Dear Friends and Family,
All of us have had teachers that we didn’t care for from time to time. This one is the nastiest, meanest, most sadistic, feared and relentless pedagogical nightmare ever encountered by humankind. Here is the worst part. She’s the most effective teacher I’ve ever had. I hate it every time she shows up, yet always leave her having learned this valuable lesson. She’s no stranger. You’ve probably had the misfortune of meeting her as well. It’s just that when you’re in unfamiliar and uncharted territory she hangs around a lot. Maybe she just has a crush on me? Or, possibly, I did something to really irk her? I refer to the best, and most hated teacher I’ve ever had, “Miss Failure.” I know it’s sexist to engender her, but to me she’s an “unmarried witch!” Who could stand to live with her? Her lessons are always expensive, usually painful and often embarrassing. I hate her, but the value of what she has taught me? Priceless!
Ol’ Teddy Roosevelt ran into her from time to time. I keep this quote from him handy, just to keep from feeling too sorry for myself. Some of you may have seen this before, you should get it printed up and paste it on your mirror:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumphs of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Forty-two years ago, very few gave us any chance of success, but I had decided to marry Sou. The Illinois Farm Boy and the Laotian Princess had “zero chance” according to the hundreds of experts that offered counsel. The most memorable was that of my Grandmother, “Teddy, you simply can’t marry that girl. Why it’s like a pig marrying a cow!” We’ve hit our share of speed bumps on this road of life, but I just realized how out of my league I was when we ran into this old piece of currency used in Indochina in the late 1940’s. This was the most common bill circulated in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam during the post World War II period when all three countries were united under French control (see photos). On the front is Sou’s first cousin – their fathers were brothers – in the center between a Cambodian and a Vietnamese. Sou’s first cousin is pictured again on the back of the bill. Me? I think I can find a picture of my first cousins pitching a load of manure. Hey! We’re still married. Who said the age of miracles is passed?
You live and learn. Roofs leak, fences break down, wood rots, and paint fades, cracks and mildews in our climate faster than in most. I started laying cedar shingles for my dad when I was seven. I put down my first tar roof at age thirteen, started with steel in my teens, done everything from thatch, to rubber, to plastic, to cement, to tile ever since. We had over six miles of fence to maintain on our dairy farm, and buildings that constantly needed repair from wear and the elements. Somehow, I graduated from cows, to pigs, to kids. Now, that’s progress! I’m still not sure which life-form is the most destructive. Our first steel roof in Cambodia had holes rusted through it in two years, thanks to the acid rain from China. We thought we’d found a winner with “fibro-cement” until we learned they were made with asbestos and had a tendency to crack under extreme heat and nighttime cooling. Our best solution has been with clay tile, if we can keep the wind off of them. Fences? They rust, sag, get cut and broken down by water buffalo. And paint? “Ten-year paint” means three in Cambodia. With 106 church homes and numerous other buildings, maintenance is a constant challenge. Short-term mission teams are invaluable in keeping our buildings repaired, but even more importantly, they impart value to kids who feel discarded (see photos). We had two great teams in August. New Life from Everette, WA, USA gave the Tapang Prasat Church Home a new lease on life and Koininia from Hanford, CA, USA worked wonders at the Phnom Koul Church Home.
FCOP has raised and trained over 8,000 orphans in the past 13 years in addition to caring for thousands of widows. At any one time we have around 3,000 orphans under our care. A few orphans, due to their disabilities, will always be under our care. It is surprising to see those who become critics about orphan care due to the whole “dependency” issue. The very people who should be supportive, will grasp at that criticism for lack of a better handle – I have no clue as to motive. Although we’ve been caring for orphans for 13 years, I don’t know of a single child that has been with us that entire period of time. We have nearly 5,000 young people in cities, villages and farms all over Cambodia that are earning independent livings, attending and supporting their churches and serving as productive citizens. This year we will have more than 30 of our youth, who are 18 and older, attending Don Bosco Technical School learning trades that range from Hotel and Restaurant Management to Sheet Metal and Welding. Dozens of others will be attending different universities, colleges and training programs. These are not kids we are obligated by law to help, but they are our kids, so we help (see photo).
It is interesting to see the progress we have made in growing our own support. In fact, in our thirteen years we have never raised the cost of support for an orphan home. All those raising children know how much more expensive virtually every item from food to medical care has become in the past thirteen years. How have we kept sponsorship fees flat? By helping our homes become partially self-sufficient! If you look at the attached links (see photos) you’ll see in the pie charts that virtually half the cost of our support is raised or produced in Cambodia. On the other page you’ll see that the current cost of raising a child in our homes, even with a lot of “home grown” produce, is more than $60 per month. Thirteen years ago, with little produced in Cambodia, locally raised support was less than half of what it is today. In addition to this, somehow, we wound up with 3,300 churches and a half million followers of Christ, all as a spinoff benefit. Now, that’s dependency I’m very happy with! I’ll stick with Roosevelt’s assessment of the “cold and timid.” Don’t worry, if you’re getting this, you’re probably not one of them.
I’d hate to enumerate the number of ideas, seeds, crops, machines, and even people we’ve tried to make successful and come up with loss. We tried quail production three times, twice to get wiped out by bird flu. Now, it’s working! (Quail Incubator Link) But I just read of a new flu strain. These birds are supposed to be resistant. Time will tell. Not to keep all our eggs in one basket (no pun intended) we’ve learned how to grow mushrooms in artificial steamed logs made of saw dust, wood chips, spores, various sundry and other interesting ingredients (see photos). After a few miserable lessons from my least favorite teacher, Miss Failure, it is working very well. I can’t think of anything we’ve done that worked great the first time; though there’s got to be one I’m forgetting somewhere!?!
We closed the first church we started in Cambodia. Now, they grow like weeds. The Young Lions (our Spirit filled youth workers) went to Odomeanchy Province and held a meeting with about 200 youth in attendance. About 50 of the young people were from two other denominations (names withheld to protect the guilty). When they witnessed all the young people who were being prayed for falling down, they protested, “Are you pushing them?” Our kids simply said, “No, they’re just being filled with the Holy Spirit. Do you want to try?” They all got zapped! (see photos)
We’ve gone through more teaching and training techniques than I can number on both hands, then we met this “crazy woman who never finished 8th grade.” Her stuff works! Bar-One Ministries has become our new training partner. Just like every other worthwhile project we have in Cambodia, the progress is slow and tiresome. Beth Barone likes to train groups of 12 or fewer. That means we have to train a lot of trainers to get to 3,200 pastors (see photos).
About the only thing I can do without trying is get into trouble. Why is that? (That’s a rhetorical question. Please do not send answers because they will all be versions of, “Because you’re a smart a–!”) I was discussing that question with some friends and they said, “Jesus wasn’t cynical.” I thought about that, and I said, “What about the time he called the Pharisees a bunch of vipers?” They replied that He was just telling the truth. “Well then,” I said, “I guess you can all see, I’m no Jesus!” It was the most enthusiastic agreement I’ve ever received.
PTL! We have our MOU’s! Simply stated we are legal to operate all our church orphan homes under Cambodian government sanction for the next three years. This was no small feat considering we are the largest fish in the pond, and had some of the top humanistic organizations in the world trying to send us to the taxidermist. There were a lot of other orphan care organizations that did not make it. One of our biggest challenges in getting the new approval was that we did not have enough playgrounds (see photos). We scrambled, spent money we really didn’t have, but got the job done, much to the kids great delight! I have a new appreciation for the power or prayer and the value of dedicated staff members.
I can’t quit until I offer my sincere appreciation and heartfelt “Thanks!” to those organizations and individuals like Reach Now International, Gleanings for the Hungry and Lou Binninger who do so much to make up for the deficits of food and produce we can’t grow for ourselves. (see photos)
That’s it! Thanks and great blessings to you all! Make sure to visit us at:www.fcopi.org
Ted and Sou Olbrich (Pa Thom and Mak Sou)
And our staff (Those who do all the work and make us look so good!)