Saturday, July 13, 2013

We Somehow Lived...

Where to start...all that has happened in the last month...

People ask us how the move went and how the transition back to America is going, and we respond with, "well we made and we somehow lived."  And I know that each of these people would love a better answer, and one we hope to give one day, but everything that has happened to Chris and I in the last month seems hard to sum up nicely and in a somewhat brief statement.  I can't find words to properly convey the energy and emotion that went into leaving Cambodia and arriving in Denver.

It wasn't hard to sell, give, pack, purge our belongs that accumulated over the past three years.  But it was very hard to see our offices, church, and small little home emptied of our family.  All evidence that we had a wonderful life-- a life of joy, laughs, and a ton of background noise is now packed up and washed away.  There is not even a fingerprint left to say, "Hey, this is where the DeRemers lived."

Our story of leaving Phnom Penh was classic Cambodian in itself. Our internet was already canceled and I had started an online class for my masters and went to Asian Hope's offices down the street to work on some school stuff.  It was Monday afternoon and we had spent the morning in Prek Pneu watching the students in class, sharing one last meal with our staff, and then heading to Logos to say bye to our dear Khmer friends.  That was it the end of the good-byes and no more last meals were to be had with anyone else.  It was 2:00pm when I arrived at the offices and opened my email for the day to find that our airline had emailed us and changed our flight from Tuesday morning to Tuesday afternoon, causing us to miss our connection.  Since we already gave away our phones, I ran home to Chris, told him the scenario and we both went back to solve the problem.  It was 3:02pm when it was decided the only option for us was to catch the 4:40pm flight that day and had to be at the airport in 58 minutes.

With the help of two interns and some staff, we rushed home, packed our remaining things, gave the home one last clean through and were out the door in 35 minutes.  With one last look out our balcony, we said bye to our life and drove to the airport. Arriving at the airport we looked frazzled and teary and you would of thought, "Awww, look at those poor people with no coping skills."

But we lived.  We made our flight.  We left the country that stole our hearts.  We packed a mountain top of stuff, memories, and relationships into what felt like a teacup.  We left with four bags and some tender hearts. It was challenging to say the least.

Honestly, if words could describe the intensity of that single day, I would tell you all about it.  But they can't.  Words only scratch the surface of how joyful, stressful, and painful, and somehow peaceful that day was.

We took some space and had a long layover in Turkey where we celebrated our 5th anniversary, and had had space and time to mourn Cambodia and gain anticipation for arrival in America.  It was a sweet time for Chris and I to debrief together where there was no pressure to buy a car, find a home, or fill out endless paperwork.  It was everything we needed, and the country was pretty awesome too.

And now we're here, in Colorado, and its been two or so weeks, and I am sitting in a friends house totally speechless.  Since landing Chris has already starting work for the past 10 days, we have gotten phones and a truck, found a home, moved in, and insured the crap out of our life.  Does anyone find it crazy that I now have to have a policy for almost everything I own, wow. We did all the stuff that no one wants to do all in like a 4 day span--HR paperwork, lease signing, Uhaul renting, Geico calling, etc.  But we lived through it, barely.

Some days we feel like we don't belong, and that "we just can't do it."  And others we move along nicely and enjoy having KBCO on the radio.  We both operate at about 70% (which we were told would happen, they were right again...), and feel that everyone in America moves so fast, that they could run circles around us, but with a slow and steady pace we move forward each day.

Once again we are floored by the generosity of those around us who let us sleep in their homes, use their internet, drove through three states to bring us a truck, buy us needed and just plain awesome things.  Those who have made us meals, stored our things, given us rides, and taken care of us over the past 14 days.  The grace you've given us when we burst into tears, or don't know what is going on is beyond thanks.

We catch ourselves just a little stunned by the gravity of it.  Unable to tell you how hard it was to leave or how wonderful it was to arrive.  Unable to paint the picture of how our hearts are both broken and restored.  Our words can't describe the story we have been through and will go through, the story of how God is moving in our lives, and in the world.

Maybe better words will come, and maybe they won't.  But this last month is a treasure for Chris and I to hold on to, a little gift called transition.   Maybe we'll look back and say, "Remember that one month? The one our marriage survived through. The one where, somehow, we lived?"

2Five2 staff on our last day

Good-bye dinner with our Khmer friends

A good-bye gift of a traditional Khmer dress

Last morning watching students

Our Khmer tutor, Vuthey

Dear friend, Tepy

Seeing the Ketchum family in CO one last time before they return to Cambodia

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Giving to Missionaries

Many times we have the conversations with people on the topic of, "what can I do to help the global missions movement?"  This conversation came up often last year when we were visiting America or when we have visiting teams or our own personal visitors, and even over email.  People want to know how they can be a part of God's work outside of the walls of the States.

We most often respond with, "well if you don't want to or feel you can't move overseas then you need to give."  From our point of view there seems to be this desire to 'volunteer your time' or 'give back' but not for longer than a few days, weeks, or maybe months.  Well in reality you need longer than 3 months to build relationships and really be a part of the ministry.  So if moving overseas isn't your thing, then we would say give, and give generously, and give with a full and thankful heart.

There are statistics out there that only 10% of the church's tithing goes to global missions, and out of that 6% goes to Africa, so that leaves all of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Central and South America fighting for the remaining 4% of the givings that come out of America. That's tough.

The other shocking number is that the average missionary spends 20-25% of their time trying to raise enough money so that they don't have to leave the country just because they couldn't pay their bills. And then they go and spend 100% of their time in their ministry. That's tough.

So if you are wondering how you can be a part of global missions, or you desire to see Christ known throughout the world we would say there are two options.

Go! Move! Become a missionary. It is a rich and rewarding life.  It is full of adventure, stress, joy, pain, humor, and sorrow.  We would leap for joy at the thought of more people going into the field when they feel called to do so.


Give! Give to a long-term missionary who is living in the "real deal, everyday, time and life consuming commitment of being overseas."  Allow them to escape and pay for their vacation out of their host country, pay for their aircon for a year without question, buy them a plane ticket home so they can see their family, pay for their gas in their car, or better yet help them buy a car when they can't on their current support.

I read this quote the other day on another missions blog, and found it extremely true. "But the truth is most mission fields are like wild fires, burning out of control and consuming everything in their path.  We come in with a passion in our hearts for the lost, but instead often our entire lives are consumed in the flames."  Now this quote is from one missionary speaking to a group of others living overseas to encourage them in how they feel in their ministries, but it helps give an idea of how a lot of missionaries feel.  It might just help you better understand your friend, family, or co-worker that is serving as a missionary.

As we have said to many of you, we couldn't thank you enough for allowing us to live in Cambodia as long as we felt called to be here.  We thank you for allowing us to stay there, and we thank you for partnering with us in our time in Cambodia.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What We Have Learned in Missions

If this whole missionary thing has taught me one thing, it is that this life is full of insane juxtapositions.  I have one life of working with Khmer and Vietnamese staff and the students who have to be on a payment plan to pay the annual school fee of $2.50 to be in our catch-up schools, and then I run home to eat my hamburger that was cooked by our house help while we watch the newest (or new to us) episode of Modern Family and enjoy a bottle of wine.

I live one life in English, where I am able to express myself fully, share my thoughts, and laugh and tell jokes with friends...and another in Khmer, where I sound like an idiot, and if it weren't for my pale white skin people might think I have totally lost it through some form of brain damage.

I read the Bible and believe in God's promises...and then walk past the lepers of our world wondering if they also could believe those same promises if they were to hear about them.

I believe in the redemption of Christ and want to give up everything to follow him...and I still want to buy the newest pair of heels I saw in the store the other day, and go watch a CU football game.

But I have learned that this life of following Christ is full of these crazy things that seem like opposites, but when put side-by-side I see how they mysteriously fit together. 

Kinda like how sin and complete grace fit, or the joy in knowing the suffering make a perfect match. They somehow work.

We have learned that if we are willing, then God moves powerfully.  If we are only willing to try, only willing to give our time, only willing to give our money, only willing to love those who have never seen love before, then God will create great influence in and through us.  That in being obedient to His call of "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" then we get a glimpse into what heaven is like...even here in the broken world of earth.

Heidi Baker, a missionary from many many years ago said, "Us as believers need to go 'Go Low, and go slow.' By going low, we need to be more humble.  By going slow, we need to really slow down and take time to love people." 

My hope is that we have learned how to embody that more.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

One last bike distribution.

The staff and women from Precious Women Cambodia
On Tuesday I was able to distribute bikes one last time before leaving Cambodia. Leanne, our friend Kristi and myself picked-up and delivered 13 bikes to a ministry called Precious Women which reaches out to former prostitutes and helps them get vocational training.

As we passed out the bikes, talked to the women and prayed for their new training we struck by the reality of our situation. These were 13 prostitutes, some trafficked and some who entered the profession willingly and they were all seeking a new direction. They were working hard to transform their world into something new and something positive after years of harsh reality. We were so proud of them and it was a wonderful time together.

I think that so often people ask Leanne and I about our programs, our funding needs and our ministries. We answer questions about what we do and how we do it but I have come to a conclusion about missions abroad or at home. Very little of or programs have to do with anything else than providing opportunity and dignity to the recipients.

Cambodia Bike Project is not really about the pedals or chains, it is not about transportation or about logistics. It is really a program that provides Cambodians with a possession that they can call their own and and chance to go somewhere new, it provides opportunity and dignity.

CBP is amazing, Prek Pneu is amazing and what missionaries do in Cambodia is amazing because the work is not about numbers, budget, alter calls or Facebook likes, it is about giving people the opportunity to feel like the belong, like they are worth something and that they can be someone.

It has been an opportunity to be a part of CBP because we have seen almost 200 people receive a bike that they can be proud of and a chance to go to school, work or training so they can have skills that give them dignity that we all deserve.

Our distribution on Tuesday reminded me that it is not about the program it is about the people and CBP has been a program that has allowed Leanne and I to touch the lives of a lot of people who we would never cross paths with. We gave them something and they gave us a lot in return.

Another photo with the women, Chris is the tall man in the back in case you could not immediately spot him. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

In the Province

Asian Hope's 2Five2 program took on an additional project this past year to open a partnership with another organization called Children In Families.  This organization works to help children who are orphaned stay in Khmer families through foster care and kinship care before they would ever go to an institutionalized orphanage.  We have loved working with them and are excited to see where our partnership leads us.

It all started last Christmas when they approached us with helping them in a public school development project in a neighboring province to Vietnam, called Svey Rieng.  Children In Families has worked in this community for the past 10 years, but are seeing the effects of the lack of child safety and hygiene knowledge, and poor schooling on the children they serve.  So for the past five months Asian Hope has been doing projects to help develop the government school and educate students in this small community with the hopes of it benefiting the children that attend.

In honor of International Children's Day this Saturday, Asian Hope and Children In Families did a distribution of need school supply items.  All 716 students in the primary school received a school uniform, backpack, needed school supplies, and a bathroom towel.  We even worked with Tom's shoes so everyone could get a pair!  So yes, for those trend setter out there, now over 700 children are a proud owner of a pair of Toms.

I spent all day Wednesday at the distribution, (which always includes some long ceremony where I am forced to speak my bad Khmer in front of everyone and suffer through that) and enjoying one last day in the quite and peaceful provinces of Cambodia.  As the distribution ended at the school some traditional Khmer music came over the loud speaker and played a perfect soundtrack to the hundreds of children leaving school on their bike with their baskets full of school supplies.

We then had lunch provided by the school, which I ate knowing it was a 50% gamble of getting sick from it, and prayed over each bite and then we headed home.  But no Khmer road trip is complete unless you stop for ice coffees in a bag and fried insects (I only opted for the coffee), and me made it home in under 2 1/2 hours!

It was exactly the day I needed in my last week here in Cambodia.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Stayin' Classy at Graduation and Senior Banquet

Leanne, myself and the Moons acting fancy at Banquet. All my ties were packed, don't judge! 
Two of my most significant events of the year happened in the last two weeks. First and most obvious was the Logos graduation ceremony in which the school said congratulations and goodbye to 21 seniors whom I have come to know well and love over the last three years. For the second year in a row I had the distinct priviledge of giving the commencement address and I loved the opportunity to give these students one last piece of my mind. I will miss them dearly because they have been at Logos throughout my time. I have taught or coached every single one of them and I have a deep respect for this year's class. Fortunately many of them will be going to the States for college and I will cross paths with them again as they go on to their next step.
This year's tiny but dynamic graduating class. 
A week after graduation we had the Logos Banquet which is an end-of-the-year celebration for the junior and senior classes. Songs were sung, speeches were made, delicious food was consumed and good times were had by all who attended. I had the duty of planning and paying for this year's banquet so, though I enjoyed it immensely, I was content to see the night go well and be finished. My enjoyment came at the end of the night where a few teachers enjoyed a post-banquet happy hour at the swankiest hotel in the city. It felt nice to pretend to be fancy.
Me and some of my students stayin' classy. 
These two events were bookends to a week of celebration. I have worked very closely with the juniors and seniors and it was wonderful to celebrate the end of this chapter of their lives. International schools are funny because the students often have to take care of the teachers in such a foreign nation and these students took great care of me. I will always appreciate my time with them and the chance we had to celebrate together.

Leanne with a few Logos teachers.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Starting Over Again. Yup Again.

The craziness of packing, cleaning, sorting, more packing, and somehow stuffing our lives into perfectly sized 50 lbs boxes is well under way.  We are days away.  No longer months, only days.

In a matter of days we start over again...again.

Often I find myself overwhelmed with the thought of trying to end a life in Cambodia.  Finishing our jobs well, saying all the hard good-byes, and wrapping up all the logistics needed to move across the planet.  But I have to remind myself I have been here before.  We've been days away from an international move, and we survived...somehow.  We have been days away from our whole life packed in 50 lbs boxes, and days away from leaving one home in hopes of finding a new one.

We did this three years ago.  Friends and family came to a 5K race and paid a stupid amount of money to run around Denver in the freezing rain so we could get to Cambodia to start our work with Asian Hope.  (p.s. we totally suckered you into that, it was so cold that morning.)

But we were leveled by love, floored by the generosity of our family, friends, coworkers, and strangers who sent us off over 3 years ago.  And now we do it again, this Saturday we sell off the rest of our belongings in hopes to use that money to start over in America.  People will buy our Christmas tree, our safe, and our photo frames, and we will take that money to buy jeans (something we will need and wear again), pay rent, and buy sugar and flour once again.  We will be starting over again, again.

But, we really truly believe that God has been grooming us to be an influence in the public school system and to enter the world of formal counseling.  So we move, again.  We really truly believe that God has big plans for us in Denver at Manual and the influence we can and will have in a community. So we move, again. And we really truly believe that God is at work in our hearts, and that these new ministries have been laid upon our spirit. So we move, again.

So we ask for your prayers. That Chris and I can make this insane transition.  That we can land in Denver and start over. Buy a phone, get car, find a home, and re-enter into American life.  That we can do this in a glorifying way, and not in some crazed fashion because we only have 2 weeks before Chris will start work on July 8th.

We ask you pray for our last meals, moto rides, and lunches with our respective staffs.  For our last service at church, and for our highs and lows we experience each day.

Last weekend we said bye to the Khmer church that partners with us in Prek Pneu.  They showered us with love, thanks, and gifts.  We were able to join hands one last time and pray for one another, pray for the communities we will live and work in, and sing one last Khmer worship song together.

This week Chris will teach his last class at Logos, give his last final, and attend his last chapel at this wonderful school.

Jesus Loves You Church in Prek Pneu

The Khmer Church Pastor and the Leadership