Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Cambodia

After a canceled flight and two unexpected nights in a hotel, I finally made it to Cambodia, just a day behind schedule, and met up with Justin Van Zee with no trouble. He didn't waste time introducing me to Cambodia, however, and threw me on the back of his motorbike. It would have been terrifying except for the fact that I had just come from Bangladesh, and traffic here is tame by comparison. I've met a number of people Justin works with, seen much of the city and a nearby village, enjoyed extremely good food here, been drenched in the rain, stopped by the police, and stuck in traffic. All in all a great visit. Yesterday I spent most of the day visiting memorial sites to the genocide that took place here under the Khmer Rouge. Incredibly sobering and distressing. It's been really good to see Justin, to meet his friends and housemates, and to get a feel for Cambodia. Cambodia is much different than I expected--certainly more foreigners here than in Bangladesh and thus more Western influence. Everything is clearly changing very fast as well--the city is expanding and building are going up all over. It's also striking the difference between the predominantly Muslim country Bangladesh (with some Hindu influence) and the predominantly buddhist country of Cambodia. Tonight I get back on the plane and start the long journey home.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Bangladesh

After Oman, our group split into two. Half of us went to Egypt to explore Muslim-Christian relations there and half of us went to Bangladesh. I was in the group that went to Bangladesh. The group that went to Egypt were able to see all sorts of sites--the pyramids, the tombs of Pharaohs, ancient churches, and more. They even went on a hot air balloon ride. The promotional line of Bangladesh, however, is "Discover Bangladesh before the tourist does..." Besides navigating the insane traffic on the roads, the most exciting thing we did was cross a river in a giant rowboat. And yet our experience here was incredibly rich--in many ways and in many places we met Christ.

We started at a theological school in the capital city of Dhaka. The night we arrived, they were having a family fellowship night that included much singing and dancing and then a communal meal together. The next morning we met Brother Guillaume--a monk from the Taize community in France. He guided us throughout the day to various religious sites--the Catholic cathedral, various mosques, madrasas, the old Armenian church. He has an extraordinary ability to walk through walls and gain access to people and places that would be hard for virtually anyone else.

After seeing much of the city of Dhaka, we traveled north 120 kilometers to the city of Mymensingh. The is an old Anglican church here that the Taize community has made their home for the last thirty years. There are three brothers currently living there and they made us feel very welcome. We participated in their daily prayer rhythm--prayers every day at morning, noon, and night. In between, we visited various organizations in Mymensingh--many of which were started by the brothers. There's a hostile for students studying at the local schools, workshops for adults with disabilities--weaving, sewing, and woodworking. There's a L'Arche community for people with intellectual disabilities. And an institute for peace. The second day we were they, they had a gathering of all of the various community agencies they helped to start, and there were over 200 people there and it included seven schools for children in villages and clubs for kids who essentially live at the trains stations. One of the impressive aspects was that these groups span Christians, Muslims, and Hindus--and they all work together and were able to celebrate together. The presence and influence of the brothers was the glue that held this all together--and everyone was able to see Christ clearly in who these brothers were.

Bangladesh is a country of sensory overload--there's something new and extraordinary around every corner. I don't have pictures of pyramids or ancient tombs, but I have pictures of people. Extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, and I have been blessed to be here.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday worship

This morning (Friday) we went to the Protestant English-language Contemporary worship service here in Oman. It was a beautiful image of heaven in that people literally from all over the world were gathered in one place in worship. It was good to gather with fellow Christians. After worship, we went to the harbor and snorkeled. There was an amazing assortment of fish and sea life--some of the best snorkeling I've ever done. Plus, the water felt as warm as the air. We're off to Bangladesh this evening, and from what I hear, it's going to be much more crowded there and the internet will likely be a bit spotty. I've learned a lot in Oman about Islam and about the Middle East. I am thankful for my time here and the people I've met. The Omanis have been very welcoming and gracious. The wilderness trip was spectacular. I don't think I've ever heard silence like that before.




Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Some history and conversation

We've been here for two full days now, but it feels like much longer. We've visited a number of places in addition to the mosque--the Sultan's palace, the National Museum, two of the watchtowers guarding the old city of Muscat, and the local souk (marketplace). I've walked down to the fishmarket early in the morning and I've climbed up the nearby hill at sunset. I've seen parrotfish and Dory swimming in the harbour. We've also had a number of conversations about interfaith encounters and learned about Islam from a number of friends of the Al Amana Centre. Tonight we learned about a method of reading each others' sacred texts together in a way that not only allows you to learn about the other but it also gives you deeper insight into your own beliefs and understanding. There's something about hearing what a text sounds like to someone who is reading it for the first time and coming from a very different perspective that allows you to read it afresh yourself. Hopefully I'll sleep better tonight than I did last night. The food continues to be good. Tomorrow we head into the desert to visit some old mosques, a fort, and experience the wilderness.





Monday, October 30, 2017

Arrival in Oman

Just a quick post to say that I've arrived safely in Oman. The flights went fairly well, though my knees were happy to stretch when we finally landed in Qatar and then Oman. I was amazed by how my heart soared to be in the Middle East again--I hadn't realized how much I missed it after my archaeological experiences many years ago. Not too much to report yet, except that our accomodations are nice, the hills and gulf are spectacular, and the group we're with is really interesting. The Al Amana Centre here is doing some good work for peace and cultural understanding. So far we've traveled to the Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman, had some good conversation, and enjoyed some excellent food. Added a new dish for me--camel. Tasty! And we've been here less than 14 hours. I've attached a few photos...


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Traveling again

We are on the road again! After a few days in Ferrysburg, MI, unpacking  and doing laundry and visiting with both sets of grandparents, we set out for a family reunion in Colorado. The kids have traveled well and we've been listening to lots of books on CD and enjoying the varying countryside.

I think we've had more return culture shock than we anticipated. We are, of course, missing our friends in San Cristobal and also many of the sights and sounds and tastes of Mexico. We are continuing to try to practice our Spanish, and Peter especially continues to chatter away in Spanglish.  It took a few days for us to stop greeting folks with hola and trying to order in Spanish in restaurants. We are both missing where we were and also grateful to be back in the States. I think we have a deeper appreciation of our 'first' language (this morning we were on a rafting trip and both commented how different it felt to be able to understand everything the guide was saying effortlessly!) and a deeper respect for folks who live day to day in a 'second' language.

We are appreciating the wild beauty of Colorado and the time with extended family, and next week we'll be visiting a few of the sights the youth from Boston Square visited on their way to New Mexico - Great Sands and Mesa Verde - before heading back toward Michigan. We are so grateful for this time, and looking forward to coming home to Boston Square again in a few weeks.




Friday, July 17, 2015

Last Day of Class

Today we had our last day of Spanish class and said good-bye to our teachers and other friends that we have met at the school. We've been surprised at how close we've become with those with whom we have talked for almost three hours every day over the last ten weeks and how important they'd become in our lives. Saying good-bye was hard.

I'm by no means fluent in Spanish, but I (Jay) can hold a conversation for the most part--especially if the other person is willing to speak slowly for my sake. I'm suprised by how much I've learned in the ten weeks we've been here and how much more comfortable I am in the language now. I can tell each week that I've made significant progress. The challenge will be finding ways to keep practicing when we return to Michigan. 

As the week of classes drew to an end, we were asked a number of times by our teachers what we will miss in San Cristobal and what we are most looking forward to in our return to Michigan. The best answer to both is the people. We've been shaped in remarkable ways by the people here and the kindnesses we've been shown. By their patience in working through our language difficulties and their willingness to let us see a bit of their lives here. We've made real friends and we've even begun to feel a little settled. Just as the time is coming to an end, we've discovered jewels hidden in the city--restaurants with amazing food for just a few dollars, an aerial arts class that Emma and Brianna adore, extraordinary handicrafts around every corner, a vast array of fresh fruits and vegetables, and friends to play with in the local plaza. People we didn't know at all before we came have sacrificed their time and resources on our behalf. At the same time, it's also the people back home we're most looking forward to seeing again--friends and family and everyone who is such a part of our everyday lives.

We've finally begun to adapt to the cuisine here, and will need to find a way to add a bit more 'pica' to our usual recipes when we return. This trip has been an adventure that has been hard at times, incredibly rewarding most of the time, and although we can't articulate it specifically, we feel changed. 

Our apologies for not posting more here sooner--we were without internet for about a week after a small tornado went through the town. Apparently these are not all that uncommon--at least in the last few years. Our teachers said there used to be a mountain that acted as a blockade for the converging weather systems, but that mountain was destroyed in a search for oil. Now, solely in the last four or five years since the mountain disappeared, San Cristobal suffers three or four small tornados a year. They're not fierce, but they are a huge deal since the homes are close together and typically not built with tornados in mind. We've been told that many people lost their homes in the storm two weeks ago.

In the last couple of weeks we've continued to explore Chiapas.  We've visited a couple of water falls and a series of lakes (Lagos de Montebello) near the border with Guatemala.  Only Bri was brave enough to venture in for a swim.  One day we traveled to Tonina to tour a significant Maya temple site.  We climbed all the way to the top and back down again!

A highlight of the last couple of weeks was getting to participate in the first gathering of a new branch of Presbyterian churches, hosted by the ministry that our friend Gloria directs.  There were about 50 people from 3 different churches, gathered for worship, a meal and fellowship.  There were rich conversations about unity, and we got to receive communion with the folks there for the first time since we've been here.  After the meal there was an impromtu 2 on 2 basketball tournament.  Jay led his team to victory, despite some good natured teasing about his height advantage.  We were deeply moved by many of the stories shared and by the prayers offered on our behalf.

In our last few days here Jay and Emma are planning a day trip to go to Palenque to tour some more Maya ruins, while Peter and Bri and Elizabeth pick up a few more gifts and visit some favorite restaurants.  On Sunday we are hoping to visit another small presbyterian church in the area before packing for our trip back to the States.

Thank you again for all of your prayers - we are praying for you as well.