[we don't have everyone's email, so here is our christmas "card"]
Dear all, friends & family,
We are thinking of you all today & are sending warm Christmas greetings & wishes for a happy New Year.
It is hard to believe the calendar; that Christmas is already upon us! In this country that does not celebrate Christmas, it does not feel especially festive. We lack the usual seasonal cues: cold weather; lighted decorations in the street; the smells of warm cinnamon & the comfort of home. But we've been reminded that the first Christmas was probably a lot like this too-a hot, dusty climate full of people going about their daily lives & yearning for God's presence on earth.
We have been in Cambodia for nearly a month & a half now. We feel mostly settled in & are very thankful to our MCC colleagues who have welcomed us so graciously to our new home. New home - we find that we have to continually remind ourselves that, yes, we live here now.
Phnom Penh is full & bustling & gives New York City a run for its money as a "city that never sleeps" (complete with roosters crowing & techno wedding music at all hours). Thankfully, we have a beautiful apartment with a breezy porch where we can escape in the evenings & catch our breath.
We are now starting on month two of our three months of intensive language training. We're trying our best to be diligent students of the Khmei language, although the intense study does make our brains very tired!
We will be starting our work at the Royal University of Agriculture sometime in February.
We are encountering much joy in this new chapter of our lives & for that we are grateful; thank you for your prayers. Friends of ours recently released a song with the lyrics '….I pray that light would leak from our pockets….' & we ask you to join with us in praying for this here in Cambodia.
Please pray that the light of the goodness of God would flow freely from us & that we would, in turn, be transformed by the people we encounter here. People who have been deeply scarred by tragedy & yet, are marked with such hope & kindness.
Joy to the World the Lord has come, Amanda & Daniel
we've found phnom penh to be a city that is simply bursting with movement.
you get the sense that people here have a lot of lost time to make up for & are making up that time with a vengeance.
at first, the traffic here seemed, to us, unfathomable (although, to be fair, we do hear it is worse in vietnam). most cambodians travel by small motor bikes, or motos as they are called here. as far as the traffic goes, it is the law of the jungle out here!
in this city of two million, there are very few stop signs (in fact, the one pictured above is the only one we've stumbled across so far). there are also no more than a smattering of traffic lights, which are a new concept here, so are frequently ignored. rarely does anybody ever come to a complete stop. any traffic rules that we might be used to, such as driving on the right side of the street, using a turn signal, or turning your headlights on, seem to be treated as suggestions at best.
to assist daniel in his attempts to master the moto, we've been riding around the city on moto taxis, called moto doops, to get a feel for the unspoken understanding of traffic rules. (we wear helmets, mom!)
in addition to carrying passangers, we've seen all kinds of previously unimaginable things balanced on the back of these motos. these include: a family of six people on 1 moto; a breastfeeding mother; a passenger holding up another passenger's IV bag; a bundle of 30ft steel construction rods; a flat of several dozen live chickens; what appeared to have been a good half tonne of bananas; and finally; an old soviet helicopter (you can guess which one we made up).
it is quite a change from the charming brownstone in manhatten or the little loft above the coffee show in terrace, but daniel & i really love our new house in cambodia. . . we live above a cambodian family, who are very nice (as far as we can tell, as neither of us speak the same language) & have several children. & a lot of dogs. they run a little roadside shop (all the rage here), where they sell tasty snacks from thailand & cold soda pop in glass bottles.
[here is our street] . .
but, the best thing about our house is the amazingly beautiful & breezy porch!
it has become a very welcome place of solace for us. in the evenings, after a day in the bustling chaos & busyness that is the city of phnom penh, we look forward to spending time reading & studying in the coolness of our porch.
for lovely inquiring minds, here are some pictures from the inside of our house....
[our dining area & entrance to our guest bedroom. a perfect place of rest for any adventurous cambodian visitors.....]
well, tonight daniel & i will hop on a plane in buffalo, ny & when our journey is finished, we will be in phonm penh, cambodia, our new home.
three years ago, when we walked down the aisle, together, after our wedding, it was to the gladful noise of our friends & family singing "you shall go out with joy & be led forth in peace", a song based on isaiah 55:12. this verse has felt like a promise to us, as we've journeyed together as pilgrims, finding joy & the blessings of community in the places we are & continually being led forth in peace, to the new places where the Lord leads.
& as we've prepared for this transition to cambodia, we've been praying for this joy & peace. & the Lord has confirmed his promise to us in little ways-in a church member praying this verse over us, in this song being sung at our mcc "sending service" & in the joyful celebrations we've had with friends & family in the past month, as our journey begins.
as we prepare to go, we've been reflecting on this quote, from helen keller,
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
dear friends, we seek your prayers for our safe travels, our transition period & for a faith that is not measured by security, but rather by joy, peace, & selfless love.
a quick recap from our month of farewells...(farewell terrace, with your foggy mountains)
as most of you all know, daniel & i have recently accepted positions with the mennonite central committee working in phnom penh, the capital of cambodia. we are going to be working at the royal university of agriculture as agricultural writing advisers, which means we are going to be helping masters students with editing their thesis papers, which they will write in english. we'll be headed to cambodia in early november & Lord willing, will be there for nearly three years. the whole thing is a bit nerve wracking, but we are mostly exhilarated & excited about this new adventure & opportunity to serve the Lord.
right now, we are currently at the mcc offices in pennslyvania attending two weeks of orientation. as it turns out, our orientation is at a Mennonite retreat center, but it feels more like a futuristic Mennonite utopian compound. there are beautiful gardens and streams everywhere, recycling bins at every corner, fair trade coffee in every pot, peace on earth signs all over the place, (in a variety of languages including sign language), and a big African drum and batik in every room. on top of all that, the doors don't even have locks, and the bathrooms don't even have doors (just curtains)!
plus yesterday we saw on old-order Mennonite, sporting black dress and head-covering, walk past a new-order Mennonite, sporting a yoga mat. They crossed in perfect harmony, a sort of lion laying with the lamb.
during this time we are learning a lot about mcc & reflecting on the ideas of service, mission, and faith, with other believers (young adults, married couples, & families) who are also about to embark on terms of service. we are especially challenged by mcc's vision statement, which reads,
we believe the loving God wills the well-bring of all people & the healing of creation; that the first fruits of the new creation the Kingdom of God, are manifest in the peoplehood called the church.
...the utopian compound...
...our room & amanda's mom (note the bathroom curtain!)...
(we were very blessed as we left northern b.c., visited family & a new neice in washington state, & had a hastings family reunion in pennslyvania. look for some more postings with pictures soon!)
a few weeks ago, my brother, benjamin, emailed daniel & i to ask for some advice. he was planning to attend a dylan concert in philadelphia & wanted some recommendations of solid contemporary dylan music. i thought that daniel's response was worthy of a posting, so here goes....
Now I'm no Dylan expert, but I'll take any opportunity to pretend I am. I'll start of with a little imagery. When Amanda and I were in Alaska we stayed in an area that only ever had people living in it because many years ago they were swept there with the gold rush. There was once a time when fortunes of gold could be found in the area. But since that time, the gold has dwindled and the remaining gold miners and prospectors survive by sifting through the old tailings of yesteryear. (This is true. People will actually scratch out a living sifting through pre-sifted dirt in the frozen barrens of northern Alaska).
Now with that imagery in mind, I'll share my thoughts on later-era Bob Dylan. Which is to say that nuggets of gold, real gold, can be found in his later work. But by no means do they compare to the wealth found in his earlier material. His early material was lying there glistening on the river's edge waiting to be scooped up. In my opinion, the gold rush ended right after 1975's "Blood on the Tracks". From the late seventies on out, Dylan has been consistently churning out material. The vast majority of which is akin to frozen sand and gravel. Once you've waded into these waters, especially the sludge of the eighties, you've got to do some serious sifting. But the hard work of sifting is what makes discovering later-era gems so enjoyable.
Now I've done a bit of sifting myself, and the two places that I've found the most rewarding paydirt, were in 1989's "Oh Mercy" and in 1993's "World Gone Wrong". "Oh Mercy" is interesting because on this album Dylan gets away from the big band blues which was overpowering a lot of his recent work, and went with a much simpler and more slickly produced album. It was produced by Daniel Lanoise, the man behind U2's "the Joshua Tree". I would recommend "most of the time" and "ring them bells" as tracks that really stuck out. In "World Gone Wrong", Dylan returns to the stripped down rootsy blues feel that dominates his earlier albums. Although this album does not contain any original songs and gets little recognition, it's probably my favorite of his later work.
Critics have stated that Dylan's last three albums, "Time out of Mind", "Love and Theft", and "Modern Times" comprise a sort of trilogy of material that compares to his older material. It's true that these three albums are much better than most of what has been put out since the 70's. But that's no reason to believe these guys. They're just old Dylan miners with a case of Dylan blindness who are so used to being waste deep in sludge that they mistake a thin mud for clear water. That being said, this is probably the stuff that Dylan would be likely to play in concert. A couple of tracks that I've enjoyed have been "Sugar Baby" off "Love and Theft" and "Nettie Moore" off "Modern Times".
I hope you have fun at the concert. Don't let the actual wrinkled skin and croaking voice distract you from the enchanting suggestions of beautiful golden beaches. I think this is the level that Dylan has to be appreciated at today.
A few weeks ago our good friend Stephen ended up in Terrace. In addition to supporting my new hat and glasses he was also in the area to support the new conservative candidate for our riding. You may notice that he is doing a much better job of looking generally content with having his picture taken with more young conservative party supporters than I am of looking comfortable with the question of "does an eagerness to take my picture with this guy make me look like a conservative party supporter?"
We thought about using our 10 seconds of conversation to applaud him for his decision to apologize for Canada's legacy of residential schools, or to press him about Canadian divestment action in Darfur. In the end we said nothing but an awkward "it's a pleasure to meet you" and then "...it's been a pleasure to meet you". I hope the placement of our almost touching but not quite hands doesn't suggest otherwise.
[amanda's piping up..."do you think we should let our american friends know this guy is the george bush of canada?"]
We live in all we seek. The hidden shows up in too-plain sight.. It lives captive on the face of the obvious - the people, events, & things of the day...What a hideout: Holiness lies spread and borne over the surface of time & stuff like color.
-Annie Dillard, For The Time Being