Phil and Becky

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!

The Lock-Out is Over

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Some people talk about poverty in terms of a lack of options. Using that criteria, prisoners in Cambodia are surely some of the poorest of all, lacking even the option of a traditional dentist pulling out a painful tooth. Instead, they normally have no choice but to put up with an acutely abscessing tooth until it settles, hoping that the infection won’t spread into the upper face or neck with potentially fatal consequences.

For the past three years the Christian organisation I partner with (the only provider of dental care for prisoners) has been locked-out as they attempted to re-negotiate a new MoU with the government. After much prayer and multiple attempts, I am happy to report that three weeks ago we were finally allowed back into  the main men’s prison. Each Wednesday I take a team of 10 students to fill and extract teeth as we rotate every few months around Phnom Penh’s main prisons. Operating in high temperatures, we have already been struggling with equipment breakdowns and push-back from guards keen on wielding their power. However, we have seen God at work with positive outcomes in spite of the conditions. One man’s abscess had spread into his cheek and was serious enough require incision, drainage and antibiotics, for which he was really grateful. Our team values your ongoing prayers. Phones and cameras are not permitted in Cambodian prisons but for an up-to-date report from outside the walls watch the video above or click here.

A glimpse of the clinic

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In August we sent a newsletter fundraising for equipment for a new church-based clinic. Thank you to everyone who donated! We had a great response and now have all the money that we need. Phil has done all the purchasing and along with his students has been operating the new mobile clinic for a few months already. Recently Pagna, one of his key student leaders, pointed out how he liked working each Monday and Wednesday at the church-based community clinics because ironically, he could now do better quality dentistry in the middle of paddy fields than he could at the university clinic! As planned we have kept the extractions free and the villagers all seem happy to pay for the $2 fillings.

Take the tour by watching the video above.

Dental Clinic in Cambodia

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Here’s a short video from Phil Sussex giving us a glimpse of one of the rural dental clinics he is involved with. It was filmed particularly to thank those who donated towards clinic materials and equipment.

The newly revamped Monday and Wednesday clinics are working out really well as a good venue to help local people with their dental problems, as well as to train dental students and to encourage the four Christian students Phil is working with closely.

The view from above in Cambodia

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The Sussex family have returned to Cambodia after a season of Leave and Home Service here in New Zealand. Becky is returning to her role teaching at the HOPE International School. In fact, the whole family have connections to the school: the Children attend the school and Phil is on the school’s board.

The school exists to support missionary and other Christian expatriate families who are working with the people of Cambodia and the surrounding regions. The school embraces the diversity of God’s people, with over 400 students representing over 25 nationalities, from Preschool to Year 12.

Since a picture really is worth a thousand words, Phil and Becky have sent us this video clip that helps us get an idea of what the school looks like and how big it really is.

Adventure on the Bamboo Railway

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Last week the NZCMS Kiwis in Cambodia have been hanging out together. They enjoyed a few days sharing experience and encouragement on retreat with their wider ‘umbrella’ team in Siem Reap. On the way home the Sussex family stopped to check out Battambang, where the McCormicks are based. Anne and Anthony took them to experience the legendary Bamboo Railway – what a blast!

How Was Your Commute?

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Commuting in Phnom Penh is a little ‘same-same but different.’ It is the same awful feeling when the alarm wakes you from a deep sleep, the same tea and coffee routine – just add some nice tropical fruit to those cornflakes. The same voices on National Radio Morning Report and Checkpoint – only streamed via the internet to my phone. The same peak hour traffic but with more interesting things to look, and get mad at – what happens to the passenger of the motorbike holding the large sheet of plate-glass or the baby without clothes (let alone a helmet) when they crash? At times we get gridlocked just like Auckland, but here you think nothing of riding footpaths, kerbs and through service station forecourts, accelerating wide around cops, being careful not to make eye contact!

My day started at 5:30am with breakfast then a fairly rapid commute north before the traffic becomes too heavy using a 100cc scooter to the University where I teach dentistry. After a 7am lecture to 5th year students it’s back on the bike, but now the tar-seal is breaking up into potholes and ruts, trucks blinding me with their dust as I head 30 minutes further north of the city.

Mental note to self – pack goggles!

I spend a very pleasant morning at the “Elderly Living Hope Church” (great name) providing very basic dental free care (mainly extractions) to the local community, all of whom have been forcibly relocated here after being evicted from slum dwellings located on prime development land in Phnom Penh. It’s an OK location but this far from the city there are very few jobs and for most, such relocations result in them being much worse off.

I work here with the pastor’s wife in their house beside their ‘church’ – a concrete courtyard. Three years ago they noticed how many of the community had dental problems for which treatment was completely unaffordable. The church began praying for a dentist and when none eventuated they sent the pastor’s wife, Leangna, off to Dental School where she has just completed year 1 of 7. Ever tried smoked fish and watermelon? Turns out that’s a very popular among older Cambodians. Today when I turned up with a melon Leangna rushed off to buy a little smoked fish to accompany it for our lunch – delicious!

This afternoon I’ll take a ‘back seat’ and supervise some of my students (a couple Christians and others not yet) as they learn the trade and help some locals along the way. There’s no shortage of rotten teeth here – Cambodia has among the highest rates of dental decay among kids in the world (the average 6 year old has 9 rotten teeth)! Fingers crossed as we head home late afternoon – monsoon rain can add a whole new dimension to travelling by motorbike. Wonder what I will see along the way….

Phil’s Dental Expedition

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Phil Sussex reflects on a recent dental outreach in Cambodia. 

Recently I was able to escape the hot concrete jungle of Phnom Penh to some villages beyond the jungle. I was there to work alongside a mission team from St Hilda’s Anglican in Singapore and Church of Christ our Peace in Phnom Penh. At the newly established local church of Svay Rieng over 400 local people took time out from farming to have teeth extracted or filled by our small team of overseas dentists and Cambodian dental students. Those who came also received basic oral health education as well as a gospel message children’s book. Many locals also attending meetings at night led by Rev. Hieng, Cambodia’s only ordained Anglican priest.

The annual rains arrived while we were there marking the beginning of the rice planting season. While we were grateful for cooler nights, the newly planted seed began to germinate, out of sight below the soil. Jesus’ parables really come alive as we work and live in the midst of paddy fields and the spiritual metaphors resonate well with my students whose families are also rice farmers. At the dental school where I work there are on average two Christian students per year. The two in their fifth year of study attended this trip – a great opportunity to discuss more freely the things that matter most.

Please pray that Eath, a fairly new believer, will continue to grow in his faith and be encouraged week by week as he attends the dental student cell group meeting at an outreach café near the university.