The knock on the door came at 8.59 as usual, Alex is as prompt as ever. Am I coming to morning prayer?
‘Is that the time? I guess I am!’
I haven’t been inside a church since I left Wales over 15 weeks ago. I have looked for churches but didn’t find one. I spent a couple of hours riding a bicycle around Siem Reap without success. There were plenty of places of worship. On one short river journey in Bangkok there were literally two hundred temples to be seen, but they all worshipped Buddha and various Hindu gods adopted by Buddhism. I met several Christians in various places – in a hotel in Sisophon, in Mongkul Borei hospital, on Koh Trong island, in a Phnom Penh restaurant and the Blue Pumpkin ice cream parlour and I daresay I worked alongside a few but I longed for a quiet place with no statues, no images, where I could sit and contemplate and pray.
On my last day in Phnom Penh I attended Value Life Clinic in the morning as usual. Ever since that first Saturday, my third day in Cambodia, when I cheekily asked if I could come along and found myself a job doing ultrasound on pregnant abdomens, I have attended Value Life when in Phnom Penh on a Saturday. Before the clinic gets underway the staff gather round, update one another on the news of the week and pray for those who are sick or in any need of prayer. June 18th was no exception though Toinette was away visiting her native South Africa and the clinic would close for the next 6 weeks. This particular week there were mainly babies and children to be seen, and a handful of antenatals. As usual they all sat on the plastic chairs in the courtyard patiently waiting, as patients do in a waiting area. This week however they had a story telling. The story was illustrated with pictures – colourful scenery and figures stuck on a suitable backgrounds showing the birth of Jesus and John Baptist, and bringing to life the message of the Christian gospel. The resonance was palpable between Mary, the unmarried pregnant Jewish teenager accepting the fact that she would soon have a child of her own and would marry her fiancé even though he was not the baby’s father, and the young Cambodian mothers at the clinic. The older children were as rapt as the adults and no-one wanted to come for a check-up until the story was finished. Some even wanted a prayer to be said, the story had obviously touched something deep inside.
I have my own story to tell though I wrote a lot in this blog already. There have been happy moments and deeply sad ones too. I am waiting for news of a young woman who was extremely ill when I left, after a hysterectomy and two subsequent laparotomies for infection including a sub-phrenic abscess, she’s clinging to life by a thread aged 39 with a husband and family who hope against hope for a miracle cure.
I met another young family on Koh Trong island – Sokphal and his lovely wife and three children whose father is a pastor in Phnom Penh. On that last Saturday before I left for the airport I had lunch with the father and his younger son who leads the worship in their little church. There are many Christian churches in Phnom Penh, he told me, you just need to know where to find them.
What I was reminded today is that at 3 o’clock every afternoon in Cambodia, my church friends in Bala were at morning prayer thinking of me, and that I find encouraging as I in turn come to morning prayer to remember my friends and patients, colleagues and shop keepers, and the staff at Value Life Clinic who are on well-deserved holiday to the end of July. Nine o’clock in the morning is a significant time for Christians, for that was the time of day the new-born church came into existence.