"Lunch in a Rural Cambodian Village" (Taken 2nd February 2013)
So today found me up with the lark and on the road out of Phnom Penh to minister to men and women who live in villages around 3 hours outside of the city. The journey there was full of fun, laughter and genuine fellowship as I shared my story with other pastors travelling with me and they shared their stories with me.
One had been controlled by evil spirits and his life had been blighted by struggle, sickness and poverty. His whole family had been gripped by fear and sadness and loss, then he met Jesus and everything changed! Since then he has been free from fear, and many of his family have come to know Christ. The sickenesses that he was afflicted with have been lifted and he is serving the Lord with great faith and passion. Another lost most of his family in the 'Killing Fields' yet has forgiven the killers and has come to faith in Jesus and is now reaching out to the very people who attacked him years ago. These are amazing trophies of grace.
When we got the village, the whole community had gathered to hear the 'English' (!) preacher. We were met with beautiful fresh coconuts, served a lavish lunch (see picture) and honoured in so many ways. I preached on 2 Corinthians 1:10 and encouraged those present to remember that God had delivered them, was delivering them and would deliver them. They had been set free from the penalty of sin, were given power over sin and would one day be freed from the very presence of sin. We had a wonderful time of fellowship and celebration together.
What has struck me here, as in so many other countries I have visited to minister, is the utter kindness and generosity of the people. They have so very little, yet give so much away. The lunch is just an example. The best chickens prepared for us. Beautiful dressings for more rice than I have ever seen (the Khmer people have rice with everything!). Fish caught and delicately prepared. Noodles, dips, bottles of water, coconut. The table cleaned and set out especially. The room pristine and ready for respectful hearing of God's word.
It's more than just food and clean rooms though. The generosity and hospitality of the people here is seen in their welcome, their love, their attitude, their smile. You feel it when they greet you. You sense it when they give you a glass of water. They want you to know you are welcome. They aren't being legalistic, doing something because they have to. They are being generous because they have experienced the generosity of God, because they have a culture of honour that outstrips anything I have ever seen in so called 'Christian' Britain and because they believe that those who teach God's word are worthy of double honour (something deeply biblical about that and often forgotten in our churches in the UK).
They may be poor - but they are rich in their kindness. Maybe it is because they do not see their possessions as symbols of their status? Maybe it is because they are more biblical than us. Maybe they are not as caught up with 'stuff' as we are. Maybe they are just more willing to embrace the reality of being the family of God. There are many reasons why believers I have encountered in other parts of the world are more generous and hospitable than we Christians in Europe.
To be honest, the church in the UK (by and large) has nothing, absolutely nothing, to teach the church in Asia or Africa and or Australasia, or even the USA, about generosity and hospitality. Every single country I have visited over the years has been better at being generous than the UK church. Don;t get me wrong - I am not having a sideways swipe at any church that I have led or lead in the UK. I happen to think that Gold Hill is a kind, generous and open handed community and there is no other place I would rather be and no other local church I would rather lead (I miss you guys sooooo much when I am away). Yet we still have much to learn.
Real generosity - lavish kindness like you see here - is not a stifling, 'we can't afford to be kind', 'don't give them too much' kind of attitude. Real generosity, the kind that opens your eyes in wonder and leaves you speechless in gratitude springs from the conviction that Christ has been lavishly generous to us and so we should be to others. It springs from a deep understanding that it really is more blessed to give than receive. It flows from the belief that the church should be a kind, open-hearted, loving, giving, authentic community that welcomes strangers, provides food for the hungry, water for the thirsty and a warm, whole-hearted welcome to those whom we meet.
Paul told the early church to 'do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith'. I think there is something of the early church's true koinonia, genuine oneness and willingness to be a family that we in the West have lost and are losing. I also think the early church knew how to honour those who taught it, led it, loved it and prayed for it in a way that many of our churches have lost.
I thank God for the ways in which He is ministering to me through the people of Cambodia. I thank God for the church here. I pray I can be as generous in my time and sharing of my gifts with them and others around the world and in the UK as they have been with me.
And I know this - the church here will never out-give the generous, abundant, lavishing kind God that sent His Son for us.
A Viral Campaign...
Let's start a viral generosity campaign! Give something away this week. Invite some friends for a meal. Give someone a gift of time, or a cup of coffee or a smile. Bless your church leaders by praying for them. Make sure you honour them financially. Be lavish with God's resources that He has entrusted to you. Who knows - we might just change our communities one life at a time. And the world will be changed when our communities are. Let the church of Jesus be known as the most generous, kind, compassionate people on earth!