This is my 16th journal entry as part of the OCC Volunteer Discovery Trip. The material relates to the final journal day which was Tuesday 9 February. The alternate-day publication schedule allows me to post this in full, after returning from the trip.
The other articles available for this series are:
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #1: Introduction
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #2: God First
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #3: 7 Days Before You Depart
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #4: 6 Days Before You Go
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #5: 5 Days and Counting
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #6: 4 Days – Not Long Now
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #7: 3 Days Left
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #8: Less Than 48 Hours!
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #9: What Will Happen When You Return?
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #10: Today Is the Day
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #11: Day 2
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #12: Day 3
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #13: Day 4
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #14: Day 5
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #15: Day 6
- Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #16: Day 7 [this article]
READ EPHESIANS 2:10
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Think about this quote by Canon Farrar, “I am only one, but I am one; I cannot do everything but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do and what I ought to do by the Grace of God, I will do.” In a world that puts a spotlight on the beautiful and extremely gifted people I sometimes find myself in the comparison trap. I am not convinced that the spotlight is wrong, but I am concerned that many become disheartened because we know our efforts do not approach the skills or success of the ‘uber’ gifted. Once disheartened we are tempted to give up attempting to make a difference when we think we cannot measure up.
Remember, God does not call us to be famous. He calls us to love others, serve others, and encourage others. If you play the comparison game you will always lose. Rather, play the Kingdom game of becoming everything God has designed you to become and your service will be a sacrifice of praise to the King.
How has the “spot-lighting” of gifted Christians or ministries influenced you (for better or for worse)? How can comparing your gifts and abilities to others hurt your ability to serve the Lord?
“Spot-lighting” gifted Christians/ministries has a key role to play in inspiring and influencing both believers and people in general. In today’s modern society, the newspapers and media tend to be filled with stories of the opposite nature – crime, political scandal, terrorism, etc… Therefore, it is important and necessary for us to ensure positive messages are being showcased. As a source of encouragement for me, when I see ministries and mission trips highlighted at church, I personally take pride that I am part of a vibrant part of the Kingdom of God here on earth. For the last 3-4 years, hearing the stories of the various mission trip/teams going to Cambodia has influenced me in finally going on this Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip. In this way, the influence on me has largely been positive and without any drawback.
In part, the positive influence is the outcome because of my attitude and approach to mission. My understanding of mission work has been enlarged over the years such that long-term overseas mission work has an equal importance and bearing as short-term or local (workplace) mission domains. In this way, my historical position has been primarily based on serving in the local workplace mission field with the possibility of short-term overseas trips – such as this recent Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip. The Kingdom of God, as preached by Jesus is not limited to any physical location – it is all around us wherever we are. Part of this mindset also requires us to redefine (as needed) our understanding of our role. Some people espouse the view that to be a missionary is only for some selected people within a church/community, or even for a particular age-group. For example, some people hold the view that retirees are better suited to spending their time as missionaries, but this view does not easily reconcile with the more holistic and encompassing approach. As part of being consistent with “mission can be anywhere”, missionaries can be anyone who makes themselves available to God. After all, Jesus did teach that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
Comparing gifts and abilities to others can happen in all kinds of ways, and similar to the above, our attitude will result in different outcomes and reactions. It is possible for comparisons to be a positive thing – performance reviews always include a gap analysis assessment to help us be mindful of our blind-spots. When we hear of people more gifted than ourselves, we tend to develop feelings of jealousy and envy. The root cause that controls how we ultimately feel is determined on whether our heart starts from a position of love, or not. After all, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 reminds of of the nature of love:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
In this way, comparing gifts and abilities in itself is not wrong but if we approach the issue from a position that is anything but love, then it becomes a stumbling block to our ability to serve the Lord. Another way to consider the issue of gifts, abilities and talents is the Parable of the Talents, found in Matthew 25:14-30:
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The comparison between each servant is evident, but the comparison ultimately focuses not on what each servant was given, but their actions and fruit. The comparative five – two and single talent was according to each servant’s ability. In this way, there is actually no comparison or reason to envy – adopting the mindset of “he has five talents whereas I only had two or one” – each servant was fully focused on the talents they were blessed with. When we consider the gifts and abilities the Lord blesses us with, they are what the Lord gives us according to our ability. The focus of the parable is not so much on comparing gifts anyway – the main lesson is that whatever we are blessed with and given to us by the Lord, we are to work and multiply according to our ability. As long as we do not squander our talents, abilities and gifts, God will continue to bless us with an abundance of more.
When we adopt a mindset of love and compare gifts and abilities, it is more important to focus on the fruits of our gifts and abilities rather than the gifts and abilities themselves. As Jesus clearly teaches us, “by their fruit will you recognise them.” (Matthew 7:16). As we serve the Lord, let us all serve with a joyful and grateful heart, giving glory and thanksgiving to the Lord from whom all our gifts and abilities were given.
Tuesday 9 February was the final full day spent in Cambodia. With all official duties of observation and visitation complete, the first half of the day saw us travel from Sisophon to the tourist capital of Cambodia – Siem Reap. Arriving in the town brought us closer to standards we were familiar with – wide, well built roads, classy hotels and the main tourist strip of shops, restaurants and the market. The afternoon was a period of free time, which I spent at the hotel getting a massage followed by time in the pool. Let me be clear – I draw a distinction between a “pool” versus a “swimming pool”. The terms swimming pool and lap pool are synonymous in my vocabulary – they allow you to actually swim properly. In contrast, a simple pool is what hotels and resorts tend to have – a small pool which allows for people to relax in.
The following day as our last day was also saw our earliest starting time – breakfast at 6am so could leave by 6:30am for the Angkor Wat. In the lead up to visiting the Angkor Wat there had been robust debate within the team, with the issue being the most serious to affect the team for the entire trip. A few weeks prior to our trip, on the release of the program, the fact that a visit to the Angkor Wat was part of the Samaritan’s Purse planning caused a few of us to commence the debate. Some team members were uncomfortable with the fact that a known temple site, sacred and holy to other faiths were present on our Christian mission/discovery trip. This opinion was in essence a conservative view and interpretation of the bible, citing 1 John 5:21:
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 10:14 also states clearly that we, believers, are to flee from idolatry. Along with the second of the Ten Commandments, where God instructs us to worship no other God but Himself since He is a jealous god, these three verses combine to make the case that, for us in Cambodia, visiting the Angkor Wat was wrong. One person championed this cause throughout the week and had sought to influence the group thinking by engaging in individual one-on-one conversations on the matter, encouraging each of us to consider the biblical position stated above. Now, when you acknowledge the diversity of the group denominationally and theologically, there was a fine line to walk in terms of how far was reasonable to pursue this dogma. Things came to a head whilst we were in Sisophon, and on the last night I felt that I had to defend the right of individuals in the group that whilst we all had effectively heard this view and interpretation of the Bible, it was ultimately an individual decision. A number of us had already started to feel guilty in our alternate interpretation and resulting course of action, causing a split within the group. I simply made the case that whilst much energy and emotion was invested in championing the above position, an equal amount of energy would be just as appropriate in praying for members of the group who held a different interpretation where visiting the Angkor Wat was deemed acceptable. In making this position, I drew upon topics previously preached at Clayton on our responsibility versus God’s domain of responsibility. In making the case for one interpretation of the Bible, it is not up to us to change other people’s mindsets – only God could and can do so. In that way, we take responsibility for explaining the verse of the Bible but then we have to leave it up to the audience and God to achieve a change in heart. The lesson here is that we can become overzealous in our desire to teach and share our understanding of the Gospel/Bible, but that we should be mindful of overstepping our responsibility and not trying to do God’s work in changing the hearts of our fellow believer.
The contrasting view and interpretation of the Bible supports a stance that makes a visit to the Angkor Wat acceptable and possible. The later part of the same passage in 1 Corinthians 10 – verses 23 to 33 do outline each believer has the freedom and responsibility to decide what activity they participate in, considering the various factors and how our behave encourages or causes others to stumble:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
25Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
27If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
The debate itself focused on key aspects and whilst opinions varied, we were all in furious agreement on foundational beliefs:
- God has won the victory
- Our salvation was NOT at stake
- Whilst the Angkor Wat itself carries many diverse views from people worldwide, our shared view was that it held no power over us
- We were not going to the Angkor Wat to worship any idols, or cast out demons/spirits.
- We were all to be vigilant against spiritual attacks
The contentious aspects of the discussion focused instead on the interpretation of “idols”, in the eyes of us as believers versus other non-believers. The interpretation and application of 1 John 5:21 in terms of what idolatry was central to the variety of views. On the one hand, the Angkor Wat is clearly considered a sacred place according to Buddhists and Cambodians. As part of their national heritage and identity, it even features prominently on the Cambodian flag! To the ultra conservative interpretation, the whole place was off limits and the mention of it as part of our planned Discovery Trip program was problematic. The more moderate view which seem to prevail throughout the majority of the group was that whilst other people may view the place in all kinds of ways, beyond our control, our position was quite clear that the dark power of the Angkor Wat was incomparable and held nothing over our faith and salvation in Christ. Visiting various world heritage and cultural sites was considered relatively harmless.
One key argument made in defence of the conservative view was that we should not willingly and intentionally put ourselves in harms way and make ourselves vulnerable to spiritual attack. The contrasting view was that as part of engaging and learning about the Cambodian culture, knowing the historical nature of the Cambodian culture and the significance of the Angkor Wat within it, we had to be prepared to go. Instead, the approach was to go with our eyes open and our spiritual guard raised as protection from spiritual attack. We were clear that we were not visiting the temple for the purposes of idol worship, so the application of the verses to not worship idols was adhered to.
Arriving at the first entry point to the complex, we saw immediate benefit from the quick queue processing that we were led through; our Samaritan’s Purse hosts having organised a group payment for all of us. Our photographs were taken and printed onto the single day passes which we had to wear whilst in the area. Many other tour groups were steadily arriving en mass, so it was encouraging for us to be processed so quickly and be on our way. The system allows for extended visitors who could pay for three-day passes and then come and go as they pleased.
The visit to the Angkor Wat saw us explore the grounds, slowly working our way inwards to the central tower. The amount of work put into constructing the external moats, laying the compounded earth foundations and then the actual building structures is all very admirable. The long corridors lining the external building with their red and gold paintings were one of the historical records showing the wars and societal development from 900+ years ago. Angkor Wat itself means capital temple in Khmer, and this complex was the original centre of Cambodian society. The temple compound was built in a very symmetrical fashion, but over the centuries, the walls and roofs have slowly deteriorated. Maintenance work has helped to restore parts of the complex and nowadays the original steps are covered with wood scaffolding to protect the original stonework. Certain areas and stairways are now cordoned off and traffic in and out of the central tower is managed by a single northern entrance. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the central courtyard, the queue for ascending the central tower was already 1-hour long and this prevented us from experiencing the main temple. As we slowly departed and make our way across the moat causeway, we could see monkeys playing and climbing the trees within the temple grounds.
We spent another 2-3 hours in the Angkor Wat region, visiting the other temples and also got to feed the elephants. We visited the other temple in the area – Angkor Thom (Great City) and Baphuon, where we walked around. Throughout the entire morning, I used the excuse of getting a photo with each team member as a means of ensuring I got to say a personal farewell in part. Throughout the entire morning, our hosts had arranged for a dedicated set of four tuk-tuks to transport us between each temple site and the hotel. After visiting the Terrace of the Elephants, the group parted ways.
Returning to the main town/Siem Reap and hotel, the first of the groups readied ourselves for the long series of flights back to Australia. This first group comprised all Melbourne and Tasmanians; the eight of us traveled together as a group from Siem Reap right up to Melbourne. The originally flight bookings were adjusted such that our Siem Reap – Bangkok flight was slightly earlier than the original itinerary. This was done because the initial understanding/expectation was that we would need to spend additional time in Bangkok checking out , collecting our luggage and then check back in for our connecting flight. The first flight (Bangkok Airways) out of Siem Reap was delayed by an hour, but we were fortunate to be able to check our luggage in all the way to Melbourne. Siem Reap had a nice little modern airport where we had lunch – Burger King for a few of us – my first taste of western food of this type in the entire fortnight of travel. Interestingly, Mcdonalds has NO presence in Cambodia, but KFC does!
Arriving at Bangkok Airport was an experience in itself. Alighting off the plane, renovation works at the airport meant that we exited the enclosed jet bridge and descended stairs to the tarmac/ground surface where passengers alighted buses which then drove us down the length of the terminal building to the international passenger entrance. Ensuring that we stuck together as a group, we stopped short of the international immigration processing queues and instead looked for where we had to go for Singapore Airline transfers. Navigating our way through the terminal building, we finally got worked our way through the signage and security checks to arrive at a familiar Singapore Airlines branded counter, where we were quickly issued with all remaining boarding passes. As part of the transfer facility, the customer service lady also ran our luggage receipt tags through the system to ensure our bags would arrive safely at Melbourne.
With about an hour of waiting time, most of us in the group of eight went for a wander around the airport. I found the overall facilities interesting to compare to my standard of Singapore’s Changi International Airport. The external design of the terminal building was airy, and somewhat drab. The airport design was such that the central retail areas were better equipped; air-conditioning and lighting were all of a higher standard whilst the gate seating areas which were located in the far reaches of the complex, away from the central area were not as well lit or serviced by the air-conditioning. The overall darkness of the environment did not make the airport feel all that welcoming or friendly. In comparison, I have been so accustom to the standards set by Singapore/Changi – where the lighting, air-conditioning and signage is so clear. Even after all the many years, the annual maintenance shows how an airport that is 30 years old remains world class.
The flight into Singapore saw us arrive at Terminal Two. Since we had arrived at that terminal, I took the opportunity to queue up at the iShop booth and attempt to claim a final set of transit dollars. This scheme exists solely for Singapore Airlines on-transit passengers, where a quick check of passport and boarding pass entitles passengers to $40 worth of vouchers – $20 for general spend and $20 for cosmetics/chocolates/alcohol. Apparently, passengers can only claim a single set per ticket/booking, and my initial claim on the way to Cambodia meant I could not claim it a second time. On route to Terminal Three, I spent my last $50 USD on bakwa, the Chinese sweet meat equivalent of meat jerky. I intentionally got small pieces of the traditional pork and one chicken to accommodate for the dietary requirements of one group member. This was a timely opportunity to share a bit of the Chinese New Year tradition and culture with my new friends – the introduction was fairly successful.
The final 7-hour flight into Melbourne felt shorter than the actual duration, and was largely uneventful. We all were suitably rested and we also took the opportunity to stretch our legs as a group of three in the early morning. Travelling Singapore Airlines was something of a relief for me after the last few years of not travelling with them; the little things I had become accustomed to (peanuts, hot towels, etc…) were still standard. The 19-inch seat width seemed to be more comfortable which reflected the reality given the Qantas standard is 17/17.5-inch. That 1.5/2-inches really makes a difference!
Touch-down in Melbourne saw us all speed through the electronic passport queue such that we spent a lot of time waiting for our baggage to appear at the baggage claim conveyor belt. Whilst I had marked my travel declaration form responses with all “No”, some of the team had brought in items that warranted a “Yes”. Irrespective of our answers, the customs and quarantine final check was very quick and we all proceeded through the final gate into the general Melbourne Airport terminal – home at last! After a quick ride through our CityLink tollway network, I was glad to see my home at about 12:00pm, after some 23-hours of travel.
Although back in Melbourne, a number of outstanding items remain actionable; therefore one or two more posts in this writing serial will be published to wrap up the entire trip.