Maureen Harley

We’re All Called to Pray (Issue 29)

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We’re all called to pray. This statement appears in the middle of the five missional postures discussed in this Intermission. But I wonder if it should be in the middle. I wonder if praying is where we ought to begin. Or is the middle exactly where it should be – central to everything else?

In John 15:5 Jesus states “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” I wonder if we sometimes become so fixated on working for ‘fruit ’ that we forget that the fruit is ultimately born of relationship – a natural outcome of the ‘remaining.’

For me ‘remaining’ is always the initiative of God; God’s Spirit touches our spirits and we respond. In this way our relationship was born and in this way it is sustained – Spirit to spirit and spirit to Spirit. When we remain in this relationship with God who comes to us as Love, we find ourselves knowing more of who God is, what delights God and how God works. Our love and appreciation for God grows. This is prayer.

EXPANDING OUR VISION

In the nature of love, those things that matter to God increasingly matter to us. Stirred by Love, we see God all around and seek to become more aware. Our vision is stretched by God’s limitless vision that reaches far beyond our own small world until it includes places we haven’t visited, people we don’t know. The burdens of others, our brothers and sisters who share the same Father, are now our burden. Their poverty and oppression and struggles affect us and we cry out to our Father on their behalf.

Sometimes we need words as we struggle to find God in the situation. At other times our prayers may be only a silent ‘Amen’ to God’s ever-loving intention. Our prayers may result in a call to action: a call to fasting, a call to go. Always our prayers will result in a call to share with others the wonder of how much God cares so that their eyes too may be opened, their faith grown and their hearts also turned to praise and glorify God. These are fruits of ‘remaining.’

REMAINING BUT LOOKING EVER OUTWARD

As Christians we’re all called to be members of the vast ‘community of mission service.’ As members of this community we’re all called to pray. The fruit of this prayer is always an expanding love and compassion for others which reaches far beyond our own small corner of creation. In the cycle of God’s never-ending economy of grace, our joy in seeing the fruits of prayer in the lives of people brought into the light grows our faith, and turns us in joy back to the One who began it all, our God of Love.

Thus from remaining to fruits and from fruits to remaining – remaining in a God whom we follow out into a world beyond ourselves.

We’re all called to pray for God’s whole world.

Along with her husband Gerald, Maureen was a missionary in Nepal and then a NZCMS Mission Partner in Cambodia. They have now settled in Dunedin where, among other things, they help run the local NZCMS branch.

 

For discussion How has your ‘remaining’ – your personal time with God – grown your heart for God’s whole world?

As someone called to belong to God’s community of mission service, what’s his challenge to you and your group when it comes to praying?

 

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Seeing things up close

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Here are some further reflections by Maureen Harley from her recent time visiting Mission Partners in Cambodia. Her previous reflection can be found here.

It’s been a privilege to have an up close view of God at work in and through the lives of some Mission Partners.

Five years ago our apartment was filled with the sound of excited voices. We were in Phnom Penh and thanks to NZCMS’s subsidy we were able to offer hospitality to an ever increasing number of Mission Partners from various agencies and countries as they came into the city for respite or travelled on business. This was the first time though, that we had the chance to host a Kiwi family – their first stop as they began their Cambodia adventure.

It was an enriching experience and we were happy to repeat it a few weeks later, hosting a charming couple as they found their feet on “our side of town.”

Five years on and we were hosted by them –first by the McCormicks and then by the Sussex family, as both celebrate five years of living in Cambodia. What a grace filled time we had, seeing how God has used their time in the country to shape them and use them.

Anthony & Anne live in Battambang city in the north west of Cambodia. It’s a largely rural province and the city is small and retains a village feel to much of it. They have made a lovely home there and offer hospitality to a number of visitors, including us, with simplicity and grace.

Two years ago Anthony set out to establish a social work department at World Mate Trauma hospital. We were able to visit his team: a dedicated, professional group obviously appreciative of all “Mr Anthony” had done in training them. The value of what they can offer is slowly being recognised by medical and nursing staff – they feel they could still do more if the staff understood their role. The material Anthony has prepared has been taught to others in social work and will form part of his ongoing ministry in this field.

Anne also works at the hospital, setting up a range of activities suitable for patients (who are mostly long term) and caregivers to help occupy their otherwise hours of empty time. These include books for reading, jigsaw puzzles, games, card work for crafts, knitting. And there’s of course helping with paper-making, which provides the paper for card-making which is the major fund source for the materials and equipment with which Anne has equipped the department.

We saw for ourselves people’s faces light up with joy at being able to achieve something so simple as a jigsaw puzzle. We heard laughter from people playing a simple peg balancing game. We saw community and sharing happen as women gathered to be part of a team setting frames to dry in the final stage of paper making. And we heard of needs identified as stories were shared and how these could now be referred to a fully functioning Social Work Department.

In a hospital full of trauma victims, full of the very poor, the often uneducated rural villagers far from home, there is no doubt that the work of Anthony and Anne’s new departments working in very small humble ways is contributing richly to people’s lives.

Phil and Becky Sussex can also look back on five years in Cambodia. Next month they will pack up their home and their lives and fly back to begin the next stage of their journey in New Zealand. The impact they will leave behind in people’s lives is hard to measure. They all know so many people and have supported parents, staff and pupils through major upheavals at Hope International School.

We were unable to join Phil on some of his work experiences but seeing his photos and hearing his stories left us shuddering. We were able to imagine how it has been for him, a professional dentist who has had to cope with students with limited experience, a lack of modern equipment, primitive conditions, operating in the prison (when they were allowed in) and in villages, even in the back of churches. All this in the unrelenting heat of a Phnom Penh summer (and autumn and spring and winter!). Phil is currently polishing up his final lecture series to get it ready to hand over to the university and writing exam questions for the post grad oral surgery exam. Long after he has left this lecture series will be equipping future students.

We enjoyed looking over the new Hope School facility. We found it hard to believe we were in Cambodia – picture the two storied buildings, spacious classrooms and extensive grounds any modern school would aspire to. What is not evident in most schools is the atmosphere. Permeating every part of school life is the love of Christ – students and staff alike seek to live out the command of Christ to love God and to love one another. It is almost palpable! Becky continues to teach part time in the preschool class – a mini united nations! – shaping children, many of whom will become the next generation of missionaries, living cross culturally in the hope of seeing others know the love of Christ.

The kids on the surface are getting on with getting on with life. We remember them from five years ago, delighting in playing games with us and in hearing stories read. Now they are busy about their own grown up affairs: Bryn in creating props for the coming Wizard of Oz production at school, Toby as part of the back stage team fitting rehearsals in amongst his basketball and music, Pippa racing home to play with their cat and foster cat with whom she can do almost anything, and Molly showing great promise in learning the ukulele from big brother Toby.

Their home welcomed us as easily as did the family – the love of God shone through their relationships with each other and the way they ministered to us.

All too soon it was time for us to leave Cambodia again – but it was easier to leave somehow now that we had seen how faithful God is to the Cambodian people. He did send workers who stayed on when we left and he will continue to do so until all his children are gathered in. And you know what – it is all managed without our being there!

Cambodia four years on

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Maureen and Gerald Harley recently returned from a pastoral visit to Mission Partners working in Cambodia, a country where they themselves once served. Below are some reflections from Maureen about this visit.

“How is it to return to a place we called home for nine years?” people ask. And indeed it was a question we asked ourselves as the plane came into land in Cambodia. Would it be the same or would it all be horribly different so that we had to finally let go of our vision of ourselves as people who somehow belonged there? Would people look at us and say “Who?” and would we have become people who are forever bewildering (and boring?) people who now live there with stories of “what used to be”?

Our airport experience began differently – we actually had to queue to hand in our visa applications, and we walked along clearly defined lines to retrieve our passports after they had passed through – then, oh yes, the 5 or 6 pairs of hands, one to look, one to write, one to stamp, one, two, three to pass… but ‘normalcy’ was restored at the other end when we were all encouraged to leave our ordered queue and gather en masse around the man who finally received our visa-ed passports. Cambodians still struggle to pronounce our foreign names (as we do theirs!) and prefer to wave the passports before the gathered crowd and wait for each one to identify his/her own. This feels normal.

This mixture of ‘oh yes we recognise that’ and ‘oh that’s different’ became the norm for this visit. When we first arrived we felt everything was astonishingly familiar – crowded streets, masses of people all busy about their business, rich and poor all mixed together, shops and booths spilling their goods all over the pavements. We recognised the crazy traffic patterns with vehicles stuck like sand passing through a timer, barely trickling through any gap that appears; then suddenly there’s an opening and cars and motorbikes surge through in a flood – until the next traffic jam.

But where are all the motorbike taxis? There are private motorbikes aplenty but every street corner no longer has its gathering of men on bikes, watching, alert for a fare, or dozing in the down time after lunch, lying along the seat with feet on the handlebars. There are still tuk tuks, and so many cars, big cars, rich men’s cars, driving, parked, stuck in traffic everywhere. We wondered whether those moto drivers we once used so regularly had missed our custom and moved elsewhere, or had to fund their child’s schooling or find food for the family in labouring work or by returning to the province and the family rice fields?

And who will live in all the buildings? Everywhere, buildings completed or being built – up, up into the once clear skyline. Years ago, PM Hun Sen had returned from an Asian Summit resolved that Phnom Penh should have some skyscrapers. The first venture still sits there, unfinished, failed; but like the traffic flow a blockage seems to have been removed and the flood gates are open. Everywhere these massive concrete structures are emerging. ‘Who will live in them?’ we wondered, and were told the land had been bought by the Chinese, the buildings built by Chinese labourers and built to house the labourers and the immigrants who would follow. A Khmer man said sadly “My children won’t have their own country.”

Vast expansion is going on all around the city also – often in gated communities called “baray,” cloned structures looking a little like the retirement villages of modern NZ being built on what was previously rich rice fields. And also evident is the infrastructure to support this city as it heaves its way out of its past of civil war and desperation and into a 21st century modern-ness. Everywhere we saw overpasses and motorways, glass fronted shops selling furniture that would once have been considered a frivolous luxury and the ubiquitous chains of eating places and coffee shops – the smells of Asia are being overtaken by the smell of fried foods! The poor are still there, though we saw fewer ‘professional beggars’ – mostly they are cleared away to where they can’t be seen by tourists or the growing middle class. Slums now exist just outside the city boundaries – for now – they will be moved when it becomes inconvenient to some rich person for them to remain. We visited one still surrounded by flood waters, temporary hovels barely standing, still with no drains or water supply – just as it was four years ago.

We asked about the Church and were told it is battered after a number of the more charismatic churches were hit badly by a Ponzi scheme that swept vast numbers into its net. Many of the congregations were persuaded into it by church leadership which inevitably has left credibility issues.

Evangelism still goes on; Christianity still attracts many of the modern youth seeking to explore life outside the family as well as offering companionship for many who leave their families to come into the city looking for work. A ‘prosperity gospel’ was pushed in some quarters and has left an inevitable legacy of “rice Christianity.” Many churches remain dependent on funding from outside. Growth has slowed and while new converts join churches there remains an enormous need for quality education for pastors and good discipleship programmes.

So has Cambodia changed? Yes of course. For the better – hmmm – in some ways yes. There is a growing middle class who holds some of the wealth and power. There are credible school exams and more people are receiving education about what police can and can’t do. Orphanages are closing and children are being supported back into families. But Cambodia is still a country of extremes – and particularly extreme wealth and extreme poverty- gaining patronage from someone stronger and more powerful is vital to succeed, loyalty is bought, labour is bonded and slavery is rife. The coming elections – local this year and central next – could well be a violent clash between the young who want change and the old who want to keep the peace at all cost, between those who have money and power and those who want it… that has not changed.

But it is still Cambodia – and we loved being back!