Merry Christmas everybody! I understand I'm a little late on the whole Christmas thing but we're planning on celebrating Christmas until Khmer New Year in April. Unfortunately, dreaming of a white Christmas doesn't do much good around here... As part of the missionaries Christmas festivities we did a service project: cleaning up trash, pulling weeds, trimming trees and doing whatever else needed to be done at a place called jueng ike, also known as the Killing Fields.
For those who are unfamiliar with recent Cambodian history, from 1975 to 1979 a dictator named Pol Pot ruled over Cambodia. He forced everyone to leave their jobs and work in rice fields from dawn to dusk on insufficient food, shelter or rest. He systematically murdered everyone who was educated, wealthy, successful, had ties to foreign governments and even people that had things like reading glasses. Anyone who opposed the Khmer Rouge regime was rounded up and brutally executed. Somewhere between 1 and 3 million people were murdered in this way. Many of them were killed at jueng ike, now known as the Killing Fields. Jueng ike has hundreds of mass graves, each containing many corpses, some of which have been horribly dismembered. The monument there is full of hundreds of skulls. It is an awful reminder to the evil that can and does exist in the world.
On a more positive note, it's rice harvesting season! All of our members here grow rice. All of them. Which means that twice a year they spend every minute of their free time cutting, piling, lifting, and beating their rice before throwing it into machines (or just hitting it with sticks for a few hours) and loading it into bags. Well we were excited to help and we made every effort to make ourselves free whenever our members were going out to the fields except.... they never told us when they went. They felt like the work was beneath us. So we just went! We have now (somewhat) successfully cut rice, lifted it, beat piles of it, thrown it into machines and carried extremely heavy bags of rice. Some of the work just requires brute strength (lifting, beating, carrying) so my companion and I do pretty well just by virtue of being bigger than everyone else; however, the main work of cutting the rice off the stalks and tying it up takes a certain technique that the natives have honed over years and years of harvesting, and I haven't. This week we are planning to spend a lot of time helping a couple of our recent converts in their family's rice fields.
Funny thing about dates in Cambodia. They don't count by numbers. Their calendar goes back to Buddha (like 500bc ish?) and goes by names, repeating every 12. Same as the Chinese calendar except Chinese New Year is in February I think while Cambodia's is in April. Anyway, nobody ever knows how old they are. When we have to fill out paperwork for membership records and such we always have to tell them to go get their official birth certificates because if they try to guess their ages or the ages of their children they're way off. I had one guy miss his youngest child's birthday by over 11 years. Also, when they count their age by the Khmer calendar, they're always two years older than they really are. For example, someone who is born in January 2012 would count January-April as one year and then April-April as another year. The if you asked their mom how old they were in May 2013 she would answer 3, because they would have lived through 3 different years already (Jan12-Apr12, May12-Apr13, May13- ). Weird huh?
Had a very interesting lesson a few months ago with a very busy recent convert. Before being baptized he was Buddhist and his conversion to Christianity was very complete, however, some time after his baptism he stopped attending church services because he was busy attending school. While I was on exchange with a missionary in this area we talked with him about his priorities. He listed his job, classes, homework, and extracurricular English in addition to things like food, water, shelter and sleep. I then asked him what he thought about Christ and where He fit in the priorities. The man didn't really answer the question but I remember what he said very clearly. He said, ''Preah jia mjah'' or somewhat loosely translated as ''Christ is the Lord''. He arranged his priorities and the following day he was at church.
In this last General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke about the first two of the 10 commandments. He explained that the second commandment forbidding idol worship was really an extension of the first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me'' (Exodus 20:3). "Jehovah explains, “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, … shewing mercy unto … them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5–6). The meaning of jealous is revealing. Its Hebrew origin means “possessing sensitive and deep feelings” . Thus we offend God when we “serve” other gods—when we have other first priorities. (http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/no-other-gods) "
In our lives, there are many good things we can do. Schooling, work, food and water are all important and searching for them is a good use of our time, but there are too many good things that we can do day to day for us to possibly do them all. "Some uses of individual and family time are better, and others are best. We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families (http://www.lds.org/ensign/2007/11/good-better-best)."
I'm reminded of a poem that was recited a number of times at my elementary school.
Good better best, never let it rest,
Until your good is better and your better is your best.
God knows each and every one of us. He has a plan for us. That plan is progression, us continually choosing things that are better and best. He wants us to become perfect (Matthew 5:48) and I know that the path to that eternal goal lies in keeping our priorities straight, with Christ our Lord and Savior number one.
Love, Elder Vore