This post is rather long. Yesterday’s post was sanitized so my mother wouldn’t worry. I’ll give more detail here. This is cookie-cutter Asia. This could be an excerpt from any number of my travel journals.
In this global economic downturn, Cambodia is expected to have significant economic growth this year. There is a lot of new construction, and tourism is bustling. This makes it all the more important that we train ministers and establish churches. Who knows, maybe we have come to Cambodia for such a time as this.
Phnom Penh is a typical Asian city. The city is relatively clean but gets more and more littered as one heads away from the center of the city. The streets are lined with shops and street vendors. The shops are usually ten to twelve feet wide and fortified with pull-down doors or iron gates. Really big shops may take up two of these bays. The merchandise spills out onto the sidewalk in many instances. Motorcycles are parked everywhere and in every sort of way. Cars are parked on the sidewalks.
The shops in the middle of town are more elegant. However, as one gets farther from the center of the city, the shops clearly become less sophisticated. There are barbers, auto repair shops, general merchandise stores, building supplies, and countless idol shops. In front of these shops are the street vendors. They too sell just about everything, but mostly food. Some sell gasoline in one-liter soda bottles. Some sell bread, some pastries, some meat. Some repair motorcycles. They sell from small booths, carts, or simply pots on the ground. Occasionally there is a shabby marketplace with a tin or canvass roof supported by bamboo where vendors cluster together. Dogs and chickens run loose. They are very skinny. Sometimes a cow is tied to a tree in a front of a house. They too are malnourished.
Once you leave the city center, the scenery changes. There is no grass on the side of the road. The shoulders are dirt. They serve as a walkway for pedestrians, a parking place for motorcycles, and a place for vendors to sell their wares. The main roads are typically paved but not necessarily smooth. Most side streets are dirt. The shops and stores continue on for long distances until they are gradually replaced by houses. Sometimes there is a narrow trail, usually a dirt alley too narrow for a car, between shops which leads to a whole series of buildings behind the street-front, practically invisible to the street. These are usually houses. There is a lot of trash and debris along the roadside.
The best way to describe the scene is clutter, dirt, and chaos.
The contrasts are remarkable. Mansions are built next to shacks. The outer wall of an estate may have shacks leaned up against it, simple rooms made of tin, bamboo, and just about anything people can get their hands on.
It is difficult to tell the difference between a new building that is under construction and an old one that is falling down. Not only so, but beautiful buildings are built amid filth and debris with little or no lawn of parking space.
Although there is some organization in the traffic, it is still over the edge by American standards. At least they observe traffic signals—when the signals work! Well, they usually obey the traffic signals. The roads are predominated by motorcycles, mostly scooters that we would call mopeds. There are a lot of cars too, but the motorcycles definitely predominate. The motorcycles know no rules. They frequently carry three, four, even five people. Whole families travel on mopeds! Many times they are used to pull flatbed trailers piled high with all kinds of goods. Passenger cabins are attached to the back of motorcycles to make tuk-tuks, an inexpensive taxis. The interesting things one can see on a motorcycle are too numerous to mention. I saw one man carrying a sewing machine on his motorcycle this morning.
Things tend to go well until the light turns yellow. Then all the rules cease. It then is every man for himself. The intersection becomes one big log jam. The marked lanes and directions mean nothing. The prevailing rules of traffic law are simple: if you will fit, you have the right of way. If you hesitate, you’ll never get there. The motorcycles are particularly autonomous. They squeeze into every small crevice between cars, inching their way forward one maneuver at a time. If a traffic signal has cars backed up for a considerable distance, or if traffic is slow, they will simply drive on the other side of the road. All this is magnified beyond comprehension at the occasional traffic circle.
The rule of thumb for these kinds of seminars is to be prepared for anything. Yesterday, we talked about our plans for the seminar. We were prepared to teach morning sessions, break for lunch and go back to the hotel, and then return for a late afternoon session. On the way to the seminar we were told that we would teach all morning, break for lunch, and continue teaching without returning to the hotel. This is fine, but it means there were more sessions to be taught today, and it also meant we didn’t get any lunch. They prepared food for the attendees in the back yard, but we dared not eat it! They brought us some bananas, knowing we could not eat their food. They offered us mats and pillows to take a nap, but I declined.
The seminar is at the home of leader of these churches, a man named Saron. He has been using his house for a church, but he has outgrown the house and now is meeting in a rented facility until he can build a building. He has a spacious house with a kitchen in the back yard where the women prepared food. Beyond the kitchen there was a ditch that ran parallel to the street. Across the ditch was another row of houses. The ditch was filled with huge piles of garbage. The outhouse was also in the back yard. It at least had a commode. The Asian commode does not have a seat; it is flush with the floor. There are places to put your feet if you want to squat.
When we drove into the driveway we could hear the sound of worship. It was distinctively Eastern. The chord progressions and rhythm were unlike ours. And, of course, it was not in English. The meeting was upstairs in a room that had obviously been designed for church use. It was a large open room. There was a lady at the front leading the worship with a wireless microphone that cut in and out unpredictably. For some reason that was not apparent to me, a man stood next to her with a second wireless microphone that cut in and out unpredictably. She was clearly in charge.
I am not sure why they had a sound system. (I suppose we have taught them well.) It consisted of a few microphones and a lone speaker sitting on the floor. There was a very annoying delay or reverb that made the speaker sound like it was in the other end of a culvert. There was a drum kit, a small hand drum with a snake skin head, two guitars, and some other thing that looked like a croquet mallet with strings. I am not sure the man playing the croquet mallet ever played the same song as everyone else.
We had around fifty in attendance today from seven different provinces. There were more who were interested, but there was no room for more so they were not permitted to attend. It is a mixed bunch. Some of them are our pastors, some are not. I talked to one who was attending a Presbyterian seminary in Phnom Penh. He asked if I was Presbyterian, Baptist, or something else. It never occurred to him that I was Apostolic.
Brother Frizzell taught first. He talked to them about how Cambodia is changing and what this means for leadership. I taught on “Apostolic Distinctives,” or why we believe what we believe. I usually teach this in a series of lessons as follows: (1) There has always been a struggle with preserving Christian doctrine. Evidence of this begins in the New Testament. In fact, this is one of the reasons why we have a New Testament. (2) Throughout history Christians have deviated from the New Testament. I give a general overview of church history that culminates in the Pentecostal movement. I discuss variations of apostolic succession and explain how most Christians try to identify with the apostles in one way or another, although all these ways are not sound. (3) I then present the idea that Apostolics seek to restore the teachings of the apostles without regard to the fluctuations of history. I give several ramifications of restorationism and then show how it works out in doctrine. I have to be very careful to articulate this in terms they can understand.
I hope to go to bed early tonight. Who knows what tomorrow will hold?