Dear Friends and Family,
Was it yesterday or in the eternal past? When I think about setting foot in Cambodia in 1998 it feels like both. I don’t know how to relate to my absence from US culture – starting on 12 years – other than to say, “It’s kind of like a time-warp.” When I’m in Cambodia, it seems like I’ve been here forever, but when I go back to the States? Well, it’s like I never left. I don’t emotionally mix the two experiences. Weird huh?
2010, the second decade of a new millennium! Sou and I’ve lived a life time in the last ten years. I can’t say we’d want to do it again, but we wouldn’t give it up for anything. How about a re-run? “No thanks!” We were so gratified to see in excess of 5,000 people attend Christmas services on Sunday, Dec 27th, at the Cham Chao Church. (see photos) It is an attendance record, and it happened with little help from us. There are always surprises.
This year both Sou and I sat there with our chins on our chest gasping at the sight of five transvestites giving their lives to the Christ. Then they asked to sing a song, all while they were dressed in “drag.” Hey! How do you expect them to get to know the Lord if we won’t allow then to invite Him to come in? You have to catch the fish before you can clean it. Right? Merry Christmas! More than 500 people came to Christ in the two services. Our factory girls had a lot to do with the explosive growth, and they’re just getting started!
There is a certain rhythm to life here in Cambodia that we have sterilized out of our Western cultures. I’m not sure why. Maybe it has to do with our affluence, aversion to emotional pain, pace of life, forsaking of religion. Does it arise from our removal from personal involvement in the agricultural cycles of planting, cultivation and harvest, and the struggles that go with drought, pests and floods? I’m not sure why, but we definitely see that there is a cyclical pattern to life here. It is not always pleasant. In fact, we had a very painful reminder this month, as our prayers for the life of Seri Ngeam, who succumbed to Japanese Encephalitis, Dec. 9th, were not answered as we had hoped.
I don’t cry much, but this one broke me. I still can’t look at the picture of her lying in her casket and not get emotional. She was so cheerful and full of life, always the first one through the gate to greet us; an orphan girl that the world forgot, but God remembered. Her entire school showed up for her funeral, which was held only 24 hours after her death. With no funeral homes, embalming, or graveyards, the kids in the home helped wash her body, and laid her to rest on their property. (see photos) It interrupted our lives but, life must continue; with the chores, the playing, the praying, and production that is part of our daily cycle. We know where she is and miss her greatly.
Boys and their toys! I bought a couple of beat up “Tonka Toys” for Christmas; consisting of an old excavator and a small bulldozer. Come on! The kids have their swing sets! It seems our best hope at increasing rice production is to move to multiple cropping and flood control. This requires about ten miles of deep ditches, roads, dikes, and retention ponds. We also have jungle to clear for our cattle pasture. That should drive the “Greens” crazy! Trading jungle for cow belches? Anyway, with all of our fish ponds, rice and clearing work, we really needed this equipment. Our mechanics are working overtime to render the equipment functional. Hopefully by the second week of 2010 we’ll have some dirt flying! Cheer up “Greens”! We’ll eventually be raising three crops of rice per year instead of one. That should triple the carbon munching green cover and more than compensate for our cows passing gas. Do you think I could get a “Carbon Credit”?
Pastor Peter has gone “politically correct”. We’re pushing quail production again and building dozens of large, kerosene fired incubators. Quail are good! They have simple stomachs; less gas! Just hope that we really do have a “Bird Flu resistant” strain this time after loosing more than 100,000 birds in our last two attempts! (see photos)
Hannah, our youngest daughter, grew up here but is now attending college in the US brought her fiancé, John Rowley, to experience Cambodia for Christmas break. John is a chemistry major from Colorado who plans to teach science. They plan to be married in Colorado on May 23rd. I believe my family has made a huge sacrifice, since we really don’t know our grandchildren, and that’s a price we wish we didn’t have to pay. It has been fun to have Hannah and John here though “Skype” and the internet do shrink the world.
Christmas was a fun day! Bob Hollandsworth was in the office one morning when Mak Sou was justifiably “Grilling the staff” for some malfeasance. I finally intervened and jokingly said, “Mak Sou, you need to park the broom for a minute and give them a break!” Sou started to laugh and said, “That’s what I need, a broom!” I responded, “Not only a broom, but a turbo charged one!” She said, “Yes, I want one! And you better get it here by Christmas!” Bob saved me! He spent hours making probably the only “Turbo Charged” broom in the world. We hung it over Mak Sou’s desk with an explanation. You need to see it at the bottom of this site. (see photos)
We received some grants from the Foursquare Foundation. We are extremely grateful for their help! We love you guys! One of the grants is for well drilling. My problem is that I programmed drilling to begin in December, but our funding doesn’t start until January. I’ve learned that villagers don’t understand broken promises so, we “Pay it Forward”; borrow money on my credit cards and pay it back when the grants come through. Confession is good for the soul. Besides, the cost on this kind of project is “Front loaded”; you need extra money up front to buy the equipment before you can drill. Grants are “Back loaded,” you get the extra money when you are finished. Someday, we need to figure this out! Anyway, we’re drilling! (see photos)
I need to redeem myself! That’s pretty awful, hanging a broom over your wife’s desk! So, I took Sou up north to Phong Sali, Laos. It is way up in northern Laos right on Chinese border. We went there looking for a lost relative that disappeared in the 1960’s. There was no trace of him, but we had a great time “trekking” in the mountains and tea plantations and enjoying the cool weather. (see photos)
There are so many to thank for the past year! All of us in Cambodia are aware of the sacrificial giving during this difficult financial time, and we will be forever grateful! It has been a difficult year, but we’ve never missed a meal! Warm Blankets Orphan Care International has been so faithful that they deserve a special mention. Please, if you have a last minute thought of sharing with an orphan in 2009, drop them a check.www.warmblankets.org
Our year has been full, and fittingly, one of our last formal functions was to honor two of our “Elders” who completed a two year theological training program. They’ve been with us from the beginning, and we want to share their honor with you. (see photos) With that, we bid you a Happy New Year! And wish God’s richest blessings upon you and yours! We love you in Cambodia!
The Olbrich Family
Ted (Pa Thom)
Sou (Mak Sou)
Hannah & John
And most importantly, The Cambodia “Staff” who do all the work!