Light of Hope

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By: Diane Harvey, our fearless justice leader from Perth, Australia

I had the opportunity to go to Cambodia in a team of six from Perth, Australia. We went to visit two projects, which are supported by Baptist World Aid Australia. Lisa has allowed me to write three posts for you. This one will be about PNKS, the second will be about Peace Bridges and the last one will be about two other organisations doing great work that I found while I was there.

I really didn’t know what we were going into. This was my first trip to a third-world country. I shouldn’t have worried. My team leader and the partner organisations did a great job of planning the itinerary and showing us around.

It was called an “Exposure Tour”. We weren’t there to do anything as such, just to observe, listen, learn and ask questions. It wasn’t all hard work either. We did some sightseeing on tuk-tuks, took a ton of photos and were able to Skype the kids at home every night from the Wi-Fi in our comfortable hotel room.

PNKS2The first organisation we visited was called PNKS (light of hope). They are a Cambodian Christian NGO working in community building, agriculture and livelihoods training and health. We were out in the rural areas, guests to their community meetings and got to observe some things that PNKS have introduced to help build the communities.

Climate change is a big issue in these communities. Rainfall used to be predictable and the rice harvest as a result used to be predictable, but now late rains could mean poor crops. PNKS is working with the locals to teach/share farming practices, skills and techniques, work towards diversification of crops, so families might plant vegetables and have a fish pond as well as just the rice field.

Communities were also taught in monthly meetings about various topics such as health care, civil rights, domestic violence, and other things. The communities also had the opportunity to have a shared savings account, which had lower interest than what was offered by the microfinance institutions. We heard one example of this being used when the community needed funds for a funeral.

PNKS4You’ll see in two of my photos that there is plastic sheeting and plastic bottles being used in agriculture. This is to avoid evaporation during the drought. The locals have to endure both droughts and floods in a year and often lose everything they have gained during the drought. We heard that there isn’t enough water for their animals to survive the drought. Fish, however can be kept in plastic bags.

I really loved visiting the rural communities and having the chance to talk to some people who were happy to show us the improvements that PNKS had brought to their communities. In one community meeting I asked what was their greatest need, and they said that they needed consistent rain for the remainder of October for their rice crops. You can imagine our collective joy when it started to pour down!

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This photo is of me talking to the community ladies. I am wearing a blue blouse and the translator is on my left.

The other photo is of the savings group. If you would like more information on PNKS, there is a good article here.

 

I Love Your Voice Series

yellow heartMeet Diane Harvey

Her Family: Married with two young children and a black Labrador-cross called Lucy

Location in the World: Perth, Australia (That’s the capital city in the state of Western Australia)

Three favorites: Wow, it’s so hard to think of only three but I’ll get deep and say Love, Clean Water and Hope

DSC00094What is your calling? To learn about Jesus, to teach about Jesus, and to follow Jesus.

How has God has worked through you that has become a part of your redemption story? Slowly, slowly, bit by bit, God has been giving me jobs to do. When I first left theological college I was like an exuberant puppy, straining at the lead, eager to do something, while at the same time feeling inexperienced and insecure. But over the last few years I have found it really encouraging and humbling to be given positions of responsibility. It fills me with joy!

How do you place yourself in the proximity of renewal that gets your heart beating faster? Knowledge is good, and information is good, but it’s what you do with it that counts. I want to have a practical faith: one that hears and understands, and then acts. We all know that faith without deeds is dead. What good is it to me if I agree with all the teachings of Jesus, and then not do anything about it? I don’t want to be just a bobble-headed Christian, nodding in agreement on a Sunday morning.  My desire and heartfelt wish is that I live out my life of faith by actions and not be content with mere mental assent. Unfortunately, my ‘self’ gets in the way. Ignorance and Apathy always fight with me and I regularly let them win, to my shame.  I’m a Pharisee daily. Thankfully – and praise be to God – there is forgiveness, mercy and grace as I keep starting and keep trying.

Knowing my failings, I am so grateful to have an encouraging team around me. We call ourselves the “Social Justice Group”. It’s not a very creative title, but it gives you an idea about what we’re all about. Our mission statement is, “We exist to inspire in our pursuit of following Christ’s command to show love and justice to others.” Jesus’ instruction following the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) is a challenge to me personally:

Jesus asked, Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

We’re involved in a few different things but our main focus for the next three years will be our adoption of the “Peace Bridges” project in Cambodia, in partnership with Baptist World Aid Australia.

Kim Vanden Hengel writes: Cambodians have suffered immensely during decades of war and internal conflict. Many have witnessed terrible acts of violence and suffered significant personal trauma. Over many years, oppressive regimes have crushed any who spoke out against injustice. All this has impacted significantly on the Cambodian people and their ability to deal with conflict. Sadly, violence as a response to difficult situations has become common and accepted, both in the home and in the community. Fear and mistrust have left people feeling powerless to change their circumstances. They are struggling to rebuild families and communities of trust, love and acceptance. With limited access to services, those who struggle most with these issues are often the poor.

Peace Bridges works by providing long-term training to key people, called Peace Builders. Peace Builders work at the grassroots with people in their community, be it their own family unit, a church or an organisation. Peace Builders use their training to help others to deal appropriately with conflict, and ultimately to bring about change for the whole community.

Many Cambodians were killed during the years of strife. Some of those who are parents today grew up without parents themselves, and often have little experience of healthy family life. Domestic violence is very common. Some Peace Builders will be selected for further training in more complex issues, sharing their skills with people living with violence in the home.

Through word of mouth, Peace Builders impart their learning to others in their community to bring about widespread change. Peace Bridges provide support and training on a regular basis to help with this process.

We are planning a trip to Cambodia this year to look at this project, so hopefully I will be able to tell you all about it later in the year!

Thanks for encouraging us Diane! We will love to hear all about your trip. 

i love your voice series

Where There is Injustice, There is Silence

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A Guest Post by: Rev. Kris Van Engen 

Sometimes silence speaks. Sometimes silence kills.

I’ve been in the position of a congregational justice mobilizer for two years now and if I’ve learned anything, it is that silence plus lies (or the more congenial term “myths”) equals oppression. We all know this simple equation is true but we are strangely drawn to it.

 

While Martin Luther King sat in a jail in Birmingham, his elders sent him a letter telling him to be quiet and leave the segregation issue to the courts. When AIDS was becoming an epidemic in the 1980s, the stigma was on the victims; discussing how to change the situation was considered akin to condoning sin. Pick a modern issue of injustice and surely you will find groups who, in spite of having the power to be heard, remain silent–maybe because of uncertainty, maybe to stay neutral, maybe to be a good listener, maybe for good or bad intentions. At any rate, where there is injustice, there is silence.

The scenario is as true on a small scale as it is on a large scale. Consider the family with an abusive parent. The child is scolded, “What happens in our house is nobody else’s business.” The spouse defends the abuser to critics, “Well, if our son watched his behavior he wouldn’t have these problems.” The critics say, “Oh, I guess it’s more complicated than I thought.” The abuse continues. The child waits for someone to ride in and speak the truth. The victims of AIDS, preventable famine, changing climate, racism, and needless deportations wait with him.

 

We celebrate Jesus’ birth into a land of silence and lies. The threat of his voice moved Herod to put an early ransom on his head. This is the brave voice our world needs. Jesus doesn’t fall into the temptation of silence like we do. The spirit of the Lord is on him. He sees through the myths. He is anointed to proclaim good news to the poor.

Of course, Jesus himself was silent from time to time. The most notable occasion, shortly after sharing the last supper bread and wine with his disciples, was remaining speechless before Herod. It was the death of him. A temporary death that resulted in new life.

This would become Jesus’ gift to us. Light shed on a dark scene. If we are victims, he stands with us. If we need certainty mixed with courage to break from the ranks of neutrality, he offers it through the Holy Spirit, his word, and the communion of saints. He is the prince who replaces injustice with peace.

In this new year, what is an opportunity you could take to SPEAK? 

 

KrisKris Van Engen is the Congregational Justice Mobilizer for the Office of Social Justice and World Renew. He equips people as they act on Jesus’ instructions to be peacemakers, to do justice, and to prevent the root causes of poverty and hunger. You can read his article Social Justice 101 here. 

Kris previously worked for 10 years as a pastor and church ministries director. He and his wife Lisa have two children, Ellie and Josiah.

Contact Kris by email at kvanengen@crcna.org.