An eclectic review of 2014

Usually a mainstay of the few days between Christmas and New Year I’m getting in early with my review of 2014. I often intend to write about the year about to come to an end but writing time around Christmas is rather sparse. This is a slightly eclectic review of the year and some of the things that have stood out.

It might be considered the year of the #icebucketchallenge, or the rise of UKIP, or some celebrity doing something they shouldn’t. I’m not really covering any of that. Let’s start with food.

Best baked good

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Best newspaper column

Next year’s general election will be mired in disenchantment and discord. The public are unhappy with politicians and conflate that with a disdain toward politics. Minor parties are on the rise and the share of the vote going to the two major parties will likely be the lowest ever. Internet memes go crazy, whether it’s Ed Miliband pointing at things, airbrushed posters of David Cameron, or spoof UKIP twitter accounts. And they just add to the disconnect between politicians and the public.

At the heart of this is a paradox of what the public want, they want politicians to be special and they want them to be like them. Dan Hodges, a Marmite columnist, put this brilliantly in the summer in which he basically called for more boring politicians.

Dan Hodges: Want to rekindle faith in politics? Remember most MPs are like Annette Brooke

Best talk

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At the end of November I returned to Trent Vineyard – where I went to church while a student at Nottingham – for the national Vineyard Cause To Live For conference. One of the draws was Simon Ponsonby speaking. I’ve got his tome on Romans with me over Christmas and hope to get started on it. When he spoke at a student conference I went to in 2004 on ‘more of the Holy Spirit’ I was scribbling faster than I thought possible. This time I didn’t take any notes, I just sat and absorbed his 65 minute one point sermon on learning to love the bible. I had hoped to link to the talk but it’s not online yet – I’ll definitely be sharing it when it is.

Honourable mention: as I can’t share my top talk of the year, here’s one that deserves a mention. I’ve been away at weekends quite a lot this year so tend to listen to as many sermons as podcasts as sat in the comfortable theatre seats. One Saturday I set off to walk to a friend’s flat, fairly normal except this was seven miles away – which made it a three sermon walk. The last of these made me walk up and down the street before arriving to catch the last few minutes. Take a listen, it’s really quite brilliant and beautiful – especially as on a topic so often preached about.

Hannah Elwyn: Who is my neighbour?

Best Walk

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For the shear ridiculous nature of it’s endeavour attempting to climb Slieve Donard on a rainy Janury afternoon could grab this award. I wrote about what not to do when walking in the Mourne Mountains after that particular failure.

The prize, however, has to go to the Yorkshire 3 Peaks which I walked in July. Up and down Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in 10 and a half hour, leaving me aching for the next couple of days, in love with the Yorkshire Dales and with an appetite to even more insane single day walks in 2015!

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Best film

I loved the latest instalment of the Hunger Games, I was unimpressed with the final Hobbit movie. I was moved by 12 Years A Slave, and I’ve watched Frozen more times than is appropriate to mention.

But a couple of weeks ago I watched The Imitation Game, which is definitely my film of the year. It’s a beautifully acted and shoot work and captured the haunted genius of Alan Turing in exquisite detail. He knew what he needed to do and couldn’t cope with the distractions and tangents others insisted on pursuing. A goal kept him focused.

Some have objected to the film for its use of the story to campaign and promote homosexuality. Yes, there is a campaigning edge to it, and I probably wouldn’t subscribe to all the associated goals of those who use it as a campaign tool. But in the midst of debates over sexuality and marriage the church often ties itself in knots. I think Christians, in an attempt to protect the view that marriage is only ever between a man and a woman, are sometimes passively coerced into supporting or opposing more than they should. The treatment of Alan Turing was shocking, and should never have happened, and Christians should not be afraid of denouncing cruel treatment wherever it occurs. What’s often lost in such debates is that the Church of England was one of the leading voices calling for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the 1950s, insisting then (as it does now) that such a position can be consistent with not endorsing them.

There’s sometimes a spill over effect with beliefs and attitudes, if I believe this then I must also believe that. It happens in the United States where policy positions on taxation, gun control and the environment become rolled into a basket of political positions that become ever more tangentially  connected to their original beliefs. We have to be on guard for why we stand for or against certain things and not axiomatically assume one thing leads to another, or that because we oppose certain people on certain issues we should oppose them on other issues as well. That’s the way you end up with culture wars and Christians need to be more intelligent than that.

Best photo

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In March I was thrilled to go to Cambodia with Tearfund. As part of their bloggers trip I got to visit several projects close to Phnom Penh where they work with local organisations to mobilise churches and communities to deliver long lasting development. I was awed by what I saw. I saw people resilient even with the atrocities of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge still lingering – like the fragments of bone that occasionally surfaced at the Killing Fields, the destruction he caused was not far from view. The pastor who walked miles home after losing his parents. The guide to the torture and execution prison who as a teenager was a forced labourer and whose body still suffers because of it.

I saw land that was beautiful, people who were thriving, and opportunities that were being taken. As well as writing about what I saw I took a lot of photographs. For several of the pieces I wrote I offered a selection of photographs, this one was used quite a few times. If you want to support the work Tearfund do in Cambodia you can.

Best graph

That disenchantment with politics I mentioned above, well this graph shows all the polls of the past four years along with a 15 poll rolling average. It’s going to be an interesting election.

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Best new discovery

This was the year I discovered Alissa Wilkinson’s film reviews. She’s the chief film critic for Christianity Today, and writes about film and culture and its intersection with Christianity. As someone frequently frustrated with sycophantic Christian reviews, or kowtowing to movie studios by dancing to their tune and unquestioningly promoting films with a vague Christian link, her writing is a breath of fresh air.

This, in defence of the magazine’s one star review of Left Behind, is among her best. And this about the upcoming film Unbroken was a fascinating read as well.

Most annoying feature on a website

Having said that, the multipage articles on Christianity Today really frustrates me. Never do I just want to read the first few paragraphs of an article before changing page, or another couple before clicking again. Maybe sometimes I do only read a little but surely they should want readers to view the whole piece.

Band of the year

Not a new band, but another discovery. Over the Rhine have dominated my playlist this year – this was the track that first hooked me. They also have a new album out.

I’ve given up on…

Controversies. Whether it’s Mark Driscoll or Rob Bell, I’ve not had the energy nor the inclination to engage with them. I’m over trying to find a way to write strong enough words to make my disagreement heard, but in such a winsome way to command respect from those who I disagree with. Often I’ve thought about writing something only to be glad not to get around to it.

I’ve fallen in love with… 

The church. The local, known, accountable, seen body of Christ which I am a part of. The controversies that rage on twitter, fought out in vying blogposts have nothing on the long hard work of forming a community of disciples striving to make new disciples. In a time of celebrity commentators tied to nothing but their own appearances and likelihood of success it is reassuring to be known and to know others.

I was aware while in Cambodia that development agencies come and go but the church remains.

I’ve also thought quite a lot this year about authority. A verse in John 19, where Jesus before Pilate responds that Pilate only has authority because it has been given to him by the Father, has resonated with me time and time again. This is freeing, liberating and reassuring, especially at times when I most unsure of what I’m doing. But that freedom isn’t just an individual thing, it helps us in relationships, and helps us become part of the community of believers working out our faith. Being a part of a church is where that dance of freedom and authority works itself out – all with the realisation that we’re not going to get  it quite right just yet.

What I’m ready for

Peace. It’s Christmas, we talk about it as a time of harmony and joy when often it’s one of rushing and frustration. I’m ready to stop for the year and spend some time with my family. With four small children under four around it won’t be quiet, but I’m not entirely sure that’s all peace is about.

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But there’s a wider peace that I’m looking for, searching for, desperate for. The hurting of the world is manifold and impossible to ignore. Whether school children murdered in their classroom in Pakistan or families grieving for loved ones killed by a truck in Glasgow while Christmas shopping. There is pain in this world, sometimes almost too much to bear.

There’s war that refuses to cease, violence that does not end, and we can seem powerless in the face of its relentless advance. The most powerful of the Christmas words for me is Emmanuel: God with us. It’s not a panacea, it doesn’t remove pain, but it reminds us God became human, became known, came to earth and suffered. He doesn’t run from pain and hurting, from what we’ve done and been done to us, he stands with us and takes the pain.

While I’m ready for peace, I’m glad for the Prince of Peace while I wait.

What I’m waiting for

On New Year’s Eve I fly to New Zealand, actually to China before jumping on another plane. I’m away for most of January, a mix of work and holiday, about which I’m incredibly excited. In some ways it has distracted from the lead up to Christmas, only confirmed a fortnight ago I’ve not had time to enjoy the anticipation and put it to one side and get on with what I’m up to right now. Instead it dominates at the moment, and as much as I’m ready for the Christmas break, looking forward to the food and my family, and some much needed rest, I’ll be looking forward to New Zealand throughout.

And I wonder if there’s a bigger lesson in that. The excitement of the greater thing distracts from everything else. It’s there in Exodus 33 when Moses turns down a blessing from God if he doesn’t get his presence. It’s then that Moses is placed in the cleft of a rock as God passes by.

What I find myself constantly waiting for and reaching after is that overarching thing that dominates what I’m doing and gives me purpose in pursuing everything else. There are plenty of things that keep me occupied and excited but one thing gives way to the next and then the next.

In 2015 I’m looking forward to a year that will no doubt be busy when I want quiet, boring when I thirst for action, crowded with people when I want time alone, and without company when I am lonely. I am sure there will be excitement and frustration, joy and disappointment. But with it I hope it is also a year of purpose. Quite what that purpose is, I’m not quite sure.

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On remaining evangelical, even when I’m not sure what it means

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On Tuesday evening I staggered home from the tube station, zombie like from nearly a full 24 hours travelling, from the rising of the sun on one side of the world to its setting back home in London. I’d been in Cambodia for just a little over a week, but the time I was gone failed to do justice to the intensity of the experience. Seeing communities overcoming poverty, and churches working for the good of their neighbours. Hearing about a regime in living memory that saw the deaths of a quarter of the population, many tortured and executed, many more dying from starvation and disease. Experiencing hospitality from a church of a dozen people.

I thought perhaps I would have a lot to process and a long post of reflection to scribe. In fact, it was rather simple, the good was great, the opportunity brilliant, the place beautiful and the food wonderful (mostly). The things that were hard, were not really that hard. It was tiring, exhausting, and has taken me almost as long as I was there to begin to feel human again. The burden I felt we carried through the trip was the attempt to encourage new supporters to back Tearfund and help communities such as those we were meeting in Cambodia become self-reliant and shrug off the anvil of poverty weighing them down. It was awkward, and it was tough, and we failed to achieve what we had set out to do. I found that very hard, and Rich has also written about this.

More than anything I was overcome by the beauty of the place I had spent a few precious days. And the chance to move beyond the sights and sounds of the capital and share meals with people in their houses, and hear the hopes and dreams they shared, and the problems that together they were going to overcome.

As I barely crawled along the footpath outside Bermondsey tube station with a rucksack on each shoulder I bumped into a friend and uttered some incoherent words. She offered to carry my bags, I turned down the help and staggered on, regretting my refusal to inconvenience her a few streets later. I had spent a week seeing and writing about the virtue about helping one another, and yet I carried on alone. Continue reading

12 things you learn on a bloggers trip

 1. Instagramming your lunch is obligatory

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2. The first question in any cafe/restaurant/hotel/airport: is there wifi?

Copyright Rich Wells

Copyright Rich Wells

3. 4 way extension leads are a vital packing requirement. (And that doesn’t make for an interesting photo, so have a shot of two cows.)

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4. Mosquitos make a satisfied squelch when squashed on a screen. But leave a bit of a smear.

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Copyright Rich Wells

5. Waiting for Buffer to schedule your tweets is a legitimate excuse for being late for breakfast.

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6. That meme about wifi being added to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs isn’t a joke. It really is that important. Or at least on this trip.

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7. Last minute charging of all devices before a 20 hour journey home.

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8. Realising how much of what you want to do is dependent on tech hard to access in the very place you’re visiting to blog about.

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9. Realising that if the tech doesn’t work, that’s okay. A blog can wait a few hours, or a day. There’s also such a thing as paper and pencil.

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10. Sometimes photos make things look better than the reality (it was still spectacular).

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11. Travelling to a part of the world to see the work of a brilliant charity is a privilege and an honour. I have loved it.

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12. And seeing Buddhist monks on the back of motorbikes stops being quite so surprising.

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If you’ve enjoyed following our trip to Cambodia and want to keep up with how the church in Tonle Bati continues to transform lives, why don’t you give to Tearfund? Donate at www.tearfund.org/bloggers  and you’ll get regular updates on what your money is doing.

 

 

In which I ask you to donate to Tearfund

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Over the past week I’ve written a lot about my time in Cambodia with Tearfund. This is my sixteenth post, with half of them being here and half in various places across the internet.

And in most of them I’ve ended with a line letting you know how you can keep up with what we’ve been doing, and how you can give money to support Tearfund’s work.

That was always an explicit part of this trip: to visit one of the communities featured in Tearfund’s See For Yourself initiative and tell the stories to help bring them our reader’s attention and encourage them to be part of an initiative where each month they get a prayer update from the village, and every few months a video update.

It’s also been the only part of the trip I’ve found even slightly stressful. The rest has been busy, new, unusual, unexpected, warming, and hot. But the target of getting people to sign up to give money is not something I’m used to or something I find particularly easy.

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I’ve felt uncomfortable writing lines asking people to give, I’ve felt worse when I’ve added them to posts on other people’s blogs.

And yet I am fully convinced of the value of the work supported in Cambodia. I haven’t got the least bit of hesitation in saying that. Perhaps it’s just me being a bit English but I want to preface it by saying: “I’m really sorry for the inconvenience, but if you wouldn’t mind, and if you do, don’t worry, but if perhaps you might be able to, could you possibly give Tearfund some money?”

13354971775_15ed75af35_bWhile I have been here I have seen the people trained, and the projects that have come out of the training. There is often scope for material donations, for wells, for toilets, for classrooms. But the commitment of this programme to people and investing in them, and doing so through the church which will remain, rather than a charity which might move on after a few years, is both obvious and exciting.

Tearfund are supporting work that makes a difference, and doing so in a way that is sustainable, and centred on the role of the local church engaging and changing its community. And your money can make a difference to communities who struggle to feed their families, who are placed in crisis when their chickens die, or the market pays a poor rate for the pig they’d banked on supporting them. It can prompt churches to lead the way providing education, raising awareness about healthcare and improving savings for the whole community.

As I prepare to return to the UK tomorrow, please support Tearfund. If you give as part of this initiative you’ll be able to keep up with the people we met this week, and hear about the impact your support is having.

To give online go to www.tearfund.org/bloggers and hit the button in the banner image.

To give by text just text HOPE TODAY to 70444 – the first 60 to sign up to give will also receive a print from my talented fellow blogger Rich Wells. This will subscribe you to give £3 a month to See For Yourself, Tearfund.  It will be added to your mobile phone bill and Tearfund receives 100% of the money. This subscription service will cost £3.00 per month until you send STOP to 70080.

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Reflections on a week in Cambodia

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I began yesterday on the top floor balcony of the pastor’s house in Tonle Bati. I woke to the dawn chorus that arrived before the sun. In the day I took in two church services, almost all of which were in Khmer and untranslated. I had rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner – five meals on the trot in all, and realised fairly late that it was the first day in a long time I had gone without tea or coffee. It ended with the first spot of souvenir hunting in Phnom Penh’s night market, cramped between tourists and locals, browsing stalls and trying to avoid being ripped off, and when the power cut, definitely trying to avoid being mugged.

It was a day of difference even in a country already so different. Seeing the rural poverty and the scratch existence of families working multiple jobs and raising chickens and ducks to reduce their dependence on the buying from the market. Seeing the neon signs above the market, and seeing the different rates we got on the tuk tuks when we had a Khmer speaker aboard.

Back from a night under a mosquito net, almost under the stars, and into a hotel that’s certainly not grand but comfortable and with warm water. My arms, never quite fully sweat free even under the fans in the late evening, stick to the leather seats as I make the most of the best wifi in the building by working late in the hotel lobby.

When presented with the itinerary for the final three days of the presidential campaign in the final season of the West Wing, Matt Santos grimaces with horror at the demands placed on him but stoically replies that you can hang from your toe nails for three days.

That’s been a bit of my attitude this week. It’s been tiring, we’ve been up and out early each day, spending fairly full days in villages, meeting with pastors and umoja facilitators, hearing from members of the community, those who participate in the projects and those who might like to. We’ve got back into the city ready for a rest, but with photos to sort, edit and upload, and blogs to write, edit and post. I made the situation a little on the ridiculous by deciding to write a guest post each day. I wrote a post for work, one for church, another for Tearfund’s Rhythms’ site (and another is on its way), one for the God & Politics blog, and one for Anna Robinson, one for Claire Musters, and there’ll probably be a couple more in the next day or two.

Each day when I’ve been tired I’ve looked at the incredible place I am and the chance to see and do things I rarely receive and determine to make the most of it. Sleep is for the weak, I can survive on very little for a few days. When I woke at 4.30am on the pastor’s balcony and the cockerels were only the start of the cacophony of sound surrounding me, I lay on the mattress and gazed through the mosquito net towards the slowly brightening sky and took about the only time I had had so far to think and reflect. I had said before I went that I thought it might provide such a chance, an opportunity to do what I have so little time for, the chance in a very different place to think thoughts that are crowded out of my mind most days. And then the only time for thinking comes when all sane people are asleep.

I thought deeply, too deeply for that time in the morning. I thought about the value I place one people and things, and what I do about that. Over the past week I have seen poverty and I have seen community resilience. I have seen the way that Tearfund works in Cambodia and how it works.

I realised that as much as we make a virtue of difference and use it as leverage to encourage donations to causes overseas, that much we keep people at arm’s length. When we seek to show poverty in contrast to opulence; when we show illiteracy compared to education, hunger to feasting, thirst to quenched mouths. When we do this we use difference as a lever to cajole.

And as I thought in the early hours yesterday as I asked questions I rarely do. As I appreciated things I skip over. As I wondered what future turns my life would take, I thought afresh about the value we put on other people, and the value we undermine when we hard sell in simplistic ways to reduce complex situations to tweetable lengths.

There’s something about the simple that is attractive, and there are times when it is vital to remove complexity and communicate with clarity is a virtue worth retaining. But there are also times it is reductionist and it insults the reader and the donor.

Every time a photo of a small child, preferably in shabby clothes, is used to solicit donations. I’ve done it, I’ve done it this week. Every time we reinforce the idea that certain things matter more than others.

Yesterday afternoon before the second church service the umoja group in Tonle Bati met. It was possibly even less photogenic that the earthworm raising project we visited on Thursday. Yet that’s the heart of what we’re witnessing in Cambodia, and at the heart are people who are valued more than gifts of resources.

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We often hear that when people are in old age it is not that they wish they spent more time at the office, or accumulating possessions, but spending time with people, their friends and their family.

When we think about development do we think about this? Do we think about people in far off places as partners in what we want to see happen, or consumers of goods we decide we are kind enough to offer?

And when I think of my relationships, do I value them highly enough, and if I do, if it is the relationships with people who I love and care for that matters the most, then what am I doing to reflect this affection?

Tilling the earth under the blistering sun

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The first time I went bouldering last January I ended up with blisters all over my hands. It was over a decade since I’d done any form of climbing and my hands weren’t used to it.

This morning I helped the umoja group in Tonle Bati till their land under the scorching late morning sun. I’ve now got two impressive blisters to show for my efforts, which I’m currently resisting the temptation to bust. My life working in an office in London has never quite felt so embarrassing.

Over lunch we spoke with Ke Pich, the pastor of New Life church in the village – we’d met earlier in the day and heard some of his story, but the new titbits made an interesting life incredible.

He’d only became a Christian in 2009 after watching Christian television programmes, went to the church in the next village and told the pastor there of his commitment to Christ, and also went on to prove the pastor’s doubts about his conversion by lasting more than three months.

For the past few years he’s been leading the church in his village, and since 2012 working with ICC to develop an umoja group for the church and, in time, for the community.

When Ke Pich was three Pol Pot came to power. He was sent far from home to near the Thai border and separated from his parents and forced to work carrying cow dung to the fields to for fertiliser for the crops. Occasionally he would be able to see his parents, in theory once a week.

Once, he was crying out to see his mother when Pol Pot saw him, and promptly struck him round the face. A tiny symbol of the violence inflicted on a nation.

After the Khmer Rouge regime fell and Ke Pich was nine he walked home. It took him about a month and walking barefoot he, unsurprisingly, got blisters all over his feet.

I now boulder frequently and I don’t get the blisters any more, calluses have developed where once the skin rubbed raw. If I worked on the land more frequently, if I tilled more soil, I’d develop more and my skin wouldn’t form into the bubbles of pain now topping my palms.

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When we do something time and time again we learn, and we learn how to change what we’re doing, we adapt and we improve. When I climb, I climb best when I learn from others, seeing what they’re doing that works and doing likewise.

In Tonle Bati there’s a lady who had fifty chickens. She did fairly well out of them, raising chicks and selling them at market. Through the church umoja group she also helped train other villages how to raise chickens, increasing the likelihood that they’ll be able to feed their families.

A couple of weeks back, at the height of the dry season, disease struck. Probably from a neighbour’s chickens, it wiped out most of her chickens. She’s left with just two hens and six chickens.

It’s a bad turn but it isn’t the end of the story. And this is also the beauty of Tearfund’s See For Yourself initiative. You can keep up with what’s going on in Tonle Bati, and hear the stories of the church and the villagers and how they’re seeking to improve the life of their community.

She’s not getting any new chickens from Tearfund or from ICC, but the church is there for her and that’s why Tearfund is focused on supporting and empowering the local church. Next time she’ll ensure the chickens get better food and clean water to try and prevent the same happening again.

The £3 a month that Tearfund is asking for to support these projects is excellent value for money. By investing in people they are ensuring that development is sustainable. While we’re out here we’ve got a target of generating 60 new supporters for Tearfund, I’d love it if you could be one of them. Give online at www.tearfund.org/bloggers

A 14 point bluffer’s guide to Cambodian history

Today I’m off to Cambodia with Tearfund as part of their blogger’s trip, information about how you can keep up with all we’re doing is at the bottom of this post. But first, I thought it might be handy to share with you some of my learning about Cambodia. It’s not a country I knew a great deal about, so, without further ado, here is my bluffer’s guide to Cambodian history (mostly thanks to the BBC).

  1. Cambodia was historically part of the Khmer Empire, which also included parts of present day Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. If you’ve seen anything from Cambodia it is probably the Angkor Wat temple complex which was built between the ninth and 13th centuries by Khmer kings. Cambodia was historically part of the Khmer Empire, which also included parts of present day Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. If you’ve seen anything from Cambodia it is probably the Angkor Wat temple complex which was built between the ninth and 13th centuries by Khmer kings.
  2. Between 1863 and 1953 Cambodia was a protectorate of France and subject to its colonial rule. This rule was disrupted between 1941-45 when Japan occupied Cambodia.  Between 1863 and 1953 Cambodia was a protectorate of France and subject to its colonial rule. This rule was disrupted between 1941-45 when Japan occupied Cambodia.
  3. Norodum Sihanouk ruled Cambodia in various guises between 1941-1970, first as King under French rule, then as King in his own right, then resigning in favour of his father to become Prime Minister, and then after his father’s death as head of state.Norodum Sihanouk ruled Cambodia in various guises between 1941-1970, first as King under French rule, then as King in his own right, then resigning in favour of his father to become Prime Minister, and then after his father’s death as head of state.
  4. In 1969 Cambodia allows North Vietnamese guerrillas to set up bases on their
    territory to fight against the US backed South Vietnamese government. The US
    begin a secret bombing campaign against these bases.In 1969 Cambodia allows North Vietnamese guerrillas to set up bases on their territory to fight against the US backed South Vietnamese government. The US begin a secret bombing campaign against these bases.
  5. Prime Minister Lon Nol seizes power in 1970 and sends troops to fight the North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia. The Cambodia army lose territory to the North Vietnamese and communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas.Prime Minister Lon Nol seizes power in 1970 and sends troops to fight the North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia. The Cambodia army lose territory to the North Vietnamese and communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas.
  6. Pol Pot, and his Khmer Rouge guerrillas, occupy Phnom Penh. Year Zero is declared, all city dwellers forced into the country side, freedoms stripped, and religion is banned. Over the next four years hundreds of thousands are tortured and executed, including those who starved or died from disease or exhaustion up to two million people lost their lives.IMG_7267 S21 PAINT
  7. The Vietnamese take Phnom Penh in 1979, but UN refuse to recognise the pro-Vietnamese Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party and the government-in-exile maintains its seat at the UN. For over a decade Cambodia, now known as Kampuchea, is plagued by guerrilla warfare.kampuchea2kak1979rv
  8. In 1991 a peace treaty is signed, former king Norodom Sihanouk returns as head of state and becomes king in 1993 when the monarchy is restored. The Khmer Rouge government-in-exile loses its seat at the UN and thousands of guerrillas surrender in an amnesty.8. In 1991 a peace treaty is signed, former king Norodom Sihanouk returns as head of state and becomes king in 1993 when the monarchy is restored. The Khmer Rouge government-in-exile loses its seat at the UN and thousands of guerrillas surrender in an amnesty.
  9. Hun Sen, prime minister since 1985, mounts a coup in 1997 and ousts his co-prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and executes ministers from the royalist party.
  10. Pol Pot is tried, found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. The following year, in 1998, he dies in his jungle hideout.polpot_grave2
  11. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party strikes a deal with the royalist Funcinpec party to break the political deadlock. In 2004 Cambodia re-enters the World Trade Organisation and King Sihanouk  (below) abdicates and his son Norodom Sihamoni takes the throne.
  12. In 2007 UN backed tribunals question Khmer Rouge suspects on genocide charges. The senior surviving Khmer Rouge figure, Nuon Chea or ‘Brother Number Two’ is arrested and charged with crimes against humanity. His trial ended in October 2013 with a verdict expected this year.12. In 2007 UN backed tribunals question Khmer Rouge suspects on genocide charges. The senior surviving Khmer Rouge figure, Nuon Chea or ‘Brother Number Two’ is arrested and charged with crimes against humanity. His trial ended in October 2013 with a verdict expected this year.
  13. Tensions on the Thai-Cambodia border, focused around ancient temples flare up between 2008 and 2012.13. Tensions on the Thai-Cambodia border, focused around ancient temples flare up between 2008 and 2012.
  14. The 2013 elections see Hun Sen’s CPP retain power amid claims of irregularity. Protests in Phnom Penh accompany parliament’s approval of a further 5 year term for Hun Sen.14. The 2013 elections see Hun Sen’s CPP retain power amid claims or irregularity. Protests in Phnom Penh accompany parliament’s approval of a further 5 year term for Hun Sen. How to keep track with what we’re doing in Cambodia

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Back to blogging

Writing

For three months I stopped blogging. To be honest it was a shorter break than had in mind when I stopped. But then I was picked to go to Cambodia with Tearfund, and a blogger who doesn’t blog is a bit of a conundrum. So I’m back and I’m not sure what I’m going to write about.

What I liked best about the break was not feeling the pull to write and respond to whatever the controversy of the day may be. I let provocative statements pass me by, I ignored the posts piling up as everyone who was anyone had their say and cast a verdict that something was good or bad, but rarely nuanced and complex.

I cheated a bit, I wrote plenty during these months, it was less of a writing break and more of a publishing break, and even then I posted a couple of pieces in other places.

And I return without words to fill the pages. I find sadness in my heart where there should be joy. I have stress when I would choose peace. I have tiredness plaguing me while I’m awake, and rest is a weary struggle.

Words that offer too much are empty. Posts that promise perfection or a life gilded with abundance fail to lift me. They stoke the pearls of cynicism grafted together as salt mixes in the wound.

I wrote a lot about relationships, and the readers liked it. The posts got noticed, especially when I addressed the thorny question of why guys don’t ask girls out. But I’m single and the constant flow of communications about relationships when I wasn’t in one cut deeper than I realised. It became a way of inoculating myself against the pain, it became a deflection, a device. It became a meta thing, the way we sometimes do, of distancing ourselves, and distracting from doing something about an issue by talking about it. I talked about relationships and friendships over social media and the hole I felt they left.

And then I went to Northern Ireland last weekend with nothing planned, but filled by connections on social media, I saw friends old and new, I visited places I wouldn’t have considered, and did things I really shouldn’t have. I went for some time on my own, that and having to be there for work on Monday, but when faced with the offer of dinner, entertainment and company I couldn’t turn it down.

I need people more than I know. I play into my introversion, the times I like alone, the space I give to think and process and work out what is going on. But I’d ditch it all for time spent with people who I care for and who care for me.

It was suggested to me that I stopped blogging because I was in a relationship and therefore thought it inappropriate to chronicle it. Were the former true the later would probably also apply, but alas, it is not, nor was, the case.

Yesterday was designated as ‘singles day’ in a certain segment of the American Christian blogosphere. A mum’s blog hosted a link up where singles, or their friends, siblings, even parents, posted pieces describing, with pictures, how wonderful they are and why you should get in touch. It’s sort of a pop-up internet dating site. A friend has written a post for me but it’s not online yet, I’ve got cold feet, I may post it on here. We’ll see.

It’s about vulnerability. That point when you look at your skin and feel it’s about to crack, when you consider your hopes and they are more fragile than a Fabergé egg. I don’t want to post it because I don’t want to know what people think.

And I think perhaps I am as scared of acceptance as rejection. Rejection I am used to, if no one responds then it leaves me with nothing to do, but console myself and hope for something better in the future. A mystical future that is detached from reality.

But if someone emails me, if someone says, ‘hey, I’m interested’, then I have to do something. I can no longer pontificate from my perch of opinionated singleness. I can no longer stay above the fray. Or pretend I am above the fray. If someone gets in touch, am I ready to respond? Am I going to respond? I don’t know.

Maybe I am scared. Maybe I am too used to being single. Maybe I am too picking. Maybe I don’t want to be in a relationship, even though at least ostensibly I would say that I do.

I’m back on the blogging wagon. We’ll see where it goes. I’m excited for March and sharing stories from Cambodia, and I’ll continue to write about the eclectic mix of subjects I always have. And if you ever want to write a guest post, just get in touch. 

Cambodia – seeing beyond Indiana Jones

pot-pyre

Aged fourteen and on a ferry to France I was upgraded to Club Class to ensure this unaccompanied minor didn’t get up to any mischief. Instead of mischief, I sat with my complementary papers and cup of tea and read about the funeral pyre for Pol Pot splashed on the front page.

Now I want to travel to see the country, hear from the people and learn how you and I can make a difference.

That ferry journey was when I first heard of Cambodia. I later learnt of the Vietnam conflict which spilled across borders and read accounts of the killing fields, where grass was turned red as up to two million of Pol Pot’s countrymen were killed under the command of Brother One. Twenty three years prior to his death his Khmer Rouge fighters took Phnom Penh to, as the Chicago Tribune described, turn his ideology into bloody reality.

And nearly two decades on in a country with an economy growing, the poor are being left behind.

Pol Pot dreamt of recreating the glory days of Angkor Wat and the Khmer empire of the twelfth century, instead he left a country crippled by civil war, a population haunted by poverty and a nation that nobody noticed. Twenty years after the start of his atrocities his death brought the country back to the front pages for those like me to hear of for the first time, and after a brief flirtation with the public interest it faded from view again.

Apart from the occasional photos from a friend’s travels through south-east Asia, usually posed before the stunning temples from an era belonging more to Indiana Jones than the present population, Cambodia remains an enigma. One of those places far away where dreadful things happened by one of the last great dictators of a twentieth century haunted with a litany of figures robbing humanity of their own.

The present is further away than the past.

The past can be accounted for, it can be condemned and it can be denounced, it can be labelled an aberration when man killed man for nothing but a misplaced sense of national glory. The present is with us. It is a mother left caring for children when a father dies. It is an eldest daughter looking after her siblings when HIV robs a family of its parents. It is poverty ingrained in community life, a norm that should be anything but. A status quo which must be questioned, condemned and dealt with, denounced with as much force and far more action than the slaughter of innocents decades before.

It is something you must do and I must too.

The effects of poverty, the lack of clean water, the unceasing hunger, the paucity of education that stumps development at its root. It can all seem too much. It can stun us into inaction, blinded by complexity, blinkered by politics, blanked out by poverty so vast it seems almost normal. The tyranny of grand problems block us from acting even when the step we can take is small and very achievable. It doesn’t take much but it takes something.

The coffee I drunk as I wrote this is all it costs to support their work each month. If you gave £3 to Tearfund each month it would enable them to work with local churches and community organisations. By doing this communities are able to support themselves, help feed each other, access resources and help put families beyond the reach of poverty that rips families apart and takes lives without care for the cost.

I am going to travel the thousands of miles across continents to see how the help helps. To see the work work. And to see what your support would support. To see the lives that Tearfund are already helping transform, and those it could affect with the cost of your coffee each month.

I am not a fundraiser, I am not a particularly good at self promotion. I even stopped blogging for the past few months. But I have my words, and I want to hear the stories from Cambodia and tell them to you. I want to bring them to life so that you can help Tearfund sustain life in places where it too often hangs by too thin a thread.

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I’m thrilled to have been chosen by Tearfund to travel to Cambodia in March as part of their bloggers’ trip. Along with Anita Mathias and Rich Wells, I’ll be telling stories of what we see on the ground and the work that Tearfund are doing to give a helping hand up out of poverty. Stay tuned for more!

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