Staff Retreat 2013

Every year, the staff of Samaritan's Purse Cambodia gather to reconnect, celebrate what God has done in the past year, and grow together as a family. The past two years, the retreats have been in Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia on the beach (check out posts on the 2011 and 2012 retreats). But this year's retreat was in Siem Reap - no beach, but also only 2 hours away from Poipet. I have to admit to deeply preferring Siem Reap to Sihanoukville - 2 hours vs. 14 hours away, clean swimming pools vs. dirty beaches...

But staff retreat isn't all about relaxing by the pool. My favorite part of staff retreat is having time to hang out with staff, eating together and just learning more about their lives, their families, and swapping stories about life in Cambodia. We had a lot of America vs. Cambodia conversations - not proving which is better, but talking about differences - like jokes. One of our Cambodian friends who speaks really good English admitted that he just doesn't get English jokes. He said that once he read a book of jokes in English, and although he understood the words on the page, he didn't understand why they were funny! Sometimes we feel the same way about Cambodian jokes, too. Cambodians love slapstick humor or bathroom jokes, while English jokes tend to be more ironic, subtle, or play-on-words. 

This is my, "I luurrv shopping in Siem Reap" face...

Humor is also a window into one's culture. The same staff told us about a popular Cambodian movie. A man falls in love with a girl, and asks her parents to marry her. The man has good character and really cares for the girl, but before the parents say yes, they visit a Cambodian fortune teller (who are everywhere in Cambodia - there are even a couple who work in the market where I shop!). They ask the fortune teller if the girl should marry him, but the fortune teller says no - if she does, they will have a very bad future. Or so the cards say. So the parents say no, and they find another man for the girl. This time, the fortune teller says yes - the cards say their future will be prosperous. However, not long after they are married, the man turns out to be a drinking, gambling, philandering good-for-nothing. The girl spends her days crying and wishing she was married to the first man - who now is a rich, successful businessman. She blames her parents, and they return to the fortune teller to complain. But he says, it's not my fault! I just read what the cards say.

Now, I just want to point out that this whole story is a comedy (in my book, this is more of a tragic story!). But it also reflects the truth that the vast majority of Cambodians consult fortune tellers for many different reasons - which day is lucky for traveling, marrying, or opening a new business; whether a potential marriage partner will be good; or if their child will be successful in their studies. Hardly any Buddhist Cambodian does anything significant without consulting the fortune teller.

All of the SP Cambodia staff

But I digress. One fact made this year's staff retreat more significant than usual. This year marked the 10th anniversary of Samaritan's Purse's work in Cambodia. It is really an exciting time to be here working with SP. The projects have steadily grown in number and size, and our country director said that SP wants to invest even more in the work here. It is encouraging to see the big picture, beyond what we see in Poipet. So often, we get wrapped up in our local projects and the daily demands. We need to remember how faithful the Lord has been over the past 10 years. He has helped the work grow in ways unimaginable, and he has used SP to encourage and equip the Cambodian church. We can trust God to continue faithfully providing the strength and resources needed to serve the poor and bring the Good News to Cambodia. 

Lovely photo of the "birthday cake" captured with my dinky phone...
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