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.
It’s hot. And you know you’re in trouble when your weather app says “99 degrees–cooler temps today.” But we have long since left behind those sub-100’s and are now getting daily heat indexes of 115-125. We had already decided it was the hottest weather we had ever experienced here, even during our years in Phnom Penh. But determined that we would endure with joy and “not even notice” like the natives, we hardly mentioned it (at least we tried). Then the locals began to complain, telling us it was the hottest weather they had known in years. Then we started seeing articles like these pop up, telling us we’re breaking all kinds of personal bests for heat. So we’re grunting it out through the heat, praying for rain (which is not supposed to come until July, rather than May, this year) and cooler temps, praying for joy from the Spirit, and realizing afresh the close connection between body and soul.
We have now been in our new home in Stung Treng province for almost 3 months. In many ways, these months have felt the way that our initial move to Cambodia 5 years ago was supposed to feel. Maybe it’s just one more symptom of being a slow learner, but it seems like all the difficulties of culture shock/stress that new missionaries typically experience have waited until now to hit home. Things like sickness, heat fatigue, and simple frustrations with the way life works (or more accurately, doesn’t work!). In a word, our time thus far has been strenuous, both physically and mentally/emotionally. The biggest temptation to fretting stems not so much from these various stressors per se, but more from the fact that we very often feel (particularly during the past 3-4 weeks) that very little of our time is actually going toward the things you sent us here to do–namely, learn Lao, share the gospel, and teach national Christians. Please pray with us that we would find our joy in knowing and being known by Christ, that we would love our neighbors the way we love ourselves, and that we would know the Spirit’s strength to fulfill these obligations. We’re also praying that as Cambodian farmers think on their need for rain, they would begin to think about the rain Giver whom they have long neglected to thank for His gifts of rain, produce, etc. (Romans 1:20-21). May this lead them to fear His wrath (Romans 1:18) and seek His mercy. Please pray also for rain and relief from the heat.
One recent encouragement was a warm reception from two local authorities in Stung Treng, the minister of religious affairs and the head of immigration. These are important relationships and God is answering our prayers of many years for a friendly relationship.
Two weeks ago, the main market in town where we do all our shopping burned to the ground. We live less than two blocks from the market, so we had a front row seat to all the commotion. Here is a summary of the events of that night if you’re interested.
Thank you, brothers and sisters, for sending and keeping us here. We are exactly where we want to be, doing (or at least trying to) exactly what we want to be doing. Please persevere with us through prayer.
Not all who wander are lost, though they may feel like it at times. But after 37 nights in a hotel (and 57 nights living out of a suitcase!), we have found rest! We are thrilled with the house God has given us — it’s size, arrangement, landlord, location, etc. — it’s exactly what we and you have prayed for. The house was built in 1960, and our landlord lived here all his childhood, so I’m sure the wood has some stories to tell! It’s situated right on the Sekong River, less than 1 KM from where it joins the mighty Mekong, and is literally surrounded by houses of neighboring Khmer and Lao. We slept here for the first time Sunday and there’s still a lot of unpacking, cleaning, and fixing to do. But every day, the house feels more like home. Please praise God with us for this wonderful gift.
Our current plan is to spend this week unpacking, and then start into “normal life” next week. By then, the kids will be in month 3 of their Christmas break from school, so we’re all ready. My primary focus will be language learning, so please pray for me as I begin the search for a tutor.
Below are some pics to give you a taste of our setting. For more details, you’ll have to visit us!
Thank you, friends, for your many prayers for our transition back to Cambodia. The flights were largely uneventful, and we hardly felt the effects of jet lag. Our longer-than-expected time in Phnom Penh was a strange mix of crazy-busy (the usual Phnom Penh tasks of visas, drivers licenses, vaccinations, etc.) and boredom (trying to keep everyone entertained in an inner-city hotel for 2 weeks). The reason for the 2-week stay was that we ended up needing to replace our vehicle.
While in the past, I’ve found car buying in Phnom Penh to be a rather simple, even enjoyable, experience, this time was a bit different since our parameters were so narrow. In a city of 2.3 million, we were looking for the one car (that may well not be an exaggeration at all) that (1) would seat our family, (2) could be insured for a foreigner, and (3) wouldn’t break the bank. Praise the Lord for leading us to that needle in the haystack. We love our new ride and hope it gives us as many reliable KMs as its predecessor did.
Now we’re in a hotel in Stung Treng province, ready to start the house hunt in earnest first thing Monday morning. And again, with our parameters, it feels like the odds are stacked against us in such a small town. Please pray that the Lord would provide a house well suited to the needs and purposes of our family and gospel ministry. The past 1-month+ of living out of suitcases has heightened our love and gratitude for Home. Please pray also for wholeness in heart and body. Hotel fever has struck and the kids, not to mention their parents, are quite antsy. We’ve also had a string of flu-like bugs making their rounds among us.
We have set the Lord before us always: because He is at our right hand, we shall not be shaken.