Since we came to Cambodia, Jeff and I have had a few struggles. I struggled with the pragmatic aspects of living here for a long time—primarily with the grocery shopping and cooking, but to a lesser degree with other things as well. As a couple, we have had real struggles finding a church that was a good fit for us—the first one we tried featured an antisocial congregation, funereally paced “contemporary” worship songs, and a nonsensical sermon; the second sported a “Chinese mother” pastor who had a gripe with anyone who didn’t do exactly what he wanted in all areas of life, as well as a serious case of class warfare mentality; the third had sincere and welcoming people, but was steeped in a philosophy that elevates custom to the same level as biblical mandates; the fourth would have worked for us if necessary, but primarily was a church for missionaries, so we just didn’t fit in; the fifth … well, let’s just say it was a feminist’s dream, and we are not feminists. Finally, after almost giving up hope and returning to church #4, we happened upon the church that we think will be our church home for our remaining time in Cambodia. This church was the last one on our list to try because, on paper, it looked like it was the polar opposite of what we need and want in a church. We almost didn’t try it at all. I’m so happy that we did try it, three weeks ago tomorrow!
You see, not only does it seem as though this church will meet our need for a regular gathering of believers for worship, prayer, and teaching, but it has provided the opportunity for something else that we have sorely lacked during our time here: friends that are our friends, as a couple, rather than friends that are more “his and hers.” We had one couple, met at church #3, that filled that role for us for several months … until they returned to Canada back in May. There also was a couple from the embassy with whom we spent some social time … until they returned to the States in early June. And there is one other couple from the embassy that we enjoy, but they seem to have limited time for socializing. Other than that, I have friends from playgroup, Jeff has friends at the embassy, and we don’t have any friends in common. This situation provides enough of what we need to get us through, but there definitely has been something missing. Maybe, just maybe, that missing element has been filled.
You see, our first week at the new church, we met a couple with whom we both got along well. A couple that just arrived in Cambodia and is planning to be here longer than we will be. A couple that lives nearby. A couple that has a 10-month-old daughter and therefore is at roughly the same stage as us in their parenting journey. A couple that shares our faith. A couple we want to get to know better.
It took us a while to get around to it, but a week after meeting them, we extended an invitation to join us for dinner. Later that week, just a few days ago, we hosted them at our house. Although the purpose of the event was to offer hospitality to newcomers and to enjoy some time together, it also served as an opportunity for all of us to get to know each other in ways that were more … evaluative … than exploratory. For example, one issue when socializing with other Christians for the first time often is whether or not it’s acceptable to offer alcoholic beverages—the choice regarding alcohol itself doesn’t matter so much as what else often is revealed: the use or avoidance of alcohol is one of the major areas where a person who is inclined to elevate custom or opinion to the level of biblical command often will reveal that inclination. It was a matter of some anxiety for me, therefore, whether to offer beer or wine with dinner, as I didn’t want to offend our guests if they were of the “alcohol is evil” persuasion, but I also did not want them to assume mistakenly that we were of that opinion. I finally decided to set out the water, Coke Light, and Sprite on the buffet in the dining room, leave the beer and wine in the kitchen, and make a verbal offer—that way, our guests would know it was available if they wanted it, they wouldn’t have to see it if they objected, and Jeff and I would discover much more about them than whether or not they drink.
It worked out perfectly. On the alcohol front, the relief was palpable when I offered the beer or wine—our guests share our opinion on the issue and apparently were as aware of it as we were. Everything else went just as smoothly. The luxuries we enjoy as embassy personnel were acknowledged with humor and grace, with no trace of jealousy or judgment. The conversation never lagged. No one minded when their daughter babbled loudly through the blessing, or when Alexa interrupted the conversation with cries for attention. After dinner, while walking and calming his distraught daughter, our male guest roamed into the living room, only to return with a quip about how only geeks have home media servers—and I was amazed to have met someone who recognized the equipment without prior explanation. We learned a little about each other’s history, and about the hopes we all have for our time in Cambodia. They even made our shy girl smile and laugh. In short, that first fledgling exploration of each other’s personalities revealed real potential for a solid friendship.
I hadn’t realized just how much we’ve been missing “couple” friends. I’m extremely introverted and do pretty well with playgroup twice a week, especially with the addition of a full-time housekeeper for some conversation during the day. I enjoyed spending “extra” time with our Canadian friend before she left, and I have missed having a regular group Bible study to attend, but I haven’t felt a gaping hole in my social life—though I recognize the need for couple friends now that it seems on the verge of being satisfied again. Jeff, on the other hand, apparently has felt the need much more strongly than I have. Our new friends were barely out the door on Thursday night before he told me that he’d wanted to invite them for pizza on Friday night and didn’t do so only because he hadn’t discussed it with me yet. When we discovered they had other plans, he immediately suggested a game day on Saturday. When I balked at that (we have no snack food in the house other than brownies or cookies, and I feel the need to offer … more … when we have guests), he suggested next Saturday. And in the meantime, how about lunch after church tomorrow? You get the idea—apparently he did notice the lack and is very happy that we have a clear opportunity to rectify the situation. (Jeff pointed out to me during editing that a large part of the reason he’s so happy about this opportunity is that he really doesn’t believe me when I say that playgroup is enough—he’s eager for me to have more and closer friends.)
What’s the purpose of this post? I’m not sure. I think I just felt a need to share that God has blessed us yet again. He seems to have provided for our felt need—a church where we feel at home—and also has met a need that I at least didn’t realize we had—friends with whom we can spend time as a family. As icing on the cake, our new friends plan to begin a small group Bible study, so I think He’s going to meet that need as well.
God is good, and I am grateful.