Dear Friends and Family,
When you look at your refrigerator door, and there are notes from 2007 still attached by those little magnets, you know you are getting old. I pulled off one hand written note from my daughter Hannah. It was a quote, “The trouble with ‘conventional wisdom’ is, that it’s usually wrong.” The source? Ted Olbrich, July 14, 2007. Now, I have no idea why I said that, nor do i know why my daughter decided to write it down and stick it up on the refrigerator, but, I still believe it is true. I’m leading up to something, but I need to get you emotionally charged, so I’ll risk losing half of my friends with this, which has something to do with Cambodia vs. US politics, but you’d probably never guess it.
About three years ago I was on one of my last flights from Phnom Penh to Ratanakiri, Cambodia with Mission Aviation Fellowship in their Cessna 206 (They’ve since pulled out of Cambodia). I was seated beside the pilot, Winston Usher, the sky was blue and there were some “popcorn-puffball” clouds drifting about, I looked ahead and I was shocked to see this massive yellow-brown strip of sky heading toward us on the northern horizon. “What’s that?”, I pointed. “Oh, that’s Chinese pollution”, commented Winston. “I see it all the time.” “What? We’re a thousand miles from China!”, I blurted back, “Doesn’t matter.” said Winston, “the air currents bring it down, That’s what causes our acid rain”.
I’d often wondered why 3/16 inch thick, painted steel tubing would rust out in three to five years in Cambodia. Thin, painted, roofing sheets can go in a year. The sulfur forms sulfuric acid and it chews things up fast. It even eats the calcium out of concrete. When I saw this picture taken in Beijing I could see why. ( see photos)
Conventional wisdom: The Keystone Pipeline? Most people agree that it would be good for the US economy. It would create jobs, give a secure supply of oil in case of a Mideast disaster, but many believe that it would be, at least potentially, harmful to the environment. Now, I suppose that if a big earthquake hit, and some of the oil we took out of the ground in Canada went back into the ground a few hundred miles south, that would be messy. But here’s what the public doesn’t know, or doesn’t care about. If that oil doesn’t come to the USA, where it will be refined and used with strict environmental oversight, it will go to China, and other developing countries in Asia, including Cambodia, and here everything burns dirty.
The USA is shutting down, relatively clean, coal powered electric plants, and sending the coal to China. China is expected to add about 160 new coal-fired plants to the 620 operating now, within four years. They do the same with oil. It’s transported in supertankers which are floating environmental disasters. The proposal is for tanker traffic that will sail through waters off Canada’s B.C.’North Coast, taking crude from the Alberta oil sands to developing markets in Asia where they burn the oil dirty. Want to ship them something? How about compressed natural gas and propane? Here’s the point: The most environmentally friendly thing we could do for the planet is build the Keystone Pipeline. Yet what is the conventional wisdom? “The Keystone Pipeline will harm the environment.” Not according to my roofing sheets! ( see photos)
Why is it that great victories come at a great cost? December 2013 was the most productive month in FCOP International’s 15 year history. We estimate that 50,000 have come to Christ this Christmas season. Nearly 6000 people came to Christ in one day at Cham Chao on Dec 22nd, many of them in their late teens or early twenties. Hundreds of other locations had proportional harvests with hundreds and thousands being connected to God at divisional and local churches. It is a sight to see, and this is just a glimpse of Christmas 2013. But it did not come without a price.
One of the cynical tenants of ‘Conventional Wisdom’ is that: “No good deed shall go unpunished.” There is an element of truth here but most people have no idea as to where it comes from, and just see it as an amusing comment. Jesus was clear about this: “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…” (Jn 15:20). We had plenty of problems in December; a long time Divisional Superintendent died after a battle with cancer, despite our prayers. We had record cold temperatures with many sick. ( see videos)
An older orphan boy driving one of our vehicles was hit head-on by a motorcycle while delivering our Christmas books to a church. The drunken motorcycle driver, weaving in and out of traffic came directly at him at high speed in the wrong lane and was killed. Our orphan boy was put in jail and charged with manslaughter. It took us two days and two thousand dollars to get him out of prison. ( see photo)
Conventional wisdom believes that the rich exploit the poor. I suppose there are always cases of that, but it is not universally true. This past month we’ve faced a government in virtual shutdown, with offices closed, ministries not functioning, road traffic blocked by either opposition party members, demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, or union members forcing factory workers to strike for the doubling of their wages, or both working in unison. It was very difficult to move about the country. Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians took to the streets with their demands. I was held up for three hours while union members invaded a factory 45 kilometers from Phnom Penh demanding that workers join their strike, most just fled the scene. The government responded by closing all factories for a week. (see photos)
Tensions are high, and the government agreed to raise wages by 25%, but the reality is that Cambodia has no salable natural resources other than rice and cheap labor. None of the textile fibers are raised here, and energy prices are among the highest in the world. Freight and the price of business (corruption) are high. So why are 80% of Cambodia’s exports garments? Cheap labor. The only way to correct that is by becoming more productive and producing more of the necessary resources domestically. As nice as it sounds, the doubling of wages, will only drive away what little employment we have and destroy the economy of the country. We need enterprises that add or create value. That’s FCOP! ( see photos)
“The poor are victims and need handouts.” There’s a conventional axiom that’s false. FCOP exists to help people meet their essential needs, but not by creating dependency. I can hear the critics, “But you depend on handouts to feed the orphans!” True, we need help, and we receive it from our partners, but we don’t raise our kids to to be dependent, we raise them to be productive. That’s why, when the cost of living has more than doubled in the past 15 years, our cost for supporting an orphan home has stayed constant. Every year we become more self-sufficient.
Everyone needs a hand-up when they are down, but not enslaving dependency. The most extreme example I saw of that was in Laos during the Vietnam War. One of my best friends was a “Refugee Relief Coordinator”, his famous statement was: “What refugees need is a swift kick off the back of a truck!” His heart wasn’t as hard as it sounds, he’d supply them with tools and basic food supplies, but then turn them loose on a plot of land. Others in his position built government owned housing and gave them all they needed to live a simple life.
After a year or so the one’s put off the back of the truck had built houses, cleared land and were making a living, they learned to help each other. Those on the government housing projects were still there with their hands out. The Philippines just went through a terrible disaster. They need a hand-up, just like we’ve received from Reach Now International ( see photos)
The Philippines had devastating hurricane damage in November 2013. According to the International Monetary Fund, Philippinos make a per capita income of $2,600 per year; Americans $51,700; and Cambodians $926. Cambodia had devastating floods, but nothing as bad as the Philippines, so the Cambodian Church took an offering for the Philippines. FCOP Church members make far less than the average income as most are considered poor by Cambodian standards, but they raised $2400. That may seem small, but that would be the equivalent of the US church giving $134,000, (I’m sure they’ve done much more that) when just comparing per capita incomes, but in addition, the Cambodians gave out of their own need while making less than 2% of the income of a US citizen. I am proud of them. ( see photo)
Rice production is our FCOP plan to escape dependency, but we need to grow and develop. We lost money this year; that’s no surprise to a farmer. It happened! But what we saw is that on or developed land, diked and irrigated, we are harvesting 6 to 8 tons per hectare. On the partially developed land yields are running between one and two tons per hectare. ( see photos) Most of our land is not yet developed, many of our neighbors didn’t even bother to harvest. We could use a “hand-up”. We have great plans, but as my father said, “No soup is ever eaten as hot as it is cooked,” but then he added, “Don’t cry over spilled milk!” And that’s a good place to leave 2013. Happy New Year!
FCOP Cambodia blesses you with a very joyous, healthy, prosperous and fulfilling 2014!
Ted & Sou Olbrich (Pa Thom and Mak Sou)