I flew back to L.A. last Friday. I am still quite jet lagged; I slept 4 hours last night and none the night before. I think I may now be a zombie...but it was worth it. Now that I'm home from Cambodia, here are a few things that were eye-opening:
1. The U.S.'s involvement with Cambodia during the 1970's is really messed up...and I didn't even know about it prior to getting ready for this trip! What is wrong with our education system!? How could most Americans not know that we bombed a neutral country during the Vietnam war, killing many people and engendering one of the most vicious and murderous revolutions ever? It is appalling. Google "Operation Menu" and find out for yourself.
2. Pol Pot, who died in 1998, and his movement, called the Khmer Rouge, are virtually unknown in the U.S. Before my wife and I went on our mission trip I looked at my world history and world civilization textbooks to get some information on Cambodia. One mentioned Cambodia only in relation to the Vietnam War and only in passing, one said that Pol Pot was a bad guy but gave no details, and one didn't mention Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, or Pol Pot at all. This is shocking to me. How could a textbook about world history fail to mention the most prolific murder per capita ever? Pol Pot and his minions killed (directly or indirectly) 1.7 million of the 7 million Cambodians. Some were tortured and killed. Others simply executed. Many others died from being overworked and underfed. We're talking about nearly 25% of the population!
3. The Church has made many in roads in Cambodia, mostly through health care (as is the case with World Relief, the organization my wife and I went to help). There haven't been many converts, though some progress has been made. In 2005 less than 1% of the country was Christian. Now the statistic is around 1.5%. But for many denominations and organizations that fund and support the Christian work in Cambodia, that slow growth is not enough. As is typical of Westerners, most Christians are dominated by the desire to have instant gratification. In the case of Cambodia this attitude simply will not suffice. Theravada Buddhism has been entrenched there for a thousand years and Hinduism for a thousand or so years before that. Not only is there this religious barrier, the wounds left by the Khmer Rouge are still bleeding. Also, the West's involvement with the Khmer Rouge (whether causing Cambodians to join because of misguided foreign policy or the West's support of the Khmer Rouge after the American troop withdraw) only compounds the problem because Christianity is viewed as a Western religion to most Cambodians. The bottom line is that "lifestyle evangelism" is the only way that the Church will become established in Cambodia. We have to prove to them that we are there to help and not hurt, that we are people of peace and not war, that we love them and that our God does too. This process will be slow so we (by "we" I really mean the people funding Christian mission effort in Cambodia) MUST be patient.
I could go on and on about Cambodia...but I will spare you all the details.
Now I have to turn my attention to a research project on Paul and Second-Temple Judaism, specifically having to do with the ability/inability to fulfill the Law. Hopefully I will post more about this in the future.