The Glo(cal) Outlook | Autumn 2011

Learning the Meaning of Reconciliation


Learning the Meaning of Reconciliation

By Liz Andes, Mennonite Central Committee

 

While serving as a student leader and a staff member in the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Student Leadership, and Community Development, I engaged in a lot of conversations about reconciliation.

 

What does this word truly mean? What does it look like when a community reaches out to reconcile with each other and with their common history?

 

When I worked with the Mennonite Central Committee in Cambodia, I saw these questions lived out every day.


During my time at Seattle Pacific University, I had several formative experiences. I went on a short-term missions trip through SPRINT to Hyderabad, India, which opened my eyes to issues of systemic oppression and poverty. When I returned, I participated in Urban Plunge to learn about homelessness in Seattle and realized that these same issues were present right outside my door.


On staff in the John Perkins Center at SPU, I continued to wrestle with these issues as I mentored student leaders in our three student ministries. These experiences led me to pursue opportunities where I could work cross-culturally and continue to learn from the culture and context around me.

A partnership model

To that end, I worked with the Mennonite Central Committee in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. MCC “shares God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice. MCC envisions communities worldwide in right relationships with God, one another and creation.”


In Cambodia, MCC works in a partnership model. This means that I worked with local Cambodian nongovernmental organizations who have a strong mission and vision but need capacity development in a given area. The NGOs may need to put sound financial structures in place, or learn how to write professional grant proposals, or develop their monitoring and evaluation skills.


Our partners carry out the essential day-to-day activities and services; MCC simply comes along as a resource, providing skills and some small financial grants to help these fledgling NGOs become sustainable. In Phnom Penh, MCC works with 15 local partners in three broad areas of development:

  • Sustainable livelihoods.
  • Education
  • Peace-building

 

Our partners carry out their mission in a wide variety of ways. For example, one of our partners does agricultural training and community organizing in a tiny provincial town, while another works with handicraft artisans to produce fair-trade products.


Developing young Christian leaders


My work was in the education sector, advising an NGO called the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia-Kingdom Equipped Youth (EFC-KEY). This organization develops young Christian leaders by teaching holistic and missional approaches to ministry.


One of their services is the Diamond Program, a yearlong discipleship program for emerging Christian leaders. The students study together every Saturday for one year, delving into the Scriptures, studying principles of biblical leadership, discussing what holistic ministry looks like, and more.


The program aims to show young people the connection between knowledge of God and service, especially service among the poor and vulnerable. There are many hands-on experiential learning opportunities, so students are simultaneously engaged in study and praxis. The Diamond Project is headquartered in Phnom Penh, but also operates in three satellite campuses in rural areas, which enables leaders to learn and serve in their home communities. Working with the staff of EFC-KEY was a wonderful, transformative experience.

The opportunity of relationships

Yet perhaps more important than the advising work I am did while there was the opportunity to learn about the culture surrounding me. The relationships I formed have blessed, encouraged, and challenged me. One of the greatest parts of serving with MCC was that I am placed with a Cambodian host family. I lived with my Cambodian family of eight for more than10 months and it was been a truly eye-opening experience.

 

While I would be sitting on the floor, eating sour mangoes with chili salt (a Cambodian traditional snack), my sisters would be teaching me the ways of their culture. They educated me concerning the proper way for a woman to sit with her legs crossed to the side, how to get the best bargain when I talked to fruit sellers, and the ins and outs of washing laundry by hand. Sometimes the conversation drifted to cultural differences between Americans and Cambodians and every once in awhile we talk about that dark shadow lurking in Cambodian history, the Khmer Rouge regime.


After I finished reading Killing Fields, Living Fields by Don Cormack, a biography of the Christian church in Cambodia, I was reminded that this is a church body that has been refined by fire. In 1975, the Cambodian Church was flourishing as believers increased, the country’s Bible school expanded, and men and women grew deeper in their relationships with Christ. But the Khmer Rouge years changed everything.

 

In 1979, when the Khmer Rouge were overthrown by the Vietnamese, the church body was a tiny fraction of what it had been. Minorities of all sorts were targeted by the bloody Pol Pot regime, and Christians were no exception. Many current Christians lost family members and friends during this terrifying time period. They continue to wrestle with what happened and how to respond.

 

Through my work with MCC, I realized that I have much to learn from the Cambodian Church. Of course, this body is not perfect. Hostility and resentment remain. But the Spirit of God is working powerfully in the church here.

 

Exciting conversations are happening. The church is leading conversations on forgiveness and peace. Youth are being discipled and are hungry to know more about holistic ministry and how they can empower their communities. EFC-KEY’s work is just one example of how the Cambodian Church is learning, leading, and growing. Christians are doing God’s work all across Cambodia, and it is a beautiful thing to witness.

 

Liz AndesLiz Andes, a 2009 Seattle Pacific University graduate, currently works at World Relief in Kent, Washington. She is a partner advisor for capacity development with Mennonite Central Committee. Prior to that, she was the assistant coordinator of global and urban involvement for the John Perkins Center at SPU.

 

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