When we first moved to Stung Treng five years ago, we breathed a huge sigh of relief, thrilled with the prospect of discontinuing our habit of moving every 1-2 years, and hopefully staying in this house for many years (decades?) to come.
The house meets our needs in so many wonderful ways, and we have often thanked God for it. Even its countless quirks—from the teeming bat colonies upstairs, to the leaky roof, to the 5’11” doorways that bring me to tears every time I bang my head on them (why can’t I learn!?)—have all attained a place in our affections as we think through our years here.
But the maxim is universal, transcending all cultures: Location3. And this is what has increasingly become a heavy burden for us. For our first seven years in Cambodia, we eschewed the thought of building our own house, knowing all the mental energy (frustration) inevitably involved in building in a third world country. About a year and a half ago, however, we began considering the possibility that investing that energy and time into building might actually repay itself with greater long-term sustainability. Since then, this inclination to buy/build has risen and fallen several times, for various reasons. But after much prayer and counsel, we are confident that this is the best route for both our family and ministry. Our current location is so crowded with people, animals, and places of business, we feel we have lost nearly all margin. As just one example: in the past eight months, the lots on two different sides of our house (just a few feet from our house) have become the new homes of metal cutting shops and a scrap metal disposal lot (junk yard). From about 6am to 6pm, 7 days/week, the intermittent scream of power hacksaws serenades us through our always-open kitchen, bedroom and schoolroom windows. Our family generates its own share of noise and pollution, but we feel like we’re losing the battle.
Three months ago we began earnestly inquiring about land prices, praying for all the things anyone would want: the right price, location, and neighbors. Based on the ubiquitous “for sale” signs and on what we know about the debt situation among many Cambodians, we assumed that good land was ours for the choosing. But after 75 phone calls and visits to various properties, it became increasingly clear that any one of these qualities was not guaranteed, and that finding all three together was practically impossible. It appears that foreign investors (from Cambodian’s increasingly intimate Asian ally) are quickly gulping up land all over the country, driving prices to exorbitant heights. At several points, we have despaired of finding anything affordable. And then there’s the location—our current house is a convenient 2-minute walk from the market, which comes in handy when feeding a family of ten. It’s also well situated for our current ministry opportunities. But almost every piece of land that was even remotely affordable would have demanded some significant lifestyle changes and additional challenges to accessing the people we minister to. Finally, the neighbors. For five years, we’ve lived at the center of a mini-village and have had only positive relationships with our many neighbors; our kids spend hours a day playing with their friends, which is how several of them have learned the language). Relationships like these were also looking to become yet another casualty of moving. Most of the places that promised to provide a measure of quiet, did so by cutting us off from all human life; and while my inner Wendell Berry finds that appealing, my inner Holy Spirit keeps calling me to love and serve people.
Two weeks ago, we were able to purchase a beautiful piece of land—reverently dubbed Haaretz—that truly is the best of all possible worlds. The Lord has answered every request we have been praying, and we are reeling with gratitude. The price tag on this 2.5 acres of old cashew grove was one of the very few that were even close to feasible and is by far the lowest of all 75 pieces we looked at. Several of those pieces were 10x as much, for less land. And if we weren’t already asking “Why us?!”— the week after we purchased the land, we learned that the adjacent lot (same size, same seller) had more than doubled in price. The location is perfect—well situated for all our current ministries and a 10 minute moto drive from the market and town. And as for neighbors—it’s amazing that this piece that feels and sounds so secluded is nonetheless alive with friendly neighbors. So far we’ve met 12 neighbor kids who flock to our land every time our kids show up with us. This land has been all gain, no sacrifice. God has been so kind.
So now we’re embarking on something we said we’d never do. We’re clearing land, drilling a well, drawing house plans, digging a cesspool, getting electricity hooked up, and a hundred other tasks we’ve never done before. The learning curve is steep but we’re enjoying it. We’re thankful for a couple of experienced advisors who have already been extremely helpful.
So first, please join us in thanking God for this great kindness to us. To fuel your praise, scroll down for some pics. Second, we would greatly appreciate your prayers as we embark on this project. Of necessity, we’re acting as our own contractors, so we need wisdom as we search for skilled laborers and oversee the work. We also need strength as our normal obligations in and out of the home continue apace (more on those in a forthcoming update). We are praying that we can complete a house by late July, 2021, when our rental contract ends for our current house. Finally, please pray that this new home will be a place of rest that better enables us to accomplish the work we came here to do.