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Come and See our new blog!

We are busy working on plans for our new interim trip to Cambodia.   The blog address for the January 2012 Transforming Cambodia can be found here:




As I have adjusted to life back in the U.S. this past week, I see glimpses of a new person emerging from Cambodia. I look the same on the outside, but inside my heart was transformed by Cambodia. Here is another attempt on my behalf to put those changes into words through poetry.


Enduring cycle
Darkness finds every country
Night around the world

In Cambodia
The darkness lasts forever
Suffering is real

Elie Wiesel’s “Night”
Auschwitz survival horrors
Life continues on

I used to tremble
When I walked into the dark
Now I am at peace

Facing the darkness
I heard humanity weep
And I wept with them

Before tears I cried
Poured out from selfish pity
Now my tears have changed

They flow not for me
But for all humanity
There are no islands

I stared into death
Felt dignity stripped away
My heart was humbled

It is only now
Soaked in brevity of life
That I truly live

My lungs breathed before
But my heart was not thriving
I was ignorant

At last I’m alive
Every single breath cherished
Death awakened life

Enduring cycle
Darkness finds every country
Light shines within me

Who Will Cry?

One of the most memorable times of the trip for me was meeting a little boy named Panya at the Rainbow School near the beginning of our time in Cambodia. As a social work major I recognized red flags in his behavior which indicate sexual abuse. I have continued to see Panya in the back of my mind, forever etched in my heart as I continue to cry and grieve for this little boy. Whenever I think of Him, I am reminded of a poem from the movie “Antwone Fisher”. This movie, released in 2002, is about a boy who was sexually abused as a child and ends up receiving counseling from a character played by Denzel Washington. At the end of the movie, Antwone Fisher writes a poem about his healing process from abuse. Who cries for little Panya? I do…

Who will cry for the little boy?
By Antwone Fisher

Who will cry for the little boy?
Lost and all alone.
Who will cry for the little boy?
Abandoned without his own?

Who will cry for the little boy?
He cried himself to sleep.
Who will cry for the little boy?
He never had for keeps.

Who will cry for the little boy?
He walked the burning sand
Who will cry for the little boy?
The boy inside the man.

Who will cry for the little boy?
Who knows well hurt and pain
Who will cry for the little boy?
He died again and again.

Who will cry for the little boy?
A good boy he tried to be
Who will cry for the little boy?
Who cries inside of me

(Vanessa Jelsma)

“Life is but a Breath”

Here is a Haiku that I wrote about my experiences with life and death on this interim. The quote “Life is but a Breath” is from Theary Seng’s book “Daughter of the Killing Fields” :

“Life is but a Breath” – By: Vanessa Jelsma

“Life is but a breath”
Mangled bicycle and blood
Woman lays sobbing

Crowd circled around
No one offers her a hand
Traffic keeps moving

Victim of chaos
Alas, good Samaritan
Pulls her to the side

The woman huddles
Sobbing in the stranger’s arms
Rocking back and forth

Shocked and terrified
In the fetal position
“Life is but a breath”

Dog naps in the sun
As the village children play
Peacefully he sleeps

The calm vanishes
Shrieks and howls and moaning
Puncture my eardrum

Hind legs now broken
All attempts to stand will fail
Our van shattered bones

Again there’s a crowd
Circling around the puppy
They are all silent

A small boy steps up
Then carries the dog away
“Life is but a breath”

Flowers bloom inside
The Toul Sleng prison courtyard
Reaching to the sky

Buds on trees flourish
While those that drop will shrivel
Beneath scorching sun

The white purity
Glistening in Heaven’s light
Lasts for a moment

Plummeting to ground
Will happen in an instant
“Life is but a breath”

If those walls could talk
Great horrors would be revealed
Cries would be released

Torture was brutal
The results of satan’s force
And the people paid

Painfully they fell
Electric shock or drowning
Blood and starvation

Families torn apart
30 years and healing still
See those empty eyes

Generation ceased
Leaders annihilated
Puzzle pieces lost

Put the pieces back
Find the right fit one by one
A new image

God has overcome!
Glory shines in Cambodia
He has conquered death

Great hope can be found
When you see with Heaven’s eyes
Christ declared victory

From a tropical island back to Michigan via Korea

well, it is time to start our jouney back home. We all had a great time here at the coast.  We spent the day yesterday on an island where we got to explore the shores at low tide, swim and have a good time.   Many got sunburned 😦  and most that have been sick are getting better.

We are now loading up on the vans, taking a 4 hour trip back to PP.  From there we will have a light dinner with Missionary Gill Suh (CRWM) and head off to the airport around 8:00 tonight.   From there a flight to Korea, a 5 hour layover, and a flight to Chicago.  Once in Chicago we take a bus back to Calvin.   The Lord willing, we should arrive around 3:00 in the afternoon at Calvin College (Spoelhof turnaround)

Please keep us in your prayers, pray that those that are not feeling well will do well on our journey.  Pray that the rest will maintain our health and good disposition.

Thank you all for your prayers this past month.  David and I would love to meet you sometime – stop by when you are near Calvin.



no internet connection

hi everyone!

this is my first blog, and all i have to say is…

we are going to be at a farm for the next few days and we won’t have access to the internet til thursday.

oh and i love you mom


p.s. professor derooy made me write this blog

General Update 1/14 to 1/23

On January 14, we arrived at Phnom Penh, which is way bigger – and noisier – than Siem Reap. Here, there are no charming thatch or wooden huts-on-stilts, at least in the part of the city our hotel is in. It’s much less tourist-based, as can be seen by all the shops displaying bamboo furniture, roof tiles, and teeth (pictorial teeth – they’re dentist offices). These shops replace Siem Reap’s stands of more tourist-friendly scarves, bags, and carvings.

Another thing you notice right away here is that people don’t feel as carefree about night. Unlike the all-hours night-life of Siem Reap, in which some restaurants and bars don’t open thier lighted doors until after dark, most shops here close around 5 or 6. And they lock the pointy-topped steel gates, drizzled with coils of razor-wire, behind them.

Friday (1/15), we stopped in on Handong Global University (HGU) and Handong International Law School (HILS)’s project, Global Entrepreneurship Training 2010 (GET10). It’s a weeklong seminar sort of deal, with six or so Cambodian universities participating. The students get to learn from Handong professors about markets, accounting, business plans, etc (don’t ask the engineer). They also get put in groups to come up with an idea for a small business, and make a business plan, which they present before judges at the end of the week, after which they receive a diploma and graduate from the program. It’s a great idea for Cambodia, which needs people to create new jobs.

GET10 is the brainchild of the Korean-American Professor S.K. Lee (we all just call him SK), a passionate, venerable, and grandfatherly Christian man. I don’t think any of us have met someone quite like SK before… and of course there’s some culture shock over Korean patriarchy involved as well 🙂

Monday morning (1/18), we visited the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC – I know, it’s so catchy and easy to say!) headquarters. From what we’ve seen, CRWRC really has the whole sustainable development thing going on! Besides immediate disaster relief, they specialize in training Khmer people to help their own villages develop leadership committees which will allow them to advocate for and deal with their own problems. It’s very well thought out, typical of the CRC – in a good way!

CRWRC sent us to several NGOs that they’re connected with; also, we got to spend the night in a village that they’re involved in. I’m especially hoping to write again about a very progressive farm that we were sent to (but don’t have time just now).

Finally, we visited a prison camp and a killing field today. They say that the Khmer Rouge years here from 1975-79 were worse than the Holocaust. I’m not sure that it’s possible to decide what crimes against humanity are worse than others, but percentage-wise, the Khmer Rouge was definitely worse. Effect-wise, too; bad as it was, Nazi Germany’s main aim was not to return Deutschland to the stone age. I’m sure there are many more posts to come on that topic.

Amanda Hayes

Tonal Sap Floating Village

We were recently treated to see the biggest circus in Cambodia called the floating village near Tonle Sap.  Tourists from around the world board old noisy vessels that accommodate perhaps 30 people who sit on sturdy rough hewn benches children sat on in school perhaps 100 years ago.  For the more adventurous one could perch on a slippery tin roof  for a more panoramic unobstructed view of the village and its inhabitants.

It was an interesting journey gliding by what some perceive to be the largest slum in Cambodia and perhaps in all of South East Asia.

To the western eye the perceived poverty and unimaginable living conditions of the mostly Vietnamese people that populate the shores of Tonle Sap is overwhelming and one could easily feel a great deal of compassion for these most unfortunate residents.  But there was no need to feel sorry or be alarmed we were told because a recent survey found that 80% of the residents who rise and fall with the level of the water are happy.  That contrast with the 20% that are allegedly happy in North America in spite of obscene wealth and luxury.  Lesson learned; it is better to live in poverty and be happy than to be filthy rich and be miserable. Some might disagree.

The residents of the floating village seemed oblivious to our presence even though more digital pictures were shot to capture the moment than were shot in Angkor Wat.  In many instances it seemed we were flagrantly invading the peoples privacy.  The residents so far have entertained millions and seemed totally indifferent to our presence while for the  tourist it was our first spectacle to view such oppressive poverty. Every twist in the river revealed more hovels and dilapidated structures bobbing on the water cobbled closely together making the scene all the more depressing. Part of the village had no electricity and batteries were used to light the odd 60 watt bulb to allow for some mobility for the residents past 6:00 pm when darkness descends on Cambodia.

During our journey a much smaller vessel carrying a skipper and a young child suddenly appeared out of nowhere, approached our vessel and came close enough to allow the child to board with a basket full of soft drinks.  The scene made me think of all the super tankers and ocean going vessels that are constantly boarded and captured near the Horn of Africa.  The child who possessed considerable charm hurriedly walked through our boat selling his wares.  As quickly as he boarded he jumped back into the smaller boat in search for another pack of tourist chugging along behind us for another sale.   This was entrepreneurship at its best. On one of the floating restaurants and souvenir shops a small child would place the head of a menacing looking snake into his mouth for only one dolla.

In a way I was very pleased to learn that the residents of Tonle Sap are happy.  If they and others like them wanted as little as half of what I have, a big comfortable house, cars, efficient transportation, health care, free drugs, eye wear and hearing aids as well as a pocketful of disposable income that allows me to come to Cambodia and cruise the seven seas the world would not have enough resources to meet all of our collective needs.  I would have to share the resources and sacrifice my lifestyle and my appetite for more just so Tonle Sap residents could live in a way that would be a pale reflection of my style.

I am glad at least 80% of Tonle Sapians are happy.  A small minority may not be but we can’t please everybody.  As noted the western world can boast that 80% of its population is discontent.  Perhaps if we had a little bit more we could increase the happiness factor in North America.  We probably should not tinker with this 80 20 ratio too much in fear of upsetting the balance we presently enjoy.

Brian Maan

crowing rooster

In some countries once the eye distinguishes light from darkness the Iman ascends the minaret and calls the faithfull to worship.  In Cambodia this function seems to have been awarded to the rooster.  At about 4:00 am a rooster somewhere in the neigbourhood below on steroids or way too much testosterone begins to crow which carries on non stop for several hours.  At about the same time a hideous noise that sounds like a squealing pig that just realized its master has decided it won’t see another sunrise joins the rooster thus forming a duet.  A little later a dog or two decides to join the cocaphany of sounds.  Sleep evades me so I turn on the light and am greeted by an 8 inch gecko clinging to the wall 6 inches from the ceiling.  I brought an alarm to Cambodia thinking I would need it but so far I have never had to use it.  I get up, wash and get dressed and at about 6:00 am ascend the stairs to the roof top where breakfast will be served.  The lights are out and there is no one about.  No sooner do I reach the top when somewhere from across the river someone flips a switch and 150 decibels of traditional Khmer music blankets the surrounding area.  If the rooster, pig or dogs could not wake the neighbourhood I am convinced the music did.  I don’t think there is a noise by law in Cambodia.  From what I see and hear I wonder if there are any laws in Cambodia and if there are no one seems to obey them.

Brian Maan

Woman at the well

Early one morning when I walked around the neigbourhood I saw a woman at a well. It wasn’t really a well but a pump beside her house close to a very polluted river. Her modest home was only a few feet away from the river in an area that displayed all the signs of abject poverty. She was fully clothed and washing herself. She took buckets of water she had drawn up out of the ground and poured them over her head. Once she was thoroughly drenched she began to scrub herself. When there is no privacy there is also no opportunity to relish the sensuousness of life. What pleasure would she derive from warm water gently cascading down her naked body in a private bathroom?

When I saw the woman at the well a passage from the gospel of John 4 came to mind. Jesus who met a woman at a well said, “everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again but whomever drinks the water I give will never thirst . Indeed the water I give will become a living spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” I pray that all of Cambodia will find and accept this living water so men and women don’t have to go to the well again and again and again to be refreshed and cleansed.

Brian Maan