Posted by: Simon & Becci | June 29, 2016

Reflections on returning

As I look out of the window upon a typically rainy British summer’s day, I am in a reflective mood.  Amazingly it is approaching 9 months since our last blog post, and therefore nearly 9 months since we left Cambodia. How did that happen!?! I therefore thought it might be interesting to give you a bit of a flavour of what it is like to come back.

Firstly, its been wonderful to have an extended time to reconnect with family and friends, not just a for a snatched afternoon or day, but to be able to properly rebuild relationships and forge new ones. England, and even Coventry, is also a lot greener than I remember!

With Becci's growing family!

With Becci’s growing family!

It has also been really encouraging to hear stories from Cambodia about how the church, and our friends there are doing. We miss them all dearly but are so proud to hear of their hard work, continued faithfulness, and dreams and plans for the future.

Leaving them and returning to the UK has certainly been weird. Somehow it has been possible to simultaneously feel both totally at home, and yet totally lost and disconnected at the same time. Its like putting on an old pair of slippers that you know and love, and yet finding that your feet do not quite fit anymore, and that the slippers themselves have changed colour and shape.

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In Bourton-on-the-water a couple of weeks ago

Coupled with this, I think it would be safe to say that the past few months have not quite progressed as we had thought they might. Unexpected family news, changes in our family of churches, and our own decision to push ahead with fertility treatment have meant that our anticipated short-term return has gradually evolved into a long-term one. We feel a mix of emotions about this – sometimes peaceful, sometimes excited, sometimes uncertain, sometimes sad. Sometimes a bizarre concoction of all four at once, which means my own emotional state has been somewhat turbulent and unpredictable.

With our new Japanese friend, Yoshi

With our new Japanese friend, Yoshi

This week I have been studying the wonderful, inspiring book of Ruth in the Bible. Ruth is a childless widow, who chooses to leave her country and family out of love and devotion to Naomi, her similarly widowed, but bitter, mother-in-law who bemoans what she has lost.

As we continue to reflect on the past and make decisions about the future, including applying for jobs, beginning IVF treatment and searching for houses to buy, like Naomi I have found a surprising and unwelcome visitor want to come and fellowship with me: regret.

Regret is not a pleasant companion. She has whispered to me that I made a mistake in giving up my HR career to work for the church in 2007, saying that my CV is now undesirable to potential employers. She has bemoaned the day that I gave up the security of my job, salary and leadership role in Coventry to move to Cambodia. She has shaken her head at our financial choices including selling our house before we left. She has even urged me to curse the choice to step back from pushing for fertility treatment several years ago, so that we could move to Cambodia, as our chances of starting a family have now deteriorated. And day-by-day she comes knocking at my door at regular intervals seeking fellowship.

But whilst Naomi bemoans her loss, Ruth faithfully sets to work where she comes to the attention of the heroic Boaz. Others see Ruth as a risk – a barren woman who might “impair my own inheritance” as a potential wife (Ruth 4v6) – but Boaz chooses to marry her, a child is born to them and they go down in history as the great-grandparents of King David, and in the royal line and genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1v5).

I am reminded today that faithfully following Jesus, and walking step-by-step with him, even taking risks against the logic and expectations of the world around us will never lead to us “impairing our inheritance”. Far from it. Every sacrifice we made to go to Cambodia has been worth it. Our dear friends in Phnom Penh were worth it. Jesus is, and will always be, worth it.

As we face the future I do so choosing to shut the door on regret and instead to take refuge in an all together better place. As Boaz himself says to Ruth:

“All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been told to me, how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2v11-12)

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Dressing appropriately for the British summer….

 

Posted by: Simon & Becci | October 5, 2015

Parting is such sweet sorrow

And so we have left. After four and a bit years full of wonderful memories. New friends.  Some tears. Unforgettable experiences. And a lot of rice.

Without any doubt we are changed, enriched and maybe a little ruined (in a good way) by our time in Cambodia. Phnom Penh has not been a place we have lived – it has been home, and as our 6am flight this morning took off, we left more than a little of ourselves and our heart with our dear friends there.

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Liberty Family Church yesterday

The past week has been weird, emotional and a lot of fun, as we have said our goodbyes, expressed our thanks and received much love and encouragement.

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With Lay, showing off my new shirt (my farewell gift)

Now, the UK for several months beckons, with a short stopover in Turkey en route. Time to rediscover old friendships, autumn colours, warm clothes and polite queuing.

For now, here is a short video we showed at our church farewell yesterday that gives a flavour of what we have done and experienced.

Posted by: Simon & Becci | September 22, 2015

The last reel

Last night Becci and I were in a reflective mood as we enjoyed a stroll around the Independence Monument area in the city centre of Phnom Penh. It is a walk that we first undertook back in December 2007 when we first visited Cambodia (its very weird to read the blog and see the pictures of that trip now). Its a walk we have now done many times since we arrived in July 2011. It may be the final time we do it before we leave in two weeks’ time.

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Sunset at Independence Monument

In the years that have passed, we have changed, as has the city that has been our home for the past four years. Its still a wonderful cacophony of sights, smells, noise, laughter, heat, humidity, sunshine, rain, dust, motorbikes, smiling faces and much more. But the city is changing. Fast.

One of our favourite occasional hang-outs is the Skybar on the 23rd floor of the Mekong Tower. From there a remarkable number of construction projects are visible in every direction, each shrouded in the familiar green netting. Last time we went I counted nearly 100 projects underway!

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Since we arrived the city has expanded, lakes have been filled in, new roads have been completed, traffic has increased….and the pace of development shows no sights of letting up. On ‘Diamond Island’, the new promised buildings include the below, which bears a remarkable similarity to a certain French capital!

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Building has now started on this….

On Sunday evening, we travelled to the airport to say goodbye to our friend Peter Brooks following his short visit here to see the church, and discovered that the new airport terminal, whose construction had not started a year ago, was now open.

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It is up that escalator that we shall wave goodbye very soon.

The change is much more than simply buildings however. Culture is also shifting. iPhones have started popping up left and right and the obsession with Facebook and other social media amongst the new generation is startling. The only surprise about the inevitable arrival of international shops and brands is that McDonalds and Starbucks have yet to make it. Amongst the most popular current TV programmes is “Cambodian Idol” which followed swiftly on the heels of “The Voice”.

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Within a week of our arrival, the first western style cinema opened showing major Hollywood films. We have thoroughly enjoyed being able to watch the latest releases for as little as $2 a head, and are not looking forward to the prices that await us back in the UK.

Its also great to see some quality Cambodian films now being made. Most local films in recent years have narrowly focused on horror, slapstick or a combination of the two. It was therefore wonderful to go and watch a film called “The last reel” last week, which offered a very true insight into modern day Phnom Penh whilst showing a poignant glimpse back to the horrors that Cambodians encountered forty years ago under the Khmer Rouge. I would wholeheartedly recommend this film to anyone!

All of these changes however, pale into insignificance for us, when we consider the work that God is doing in this country. On Saturday we joined 4000 Christians from across Cambodia at the “Asian Christian Conference”. Worshipping and singing new songs, written by Cambodians for Cambodians, alongside thousands of young people and seeing their passion for Jesus will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of my time here. So exciting for the future!

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We are now entering the “last reel” of our time here. Its weird, emotional and unsettling, but also very exciting. We came to help build the church and train local leaders, which we have done as best we can by the grace of God. It has been an honour. The work now passes over to them. I can’t wait to see what comes next….

Posted by: Simon & Becci | August 1, 2015

Looking back, looking forwards

Its strange how one simple click on your computer changes things. A few minutes ago as I clicked ‘Book now’ on two one-way flights back to London Heathrow in early October, our time in Cambodia officially entered its final phase. We are now preparing to leave.

The past month or so have been full of milestones and opportunities to reflect. On 2nd July we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary (where did the time go?) whilst on 21st July we marked our fourth anniversary of moving to Cambodia. Looking back has been so helpful as we remember, and are thankful for, so many things that God has done and the people who have shaped, impacted and played an important role in our lives.

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On our 15th anniversary

There are painful memories too. Our final weeks in the UK in 2011, and first few weeks / months in Cambodia were without doubt the most challenging of my life to date. Looking back on them still stirs the embers of deep emotions of loss, grief and uncertainty which are evident in some early blog posts. I am so wonderfully grateful for God’s faithfulness and my wife’s amazing encouragement that helped see me through!

Now after four life changing years here, I know how difficult it will also be to leave Phnom Penh and the church and people who are so dear to us.

Our friends at Liberty Family Church

Some of our friends at Liberty Family Church

Our role here has been to establish Liberty Family Church and to train and release local leaders to take on the work from us. It is so thrilling to see this happening before our eyes, and we are excited about what lies ahead for the church in the future. There is still much to do in our final two months as we aim to leave the church in the strongest possible position. We are still expecting to be involved in some way after we move on, and will probably visit regularly in the years to come to help, support and encourage as best we can. I have recently learned a lot from the life of Barnabas in the Bible in this respect, and you can follow a series of five minute videos I am making about his life at https://vimeo.com/user13072396

Looking north along the Saigon River during over recent trip to a church in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Looking north along the Saigon River during over recent trip to a church in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

There are still a number of unanswered questions for the two of us as we look ahead. The biggest one is probably where we will move next. What we know at present is that we will be back in the UK for a number of months from October onwards, and are then expecting to return to the Asia-Pacific region at some point in 2016. We have really enjoyed visiting and serving a few other churches over the past several months to learn from them and also help us think about what might lie ahead. We will keep you posted!

Another taste of Japanese culture during our second trip to Japan in July

Another taste of Japanese culture during our recent trip to Japan in July

Taking in the sights in Perth, Australia in November

Taking in the sights in Perth, Australia in November

Where we go triggers a whole lot of practical questions about finances, taxes, whether we should buy a house in the UK, language learning, shipping and storage, job applications, visas, medicine…..the list goes on and on! For those of you who now us well, you will be unsurprised to hear that various lists and spreadsheets have already been made!

The final question though is possibly the biggest: will I manage to finish my giant bottle of Conditioner before I leave Phnom Penh? I am happy to confess that I am one of those men who take two bottles into the shower, and about three years ago I inherited a large bottle of Conditioner from Becci who decided she didn’t really like it. Three years on, and the Conditioner is still flowing. 65 days to go – will the Conditioner run out?

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Posted by: Simon & Becci | June 30, 2015

Cambodian Day Out

This week I was going to write a blog about our day trip on Sunday with the church to the Kirirom National Park, about 100km south of Phnom Penh. However, my friend Rachel Saunders got there first, so why bother reinventing the wheel! Enjoy!

Cambodia Through Our Eyes

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On Sunday we had a day out with our church to the waterfalls in
Kirirom up in the mountains. This was the first time that everything was organized entirely by the Cambodian leadership team and I can say they did such an amazing job from beginning to end.
We had to be there at 7am and were aiming to leave by 7.30 which we did, which those of you who live in Cambodia will say very rarely happens! It was a long journey as it took a while for the bus to get up the mountain, especially in the last part which was a dirt road.IMG_0279IMG_0282IMG_0389When we got there we had so much fun hanging out by the lake in these little bamboo and wooden huts with hammocks for the lucky few. On the way there were people selling flower wreaths for 3,000 riel and I asked one Of…

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Posted by: Simon & Becci | May 5, 2015

What’s in your seaweed sandwich?

I have a new favourite sandwich. The only problem is that when I buy it I have no idea what is inside. Meet the delicious Onigiri….

IMG_0735Onigiri are basically Japanese triangular rice sandwiches with various fillings (tuna, chicken, vegetables, fish) surrounded by a thin layer of “Nori” (seaweed). We were introduced to them by our friends Tom and Julie Eaton during our week long trip to Japan last week.

We were supposed to visit the Eatons, and GraceCity Church, in Nagoya, last September, but I sadly succumbed to a bout of Dengue Fever on the eve of our trip. Life in Cambodia is always adventurous!

With Tom, Julie and their son Judah

With Tom, Julie and their son Judah

Tom and Julie started GraceCity and have been in Nagoya for just over ten years. They have done an outstanding job with the church, which is full of life and energy. Much like our church in Phnom Penh, they do everything in two languages so it was fascinating to take notes and learn from them.

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Tom and Junichi share at GraceCity

Their three lovely daughters (Jess, Beth and Zanna) all attended a Japanese School from an early age, and are therefore fluent in the local language and culture. They took great pleasure in introducing us to many Japanese cuisines, including the wonderfully named “Nikujaga” which I thought sounded very similar to a certain Rolling Stones’ singer, prompting much amusement everytime it was mentioned. Maybe I still have some lessons to learn about working cross-culturally….

With Sopheary (left) and Tsuyoshi, Chie and their daughter Kiko

With Sopheary (left) and Tsuyoshi, Chie and their daughter Kiko

It was wonderful to also catch up with our friend Steve Morris from Coventry, who moved to Nagoya nearly five years ago and has recently married Kaori, who we were able to get to know one afternoon as we explored Nagoya Castle together.

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After a few days in Nagoya, we made the 530km journey south to the city of Hiroshima, to visit our Cambodian friend Sopheary who is spending a couple of years doing a Masters there. This journey lasted just over two hours thanks to the wonderfully smooth and efficient bullet train (Shinkansen), the latest incarnation of which has recently broken 600km an hour in a speed test near Tokyo.

Is it a spaceship? No, its the shinkansen

Is it a spaceship? No, its the shinkansen

Our trip to Hiroshima also gave us the opportunity to remember one of the saddest chapters in recent Japanese history when 140,000 people died as a result of the Atomic bomb that exploded over the city centre at the end of the second world war.

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The red ball shows where the A-bomb detonated. The buildings below were all that were left standing in a 2km radius

As people in the UK mark the seventieth anniversary of “Victory in Europe Day” this coming Friday, our trip to the beautiful and moving Peace Memorial Garden and Museum acted as a poignant reminder of the terrible devastation and human cost of war on all sides.

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The “A-dome” acts as a lasting memorial of the day the bomb fell

On a lighter note, our trip to Hiroshima also included a day trip to the beautiful island of Miyajima with its iconic O-Torii gate.

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This also gave us the chance to try out Onigiri once more. Sadly without the language skills of Tom and Julie were had to resort to pure guesswork in the shop when selecting the filling. Fortunately our “let’s just try 3 or 4 different colours” strategy turned out surprisingly well!

Posted by: Simon & Becci | April 13, 2015

Suasdey Chnam Thmey!

In other words: Happy Khmer New Year! Those of you who have followed our blog over the past few years may recall a couple of posts from April 2012 and April 2013 about the annual Cambodian New Year celebration, and its that time of year again!

Our celebrations this year started early at our church guest service at the end of March which included several traditional games. One of the games is called “Leak Kanseng” and closely resembles a more violent version of the British game “Duck, Duck, Goose”. Everyone sits in a circle and someone walks around the circumference whilst everyone else sings a song. This person has a scarf in their hands which they drop behind someone’s back. When this happens the person who is sitting needs to grab the scarf and beat the person next to them with it. Their intended target must run around the circle once to get away!

My attempted video is a little dark but gives you the idea….

This morning we had the privilege of witnessing two traditional New Year dance performances at our apartment complex by a group of young people.

The first was the “Blessing Dance” as performed by five girls in traditional dress, which culminates in the throwing of flower petals, representing blessings for the coming year.

The second was the more energetic “Trot dance” which is believed to get rid of bad luck from the previous year, and bring good luck and prosperity for the year ahead. The dance itself centres around a hunter and a deer.

At the end of the dance, Becci, Han-Na and I were asked to give out small gifts (colourful bags) to all of the dancers (whilst they were still performing which proved tricky with the drummers).

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I sometimes have to pinch myself when I consider where I live and the kinds of things I get to experience!

One Khmer New Year tradition we have yet to witness is something that happens on day three when children wash their parents and grandparents as a sign of honour and respect, and to obtain good luck and blessing from them for the new year. Maybe something to attempt with our families when we are next in the UK?

Posted by: Simon & Becci | February 24, 2015

Ferry cross the Mekong

If you ask most Brits who live in Phnom Penh what are the top three things they most miss about the UK, the majority of them will include a comment about green grass, fresh air and places to go for a walk. The city has an increasingly thriving cafe scene, lots of interesting food, amazing people and lots of concrete, but is somewhat lacking when it comes to peace, quiet and open spaces.

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View of the north of the city from the Skybar

That’s why we were so delighted to discover the passenger ferry across the Mekong River a couple of years ago. For the princely sum of 500 riel (12.5 cents) per person, you can travel 15 minutes across the Mekong River to a very different world on the other side.

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All aboard!

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Can you spot the pigs?

After piling onto the ferry, you gradually leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind, and approach the far side where flashing lights, traffic jams and tall buildings are replaced with floating houses and fishing boats.   P1050037

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The view back towards the city

Many tourists take a boat trip similar to this, but do not get off on the far side, thereby missing out on a beautiful walk through the countryside…..

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The beginning of the walk

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Continue past a few houses…

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Its dry season at the moment, so the plants along the road are a little dusty!

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Into the fields and mango trees

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One method of transport…

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…and another for transporting your mangos to the market over the ferry

The wonderful thing about being able to take a trip like this is that it gives us a reminder of what the real Cambodia is like. Of the 15 million or so people who live in the nation, just over 2 million live in Phnom Penh, but the next biggest town (Siem Reap) is only 120,000 people. The vast majority of normal Cambodian families live in the countryside, where images like these are commonplace.

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Heading back towards the city into the sunset

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Can you think of a better day trip for two people costing 50 cents in total?

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