Dear Friends and Family,
Twenty-nine years ago, Brother O’Rourke, a cigar chomping, ‘Old Irish Catholic Brother’, who happened to be the controller for the Samoan Arch Diocese, handed me the “slip”. I had just been fired from a job for the first, and only, time in my life. O’Rourke was my friend, and he looked me straight in the eye, I believe there was a tear rolling out of one of his, “Ted, remember, nothing is ever all bad as long as you learn something from it.” Well, that felt pretty bad. I was angry, but the truth is, I had it coming. My boss was another “Brother” who’d gotten the idea in his head that he could raise corn in Samoa. A New York City native, he knew nothing about agriculture, but managed to get a USAID grant to facilitate a 500 acre corn farm, and training school, coupled with a land redistribution scheme. The “Golden Rule” was in play. He had the gold, so he made the rules. I looked around and in two weeks decided that with 180 inches of annual rainfall, on a shallow soiled mountain side, it was an insane idea. I should have been more diplomatic, since he was stuck with a grant that demanded corn. When I told him that local crops, like passion fruit, were a much better solution, and that corn was, “Just plain crazy!” he took it personally. I got the “Sack”. I did manage to learn a few things, but the most important takeaway was O’Rourke’s wisdom. Bad things happen! Learning from them may be the only redemption. In retrospect my pain was personal, deserved, and insignificant. But the lesson learned can be applied in much more serious circumstances.
What can we learn from this? In the early morning hours of Nov. 23, 2010 about 400 Cambodians were killed in a mass stampede on a newly built bridge to ” Diamond Island “, a small island near the intersections of the Mekong, Bassac, andTonlé Sap Rivers . Most of the victims were between the ages of 18-22, the age most attracted to a rock concert on the Island following the conclusion of the three day long National Boat Races. The boat races are held every year at the time the water shifts direction of flow in the Tonlé Sap River , which coincides with traditional rice harvest. This year up to 4,000,000 people were reported to be in attendance. The cause of the tragic accident is still under investigation.http://www.missionreports.com/
This much is known, the density of people on the Island exceeded four per square meter, considered to be a “Tipping point” in orderly crowd control. A few people began to pass out due to dehydration or food poisoning. The bridge, built as a suspension model, began to sway with the heavy load when someone began screaming that the bridge was falling. People were still trying to go in both directions which totally jammed any movement. There was mass panic. Police began shooting a water cannon at the crowd to try to move people off the bridge. There was worse panic. Some reported that the water from the cannon caused shorting in the extensive lighting on the bridge, and that the steel frame became electrified, causing people to jump from the bridge. Autopsies attribute most deaths to trampling, some to electrocution, and some to drowning. What did we learn? Most of the lessons are obvious, avoid extreme crowds, don’t panic, listen to the authorities, etc. But the most painful lesson may be in dealing with the survivors, there were easily 1000 of them for every death. How do they get over the guilt, and shame, of feeling the bodies under their feet, the cries of the dying, and their total focus on self preservation? Only Christ can handle that, and there we can help.
We were fortunate! Only one former employee, from the “Tractor Factory”, was among those killed, he was not one of our orphan kids. Six of our youth were attempting to get on the bridge but were blocked by the police. Many of the youth at our churches knew some of the victims, who were mainly rural youth. It is a sad time for them. Thursday, November 25th, our US Thanksgiving, was declared a “National Day of Mourning”. Since we had our traditional Thanksgiving Staff Party scheduled, we decided to go ahead with it, as we were thankful that none of our kids were killed in the accident. The day was subdued but none the less enjoyed. I made a solemn promise not to throw anyone in the pool. Naret broke the peace when he announced that this year, he was going to pitch me in. He did.
“Little Elephant”, the nickname given to one of our kids at the Cham Chao Center , learned a lesson, “Given enough rope (string) you are bound to get into trouble”. We have no idea how he accumulated so much fish line. But, several of our kids are skilled kite builders. The National Airport is at least half a mile from the Center but “Little Elephant” managed to have his kite picked up on radar, and shut down the airport until concerned police traced the string to his hands. He had let out so much string it took him nearly an hour to reel it back in. Fortunately, no flights arrived during his adventure.
We performed a bunch of baptisms this month. We’ve learned that there is something that seals a person’s faith when they go through a public baptism, that the more difficult the circumstance, the more lasting the impact. We’d like to take a bunch of new believers down to the beach, but are awaiting the funds to rent busses for the trip. But, even though the muddy rivers are not as much fun, it may be more meaningful, even though the beach is much more sanitary and allows us to baptize thousands at a time in relative safety. Until then, the Pastors, Young Tigers, Young Lions and Debora’s Warriors (our ministry groups) keep the rivers busy. http://www.missionreports.com/
Our pastors need training but, we’ve learned that much of the current material is performance oriented and shame based, making God out to be a benevolent dictator versus a Loving Father. So, we need new training materials. How do we turn our focus from sin to relationship? Bar One Ministries has really helped us, but teaching that concept to 3000+ pastors is the challenge. And getting them to absorb it, believe it, and teach it is a whole new “Ball Game”. We are on a radical shift and have learned that the simplest way to demonstrate what is being taught is to perform a skit. Someone pretends to be a child, left at home with two sitters, when the parent is gone the child is bound in a chair by the sitters who turn out to be two big demons. They then force the child to take drugs, drink alcohol, watch pornography, etc. The child is addicted. The question is then asked, “When the parents return who are they going to be angry with, the child who is sinning, or the sitters?” They seem to get that picture. We are convinced that the path to freedom begins with relationship to the Father, not repentance. True repentance comes with relationship not relationship with repentance. Of course, the route to relationship with the Father is through Christ. Subtle, but powerfully different!http://www.missionreports.com/
We are learning how to drill wells through caving sand. In many areas it has been considered impossible to drill a functional well because caving sand fills the bore hole before casing can be installed. Bob Hollandsworth, got hold of some Quick Jell and Easy Mud (Products that temporarily set up the sides of the bore hole until casing can be installed). It has worked on two new wells this month. Now, if we can just get this to work in areas where this condition is mixed with several hundred feet of clay?? We’ll keep you posted. http://www.missionreports.com/
My friend of 42 years, Tom Xerri , worked with Refugee Relief in Laos during the Vietnam War. He taught me a hard lesson. At first I though that he sounded cruel when he said, “What these refugees need is a swift kick of the back end of a truck!” He’d arrange for them to receive basic survival food and building supplies, and then leave them to build. They’d build and maintain something they took ownership of. When the foreigners came in and did everything, they simply viewed it as a “rental car” and things were soon in poor repair.
We’ve learned that keeping 109 Church homes in good repair is too big a problem for our visiting teams to accomplish alone. We needed a domestic answer. So we’ve used the teams to train staff and older orphans in maintenance procedure. It’s working! Two homes were restored by our kids and staff this month. Don’t get me wrong. We need teams! Its just that we’ve also got to learn to stand alone. If we rely on foreigners to do all the “Heavy lifting” for us we develop the, “No one washes a rental car syndrome”. We simply do not see local congregations taking responsibility for their church/homes.
We’re learning to do it right! The number one dental student in the Cambodian School of Dentistry is one of our kids, Rattah. Much of the reason is that he learned from the teams sent here through Medical Teams International and specifically Dr. Mike Callan of the Clinton , Iowa Foursquare Church. This is a perfect model of effective foreign assistance. Dental care is either non existent or not affordable for many rural Cambodians. It is, in my opinion, the number one reason for chronic health problems. These dental teams not only have treated thousands of patients, they’ve trained dozens of Cambodians and Rattah is their star. He graduates next spring. http://www.missionreports.com/
Warm Blankets Orphan Care has taught us gratitude. They have been faithfully supporting the Cambodian orphans for ten years. We have never signed a formal agreement with them, and have remained closest friends and allies. Craig Muller, founder of Warm Blankets, and his staff at Warm Blankets, are some of the hardest working; most dedicated, underpaid, and under appreciated people I know. If you need a place for some end of year giving, please considerwww.warmblankets.org . Warm Blankets Switzerland is loyally serving the cause, having just sent us 500 Swiss Army bunk beds. True to the Swiss, these are high quality, and much appreciated! Thank you!!
Supporting our work here has put a continued demand on our ability to produce food. We support our kids with the same contribution we received ten years ago even though food prices have quadrupled. This has been done by learning to raise much of what we consume. The big “Kahunaha” is rice production. We’re slugging out the harvest of the largest crop and the highest yields we’ve ever produced, despite serious floods that have challenged us this year. It is excruciatingly slow work. Labor is simply not available for hand harvest, and the machines are challenged by six foot high straw that lies in six inches of water. It is as tough as rope to combine and we are fortunate if we can harvest two hectares (about 5 acres) per day. We have 90 hectares to go. Pray for us. We have 30 hectares of special “Red” rice that is yielding well, and if we can get it all in, we can sell it to help cover overhead and eat the balance. That will really help us cover our increasing costs and depleted income.
Hold everything! FLASH NEWS! Naret, our Chief of Staff, has a special post Thanksgiving gift! Naret was raised in the Toule Kok Church/Home. F.C.O.P sent him to law school, and now he is a lawyer. In 2008 he became our Chief of Staff. Last year he was married to a beautiful young woman, from a good family, and this year he has a handsome new son, Philip. Why Philip? Because, he (Philip in the Bible) asked a lot of questions. Just like you Naret! Congratulations!http://www.missionreports.com/
Thanksgiving (A US holiday) is behind us. Thank God we have some new help! Sam Tolle arrived this month and is really pitching in to help us in many ways. We have much to be thankful for, and we are so thankful for all of you! You have sacrificially given through hard times during a global financial crisis. We do not take your gifts lightly. We want to take this time to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May you be specially blessed, healthy, happy, and prosperous!
We love you in Cambodia !
Ted Olbrich (Pa Thom)
Sou Olbrich (Mak Sou)
And those who do all the work (Our staff!)