Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hope Amidst Cambodia's Political Tension

Rev. Greg B. Fernandez Jr.
Preached at Phnom Penh Church (PPC) on August 18, 2013

"Cambodia is undergoing a phenomenon, the beginning of “Cambodia flourishing”... Even amidst the high-tension political brinkmanship, Cambodia has reached the tipping point, that is slowly but surely ushering in the Cambodia Spring. This season of discontent will be here to stay for some time, snowballing into a monsoonal downpour of discontent, until there is a complete change of leadership."

Those words I have just read to you are found in the Phnom Penh Post's Editorial section by Theary C. Seng, a Cambodian Christian, US-trained lawyer, outspoken critic of the government and founder of CIVICUS. 

The writer used the words "Cambodia Spring" that seem to suggest an upcoming mass demonstration to change the country's political ruling party. 'Cambodia Spring' is copycat of the term Arab Spring, a mass demonstration done in Tunisia and Egypt. The term Arab Spring maybe akin to what we call in the Philippines "People Power" that described a mass protest and demonstration that ousted at least two elected presidents of the Republic of the Philippines.  

In response to Editorial on the Phnom Penh Post, however, Ngy Chanphal, a secretary of state in the Ministry of Interior said, "To suggest “complete change of leadership” is tantamount to a coup d'├ętat. Cambodia does not have winter, spring, summer or fall...but it does have two seasons – a dry season and a wet season. Any suggestion that the “July 2013 election gave the opportunity to usher in a “Cambodian spring” is tantamount to self-destruction, or suicide, and is completely out of context (emphasis mine).

The call for mass demonstration and the possibility of it by the CNRP's leaders a last resort if their call for UN involvement in the investigation of election irregularities not headed has been causing panic and anxiety among the Cambodian populous. There's an exodus among garment factory workers not returning to work due to the government's deployment of tanks and other military armed vehicle. Just last Thursday, people saw 16 tanks mounted with launchers and 20 more heavily armed vehicles left Sihanoukville en route to Phnom Penh by train.

Every 20 years in Cambodia, there is a revolution but never succeeded said the secretary of state from the Ministry of Interior.  It happened in 1953, in 1973, in 1993, and now maybe 2013.

Because of the political tensions we are facing, there is a hearsay and rumor of violence and unrest in the Cambodian winds, causing others to falter in the floods of fears and anxieties. Such is only a rumor. But even if the rumor turned into reality, as Christians we have a stronger message, a solid foundation found in the Book of Life--"Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions!"

That is a message of hope amidst Cambodia's political tension. These words "Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God believe also in me," didn't come from a columnist in Cambodian paper but were from the Author of life, the Creator of the universe, the Savior of humankind and Designer of our eternal destiny-JESUS CHRIST!

For the last two Sundays, we've heard messages about the gospel of Grace from Pastor Kevin and Pastor Joseph Prince. Today, instead of continuing my sermon series on Growth, I felt lead to talk about hope. If hope is taken away, everything that is left would be despair.

Let us read John 14: verses 1 and 2.

Jesus said these words before He was arrested. To tell people not to worry when there's nothing to worry about is pretty easy. To tell you don't worry when everything is okay is meaningless. Not everything is okay in Cambodia politically; unrest and violence could possibly happen. But as Christian, we have better position, because of our faith in the Almighty God.

Jesus knew the disciples are going to face difficult times, persecution and even death. In fact, according to tradition the entire Apostle with the exception of John died a martyr. Jesus told them earlier; Let not your heart be troubled!

Jesus is still saying that today; let not your heart be troubled. He knows we are going to face lots of challenges in this life that's why he says "Don't worry". In today's world full of anxiety and fear, one might think how dare you say, "Let not your heart be troubled? Do you know what I am going through? After calming the storm Jesus said, "You of Little faith"! If Jesus created the vast universe and tells you not to worry, how dare you not to believe? 

It is interesting to note that Jesus said, "let not your heart be troubled! He didn't say "Let not your mind or will be troubled" We know that the heart is the center of our being. 

Jesus is not saying there will never be trouble nor the heart is never in troubled! This is not to say that we will never have trouble, we will never worry and we will never experience fear. Troubles are real and therefore worry is real.

How do we have Hope and How do we Maintain that Hope?

Let's look at the verse again,...You believe in God, Believe also in me.

There are three simple but fundamental truth that can bring us hope also can help us maintain hope. You must believe in God. 2. You must believe in Jesus. 3. You believe in Heaven/eternity.

How is belief in God, in Jesus and in heaven related to the problem of trouble and worry? I hope to answer this question as we go along.

Now, let us start with the first foundational truth.

"Believe in God"
For intellectual people, it is quite difficult to convince them that God does exist. The existence of a loving God has been argued, debated and discussed for centuries and millennia. If there is God, atheist say, Why and how? The doubters say, If God is good why evil?  But..even if they adamantly deny God, Atheists have never produced valid proofs and evidence that God does not exist.  Can man live without God?

Few months ago I read somewhere the following information:

There was a comparison that was done many years ago between Jonathan Edward (an 18th century preacher) and Max Jukes an atheist who lived at the same time.

Max Jukes, the atheist, lived a godless life. He married an ungodly girl, and from the union there were 310 who died as paupers (people who depended on the state), 150 were criminals, 7 were murderers, 100 were drunkards, and more than half of the women were prostitutes. His 540 descendants cost the State one and a quarter million dollars.

Jonathan Edwards: He lived at the same time as Max Jukes, but he married a godly girl. An investigation was made of 1,394 known descendants of Jonathan Edwards of which 13 became college presidents, 65 college professors, 3 United States senators, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 75 army and navy officers, 100 preachers and missionaries, 60 authors of prominence, one a vice-president of the United States, 80 became public officials in other capacities, 295 college graduates, among whom were governors of states and ministers to foreign countries. His descendants did not cost the state a single penny. (source not recorded)

Belief in God matters. What Jesus had told his disciples is simple yet profound, "Believe in God." What He is telling us today is the same thing, believe in God. It takes only faith to accept this truth. Faith makes the difference.

No amount of reasoning and intellectual argument can take the place faith, for without faith it is impossible to please God. Unbelief is what hinders people from coming to Jesus.

It would take an entire day just to begin to tell you about who God is. This morning, let me assume that all of us believe in God's existence and there is no need to prove that there is God. As matter of analysis, Jesus isn't asking us to believe that God exist. Jesus was not saying to His disciples "you must believe that there is God", He simply said, believe in God. Is there a difference between a belief that there is God and Believe in God? It does! We can believe in many things but God. We can also create our own God. According to GALLUP, More than 9 in 10 Americans still say "yes" when asked the basic question "Do you believe in God?"

Just look at America today and you will know that believing there is God is not enough. What kind of God we believe in is yet another question.

Yes, we can certainly believe that there is God and do not live like one. The question I would like to ask is, do we truly believe in God. Of course I do and you do. The question I would ask us again is, do we believe without any shadow of doubt that God can help us for whatever worries we have today. Whatever problems and troubles we have NOW, do we believe God can help us?

As Christians one of our constant weakness and failure in the school of faith, and I am not excluding myself, is that we have trusted God for our eternal destiny but hard for us to trust Him with our earthly anxiety.

 Let us move to the next one!

 "Believe also in Me"
When Jesus said, "Believe also in me," we need to ask a very simple question, Who is Jesus? Why should I believe Him? In John 14, of the same chapter in verse 6, is classic and yet basic truth that draws the line between Jesus and others. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me." There aren't two ways, there aren't three ways to God, there aren't many ways--there is only one way and that way is Jesus.

Our eternal destiny hangs in the balance of our faith in Jesus because He is the only way to God. One's eternal destiny hangs in the balance of one's belief in Jesus for the Bible says, "There is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved."

Those of us who believe Jesus many years ago need to be reminded again about this fundamental truth. When we first believe in Jesus, we were full of life and vigor but after many years our faith seem to decline, the joy seem to be demising and the worst, we have no more joy.  We need to renew our commitment again when this happens.

The third Fundamental Truth to build our Hope is:

"In my Father's house are many mansions"

Many years ago, I preached a sermon THE COUNTRY CALLED HEAVEN!  I could still remember, one of the points I highlighted in my sermon was.  Heaven is real and perfect place. Often, we only hear message and songs about heaven and eternity during funeral services. In times of tragic death, we come face to face with mortality and we suddenly wake up on the things that really matters. For dying people, the message about heaven is appealing. Yesterday, I went to Hope International School and attended a memorial and prayer service for the Bang family who were killed in car crash in June. And sure enough, eternity and heaven came up.

In a preaching class, I was taught to preach to people's need. For youth who are full of vigor, don't preach about eternity or heaven. Preach to them how to become successful. How to achieve their dream. How to raise a family. Talk to them about how to get rich, etc. The message about eternity or heaven might not draw much crowd and attention among the younger generation. 

Why tie up heaven with a belief in God? After Jesus told his disciples to believe in God and believe in Him, he said, "In my Father's house are many mansions." Of course, it would take another sermon series to talk about heaven. But the Bible clearly defines heaven as a real place, not just a piece of cake in the sky. Heaven is not a metaphor. Heaven is a real country. The Bible tells us that heaven is our permanent home.

We know that we are not saved in order to go to heaven, we are saved to serve humanity, to make difference in this world. We are saved to worship God, that is the highest purpose. But part of the package of believing in Jesus is to be where He is. The Apostle Paul writes, "If only in this life we have hope in Christ, then we are most miserable men of all." Our Hope in Christ is not just here on earth but also in the afterlife.

Therefore, we must believe in Heaven.  We must believe in eternity. We must believe in the afterlife. It is one thing to believe in God and yet another to believe in the afterlife. Why do I say that? Genuine belief in heaven changes our perspective about earthly things. Believing in what Jesus said that there are many mansions in heaven waiting for us will revolutionize how we see things here and now. Our view of eternity certainly changes our view of life today. If we truly believe that we live forever in eternity, why don't we live a life that would look like one in heaven?

These three things are so simple that if we truly believe them they can cure our anxiety and stress. How many of us followers of Jesus truly believe what Jesus taught?

Believing in God, in Jesus, in Heaven or eternity always brings HOPE to a troubled soul.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when striving cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand


No guilt of life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Aleeyah's Sacrificial Gift to the Bong Paoun Project: The Pain and Joy of Giving

Aleeyah gives all her savings to the Bong Paoun Project on July 26, 2013
The scene at the Fernandez's residence was not typical one Thursday evening. The long day was over, it's time for bed. The scene was moving. Aleeyah was hugging her mom crying confused what to do, saying, "I really want to buy Geronimo Stilton book but I also want to help the Bong Paoun Project." 

For weeks and perhaps months, Aleeyah has been saving money to buy another book in the Geronimo Stilton Scholastic series.  She earns money by doing dishes at home. Sometimes, she washes once or twice a day. At other times, she missed her chores. She earns $0.25 cents every time she washes dishes.

This particular evening, the old and worn out phrase about giving 'give until it hurts' could have been much clearer as her heart was torn apart between buying her favorite book for herself or giving her entire saving to help the Bong Paoun Project. The emotional scene continues. Her mom hugged her with arms around her back and prayed with her. Her dad tries to give a sermon saying, "That's what it means by giving sacrificially. Giving something that you value and giving up something very important to you." As the emotional scene died down, Aleeyah still couldn't decide what to do. She went to bed with her mom's advice to pray some more and sleep over it before making her final decision the next morning.

The Bong Paoun Project, by the way, was started by Timothee Paton, a ministry that reaches out to street children and kids from the slum of Cambodia's capital. The Khmer word bong is the word used for older/big brother or sister while paoun is the word for younger/little brother or sister. The Bongs in this project help pauns leave the street, provide financial assistance so the pauns can go to school, and help them connect to local churches.

Kingdom Rock VBS at ICA July 22-26, 2013
On her first day at Kingdom Rock  VBS, a bong from the Project came to talk briefly about her ministry as a bong. She also brought with her two paun sisters. At the Kingdom Rock VBS, the missions project the campers will be helping is the Bong Paoun Project and they are collecting cash and other stuff to help the project.  Aleeyah's tender heart was deeply touched and wanted to help. But how? Her dad jokingly told her to give all her savings.

Coming home from the 4th day of the VBS, Aleeyah started packing some used books, clothing and others stuff to give to the project the following day. It was easy to give her old clothes and used books and other things that are not really important to her. It was not difficult to let go of the extra things she possessed. Giving her surplus was pretty easy and no emotional struggle was seen. The hardest part of this experience was giving up her savings after working so hard to earn money just enough to buy a book. One Geronimo Stilton book costs $8.50 and the newer version costs $11.50 in Phnom Penh. It's painful to give up because she knew she can only buy the book out of her savings; mommy will not. As she weighs whether or not to give, the emotional struggle gets deeper and the tug of war between letting go and holding tight of her saving continues. 

Aleeyah's last day at Kingdom Rock VBS, ICA
The next morning, her last day at Kingdom Rock, she made up her mind. No longer torn apart, no longer confused and the crying was over. Aleeyah sacrificially and joyfully gave all her savings worth $8.75 to the Bong Paun Project. While the amount is not much, it is sacrificial in the sense that she had to give up what she had worked for to help others. At a young age, she has a tender-heart toward others, something that needs to be nurtured. With the Bong Paoun Project through Kingdom Rock VBS, Aleeyah just learned the meaning of sacrificial giving. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Politicians Cheating on Election Versus Students Cheating on Exams

Students cheating on exam shared by Cambodian Facebook users
Cambodian politicians cheating on the national election versus Cambodian students cheating at the National High School examination are worth exploring for some comparison and contrast. Is it wrong to cheat during election while cheating at work, cheating on spouse and partner is right? Is it justifiable to cheat on exam but not on election? Is it justifiable to pay for higher grade, certificate and degree but not on voters' vote?  Why is cheating on spouse justifiable but cheating on the government fund is wrong? No one said either one is right or wrong for what justifiable cause exists for cheating?  As noted below, the students attitude about cheating in the classroom seems to imply that such is acceptable therefore it's justifiable. Cheating practices are wrong regardless of how one defines and justifies.

Villagers in Kampong Cham gathered in front of a commune leader's house to receive pay-out from CPP
Cheating is rampant and expected as over 100 thousand high school students take the national exam this week in Cambodia's capital. Cheat sheets are being sold for $5 per subject according to The Phnom Penh Post reports. The sad part  is that teachers are alleged of selling exam or cheat sheets to students. Teachers openly selling answers to students during exams  are unbelievable. Read the reports Prayers, Cheat Sheets Readied

How is this different labeling the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) being a corrupt political party if teachers who are not in politics do the same within their sphere of influence? The CPP being alleged to election fraud and irregularities during the national election has drawn insurmountable criticism on the web and social networks. The question nobody asks is if students cheat openly what is the guarantee that they will not cheat when they become government officials someday? When they are in power and authority, what guarantee there is that Cambodia will be corruption free? 

During the election campaign, thousands of youth and students from the opposition party are shouting "Change" as they march on the street. They are calling for change in the government. Young Cambodian Facebook users are boldly criticizing the government for rampant corruption practices. 

Is the call for change genuine or a facade that hides a deep envious attitude toward what the people in power possess? Is the call for change from the youth real or simply an expression of disappointment towards those in authority? The call for change has to be selfless for the sake of the nation and its citizen.

Lots of people were shocked to find out a video of a pay-out  done by the ruling party after the election in one of the villages in Kampong Cham, province of Cambodia.  The video has become viral on Facebook and people are calling for investigation. There is nothing shocking about this; it happens widely in different forms. Students pay for a better grade. Others pay for a degree. People pay for promotion. In fact, just today, The Cambodia Daily reported that many students were able to cheat by bribing exams supervisors to take exams sheets into the classroom. Why is vote-buying different then? Why is cheating in the election different from cheating in exam? Of course it's different in its gravity, level, and effect, but cheating someone, cheating at school, cheating for promotion is still cheating.

Here is another question no one dare to ask: How will students and young generations call for change in the government if they themselves cheat on their exam, grade and degree? How can the citizen accuse the government for corruption practices when they do the same even if theirs is a smaller and limited degree? It's a human nature for us to see the fault in others but blind to our own blunders.

A call for change in the government must be from a changed individual/group or it's groundless. The foundation for change has to start in someone's character not from a reaction of others fault alone. Changing the government leaders does not solve corruption unless the change starts within the people. Youth calling for change to a corrupt government is shallow and meaningless without its basic foundation—character and integrity.

In Christianity, genuine transformation and change happen when one encounters Jesus Christ and experience the saving power of  the Savior.