News: October '11
Reflections on our mission to Cambodia
My favorite photo from our biblical storytelling mission trip to Cambodia is this one of Tom, nose-to-nose with an ancient stone face. Isn’t the resemblance striking?
It’s a good symbol of East meeting West, past meeting present, Buddhists meeting Christians. The quiet delight of opposites meeting one another in a spirit of peace—just the sort of thing Jesus would enjoy.
What could be more appropriate for symbolizing our visit, the enchanting encounters we had with a people and culture so distant from our own in all the ways one could imagine? All in the context of telling and teaching stories from the Gospel of Mark, of encouraging the learning by heart of biblical stories as a spiritual discipline for embodying Jesus’ way of peace in the world. If ever there was a place deserving peace, it is Cambodia.
The photo produces an optical illusion: the stone face is actually on a column quite some distance from where Tom is sitting. It was taken on our last day in Cambodia, in the Banyan temple at Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is reputed to be the largest religious complex in the world. It was built over the course of five centuries by kings of the Khmer people and hidden in the jungle for another five centuries until discovered by the French.
It is almost inconceivable how the enormous, intricately decorated temples of ancient Khmer were built. It took a city of 100,000 to accomplish the task and to sustain the system of priests and royalty who benefited from their presence. Most of the people were slaves, and most suffered short, hard lives.
The Khmer people have a long history of suffering caused by war, famine, foreign invasion and despotic leadership. All this culminated with the horror of “Democratic Kampuchea” in the late 1970’s when an estimated two-three million Cambodians died over the course of four years. We came face-to-face with that, too, in our visits to the “Killing Fields” and “Security Prison 21” and in conversations with survivors.
I came to know in a profound way the meaning of God’s “good news” for the poor, the oppressed, the heavily burdened. The people of Cambodia need to hear that good news and to know it deeply in their hearts. We pray our work there may sow seeds for that to happen and nourish the seedlings already growing.