To be bold and vulnerable (February 2019 Update)

Hot season has arrived in Cambodia like a distant relative arrives into your house and hugs you for a little too long.  You can’t escape their grasp or their cheek pinches.  Hot season is no different, sweat hugs your body and even riding a moto around town offers no breeze as relief.  Things naturally slow down here, rolling power outages seem to be prevalent. We are currently being told to prepare for rolling power outages for the next three months in five hour blocks.  I’m finding solace in coffee shops that have generators for air conditioning and Bullet is enjoying all the frozen “pupsicles” I make him.  His favorite flavors seem to be sweet potato and “meat juice”.  Since I typically boil his meat for his food, the meaty water then gets frozen for treats at a later date.

For me, February was a month of stepping into vulnerability with boldness.  It started with two amazing motorcycle rides.  One to Kampot and the second being the all over the northern part of Cambodia. I had my own anxiety of being the “weakest” link on the team and holding others back.  This “imposter syndrome” feeling thankful disappeared behind me as soon as my motorcycle kicked into second gear.  The more I reflect back on the Prayer Circle Cambodia rides, the more I feel emboldened to expectancy on God.  That He will provide, heal, and protect all those involved.

(Prayer Team group photo at the Cambodian / Laos border.)

Next was being vulnerable in admitting I wasn’t healing from my heat rash at the speed I WANTED to be healing and that I needed help – from medical advice to walking Bullet.  My friends, both here – and abroad – sent prayers, encouragements, food, drugs and doggie play dates.  While I spent three days in wet yoga pants and t-shirts letting my skin heal and over a week on steroids.  It was not fun admitting I needed help, that I was a little scared and the guilt I carried feeling like I was letting people down.  Thankfully, the “wet” suit, prayers and drugs helped.  Now my new baby skin on my shins are getting tougher to the harsh Cambodian heat and dust.

One of those women I felt like I was letting down was Sharron, MRO’s newest Advisor who I had agreed to help onboard – both at work and in life.  I completely missed her first week in Cambodia and felt horrible for letting her and the MRO team down.  I was able to redeem myself in her second week – helping her find an amazing apartment, taking her shopping and introducing her to all “my ladies” at the local market and helping her with her visa application.  After her second week in Cambodia, Bullet and I took her to Silk Island – our local get away with clean water to swim in.  Bullet was long overdue for a fun adventure since he had spent nearly two weeks trapped in my room with the AC on and yet not allowed to snuggle with me.  (Even though I’m not allergic to dogs, the doctor warned me that almost any allergen could upset my sick skin.)  While we were swimming, I confessed to Sharron how horrible I felt about letting her down her first week and how helping her in her second week was stirring up some emotions about my own landing here in Cambodia.  Feelings I thought I had dealt with yet some weird jealousy on my side was yet another example of boldly stepping into vulnerability.  The Bible speaks of God refining us like silver.  I think this is a good example of this.  Being aware of our emotions and feelings – owning them and reflecting on them and coming out on the other side a better, more Christ-like version of ourselves.

(Bullet’s secret getaway – Silk Island.)

Towards the end of February, my family and I received word that my Uncle Clay had been diagnosed with Level 4 Glioblastoma (brain cancer) and the survival rate is pretty low.  My heart (and my body) dropped to the floor.  I spent a considerable amount of time on the ground – weeping, praying, re-reading my aunt’s text message.  I finally picked myself up, washed my face and headed to my Khmer tutoring session.  As soon as my teacher saw me, he asked what was wrong.  I explained in Khmer that I had just found out that my uncle was sick with brain cancer.  (Yeah Community Health class vocabulary!)  The conversation continued in Khmer:
Teacher:  I’m sorry, sister.  Does your uncle love Jesus?
Me:  Yes.
Teacher:  This is good.  He will go to Heaven.  But still very sad.
Me:  Yes.
(By this point, I’m crying again.)
Teacher:  What is your Uncle’s name?  Is he married?  Does he have kids?
Me:  Yes, his name is Clay.  His wife’s name is Kirstie.  His daughter’s name is Brianna and his son’s name is Jimmie.
Teacher:  My wife and I will pray for them tonight.  I’m sorry, sister.  Would you like me to read to you?
Me: Yes.
He then spent our hour of tutoring reading slowly to me from my children’s book about not speeding in a car and looking out for elephants on the road.  Here we are, sitting in a local coffee shop, a married, Khmer man reading to children’s book out loud in Khmer to a silently weeping foreign woman.  I had to admit this act of love and compassion still makes me tear up.  I told the story to my mentor and she wisely pointed out, “You’ve reached that sweet spot where you are getting loved on by your Khmer friends.”  I couldn’t agree more.

(Jimmie, Brianna, Clay and Kirstie.)

That being said, my Uncle is committed to fighting this thing and it’s such an honor to walk, prayerfully beside him and his immediate family through this.  Again, this theme of being bold yet vulnerable comes up daily in my prayers for him.  I’m super thankful that I’ll be able to spend time with him while I’m home this summer and celebrate his daughter getting married!

(Uncle Clay in his element on the Alsea River.)

Other things that happened in February:  I said goodbye to my roommate of five months, Amanda, and welcomed a new roommate, Laura, into my home.  Laura is here for two months investigating if she wants to become a full-time missionary.  I also had the honor of helping my dear friend, Nika, who is blind, build a Facebook page for her new organization geared towards helping other blind Cambodians with resources and trainings.  She is so kind to me.  Always reminding me that we are sisters.  When she found out I had heat rash on the Prayer Circle ride, she called Manoj and asked to speak to me.  Just to make sure I was okay and to tell me she was praying for me!  The Phnom Penh Post did a write up about her work.  You can read about it here.  I’m so proud of Nika and happy to call her “sister.”

(Nika and Manoj in the Phnom Penh Post.)

Finally, in February I found out that I’ve been accepted into Interserve’s Candidate School in July 2019.  Interserve is an international sending agency and had an awesome team here in Cambodia that I’m hoping to join.  I’ve spent a lot of time researching and praying about sending agencies and am pretty excited about this opportunity.  This also means I’ve started planning my home visit to the United States.  If you want to see me, have questions about my home visit, have me speak at your church or small group – please let me know!  It looks like I’ll be stateside July through mid September.

(Bullet and his girlfriend, Peaches.)

How have you been doing? I look forward to hearing from you!  As always prayer requests are below.

Hugs from Cambo,
ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)

P.S.  In February, I finished reading “Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out” about the history of Craft Beer in America.  I also downloaded 13 hours worth of Hans Christian Andersen “Fairy Tales” to fall asleep to on the Prayer Circle Rides.  Both were great books.  If only I could stop falling sleeping before chapter 4 on the “Fairy Tales” book! 

I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:

1.  For my uncle, Clay, his wife, Kirstie, and their children – Brianna and Jimmie as my uncle battles cancer..
2.  For my house in Portland.  That good tenants will be interested in living there soon.
3.  For wisdom and logistics as I start gearing up for my trip home this summer.

No Snow in Cambo (January 2019 Update)!

Hello from sunny Cambodia, where the average temperature this week has been 94 degrees and we still haven’t truly hit hot season yet!  (Sorry, I had to put that little tease in there since Portland has been getting some snow lately.)

(My first day of 2019 – meeting my favorite Cambodian animal.)

January seemed to have flown by and February is keeping pace.  Work with MRO is keeping me busy.  I had the chance to go on two outings with the Social Work Teams.  I wrote about visiting Foster Children and Reintegrated Children.  I also got the chance to present some website suggestions to improving the MRO website in the near future.  I look forward to rolling that out and some new videos promoting MRO’s work in Cambodia.  (Don’t worry – I’ll be sure to share them once they are live.)

(Some of the MRO Social Work Team on a province outing.)

One of the things God put on my heart during my Christmas break was to find a Khmer Church.  While at Daughters, I was required to attend their church.  When my contract ended, I stopped attending.  I’m still an active member of my English Church, helping out monthly with The Craft Corner.  A friend from language school invited me to attend a Khmer church that her husband is the Pastor at.  I kicked off 2019 by checking out their church.  So far, I really enjoy it.  It’s a group of mostly young, college-aged, Khmer who are living in dormitories to attend local universities.  They are friendly, patient with my Khmer and eager to practice their English.  I’ve been enjoying attending the church and learning more Khmer Christian vocabulary.  Also, my new roommate is working for this missionary / Khmer couple!

(Worship in Khmer)

Since many people have commented on the books I’ve been reading, I thought I would include the book I’m reading each month.  In January, I finished reading Just Mercy, which was recommended by a close friend of mine.  It’s about the history of the prison system and the death penalty in America.  I learned a ton while reading it. Since most of my friends here come from an international background, I’ve talked to a few about the book.  I’ve also learned some interesting insights about what other countries think about our prison system.  Double the learning experience.  I’m almost done with Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive, which is about “white American folk religion” and features my nextdoor neighbors here in Cambodia and the anti-human trafficking work they are involved in.

What have you been reading / listening too lately?

(Just a cute photo of Bullet napping on our balcony.)

How have you been doing? I look forward to hearing from you!  As always prayer requests are below.

Hugs from Cambo,
ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet – no pictured.)

I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:

1.  Praise!  I’ve found a new roommate who will be living with me in Cambodia for two months.  (She is coming to research moving here full-time).  My Oregon tenants have decided to break their lease and move out.  I’ve hired a property manager, so please pray they can find new tenants quickly.  Also, if anyone is looking for a new place to live in PDX, I know a great spot!
2.  Continued prayer for my language skills.  Between work, Khmer church and tutoring, I feel like my speaking and vocabulary is continuing to improve.  I’m still not feeling confident about my reading skills.
3.  My health / safety (as always).  Right now I’m recovering from a horrible case of heat rash – I’ll save you the gore.  I’ve got some upcoming injections planned for my continued health here in Cambodia.  Please pray that I won’t have any adverse reactions.

Reintegration Family Visit – Tuesday, January 22, 2019

*beep beep beep* My alarm starts sounding off at 6:15 am on Tuesday, January 22.  My dog, Bullet, stretches beside me and then hops off the bed to sit next to his food bowl and wait for breakfast.  On our morning walk, I reflect on my previous visit to the province with the M’lup Russey Organisation (MRO) team. I know today will be different from the last visit.  Before we visited with children in Foster Care. Today we will be visiting children who have been reintegrated with their families.

MRO’s Family Reunification program reunifies children and young people who have left an orphanage to return to their birth parents or biological relatives.  It is a collaboration between the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY), the District and Provincial Social Affairs offices, Commune Council for Women and Children (CCWC), local authorities and NGO partners to ensure the placement sustainability, safety and schooling of the reunified children and young people.  MRO undertakes the professional supervision, joins case conferences and works according to agreed policies and protocols on behalf of the children and their families.

Samnang, Savorn, Vatathanak, myself, and Kosal.

I arrived at the office and am happy to see the familiar faces of Samnang, a MRO Social Worker and Kosal, the MRO Driver will be joining us on today’s trip.  Two new faces are also climbing into the MRO truck. During our one and a half hour drive to the province, I learn one of the faces belongs to Savorn, MRO’s Emergency Foster Care Assistant.  She has been working at MRO for a year now. The other new face is Vatathanak, MRO’s Intern. She is in her third year of studying Social Work at Royal University Phnom Penh (RUPP) and has been interning with MRO for three months.  I make a joke that even though she is younger than me, she has worked at MRO longer than me and thus must be very knowledgeable. This makes the whole car giggle.

When we arrive at the village, Samnang hops out of the truck and stops to visit with the Village Chief.  We continue along a few more houses and then climb out of the truck and up the wooden steps of our first family’s home.  It’s a traditional Khmer home on stilts.

Traditional Khmer house.

This home is the smallest house I’ve ever been in during my year in Cambodia.  It’s smaller than my bedroom in Phnom Penh. About three meters wide and five meters across.  It’s neat and clean with clear areas of purpose. A small gas stove sits in the far corner, with simple metal pots and plastic dishes.  Behind the entrance is a clothing rack. A sleeping mat takes up the majority of the house’s floor space and in the far right corner is a TV set.  The floors are made of strips of bamboo that flex their strength when you walk across the home. The siding and roof are constructed of recycled corrugated tin.  Savorn, Vatathanak and myself find a place to sit on the floor away from the sleeping mat, but also away from the grease stained floor near the kitchen area. The mother yells something out the front door and then finds a spot on the sleeping mat.

Re-unified foster child.

Soon a young woman climbs up the stairs.  She is cross-eyed and has elfish features – a small pouty mouth and a sharp nose.  She holds a turquoise, plastic cross on a leather strap around her neck. She finds a spot on the sleeping mat next to her mother, while Samnang arrives with an older gentleman, who is introduced as the Village Chief and two other woman – the girl’s aunt and another MRO Foster Mother.  There is hardly any room for us all the fit in this tiny, little home.

Samnang starts off the conversations.  Quickly, the Mother becomes upset. Talking about how her husband doesn’t care about taking care of their daughter.  I sit and watch the young girl, sitting by her mother’s side while this conversation is happening. “Shouldn’t she be outside playing with her friends?”  I wonder to myself, “No child should be hearing this sort of thing.”

Inside a traditional Khmer house.

The Mother continues to yell, pointing in a corner as if to address a person not in the room.  By this point, I’m lost in the conversation. I’ve only been learning this language for a year and the rapid pace the Mother is speaking with makes it impossible for me to follow.  She throws a towel across the room in anger. I sit in the far corner, close my eyes and start to pray. “Jesus, I have no idea what is going on right now, but I know you do. I ask that you bring peace into this home.  Heal this mother, heal this little girl, bring her father back to her. Please Jesus. Fill this place with Your peace.”

“Chop / stop,” the calm voice from the Village Chief rings out.  The Mother continues speaking. The Village Chief says something over the Mother then gets up and walks out of the house.  Samnang turns to me and explains that the Mother is upset because a neighbor’s child threw a rock at her daughter’s head cutting it open.  The Mother took the daughter the Village Chief and he did nothing about it. I asked to see the cut. This incident happened about two weeks ago, the bruise was still visible but the cut had healed.  The Mother had treated the wound with Tiger Balm. This seems like the universal method of treating anything here in Cambodia. Injured? Put some Tiger Balm on it.

Local recycling program.

Things seem to calm down after the Village Chief leaves.  Samnang asks a few more questions, then we say our goodbyes.  We walk down the dirt path a little while. I start realizing that this area must be known for recycling as many families have mountains of cardboard or recycled fish food sacks packed to the brim with plastic bottles.  We stop at another villager’s house and visit with a few more local woman.

Local sound system.

They ask questions about reintegration with their children.  I soon learn this is also sometimes called “Family Planning,” which coming from America has a different meaning.  One asks if her child, who is also in Foster Care, can come visit her for Khmer New Year. Another asks about the process of getting a cow, pig and some chickens.  We say our farewells to this group and climb back into the truck.

We stop at a nearby rest area for lunch.  There small bamboo shacks, with straw walls and a roof for shade are each neatly numbered.  Kosal and Samnang climb into the hammocks provided and we discuss what to order for lunch. After ordering, we continue the conversation about the woman and her daughter.  Samnang explains that the girl has a small head and thus can’t remember things well. She has a mental disability. He thinks the girl has ZIKA. I try to set my face in a respectful manner.  Since from all the reports I’ve heard from the US Embassy and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) there have been no reported cases of ZIKA in Cambodia and I find it hard to believe that a young woman could have lived this long without being noticed.  He reiterates his small head theory. I agree the girl has a small-ish head to go with her small frame. I pull out my phone and pull up photos of babies with the microcephaly. I show the photos to Samnang and the rest of the team. We all agree, this girl doesn’t have ZIKA.  

Lunch time visitor.

Our food arrives.  I recognize the rice, tom yum soup, loc lac (a traditional Khmer beef dish), but there is something new.  On a platter of morning glory is some sort of protein, I can’t identify. I ask Samnang, “Is this fish?” He responds, “It’s a fish, but it doesn’t have fins.  Like a snake in the water.” I take a bite. “Oh! Eel?” I pull out my phone and pull up an image of an eel. “Yes! Eel. We call it ‘an-tong’.” It tastes almost identical to the ‘unagi’ I’m used to eating at sushi restaurants back in the United States.  While we eat, our conversations turn to lighter things. Vatathanak shares more about her studies at RUPP. The local cat comes to beg for scraps of our meal and spends some time playing with my backpack straps. I talk about my dog, Bullet (or “Boy” as I introduce him to my Khmer friends).  What he eats, where he sleeps, and how I brought him from America.

Khmer house/store.

We finish our meal and head out to visit our second and final family of the day.  Down the street, we stop at a local shop. On the frontside of a traditional Khmer home called a “pteh la-veng”, is a storefront selling almost anything you could need – soap, gasoline, fresh drinking water, candy, dried noodles, cold drinks, etc.  There we are greeted by a young man, with sweet eyes, and his Aunt. Samnang explains, that the boy has been reunited with his Aunt since 2013. That his older brothers and mother live and work in a factory in Thailand. We walk through the shop and enter the main living area of the pteh la-veng; the room’s walls are covered with huge wedding photographs that are blow up to be over a meter in height and awards that the family has earned.  (Receiving awards is a big honor in Cambodia and thus are proudly displayed along with wedding photographs and photos of relatives that have passed away.)

Re-unified foster child.

The Aunt explains that she wants the boy to study life skills because she can’t afford to send him to school.  We call a local partner, Commune Council for Women and Children (CCWC), to get more information about studying support.  Soon a CCWC Leader and a female Sub-Village Chief arrive at the home and join the meeting. The Aunt also explains that the child needs to go to the dentist.  I think back about the boy we visited last week who also needs to go to the dentist. “Maybe they can go together and it won’t be so scary,” I think to myself.  The Aunt fills out a request form for a bike for the boy so he can ride to school.

Country side view.

While the conversation continues on in Khmer, I reflect on the two major observations about these two families.  One being the women’s faces seem to reflect the family’s money and status. While provincial life is definitely harder than that of the city, the two woman – the Aunt and the Mother – have strikingly different faces.  One has a healthy, full set of teeth, while the other is missing a few teeth. One wears makeup, while I doubt the other can afford any. One woman has a full face with few wrinkles and high cheekbones, while other had a sullen face that was hard set.

The second observation was how both women, when sharing stories that were upsetting or angry, face away from the group and point at an imaginary person and continue to explain their hurt.  As if that person was in the flesh and present to hear the disappointment. I plan on continue to watch for this behavior amongst other Khmer groups to see if it’s a cultural thing I was unaware of until today.

We wrap up our visit by filling out tracking forms.  Each time we leave a family, we fill out a form with our name, position, organization, phone number and either a signature or a thumbprint of all who had visited.  This way families can know what leaders / NGOs have come to visit them and how often organizations are checking in on them. We load up into the truck and begin the ride out of the countryside and back into the city of Phnom Penh.

Khmer style kitchen.

During the car ride, we talk about how the day went and what the outcomes of the day will be.  Samnang asks me to give an oral report about the day in English. I explain the first part of the day and say, “and then we stopped for lunch and I ate an-tong for the first time.”  The car starts laughing. “That doesn’t need to be in the report,” Samnang says. “Of course it does! It was ‘chngan / delicious,” I respond, then continued with what happened in the afternoon.

I then went on to conclude about how both of the homes felt so different and how my prayers changed for each family.  The first home I felt like Jesus needed to bring His peace to rest there. While the second home, I feel like Jesus needed to bring His blessings and encouragement to the Aunt who was raising her sister’s son.  The car agreed and we committed to praying for the families.

Would you consider joining us in prayer?  For the MRO staff who works daily to support healthy families here in Cambodia, the Foster Parents, the biological parents and all the children – either in Foster Care or reunited with their families?

Foster Care Visit – Thursday, January 17, 2019 – A Narrative

*beep beep beep*

My alarm starts sounding off at 6:15 am on Thursday, January 17.  “Dear Jesus,” I pray, “Please give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and an understanding mind.  Oh! And keep me safe today.” This mantra in some form has been part of my daily prayers since I arrived in Cambodia in October 2017, but today it carries an extra amount of weight with it.  I have been working with M’lup Russey Organisation (MRO), a Christian, non-governmental local organization focused on care of orphans and vulnerable children, as their PR Advisor for two months now.  Today, I’m joining the MRO Social Work team to go to a province about an hour outside Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, to witness how the MRO Social Work Team engages with children in Foster Care.  I pull on my brand new MRO embroidered polo shirt and moto to the MRO Office to meet up with the team.

M’lup Russey Organisation’s (MRO) logo.

One of MRO’s objectives is to provide children in crisis situations with a safe place to stay where they can be loved and receive high quality care by emergency foster parents who are supported by well-trained Social Workers.   MRO’s emergency short-term foster care model was started in 2012, when families who could open their hearts and homes to welcome children and youth in crisis were recruited from local communities, churches and child protection networks.  The recruitment process continues to be a rigorous process, involving application, review, assessment by Social Workers, as well as official registration with local authorities. Emergency Foster Care provides loving family-based care to children in a crisis situation, to prevent them from being placed into an orphanage as the first and only option.

MRO now has a number of families who can receive up to six children into their home for up to three months.  These foster families are provided with training and counseling, and paid a small retainer in order to keep placements open for whenever they are needed.  Children entering foster care are assigned a well-trained Social Worker, who uses case management procedures to reunite the child with their biological families or, when necessary, with a long-term Cambodian Foster Family.

This model is administered in collaboration with four other partner organizations: Children in Families, Mother’s Heart, First Step and Prison Fellowship.  The partners work together to provide this short-term family-based solution to children and young people in a wide range of difficult circumstances, including children and young people leaving orphanages, children with disabilities, abandoned children, boys and girls leaving abusive situations, girls and young women with crisis pregnancies and children of incarcerated parents.

Adhering to local Cambodian culture, we pile into the MRO utility truck, “on time.”  (In Western culture, we were running about 20 minutes late.) The truck, while worn in years, is roomy, handles bumps in dirt roads well, and, most importantly, has working A/C.  After a quick stop for a team breakfast of Chinese noodle soup, we are on our way to visit our first of four families today.

Veng Kimly, Jenna Forstrom, Pech Mono, Kosal, and Samnang.

Joining me on this excursion is Pech Mono, a Social Worker who has been working for MRO for four years; Veng Kimly, a Social Worker, who has been working for MRO for two years and, I found out on this trip, recently returned back from work following maternity leave after the birth of her first child; Samnang, a Social Worker, who has also worked for MRO for two years.  I learn that each Social Worker has about 20 cases and visits each case once a month or more if needed. Kosal, our Driver, has worked for MRO for eight years. Throughout the day, I’m amazing by Kosal’s ability to judge distance and space while driving through jammed, paved highways and between rows of houses on dirt roads. I’m also impressed with his ability to find a suitable place to string up a hammock between the truck and a tree to rest while the social work team conducts Foster Care visits.

Khmer Foster Care dog.

Our first stop is right off a paved street and down a short flight of earthen steps leading to an average sized home with a large garden surrounding it on three sides.  At the gate, a white Khmer mutt dog sits eager for us to enter the property. I’m immediately impressed by how clean and healthy the dog is. He spends some time sniffing me, no doubt learning that I too have a dog here in Cambodia.  I’m told that this family has four foster children, two of whom have disabilities. In the process of traditional sampeah (Khmer greeting) with the foster parents, two children enter the yard, one child runs to grab some toys near the house.  The other, who has a jaunting sort of walk, looks at me cross eyed, tracking my presence with some distrust. It’s clear by the jerky movements of this child, he’s one of the two children with a disability. [One of his eyes is nearly rolled entirely up into its socket.]  Kimly encourages the boy to greet me. *Womp* two soft fists hit my stomach. I immediately stick my hands out to catch the hands before they hit me again. “Hey, ot-te / no,” I say in Khmer. Kimly hugs the children and apologizes. “No worries, sister, I’m a stranger,” I say “Choum reap sor oun / Hello, little brother,” I greet the boy.  He continues to track me with his working eye. The dog, sensing the commotion runs over. The little boy sits down and grabs at the dog, pulling it on to his lap. I’m amazed at how kind the dog is given that this child’s fine motor skills are lacking and he seems a little rough on the dog. Yet the dog clearly loves the boy, rolling over on his back accepting a belly rub from the child.  Samnang catches up to Kimly and I and tells me we will continue on to the second family, while Mono stays and continues to visit with this family.  

School uniforms drying in the sunlight.

We walk through the garden and onto a partially paved and partially dirt road.  There is a natural layer of protection from the sun, the road is lined with mature banana trees whose leaves provide shade across the path that we are a walking on.  I’m amazed by how quiet this sleepy little village seems compared to the noise, construction and dust of Phnom Penh. I can hear birds for the first time in days and don’t see any bags of trash anywhere.  We pass a local hospital and school combination building. Children playing in the court yard and nurses with starched, white, 70s era caps milling about under the blue cross sign on the building.

A tool Social Workers use to speak with Foster Care children.

The second family home is two traditional Khmer homes, wooden houses on concrete pillars that provide shade underneath during the hot, dry season and that is above the flood waters during rainy season.  Sitting under the house are two young women, doing homework as their Foster Mom comes out to greet us. I’m told there are four children living here in Foster Care, the two girls and two more who are already at school.  One of the girls we meet with has a sister who is already re-integrated with their birth family. I will apparently meet her next week on another outing. The two girls each receive a brand new pencil, pen, eraser, and ruler from the Social Workers.  I make a mental note to ask about pencil cases and bike helmets (few wear them in the provinces) for the next visit. Kimly sits with one girl to talk, while Samnang and I go with another girl to sit and talk. Samnang inspects her school journals. I’m learning Khmer in Phnom Penh so I’m super impressed by the young woman’s hand writing even though I can only make out a few words.  I burst out laughing when I see this “S” design in one of her note books. Samnany and the girl both look at me. “My friends and I used to draw the same thing in our notebooks when I was your age in America,” I explain. Samnang spends some time encouraging the girl and tells me that she is getting top marks for math. He then pulls out a pack of laminated red cards with Khmer writing on them.  He explains that this is a tool to help Foster Children. They can look through the cards and pick a few to talk about with the Case Worker. They are like prompts to start discussions about how the child is feeling. The two of them continue to talk in Khmer and I drift back and forth between trying to figure out what they are saying and wanting to respect this private conversation between a Social Worker and a Foster Child.  I settle on just sitting in this quiet space and praying over the home, the Foster Parents and the Children under their care and the Foster Children’s birth families. The meeting takes about a hour and half. Kosal and the truck are waiting for us as we walk out of the home.

Some Foster Care girls and their friends studying.

We stop for a quick lunch.  I spend some time chatting to Kimly about her baby and maternity leave.  I also try “prahok” for the first time. This is a smelly, salted, fermented fish paste that is used as a condiment here in Cambodia.  Most families have their own recipe. As I take a bite, the team looks at me with anticipation. I made an exaggerated goofy face and they start laughing.  Samnang asks what I think of the fish. I decide to answer truthfully, “I don’t think I would order it on my own, but if it was presented to me, I would try a bite.”  He jokes that I’ll get use to it.

Foster Care Children’s toiletries.

We head out again, arriving in a small village on a dirt road.  We come to a very small home, right on the Tonle Sap River. By US standards, it’s a million dollar view.  The cool breeze blows off the river and there are half a dozen chickens running around with about a dozen chicks each following their mothers about the yard.  On a large outdoor bed lies a very old woman sleeping. I’m told she is over 90 years old and I’m impressed that she sleeps without even a pillow. The Foster Mom is in her twenties and lives in this home with her mom and the grandma who’s resting.  There are five Foster Children who live here but they are all out playing in a field nearby. Kimly and the Foster Mom sit and chat for about 30 minutes. Then we load back into the truck for our final stop of the day.

Another Foster Care visit stop.

After a short drive, we arrive at the fourth and final Foster Care Family of the day.  I’m told four children live here. Two are at school and two are home for the visit with their Social Worker.  Samnang and I sit down with the two young boys, who are eager to show us their school books. They are younger than the girl from the second family and are just learning the Khmer alphabet so it’s a little easier for me to follow along with their writing.  We sing the Khmer alphabet together while Samnang checks the rest of their school work. These boys wiggle around trying to one up each other on their knowledge of the vowels in Khmer. (There are over 20 vowels in Khmer.) Samnang asks one of the boys about a barely visible bruise across the boy’s nose.  Samnang tells me it’s from an accident where the boy fell off his bicycle. “Yet another reason to ask about the helmets,” I think to myself. I’m also very aware of the fact that the other boy’s face is covered with little scars. They are all completely healed, but I wonder how he got so many in such a short life time.  This young boy has an infected tooth. Samnang tells me he’s arranged to have someone from the MRO team come get the boy in a week to take him to Phnom Penh to go to a dentist. One of the boys asks to call his mother and uncle, but unfortunately, we don’t have their phone numbers with us. Finally, Samnang speaks to the boys about hygiene, reminding them they need to take very good care of their skin and their clothes.  This is their responsibility. They aren’t filthy, but they definitely looked like two young children who had spent the day playing outside in the fields. He talks to them about how they should scrub their clothes between their hands and make sure to wash their bodies so they don’t get dirt marks. After this little pep talk, Samnang presents the two boys with the same school supplies as the girls from the other visit.

Khmer vowel homework.

We load up to into the car and head back to Phnom Penh.  I thank God for how He has made His presence known to me for yet another day and keeping me safe for another day as well.  Would you please join me in continuing to pray for the Foster Parents, Foster Children and their biological families? May we all have eyes to see, ears to hear and minds to understand where each one of us is coming from.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! រីករាយ​ឆ្នាំ​ថ្មី! (December 2018 Update)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  រីករាយ​ឆ្នាំ​ថ្មី! 

I hope 2019 is off to a good start for you, your family and friends.  I don’t know about you, but I’m so ready to embrace 2019 in a full on bear hug.  There is so much in 2019 I’m looking forward to: the projects MRO will accomplish this year, motorcycle prayer rides, better Khmer reading skills, coming to visit the States this summer and anything else Jesus might put on my heart.

Bullet watching the sunset over Bokor Mountain.

Every year, I spend some time between Christmas and the New Year reflecting on the year, working on a list of goals for the upcoming year and asking God for a word for the new year.  This year, I’ve settled on “steady sailing” as my theme for 2019.  I spent a lot of 2018, rocking my own boat – on top of all the massive transitions I experienced.  In 2019, I’m praying I’ll trust my boat (representing Jesus) and myself as a sailor.  God has made it clear that it won’t be smooth waters the whole time, life will still happen, but it’s an opportunity for me to continue to grow in Christ and constantly be learning.  Just with less boat rocking on my end.

G2K Students and Staff putting on the Christmas story.

December marked the end of Level 4 language classes for me.  After one year of studying Khmer, I’m officially halfway through G2K’s language program.  Going from learning the alphabet to learning reading was a real struggle for me and after discussing it with the Director I’ve decided to take a five week break to “beef” up my reading skills before starting Level 5.  I’ve created my own IEP (individual education plan) in the meanwhile:  private tutoring for reading, I got a bunch of children’s reading books to practice on my own, more hours in the MRO office to practice speaking and I’m taking part in an evening pilot class at G2K focused around “community health.”  This means every Tuesday evening for the next 10 weeks I’ll be learning new vocabulary around health that I think will help me better communicate at work, on prayer rides and with friends.  The best part of language learning in December was attending the G2K Christmas party!  We learned a Khmer Christmas carol, had a talent show, and re-enacted the Christmas story in Khmer and English.  It was great to see a bunch of grown adults and their Khmer teachers dressed like sheep and pregnant Mary’s!

Bullet and Sarah enjoying some reading on Christmas Day.

Thank you so much for your prayers during the holiday season.  While I did miss my family, I was able to speak via Facebook Messenger to all of my family – including my grandmother!  On top of that, I had a truly amazing and relaxing Christmas break in Kampot.  I had a few days of solo time reflecting on the year and pressing into wisdom for 2019.  Then my friend, Sarah from language school, joined Bullet and I for Christmas.  Followed by another woman from Phnom Penh, Cathy.  Finally, Katie, a girlfriend of mine from the States who now lives in Vietnam arrived for New Year’s Eve celebrations.  Bullet spent most of his time off leash (minus one National Park hike due to tigers and land mines).  We swam almost every day, I read an entire book and started three more!  We laughed a ton, reflected on expat life, ate brownies (a rare treat since none of us own stoves) and watched the first five Fast and the Furious movies!

Cathy, myself, Katie and Sarah in Kampot, Cambodia.

Before leaving for Kampot, I spent early December at MRO continuing to update the website, working on potential layout designs for the new website MRO is hoping to launch in 2019 and working on interview questions for the staff for my next project with MRO starting in January.  One of the coolest December projects took place in Siem Reap (where Angkor Wat is located).  A team of mentors lead a community outreach and beautification project, where they invited local kids to come and help pick up litter in the streets.  They then stuffed that litter into plastic bottles that were also collected.  (Single use plastic is a huge bummer here – it’s EVERYWHERE.)  Then used those bottle “bricks” to build planter boxes in the community.  It was a fun way for MRO to do outreach and build relationships while making this area better than they found it.  Since Christmas isn’t a recognized holiday here in Cambodia, I worked remotely while in Kampot, checking in on the teams, updating the website and social media channels.  Some of our team was actually in Kampot for meetings with the government and Sarah and I ran into them on one of Bullet’s evening walks!

MRO’s Outreach Program in Siem Reap.

Got a New Year’s Resolution?  Goal?  Prayer?  Leave a comment or send me an email and let me know how You can reply to this email and let me know I can be praying for you. I look forward to hearing from you!  Below are some of my own prayer requests.

Bullet and I on our hike up Bokor Mountain.

Hugs from Cambo,
ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)

I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:

1.  I have two housing related prayer requests.  One, my amazing roommate here in Cambodia is moving back to the States in six weeks.  I’ll be totally honest, I’m a little heartbroken and am going to miss her tons, but I’d love to find another awesome, Christian, female who loves dogs to move in to her old room to help with some living costs.  Second, one of my tenants in Oregon wants to break her lease, so I’m looking to find a couple or family who would be interested in moving into my four bedroom / two bath house who’s okay with a landlord on the other side of the world.  If you know someone looking, please let me know!  I’m also seeking wisdom in hiring a property manager to take over finding new tenants for me.
2.  Continued prayer for my language skills as I deep dive into my IEP plan for the next five weeks!
3.  God has really laid it on my heart to seek out Khmer girlfriends not attached to my workplace.  I’m praying for open eyes and opportunities to meet awesome women here in Cambodia to become friends with.

Morijana – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

While I was teaching Facebook analytics with NOMI Network, I had a divine appointment in meeting Lynn. Lynn is an amazing women working with Morijana and doing incredible work with women coming out of the slum communities and empowering them to be everything they could possibly be. She is full of love and encouragement. Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to really know Lynn and the rest of her Khmer team at Morijana. It’s been fun to teach her the ins and outs of Facebook marketing and it’s awesome when she teaches me more about life in Cambodia and what she is learning launching this new business.

My roommate, Amanda, and I went to support Lynn at the launch of Morijana’s new storefront.

Morijana is an ethical fashion, freedom business, based in Phnom Penh Cambodia. They empower, train and vision Cambodian women to understand how they can break the cycle of poverty not only in their lives but in their families as well. By purchasing Morijana clothing, people are partnering with Morijana to make this a reality.

There is a running joke in my friend group. “How do you tell if someone is an expat or a tourist?” Answer: Check their pants. If they have elephants on them – they are a tourist! I’ll be totally honest, I bought the green elephant pants, I love them and have been wearing them to my Christmas parties this year.

At Morijana, Khmer women are taught all aspects of sewing. Not to mention fair wages, open plan work conditions, incentives, mentoring. They are also given opportunities to further develop their skills in design and mentored in leadership. Morijana’s designers, cutters, sewers and managers are all Khmer nationals. They also work with vulnerable women in a slum community. Building relationships and teaching sewing, we encourage these women to see a better future. By learning to sew, being mentored in their lives and having accessible schooling for their children, Morijana women now have a choice, hope and a future.

The thing I love most about Morijana (aside from all the amazing empowerment) it’s the fact that they make clothing for Western women! Pants that fit me are so hard to come by here. These are only the second pair I’ve been able to find that fit me here!

It is Morijana’s goal that Morijana women rise up in confidence to become all that they can be and support and empower other women to do the same. Empowered women empower others! This poverty cycle is starting to break, not only for these families but for future generations. These women will one day be a catalyst in supporting others to do the same.

Have a favorite ethical clothing brand? Who is it and why is it your favorite?

Happy Thanksgiving / Advent Season! (November 2018 Update!)

HAPPY (belated) THANKSGIVING!  WELCOME ADVENT SEASON!  While Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated here in Cambodia, it did align nicely with a national holiday called Bon Om Touk (or Cambodian Water Festival), which celebrates the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River.  (Just think about if the Columbia River in Oregon reverse directions).  About an extra million people come to Phnom Penh to watch the festivities.  Since I experienced Bon Om Touk last year, my roommate, Amanda, Bullet and I decided to avoid the crowds and go to Kampot for a long weekend.  We ended up meeting our next door neighbors from Phnom Penh there for Thanksgiving Dinner, which was some of the best hamburgers in Cambodia.  It was a fun night, even for me, since I was just coming back to life after my first ever bout of food poisoning, but I’ll spare you the gory details of that…

Praise God that October’s theme was “seek wisdom,” because November’s was “My Phone aka my map/contacts/translator/photos/communication/calendar/email/money manager/converter/life device Was Stolen” so “chaotic” would be a fair assessment of November.  Not to mention my parents came to visit, I taught my first lecture, started my new job, helped out with another motorcycle race and talked my friend into going to the hospital.

One of the few photos I have from my parents visit.  We got caught in the rain and their hotel brought us down towels to dry off.

November started off with my parents coming to visit for the weekend, we had a great time together.  We ate a ton of great food, they got to meet more of my friends, explored some of Phnom Penh and just hung out at their hotel pool.  Ironically, I told my mother more than once to keep an eye on her phone as she hung out various tuktuks (transportation here) snapping photos.  After saying goodbye to my folks, I headed home to take Bullet for his evening walk…

…scene of the crime…
I was about 10 steps away from my front door, when a moto slowed down next to me, which was definitely weird.  I stopped walking, thinking it was one of my neighbors.  The next thing I know, this punk grabs my phone out of my hand and takes off.  I run back upstairs and my roommate and next door neighbors all help me log into the “Find my phone” app.  We track it to a iPhone shop and go there to ask for the phone back.  No luck.  We go to the police stations and fill out a report.  But since there was no phone, nothing could be done…

I’ve had more than enough time to process this event and I’ve boiled it down to two big takeaways:

1.  I’m thankful Bullet and I were safe.  It could have been way worse.  I could have been physically harmed, he could have stolen my passport or my money, etc.
2.  It was just a phone.  I’m not hugely materialistic, but going a few days without a phone in a foreign country made me realize how much I use it for managing my life.  Besides my calendar, books, podcasts, I lost all my contacts, my maps, Google Translate, etc.  When you can’t look something up or show a photo or take a photo to remember, life gets hard fast.  (This also makes me really appreciate people who left their home countries before mobile phones.  God bless them!)

Enough of the bad news.  Amanda is heading back to the USA for Christmas so she’s bringing me back a new phone.  Let’s keep talking about the awesome stuff that happened in Cambodia.

Teaching Facebook metrics at NOMI Network.

After my parents visit, I had the opportunity to teach a day lecture on Facebook metrics and marketing at NOMI Network to 16 small business leaders who are part of the NOMI Network.  It was so great to share the knowledge I had about Facebook metrics to this community that is making a difference here in Cambodia.  It also really opened my eyes to how complicated Facebook can be when English isn’t your first language.  I got a lot of positive feedback from the class and hope to continue to keep teaching this course on a bi-annual basis with NOMI Network.

My first month working at M’lup Russey was a lot of figuring out who does what, how to pronounce names, learning all the acronyms.  My current favorite is “OVC” (orphans and vulnerable children).  I keep thinking of Rachel Ray saying “EVOO” or “extra virgin olive oil.”  They are basically the same thing right?  I had some small wins at work, was able to help my counterpart translate his web pages into English, published some newsworthy updates on Facebook.  Finally, I was able to edit some English subtitles on 13 videos that we hope to publish soon!

Stef and I, on our bikes, in all our gear, on a ferry, headed to the race.

November also saw the final Enduro motocross race here in Cambodia.  This time in Phnom Penh.  You can watch the amazing Youtube video of the race here.  I got to volunteer again with the timing team and had a blast as always.  I’m so thankful the Welches invited me to the first race in May.  I’ve made so many awesome friends from this group.  Stef and I even got the chance to ride the course after the races were done.  It took the best riders around 7 minutes to complete the loop.  It took me about 32 minutes to complete a loop.  Definitely somethings to work on in 2019.

My Khmer friend’s foot 10 days after a moto accident.

Last month, I finished this amazing book on medical cross cultural understanding.  It’s called the, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.”  I highly recommend it to anyone working in cross cultural situations.  I try my best to learn from every situation, but I know there is always room for improvement.  Medical situations I struggle with the most here in Cambodia.  This is a photo that one of my dear friend here sent me.  10 days after an accident, after her family paid for her to see a doctor to get an injection and advice “not to walk until it heals.”  I lost it.  I’m not even a doctor and I knew something was really wrong.  I prayed then texted two of my friends who spoke better Khmer than me and asked for their help.  A few hours later, a married couple from my Prayer Circle Cambodia team had talked my friend and her older sister into their car for a 1.5 hour drive to a hospital to get her foot looked at.  She isn’t out of the woods yet, but she’s staying at home, keeping it clean and filling the hole in her foot from where the doctor “cut away the bad meat” in with honey.  Please keep her in your prayers.

This is also a great example of how missionaries live here in Cambodia.  We are constantly helping one another out and lifting up others in prayer and helping out Khmer friends, showing that we do love them and respect their wishes.  My friend didn’t want to go to the hospital without her sister, for example, and was a little apprehensive to get into a car with two strangers.  But the next morning, I got a really sweet text from her.  Sharing how kind my friends were to her, how they explained why they were so worried about her foot and why it needed to get looked at right away.  “They treated me like I was their daughter.  Thank you.”

Bullet enjoying the spa in Kampot.

The final milestone of November was Bullet’s 7th birthday!  I shared this funny cross cultural moment in celebration of the big day on Facebook:

Most Mondays, Bullet and I join the local running team, Running Bongs, for an evening run. A few weeks ago, one of my Khmer friends says, “Oh, that man said a mean thing about Bullet about wanting to eat him.” (Eating dog is a common practice here.) And I just laughed and made a joke, “Because Bullet is so cute and he wants to eat him like a baby?” My friend looks me straight in the face and says, “Why would you eat a baby?” I respond with, “No, like babies are so cute you want to nibble on their cheeks. You don’t say that in Cambodia?” Apparently not…

Thanks again to my home church, Oaks Parish, for being my sending church and helping support me.  If anyone is interested in making a end of the year donation, I’d gladly accept some additional funds.  I’m hoping to meet some friends in Kampot (I do love it there) for Christmas and New Years.  I’m looking forward to spending some time reflecting on this year, spending more time in prayer this Advent Season and gearing up for 2019.

Christmas is right around the corner.  I’d love to hear from all of you what you are doing this season.  What you have planned and what you are looking forward too.  How I can be praying for you.  This will be my first Christmas without my family so please feel free to write to me.  Or even better let’s find some time to chat via Facebook or WhatsApp or Goggle Hangout or Skype.  I really love hearing from everyone back home. I look forward to hearing from you!  As always prayer requests are below.

Hugs from Cambo,
ជេនណា / Jenna (and Bullet)

I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:

1.  Continued energy with language learning.
2.  I’m feeling really called to find Khmer woman as friends that aren’t tied to a place I work.  Just some Khmer girlfriends where there isn’t a power play on my end.
3.  Continued financial support.
4.  Just for my heart during the Advent / Christmas season.  I won’t be with my family and most of my friends heading home for this time.  I’m feeling pretty good about it, but who knows how I’ll feel as Christmas day gets closer.  It also means I’ll have more free time to chat / message / email.

New opportunities in Cambodia! (October 2018 Update!)

October’s theme seemed to be: Seek Wisdom. It came to life in two very different ways – in my Khmer language studies and in my job hunting. At the beginning of the month, I sent out a message to a few close friends asking for prayer when it came to seeking wisdom. I had a few job opportunity options and I wanted to make sure I made the right choice. I just needed to focus down on what I wanted to do. At the beginning of the month I was so energized by so many different options, I was seeking wisdom to focus down and see what God “bubbled up” to the top. I knew that no matter what choice I would make would be the right choice and that God can and would use every opportunity to be glorified. Before I even moved to Cambodia, I had four things I wanted from an employer to know it was the right fit:

1. Year long contract – both for renting out my house back home, but also for visa stuff here in Cambodia.
2. I wanted to use my marketing degree. I still feel super blessed to have had to opportunity to go to college, I wanted to use that plus a decade of professional experience to make an impact here in Cambodia.
3. I wanted to work with vulnerable populations – and human trafficking definitely fit that bill.
4. I wanted to be able to bring Bullet with me.

Now that I have a year under my belt, I’ve added a few other “musts”:

a. I wanted to work somewhere that valued language learning.
b. I wanted to work for an organization that had some checks and balances – a board of directors, grants that they had to report on, and other various forms of accountability.
c. I wanted to work with a team, be a mentor, but also receive mentoring.
d. Had a solid job description with clear expectations for my role.
e. I wanted to work for an organization that allowed me some flexibility while I continue to learn and grow here in Cambodia.

Some of the MRO team.

All that being said, I’m really excited to announce that I’m now working as the PR Advisor for an organization called, M’lup Russey (MRO). This is a Christian, non-governmental local organization in Cambodia that works with orphans and vulnerable children to receive care. They believe that communities play an important role in the development of families and children. They partner with all levels of Child Welfare Networks and cooperate with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) to promote Cambodia’s alternative care policies, procedures, standard, guidelines and best practices in case management issues by the Cambodian government. There are so many reasons, why I’m so excited to be joining this amazing organization. (Other than the fact that Bullet will be joining me in office on Wednesdays!) I’ll be working with their really smart, IT Manager, to help get their website up to date in both Khmer (for the communities) and English (for the donors) and highlighting all the really amazing work they are doing in the communities. Just this week, MRO presented on “Orphan Care and Trafficking” with some experts on implementing partnerships and supporting partners at an Integral Alliance Anti-Trafficking and Exploitation Collaboration workshop in Bangkok, Thailand. How amazing is that?! I’ve already hit the ground running at MRO in November getting some new content to be published soon on their website and Facebook page. If you have any questions about this organization or my work there, please send me a note and I’ll be happy to answer as best I can.

Khmer final studying.

The other way I spent October seeking wisdom was in studying for my Khmer language final. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepares in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10 I don’t shy away from sharing this, but I couldn’t read until 3rd grade. I struggled hard to focus and learn basic reading rules. I was in Special Education and honestly didn’t struggle with the shame of that. My parents constantly encouraged me, my mom spent countless hours reading out loud to my brother and I and putting up with summer school homework. As I learn how to read and write Khmer – the same struggles come up – but so do the same coping strategies that I spent years perfecting. I was emailing my mom in October thanking her for investing in me and how at 32 I see it paying off. God is still good. Language is key to understanding. Hard work pays off. With a lot of hard work and prayers, I passed my level 3 Khmer final and am already in starting Level 4 Khmer with the blessing of my new job (since the entire NGO is conducted in Khmer – it’s important to them.)

Level 3 Cultural Day – Nationalities represented: Brazil, Finland, USA, El Salvador, Cambodia, South Korea.

Like in September, I struggled a little bit with, “I’m a missionary, but I’m not really doing much in terms of missionary things at the moment.” God, in His fatherly goodness, really pressed into me that this was in fact a negative belief. Here are just one of the ways during a month of “no missions” I could see God weaving His story into my story and beyond.

Bumblebee Soap:

Bumblebee Soap X Cerevisia Craft Beer.

It’s no secret I love beer and I also love business as missions (BAM). Erich, my friend from the bar, once asked me if I had any ideas for things he could sell at his bar. My response was, “Well all the hipster bars in Portland, sell things like handmade soap. I know a soap company here. I could see if they would be interested?” He gave me the green light, I asked my friend, who owns Bumblebee Cambodia Soap, a Christian non-profit, teaching women how to make soap, if she would be interested in a beer collaboration. She jumped at the idea! Not only that, but they have already SOLD out of pre-orders for the beer soap – IPA and Stout scents! We were joking it was a good problem to have right before the holiday season. This partnership will allow Bumblebee to continue to employee amazing young woman to learn a fairtrade job and allows Erich, to showcase his beer – just in a different form. It’s been great to connect two awesome people here in Cambodia to make a very fruitful partnership. (Plus, I got lucky enough to get my hands on some samples – it’s an amazing product!)

Joining in the Prayer Bible Study from my home church, Oaks Parish.

Thank you again to my home church, Oaks Parish, for being my sending church and helping support me as a Christian missionary. I still get your weekly updates and it’s been great to talk to the Pastoral team as Oaks Parish continues to grow in these upcoming months. It’s been amazing to continue to pray for wisdom for the church as well. So thank you for sharing with me and continuing to share with me.

A lot of other awesome things happened in October, I went to Vietnam for a motorcycle ride, finished an amazing cross cultural book, continued to teach at the Craft Corner at my English church. I seriously would love to share more with you. Please write to me! As always, below are some prayer requests. I really love hearing from everyone back home. I look forward to hearing from you!

Hugs from Cambo,
Jenna (and Bullet)

Dorsu – Kampot, Cambodia

Dorsu in Kampot, Cambodia.

Another great thing about going to Kampot a few weeks ago, was checking out Dorsu.  A local company that makes some of the most ethical clothing here in Cambodia.  Their name has come up a few times in various conversations so I was glad when the Prayer Circle team was grabbing breakfast next door to Dorsu and they were open!

Founded through a Cambodian-Australian friendship, Dorsu has grown from a two- person concept in 2008 into a thriving company employing over 25 people in 2018.  With a diverse team hailing from Cambodia, Australia, England and Philippines, the skilled and experienced Dorsu crew are proud to offer the unique opportunity of knowing the people who make clothes.

Dorsu believes that fair and safe employment is the responsibility of every company.  They offer all their staff:

  • A 9-hour workday that includes a 1-hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks.
  • Entry-level wages that exceed the Cambodian garment industry’s legal minimum by 30%.
  • Monthly performance-based bonuses.
  • A 5-day work week. (Cambodia typically has a 6-day work week), with an optional 6th day at overtime rates.
  • Accrued annual leave plus paid national holidays.
  • Illness & personal leave, as well as maternity and paternity leave.
  • Annual review of permanent contracts.
  • Required on-the-job safety training and equipment maintenance.
  • All staff are provided with protective shoes and clothing.
  • Each team member is given a bicycle and/or a motorcycle helmet upon employment.  One of the most significant safety issues connected to garment factories in Cambodia is the transportation of worker crowded, open-air trucks on dangerous roads with no enforced traffic laws.
  • Strict fire, equipment & safety policies are upheld in an open plan studio.
  • All management staff are trained and equipped to deal with safety hazards and incidents, staff grievances, gross or serious misconduct.

Dorsu financially supports Chumkriel Language School (CLS), a Cambodian operated organisation that provides education to the local Kampot community. CLS offers English classes, computer workshops, agricultural programs and creative arts activities to students, as well as a public library, additional lessons to support students with Cambodian State School classes and parent inclusion programs to encourage community-wide participation. Dorsu believes in their approach to education and choose to support their efforts in providing inclusive, quality education to the Kampot community.

Cambodia is one of the largest producers of clothing globally, employing over 700,000 workers and accounting for approximately 80% of the country’s total export revenue. Garment workers are subject to harsh and often dangerous working conditions, with long working hours, low pay and unsafe transport to and from factories. Through running a safe, fair and supportive garment production space, Dorsu offers workers an alternative, to learn and grow in an environment that supports them as individuals and as skilled workers.

Dorsu provides skills development and training to all staff members, creating opportunities for growth both within Dorsu and beyond. A significant barrier to skills development in Kampot is the need to be apart from families, forfeiting an income to complete training. Onsite training, support and professional development opportunities help workers to develop their skills while earning an income and being able to support their families. With highly experienced and skilled workers in a community, employment and living standards increase, with education becoming a priority for future generations.

Dorsu’s in house factory.

Through running a local production space Cambodia, Dorsu is contributing significantly to the growing awareness and recognition of the negative impacts the garment industry has on workers, their families and communities. Providing an alternative helps workers to seek better conditions, demanding the protection of their rights and paving the way for large-scale industry change.  With two retail stores and an expanding presence in the Cambodian market, consumers, both local and foreign, can see the positive effects of producing and buying locally made products, that are in full support of workers safety and livelihoods.

My Dorsu tank top.

Produced in-house start to finish, Dorsu versatile designs are carefully crafted in soft, breathable cotton jersey.  They don’t conform to the conventional fast-fashion calendar that’s influenced by temporary trends.  Dorsu uses fabric is remnant cotton jersey sourced from independent suppliers in Phnom Penh.  Remnant fabric (also known as “deadstock” or “surplus”) is unused and unwanted leftover rolls of cloth in its original condition.  As a result of Cambodia’s pervasive garment manufacturing industry and issues that occur along the fashion industry’s incredibly complex supply chain, vast amounts of fabric are deemed unusable by brands on a daily basis. This waste arises due to reasons such as incorrect or oversupply of cloth, last minute changes in production schedules and the ever-increasing need for brands to be immediately responsive and adaptive to fashion trends.  These fabric leftovers are sold on from brands and factories to a local fabric supply industry, who then sell on through the Cambodian supply chain. Dorsu scour the warehouses of preferred suppliers and purchase rolls of fabric per kilogram. When sourcing for collections, they buy up to 100 kilograms of a collection colour (like burgundy) and up to 300 kilograms of a core colour (like black and navy).  Due to the nature of sourcing factory remnants, they can’t guarantee consistency in the fabric blends. Consequently, they burn-test every fabric they buy to ensure it has very little or no synthetic fibres.  Then they pre-wash a sample of every new fabric, testing for color fastness and shrinkage.  They know that using factory remnants has limitations. You can’t trace the true origins of the material. Cambodia doesn’t have cotton mills or weaving facilities so, there are limits by access. As a small brand, Dorsu experiences financial barriers of meeting minimum order quantities of suppliers outside of Cambodia and then importing fabric into the country.

Ever been to Dorsu?  Or Kampot, Cambodia?  What did you think?

Reflections on One Year in Cambodia

October 6, 2018 marks one year of living in Cambodia.  Ironically, when I hit my one year Cambo-versary I wasn’t even in Cambodia.  I was in northern Vietnam with two kick ass girlfriends riding motorcycles on a five day ride.  Cambodia had a huge national holiday that week, Pchum Ben.  When Cambodians pay their respects to their ancestors up to seven generations (think great-great-great-great grandparents).  It’s also a specific Cambodian Buddhist practice where monks chant for 24 hours to open the gates of hell for 15 days.

My friend, Stefanie and I had time off from work and language school so we figured we would make the most out out of the time off and met up with one of my American, backpacking friend, Katie.  It was great to get outside the city, see limestone cliffs, jungles that looked like they came straight out of Jurassic Park, and laugh so much.

Stefanie, myself, Katie in Vietnam.

I also got some much needed “seat time” in prayer with God.  Reflecting over my first year, Cambodia and seeking wisdom for the upcoming year.  I found a great list of questions to reflect on a year and wanted to share some of the best ones with you:

The most important goal that I achieved this year was:

First day of work during my first week in Cambodia.

Moving to Cambodia.  This is a goal / dream / something I have been working on since I got back from my tourist trip to Cambodia back in 2014.  It took a lot of hard work.  Being open to letting God do what He wanted in my life.  Finding a NGO that needed marketing skills and was willing to sponsor my visa to move and work here.  Fundraising to make this dream a reality.  Doing a kitchen remodel and getting my home ready to be rented out in a year.  Then landing here wasn’t at all what I expected, so there was a process of adjusting expectations to meet the current realities of my life and some grieving that came along with that.  Now, I’m at a place, where I know that God has called me to Cambodia.  I understand more of how I can use my skill set to help those in need here in Cambodia.

My biggest relationship accomplishment was:

Friends from Level 1 Language School.

I recently saw a meme that said, “Nobody talks about Jesus’ miracle of having 12 close friends in his 30s.”  Yet, this is something that I feel like I’ve been super blessed to have received while here in Cambodia.  If I’m completely honest, for the most part most of my friends here in Cambodia have come from connections tied to the Everitts who spent 24 years here as missionaries.  But I also managed to make friends through language school, Chab Dai (an anti-human trafficking network), helping out at motorcycle races and through the local beer community.  When I landed here I knew no one and after struggling to find connections during my first few months, I settled back into my naturally extroverted personality and I definitely have some award winning friends who have opened their hearts and homes to me.  (Edit:  I read this blog post outloud to my roommate before posting it and she exclaimed, “are you going to talk about your kick ass roommate?”  Yes, Amanda.  Thank you for being kick ass.  And for our weird sing songs that have words in common while I motodop you around town being two white girls singing Justin Bieber at the top of our lungs.  Thank you.)

These are the skills I acquired this year:

Khmer alphabet practice.

Here is an unending list:  I learned how to speak Khmer.  I’m learning how to read and write Khmer.  I learned how to ride a motorcycle in the city (and avoid cows in the countryside).  I can carry a five gallon jug of water on my motorcycle back to my house without dropping it.  I can also carry another person on the back of my moto during rush hour and am confident we’ll be safe.  I perfected using charades as a basic form of communication.  I can tie a Khmer swimsuit.  I can sleep through funerals, weddings, someone who thinks serenading the neighborhood with his karaoke machine at 2AM is a good idea or thunder/lighting storms.  I learned how to protect Bullet from all the aggressive street dogs.  I learned how to take care of brand new puppies.  How to move via tuk-tuk and what to look for when searching for a new place to live.  How to cook on a gas stove top, like I’m camping every day of my life.  I learned how to make an entirely new friend group at the age of 31 that crosses different nationalities, languages and religions.  Learned how to pray without stopping.  Learned more than I can ever imagine about trusting God and His provision in my life.

An obstacle or a challenge that I overcame this year:

From home 3 of 4 during my first year in Cambodia.

Re-adjusting my expectations once I arrived in Cambodia.  I landed HARD in Cambodia.  It became very apparent once I landed here that things that were promised to me weren’t going to happen and expectations of what I was here to do had changed without being communicated at all to me.  That was a really tough realization for me.  I felt like I had the rug pulled out from under me.  I questioned God’s calling, everything that had lead me to arriving in Cambodia, you name it – I doubted it.  No wonder so many missionaries quit after their first year!  I totally understand why now.  On top of that, I have such a high expectation of myself and thus of others around me, I felt really hurt by those I believed were put in my story to help, support and guide me in how to do life here in Cambodia and those people let me down.  I was crushed and unsure of what to do to untangle myself from this messy web.  Luckily, God brought some amazing friends and mentors into my story to help pick up the slack that had been left by those around me and these friends helped me process and untangle myself (and it I’m being 100% honest, put me back together – both in terms of my spirit and my self worth).

This year, I learned the following about myself:

Mermaiding in the Mekong.

A wise friend once told me, “You don’t come to Cambodia to find yourself, a lot of people end up lost here.”  I think that is true, I’ve seen a lot of expats from all over the world that just end up “stuck” in Cambodia.  I think Cambodia is a place, people come to escape – something.  It’s tailored to that individual.  But you put that in the context of how innately spiritual this place is, it gets really complicated fast.  I believe the majority of people don’t even realize it – foreign or expat.  I think some of the spiritual warfare I experienced in landing here was just Satan messing with me.  “Just what exactly are you made of, Forstrom?”  I found myself asking God a lot this summer, “Why did I have to go through all this to get here.  Here feels exactly like who I was back in Portland, just in a different location.”  And I’m choosing to believe that God allowed this to happen so I would really know my own strength, His strength in me and the power of community, in being humble in asking for help and admitting when I’m losing it.  Only to reflect back on the hard months this year and remind myself, I did the best I could, I took the high road, maintained my character and learned a lot from this experience.  God is just as sovereign here as He is in America, North Korea, or Switzerland.  He is just as sovereign in my heart as He was back when I lived in Oregon.  I’m still the mermaid-loving, laugh so hard I have to pee, motorcycle riding, Jesus follower, who believes in loving big, a good craft beer, and that the Holy Spirit is full of whimsy and adventure.  That God has called me to this place, to make an impact and always point towards His goodness.  Cambodia is where I’m supposed to be.

The most fun I had all year was:

First motocross race in Kirirom.

This had to be camping in Kirirom, with the Welch Family, for several different reasons.  First of all, camping is something I love to do and so it gave me a sense of “normalcy” I had been missing in my life. Plus, Kirirom is the only place in Cambodia I’ve been cold and seen pine trees.  I also got to bring Bullet so he got some much needed “off-leash” time.  This was the first time, where I got to do something that was a major mix of nationalities.  Typically, I do some stuff with my expat friends and other stuff with my Khmer friends.  Motocross opened my eyes to a whole new world of doing things together with both groups of friends.  I also had the opportunity to practice a ton of Khmer with my friend, Ven, who drove Bullet and I up to Kirirom as he spoke about as much English and I do Khmer.  It also strengthened my commitment to the Prayer Circle Team, as I got to know even more of their members who were there either participating in the race or helping out with the race.  Finally, it gave me the opportunity to witness God working in a community of people who know about the sex industry here in Cambodia, but have radically different views about it.  I was able to witness how God is using so many different lives in a way to encourage people to be thoughtful and respectful while discussing hard to talk about topics.  Also, did I mention, I got to camp and be in pine trees!

My best memory of the year was:

Kirk and Kelsey getting hitched!

Watching my brother get married.  Being able to fly home and be a bridesmaid and stand with all our family and friends to watch him and Kelsey get married was amazing.  It was such a blast and definitely one of the best days of my life ever – not just this year.  While I was home for two weeks, most of which was a jetlagged blur, it was great to be 100% focused on an awesome wedding weekend.  Kirk and Kelsey made their wedding super special, with loving touches – way too many jokes (is there such a thing?), hugs and close family and friends.

Jenna’s First Cambodian Apartment (1 of 4).

The books I read this year were:

I wrote a whole blog post about this.  You can see the list here.

The scariest thing I went through this year was:

When I first landed in Cambodia, my housing situation wasn’t the best.  While it looked great from the outside, it was an open style house, which meant dust from the dirt road, mosquitos and my neighbor who burned his trash all came into my bedroom.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.  I literally blew through eight weeks of inhaler medicine (for my asthma) in three weeks.  I was miserable at work, tried to get ahold of my sending agency for support and failed.  There were nights it would pour down rain so hard and could have clean the apartment air, but I was so weak I couldn’t unlock the front door to get the fresh air inside.  (I also panicked that if there was a house fire, I would be caught in it).  There is no 911 here in Cambodia and even if there was, I didn’t know how to use my new calling company well enough to make a phone call from my phone, I didn’t know how to get ahold of anyone, I didn’t have internet and I knew it wasn’t safe to walk at night to the team house – even if I could find it or have the energy to make it there.  I was so afraid.  It got so bad that I thought about running to the neighbors and asking them to call a hospital and thought about being medevaced to Bangkok.  The only thing that kept me sane during these few weeks of panic attack / asthma attacks was the mantra, “God didn’t call you all the way across the world only for you to die before you do anything.”  I think this is a good example of what a spiritual attack looks like.  It’s both physical and psychological.  And plays to one’s specific fears – for me being choked and dying alone.  It took all the energy I had to find a new apartment to get myself into a physically healthier spot to avoid any more health scares.

The nicest thing someone did for me this year was:

Snap from Beckie about Bullet while we were apart.

I struggled with finding the ONE nicest thing someone did for me, it’s a tie, in my book.  The first one, was Beckie agreeing to watch Bullet for a month while I was in training in Thailand, that actually turned into three months due to some visa issues on my end.  She never signed up for that and she single handedly took care of her dog, Danner and Bullet.  As stressed out as I was landing in Cambodia and adjusting my expectations, knowing that Bullet was being so well cared for was definitely helping put my mind at ease.  Beckie even sent me daily messages of encouragement from Bullet.  They always brought a smile to my face and made me feel connected to him even when we were literally on other sides of the planet.

Lisa and I modeling in front of the bathroom 😉

The second thing, was having Lisa Everitt respond to an email chain that was started by my pastor at Oaks Parish, went to Josh Butler at Imago Dei which was then passed along as a connection to Lisa, who lived in Cambodia.  Little did I know, Lisa would become a huge part of my life here in Cambodia and if it wasn’t for her friendship – AND – mentorship, I would have moved back to Oregon months ago.  I’m so thankful she responded to the email, was opened to meeting with me and more importantly open to sharing all her friends, connections, insights to Cambodia with me.  I’ll be forever grateful to her.  Even though Lisa (and her hubby, Dave) recently moved back to the States, but the cool thing is – they moved to Portland, Oregon so they are basically stuck having me as a friend forever!

A new food/dish I tried this year was:

Favorite breakfast meal: baj sac cruk.

Oh man!  I tried so many new dishes this year.  My favorite being my go to breakfast option: baj sac cruk, which is rice, pork and either a fried duck egg or scrambled egg with spring onion.  Then you mix the whole thing up with pickled vegetables.  It’s amazing!  Other food items, I tried included: frog, balut (hard boiled fermented duck egg), chicken feet, Vietnamese egg crepes, custard apples, a ton of vegetables I can’t pronounce.  Various combinations of proteins and noodles together in a bowl as well as various shaved ice desserts with sugared fruits and vegetables mixed in.  The list goes on and on.  I even managed to figure out how to make Bullet his meals here in Cambodia to save money!

Here’s one adventure I had this year:

Bullet trapped in the Singapore airport and handling it quite well.

My mom says, “It’s never an adventure unless at one point you wished you were home.”  I’m realizing “home” is a pretty opened ended definition for myself.  It gets hard to answer the question, “Where are you from?”  Let’s see, I was born outside of Boston, raised in Oregon, I live in Phnom Penh, near the Russian Market.  My parents moved back to the East Coast so my mail goes there now, but I still own a house in Oregon…

All that being said, the only time I REALLY, REALLY wished I was “home” and I’ll be honest, I would have taken either home – Phnom Penh or Portland, was when Beckie, Bullet and I got stuck in the Singapore Airport after our flight to Cambodia refused to let Bullet on the plane.  Even though we had all our documents AND Bullet had just got 17 hour from San Francisco to Singapore without eating or going the bathroom.  I know traveling is hard, but this pushed me to almost being near tears.  I was so worried that we’d have to fly back to the United States or that Beckie would never get to see Cambodia or that Bullet was going to have a dog melt down and then we’d never get on a plane again.  But, Bullet kept his cool and Beckie helped me stay sane and we ended up on a later flight and made it to Cambodia all in one piece.

This year I practiced self-care by:

Jenna’s first Cambodian motorcycle.

Aside from $8-$10/hour for non-sketchy massages.  The biggest contributor to myself care was buying my (small) moto, which gave me a basic sense of freedom, both it terms of financial freedom from paying for tuk-tuks everywhere on my poorly designed budget, but also a sense of independence that I was missing.  I’ve told a few friends that riding a motorcycle is a lot like skiing.  You pick a line, drop in and only pay attention to what is happening in front of you.  What is behind you (for the most part) is not your responsibility.  For those of you who have known me the longest know that, I feel the closests to God when I’m skiing.  So it was great to find something similar to that flow state here in Cambodia.  I stepped up my self care in a major way when I purchased my bigger motorcycle and committed to the Prayer Circle Cambodia team.  This has given me more ways to help out in various capacities as well as the ability to gear up and ride for a few hours while I process things happening both in my life but also in the lives of those around me.

My biggest time waster this year was:

Emotional Support Pup, Bullet, just doing his job. Keeping Mama sane.

Stressing out about things I could not control.  I look back at how much time I spent crying – both out loud and in prayer to God – about things I had no control over or things I couldn’t understand and it’s amazing how much of an emotional time suck that was.  I’m so thankful that chapter of my life is over.  Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  I think I literally told God a few times, “Yes, but have you been to Cambodia and dealt with this exact problem before?”  Which just shows you how spent I was emotional stressing out.  Definitely looking forward to having less worry about things that were out of my control in year two and recognizing the signs that come along with that and putting into practice what I’ve learned in the middle of this to be healthier going forward.

What I am most grateful for this year is:

Oaks Parish friends while I was on home leave in July.

YOU!  I don’t even want this to come off as corny.  I knew I had amazing family and friends before I started this crazy adventure, but this year has made me truly see how extraordinary you are.  When I first was called to Cambodia, I thought I was going to do this all by myself.  You know, because I’m a strong-willed female, but God specifically spoke over me, that I needed a community to walk through this with.  This was confirmed by so many meetings I had while I was still in the States, friends thanking me for inviting them to journey with me and share my life and what God is doing here in Cambodia even if they had never been before.  This first year had some major highs and some major lows.  Even though I was a half a world away, I knew people were praying for me, rooting for me and checking in on me.  In that same vein, friends have reached out to me and shared some amazing highlights (babies!) and some major downers and asked me to walk along them in prayer and support.  It’s been a real humbling experience.  You guys have shown up in amazing ways, coming to visit in Cambodia, sending me notes of encouragement, finances, emails, Facebook messages and phone calls, seriously these things make my heart burst.  Thank you so much.

Here are three words that would sum up this year:

Gratitude, adventure, and protection.

Staff of Daughters heading to worship via motorbike. Nationalities: Cambodia, Germany, Denmark, Philippines and USA!

What I’m looking forward the most to for Year Two in Cambodia is:

Stefanie, myself, Srey Pov practicing for Prayer Circle Cambodia. #girlgang

There are so many things that I’m looking forward to in Year Two.  I better grasp of the language.  Right now, I’m at the point where I can sound out the letters and finally read signs around me.  I feel like I’ve recovered from a strange sense of amnesia and am starting to finally understand the world around me.  For example, there is this Khmer money place called “Wings”, which is like where you go to pay your utilities bills or send money to your family in the provinces.  Just this week, I realized the name is the character for “w” and the character for “ng” a literal translation of the English word and not the Khmer word for “wing” like on a bird.  I found the whole translation process fascinating.  I’m also really looking forward to more motorcycle rides and encouraging more female riders both in racing motocross and in joining the Prayer Circle Cambodia team.  Continuing to foster great relationships with my Khmer friends as well as my expat friends.  Finally, I’m most excited to get back to work serving those who need help the most here in Cambodia and helping the extraordinary team of amazing Khmer people who are interested in making their country even better.

Have any questions about my first year here in Cambodia?  Leave a comment and let me know.  I’ll make sure to answer.  I know it’s not the New Year yet, but as you are getting back into the new rhythm of fall, what are some ways you have been reflecting on life this year?