying taxes. Thus it makes sense that we should be exempt; nevertheless, we’ve been lumped into the same big category. However, we are hopeful and have reason to believe that the Ministry who grants our visas will indeed allow us to proceed as before, (though probably not without a fair amount of extra time and paperwork). Please continue to pray that we will find favor with the authorities as our renewal date gets closer (early February).
Second, the months leading up to my last update were difficult both spiritually and physically for me. Multiple factors contributed to a season of discouragement, and for the most part, our circumstances remain unchanged. But my outlook, energy level, eagerness to pursue my calling here, and interest in the people around me have improved dramatically. And that, almost immediately after Bonnie Ruth’s call for prayer. Thank you, dear brothers and sisters, for fulfilling your role as rope holders, praying both for the peoples of Cambodia and for the ones you have sent here to win them.
Upcoming Pastors School
Most of my time right now is occupied preparing to teach in the next session of the Ratanakiri Pastors School, Oct. 29-Nov. 3. We will be covering Part 2 of an introduction to Systematic Theology, using the newly-translated Big Truths for Young Hearts (“Theology for Churches and Families” in Khmer). Please pray for me, my fellow teachers, and the church leaders who will meet that week. The Pastors School is one the primary reasons for our being in Cambodia; we see it as an essential means for strengthening and expanding the church among multiple people groups of northeast Cambodia.
Related to this, please pray for more opportunities for me to teach and preach here in Stung Treng. For one reason or another, such opportunities have been rare. I need such opportunities (for my own continued development); and we’re convinced from Scripture that the people around us need it as well.
Please pray for spiritual light in the lives of Leenaa (pictured above) and Sopiap (below). Leenaa is one of our many next-door neighbors. She and her three kids (11-year-old, Chet-traa is one of Judson’s favorite playmates) often show up at our house right at dinner time 😉 so we’ve been using these opportunities to share Christ with her. Like most Cambodians, Leenaa listens politely. Sopiap (whose medical and spiritual needs you’ve prayed for before) listens willingly as I share the gospel with her during our weekly visits; she even asks an occasional question.. Pray that both Sopiap and Leenaa would embrace the gospel personally.
A few anecdotes to inform, amuse, and burden …
The other day I was with Judson in a rice shop being peppered with the usual litany of Cambodian questions for me as a foreigner: What do you eat there? What’s the weather like? How many kids are you allowed to have? How much money does the government pay you per kid? Then came another common question: are you happier in America or Cambodia? When I said that I actually liked living in both places, a lady told me that here it’s better because we have freedom and there you don’t. Taken aback somewhat, I asked what she meant. Her explanation: People in America have to work, here we don’t!
Recently I was sitting in a secluded spot by the Sekong River that flows through our town when a man and woman in their mid- to late-twenties drove up on a moped. The woman disappeared into the woods while the man walked over about twenty feet from me and began to relieve himself (which is totally normal here) … directly onto his foot (which is a first for me)! Yep, and this was no accident either: emptied his entire bladder, right onto his propped-up foot. He then walked my way and sat down about ten feet from me, propped up his dripping foot, pulled out his phone and began to take a video … of me! As if I were the one who might be the subject of a Nat Geo documentary! Well, with the help of Google, I learned such practice has a long tradition (traceable to the Aztecs) in natural medicine. Sure enough, to top it all off (quite literally, actually), the woman shortly reappeared with a poultice of leaves she had gathered and applied it to her man’s foot.
Another first for me … Recently I visited a Christian friend (Cambodian) who currently lives in Laos but returned to Cambodia to renew his passport. He told me of a Christian family in his church there whose brother passed away. In the video he showed me, you can hear the family wailing all around as the coffin is taken away from the house on a cart being pulled by a walk-behind tractor, surrounded by a small crowd of people. What was so unusual was that the people taking the coffin were actually “kidnapping” the corpse, forcefully taking him from his Christian family in order to perform the traditional ceremonies that would ensure appeasement from the various spirits. While this is certainly a first in my experience, the fear that drives the kidnappers in this story is everywhere evident around us here in Cambodia. Please pray for true freedom, not from a hard day’s work, but from the fear that subjugates the peoples of SE Asia.
Please pray for our visa situation. For years missionaries in Cambodia have been able to purchase what is called a Regular Visa (valid for 1 year). But beginning this month, the government will require a document called a work permit that proves valid employment in Cambodia. Because we do not receive a local salary we will be denied a permit and thus denied a visa. The Ministry of Religion understands this problem, and tells us that they’re working on a solution, but it’s unlikely to come in time for us or our teammates to renew our visas (ours expires early February, 2018). Numerous other missionaries from dozens of missions boards across the country are also affected. Please pray for wisdom for us as we research our options, and favor in the eyes of the authorities.
Visit from Memaw!
One of our summer highlights was to be a month-long visit from my (Bonnie Ruth) mom. We all excitedly made the 7-hour trip to pick her up in Phnom Penh and returned home a few days later. Four days into her stay, however, she fell down the stairs in our house and landed face down on the tile floor. We heard the commotion and rushed to find her lying unconscious. Seeing the obvious head injury, we immediately called two local friends, one a nurse, one a doctor, who examined her and helped us secure an ambulance. So at 11:30 pm, she and I squeezed into the back of an old Montero Sport for a harrowing night ride through heavy rains and flooded roads, navigating fallen trees as well as countless carts hauling illegal lumber without lights! Next morning at 5:00, we arrived safely in Siem Reap, the closest hospital with the equipment for a CT scan. The initial scan and x-rays revealed, among other things, swelling and hemorrhaging on the brain, and the doctor indicated that she would need surgery as soon as possible to relieve the pressure. For this, we would need to go either to Phnom Penh or possibly Bangkok. So we climbed back into an ambulance (much nicer this time!) for another 5-hour ride to Phnom Penh. In answer to many prayers, the second CT scan revealed that the brain swelling/bleeding had increased only slightly, meaning that surgery was not as urgent. Mom and I spent four nights in ICU and another four in a regular room for observation. Thankfully, subsequent scans showed that the swelling/bleeding was decreasing and no surgery would be needed. While the brain injury was certainly our greatest concern, honorable mention also goes to three broken ribs, a fractured vertebra, fractured wrist, fractured facial bones, and collapsed lung!
After being released, we were hopeful that she might be able to return to our home in Stung Treng, but the pain levels (combined with the bumpy roads) soon ruled this out. So after ten days apart, Jeremy and the kids—including newly-weaned Elisha!—joined us at a guesthouse in Phnom Penh where we made some memories nonetheless. A couple weeks of air-con, some western food, and playing games with Memaw—no one complained! Praise the Lord that though she has had quite an ordeal, she is on track to make a full recovery and was even able to make her return flight earlier this week. We just hope the memories from her visit don’t discourage her from future visits!
While reading the Psalms recently, I noticed how often David begins by rehearsing his many troubles. Enemies, personal sin, setbacks, fleeing for his life, loneliness, exhaustion from constantly running, depression from feeling forgotten (or worse, hated)—all are common expressions in David’s prayers to God. Yet somehow, these same prayers almost always end with praise. How? And why? Did God answer in the affirmative every request David made? Were these negative circumstances removed? No, but David wasn’t finding his hope in smooth circumstances or from somewhere deep within his own heart. His source of hope even amid trouble and discouragement was in his never-changing, always-loving, and supremely sovereign Redeemer. Though our struggles aren’t normally of the magnitude of David’s, circumstances in recent months are forcing us to remember that our Hope, like David’s, is indeed steadfast. Our Hope—through hot days, nearly sleepless nights, discouraging lack of fruit, promising relationships that turn apathetic, lack of love toward the very people we are here to serve—has not changed. We cling to the same promises that the peoples will one day sing his praises. We hope in the same promises of ultimate renewal, both within and without. And we rejoice in the promise that our Hope is ever present with us. And so, brothers and sisters, please pray for us. Jeremy specifically is experiencing an unusual level of discouragement, in part due to prolonged seasons of apparently unanswered prayer, as well as physical and mental fatigue.
Writing to the Corinthians about his extreme adversity, Paul said, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” We are always grateful for your many reminders that you are indeed praying, and our hearts are hopeful that his blessings will be granted to us and the peoples of Cambodia through these prayers.
Reasons to pray
- Physical stamina throughout the day and good rest during the night
- Persevering joy
- Renewed love and compassion for the people around us
- God’s blessing on both teachers and students as we start a new school year
- Fruit of conversion among those who have heard the gospel:
Ta and Yay (our 84-year old neighbor and his wife)—Jeremy recently shared the gospel with Ta and surprisingly, he listened without interruption for 15 minutes, quite unusual as Ta enjoys teaching the youngster (Jeremy) about life in Cambodia (and Jeremy enjoys listening to these fascinating life stories too). Sadly, his response was typical: Jesus and Buddha are both great teachers that help us all get along. Pray for light and for further opportunities.
Ming (an elderly lady)—pray for understanding and faith
Napi (Jeremy’s former language tutor)—pray for renewed interest
Moni (a young woman, newly professing faith)—pray for increased understanding and perseverance
Reasons for praise
- Brooke Illsley is back with us for another school year. She has been invaluable in helping me with the schooling of our children.
- Though my mom’s visit was not what we had planned, I’m thankful for the quality mother-daughter time during those days and nights in the hospital and also that we were able to address all of her needs here in country.
I recently read some advice from a veteran Cambodian missionary: never make important decisions in April or May—the hottest, and often most discouraging, months of the year. And while this year’s hot season has been a refreshing breeze by comparison to last year’s record breaker, it’s still hot. So we’ll follow that wise advice and not bolt for cooler climes, but in the meantime, please pray for endurance, both physically and mentally. We are tired. Particularly Bonnie Ruth needs your prayers for strength and wisdom in the use of her resources.
I continue to spend much of my time honing my Khmer and preparing Bible lessons for my former language tutor. Please pray for his continued interest (which seems to be lagging and somewhat distracted, lately) in the gospel, as well as for additional opportunities for me to teach other Christians or people interested in the gospel. When I last wrote, I was praying for wisdom in the use of my time—Khmer vs. Lao. After getting input from my team leader, I am focusing my efforts on Khmer preparation and seeking only to maintain what Lao I’ve gained until next year when I will focus more fully on Lao.
Day-to-day life also provides numerous unplanned opportunities for sharing the gospel. Most are brief, one-time encounters. But a few are developing into longer-term relationships. One such particular instance is with an elderly lady, Sopeap, whom we’ve been able to help with medical care in Phnom Penh. Please pray for Sopeap as she listens to the gospel, that the healing she is receiving in her body would be matched with healing for her soul. Pray also for another young woman we have recently helped. Her medical issues stem both from her 9 abortions and possibly from an STD received from her husband. Please pray for this woman—that the brokenness in her life and body might work itself out in a truly broken spirit before God.
Finally, please pray for increased interaction with our immediate neighbors. I have recently tried to make some adjustments to my daily schedule in order to create more opportunities to spend time with them. Pray that these efforts will bear fruit for the gospel.
Perhaps the best part of life in Cambodia is the teammates God has given us. I couldn’t have handpicked a better group to work with. In February, we spent a day with our co-workers in Ratanakiri, celebrating 10 years of Cambodian ministry for our dearest friends, Brian and Lydia Kane. The Kanes’ testimony of faithfulness through frustrations, discouragements, failures, and now increasing success and usefulness gives me as great a hope and encouragement as some of my favorite missionary biographies. Following their example, I press on in hopes that my 10-year update will be as filled with fruit and gospel opportunities as I see them (finally) enjoying!
Then, for the past 2 weeks, we enjoyed a visit from one of our pastors, John Wheeler. John and his family of 10 ministered the gospel for 20 years overseas (Turkey), so we had not a few things in common. His wisdom of experience and his pastoral care for us was an immense boon, and we praise God for giving pastors and teachers to his church, even to those members who may be on an extended leave of absence!
Finally, the highlight of our year thus far was a visit from my parents, my favorite and most valuable supporters. By far, their 40 years of constant prayer and faithful modelling of the gospel have been the most influential force directing my path into missions. And certainly no one else has paid the price of “losing” this son for the gospel as they have. (Sometimes the real sacrifice of missions is paid, not by the missionaries, but by the parents who lose their kids and grandkids.) So indeed, our joy was full when Mom and Dad trotted the globe like two twenty-somethings (Jet lag? What jet lag? Stomach bugs? What’s that?) to spend two wonderful weeks with us in February. Again, I was confirmed in my desire and prayer that I (and my kids) will be like them when I grow up.
Sharing the old, old Story …
Earlier this month, I had the unexpected (i.e., unplanned and unprepared for!) opportunity to spend a week with 18 young adults, working through the storyline of the entire Bible and discussing basic tips for personal Bible reading and study. I had about 1 day to prepare for the week, so it was a strange mix of stress and joy. An added difficulty was that most of my students were from tribal villages (Kravet and Tampuan) so both student and teacher were working across language barriers. But praise God that in that vast gulf between our birth languages, we did indeed connect, albeit with some occasional linguistic detours. Most of these young people come from fledgling churches where they serve as the de facto leaders, so I rejoice to know that the material we worked through is actually being used in a number of these churches throughout our province! I’m also hopeful that this will lead to further opportunities to minister with this same group.
… with those who’ve never heard
I’ve asked you before to pray for the conversion of my language tutor Pe’own. Unfortunately, Pe’own is no longer my tutor since he has now returned to nursing school (more below on how this affects my Lao study). The good news, though, is that my relationship with Pe’own continues to flourish, and in addition to his random visits to our home, we are now meeting weekly to study the Bible together. I’ve shared the gospel with Pe’own in greater detail than with any other Cambodian thus far, and he continues to show interest, even calling himself a believer! Several points of evident confusion still remain though, so please pray for us: for me, that I would clearly delineate what this good news does and does not promise, and also that I would in no way make the way narrower than Christ himself made it; for Pe’own, that his eyes would be opened to see the glory of Christ alone as the Lord and Savior of man.
ພາສາລາວ vs. ភាសាខ្មែរ
Any update from me wouldn’t be complete without a little complaining about language learning; so here goes: for the past 2-3 months, my Lao study has fallen on hard times. With the loss of my teacher and with some additional teaching opportunities in Khmer, I’ve had very little time to pursue Lao or to search for a new tutor. I’m very glad for these teaching opportunities; it’s one of the two main reasons we came to Cambodia. I need wisdom, though, to discern how Lao study fits into my life and work at present. Please pray with me for this wisdom.
Earlier this month, we had the great pleasure of receiving Steve and Beth Osborne from our partner church in Smyrna, DE. Steve and Beth both have substantial experience living abroad, including in third-world countries, so we had a blast exchanging stories that only people with those experiences can fully appreciate. Their fellowship was a blessing for our entire family.
Thank you, dear friends, for your prayers and notes letting us know of your prayers. The Lord did all that we asked of him, and our interview at the embassy went as smoothly as possible. Elisha’s paperwork is now complete, and we should be receiving his birth certificate and passport soon. Praise the Lord for one more assurance of his help; praise him for partners like you who bear our burdens with us. May this answer to prayer be one more reason for increased faith as we encounter other uncertainties in the future.
For three weeks now, we’ve been back home (after the birth of Elisha) and have mostly hit the ground running with continued study and ministry.
In mid-November, I joined several missionaries and Cambodian pastors to teach the fifth and final course in the curriculum (Gospel of Matthew, Part III) of the Khmer-language Foundations Bible School. Over the past two years, the four different mother-tongue branches of the Foundations Bible School (Khmer, Krung, Jarai, and Tampuan) have worked diligently to complete the curriculum, with a view toward the launching of the Ratanakiri Pastors School in May, 2017. Students who have completed this core curriculum may be approved and sent by their local churches to join the Pastors School this coming Spring. Praise the Lord for the five Khmer-language students who are eligible, and the many more from among the tribal groups. Please pray for the many remaining hours of preparation for launch of the Pastors School.
Earlier this week, we enjoyed a quick visit from our mission director and his wife, Ken and Joan Jensen. As always, the time with Ken and Joan was a joy. We thank God for their many years of faithful service behind the scenes, making our work and that of many other missionaries possible.
For the past 3 months, I’ve been meeting weekly for prayer and Bible study with a dear Christian brother, Yaa. We are currently working through Romans 6 together. Please pray for Yaa, that he would receive the Word with faith and be rooted firmly in the truth. Pray also for wisdom for me as I seek to teach and encourage Yaa.
The bulk of my time continues to be spent in language study, both Lao and Khmer, and I feel as if I am ready to “blossom” in either pursuit. In Khmer, I am at the point that I could be a somewhat proficient teacher if given the time for preparation; in Lao, I feel that I could begin to grow rapidly in my basic use of the language if I could focus on that full-time. As it is now, I struggle to balance the two and often feel doomed to life-long mediocrity in two languages! Please continue praying for growth and for wisdom in handling this tension.
A final, somewhat urgent, request: on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 2:00 pm (2:00 am EST), we have an appointment at the US Embassy to apply for Elisha’s US citizenship papers and passport. The fact that we have some experience at this (Elisha is our third child born in Cambodia) only adds to my anxiety about the interview: in the past, this interview has led only to more very-difficult-to-obtain paperwork and subsequent interviews. Please pray for success on Tuesday.
Elisha Chesterton Farmer was born October 28 (8 pounds, 21.5 inches). Our little acrobat had wrapped the cord around his neck once and tied a knot in it further up the line, leading to a decreased heart rate and a risk of meconium aspiration. So, after 7 natural deliveries, Bonnie Ruth delivered via C-section for the first time. We praise God for protecting both Bonnie Ruth and Elisha, and that a safe C-section is possible here. Both Bonnie Ruth and Elisha are doing very well, and we just received the green light from Bonnie Ruth’s doctor to return home to Stung Treng. The Lord’s help for Bonnie Ruth has been clearly manifest as she charts this new territory. Thank you for your prayers, both in recent weeks and now as we readjust to our work and life in Stung Treng.
The two primary reasons we chose our house in Stung Treng were its size (just right for our little family) and location (right in the middle of a “village” of neighbors). One reason we didn’t choose the house was its newness or its beautiful landscape. We knew it would take some work to make it live well, and we were okay with that. So over the past six months, we’ve been chipping away at various projects, big and small. One of the biggest has been making our small yard a safe and somewhat pleasant place for humans. Thankfully, I love yard work, but this was yard work I’d never experienced: working with a piece of land that evidently had been a dumping ground for all kinds of trash—from broken glass, metal, and plastic, to layer upon layer of rock (both natural and added gravel). Again, I really do like this kind of work most of the time, but after a full Saturday at it, I’ve sometimes told Bonnie Ruth that 8 hours of yard work here feels like 16 hours of the same in the US but actually accomplishes only as much as 2 hours! Both my joy and frustration in the work has often reminded me of gospel ministry, particularly in a pioneer setting. To make the land green with grass, trees, and flowers is a sweet pleasure to me; but how I long to do so on truly virgin land—uncultivated land, still untouched by years of human abuse! Is this not the dream of every gospel minister, regardless of location? But is there such a thing as “virgin” territory? Whether it be with the deep-seated assumptions of an animistic/Buddhist culture and worldview as we meet here, or with the increasingly prevalent secularism of the West (or worse than both, the “prosperity” gospel!), the Enemy has been faithfully “sowing” the ground with toxins that prevent life from taking root. Sometimes my personal evangelism consists as much of explaining what the good news isn’t as it does explaining what it is! What we need is patience and endurance to continue proclaiming faithfully.
Despite the great need for such ground clearing, it is always a joy to share the gospel with people I meet while out and about. My focus now is primarily Lao language study, so these opportunities are mostly random, but over the past month they’ve occurred in increasing numbers. Please pray for additional opportunities and for conversions.
I continue to meet every afternoon with my Lao language tutor, Napi. Napi is 26 years old, very helpful (both with Khmer and Lao) and is a joy to be with each day. He does not know the true God. Please pray for our meetings, that they would be profitable both for my language proficiency and for his soul.
Physically, we are all well. Since I last wrote, the weather has cooled down a bit. The days are still warm, but with the increased rain the nights are often quite bearable, which is all we need to be happy. Please pray for those nights when we don’t get the break that we think we need! Yes, please pray for physical stamina and spiritual joy during exhausting days of work.
The unexpected highlight of my month was a visit from my brother Jonathan. He was able to steal away from his work in Indonesia to meet me in Phnom Penh for two days. As always, the time was rich, both in conversation and food. Praise God for this unexpected refreshment.
The home front
The school year is off to a solid start (we’re in week 2), and enrollment is up this year: 6 students in 4 grades, with 2.5 teachers (our dear friend Brooke Illsley, Bonnie Ruth, and me), 1 classroom, and 1 toddler to roam to and fro while the big ‘uns are busy studying. The good news, though, is that come October, Henry will have a little brother to roam with him! Bonnie Ruth’s due date is late October, and we constantly thank God for an amazingly smooth pregnancy (considering a record-breaking hot season from March-May). Please pray for continued health and strength, both for Bonnie Ruth and our littlest boy.
Thank you, brothers and sisters, for laboring together with us here.
Beating the heat
Shortly after I wrote about our record-breaking heat/drought, we enjoyed 3 consecutive luxurious nights where the temp dropped just enough to give a refreshing night of sleep. A week later, we celebrated our first downpour of the year. These gifts were just one more reason to thank the Maker. Apart from these two blessed reprieves though, the heat and drought continue, so thank you for continued prayers for our stamina. We are all well.
Teaching Matthew’s Gospel
Tomorrow (Thursday, 5/12), I’ll drive over to Ratanakiri province to join several missionaries and Cambodian pastors in team-teaching the book of Matthew for a session of the Khmer-speaking branch of the Foundations Bible School. This is a very exciting opportunity for me, since I have not taught in Khmer in over a year (my first time since returning to Cambodia). Please remember me, the other teachers, and our students (both men and women from the Khmer-speaking church)–that we would understand and teach clearly and fully embrace all the we learn about the person and work of God’s Son in the Gospel of Matthew.