Here’s Part 1.
So, we’re sitting at the restaurant, and I’m holding my phone. It’s on speaker. And Pastor Jan answers. And I say, Hi, it’s Marla. From church.
And he says: “Marla! Hello!”
And I explain the tragedy that has happened and how Kim and Jayla really need a pastor to officiate a ceremony for Bob, and are you free at 10 tomorrow morning?
He says yes, he will rearrange a few things, and he will be free. He will officiate Bob’s funeral. He has never really done anything like this, but we will let the Spirit lead.
I think that is the most wonderful, perfect idea.
We decide we’ll meet at church, then head to their guesthouse, and follow them to the Wat (Buddhist temple) where the cremation will take place.
He tells me he loves me as we hang up. I think, this man is something special.
We share a few more stories, finish dinner, walk back to the guesthouse, say good-bye until tomorrow.
The next morning we meet Jan and Marleen at church, we hug (there will always be hugging with Jan and Marleen–and, actually, everyone at Freedom), Jan says God gave him words to say. Some Scripture and some other things.
“We used to be Catholic. You know that, right?”
No, I did not know that.
Yes, pretty much everyone in Belgium (who is religious) is Roman Catholic. Just like pretty much everyone in Cambodia is Buddhist.
How amazing is our God? This will be so comforting to Kim.
We drive to the guesthouse. We go inside. We see Kim. Marleen walks up to her to hug her. Kim bursts into tears and falls into her arms. I just say, “thank you, Jesus” over and over in my head.
We drive to the wat. We wait. We sit under a tree on a wooden, wrap-around bench. We share stories and I learn more about Kim and Jayla and Deb and Marleen and Jill. (The men are having their own little chat.)
We get to hear more about Bob. The next day was his 75th birthday. He loved the kids in Cambodia so much. He had been so looking forward to celebrating his birthday with them. This was Kim’s first mission trip. Jayla’s too. Kim doesn’t know how she’s going to live without him. He was her knight in shining armor. He did everything for her. Her heart is broken. My heart breaks for her.
I learn that Jan and Marleen have three grown children. Their son is married to a Khmer woman and lives in Cambodia. One daughter is married to a man from the Congo and lives there (I think). The other daughter is married to a man from exotic Idaho and lives in the UK. Marleen speaks four languages–Dutch (her native tongue), French, German, and English. She will probably not try to learn Khmer at age 58.
We keep waiting. Ray makes phone calls. Two-and-a-half hours later, they finally bring Bob’s body. His soul is already with Jesus. We walk over together. We gather around the wooden coffin. Jan shares the words God gave him. They are comforting in this hard, shocking, unfair, surreal time.
We all hug and say good-bye and go our separate ways.
I think to myself that God is so good to give us a pastor couple in Ohio who are there for us in our time of greatest need and now a pastor couple in Cambodia who are there for us in our time of greatest need. Tragedy, hardship bring people together. Bob has brought so many people together over his lifetime and even now, after his death.
And Jan and Marleen have earned a permanent special place in my heart. In our new friends’ hearts too.
We see them one last time on Sunday, June 5, then we head to America the following Wednesday. We hug everyone good-bye and look forward to having people to come home to in August.
Little do we know how HUGE this will be, this having people to come home to.
Just three weeks after we get to the States, we get our world rocked by an email from the director of the ministry we work for in Cambodia. We keep it on the down low while we try to work things out. And then it gets “worked out” for us with just two weeks left in the States, in a way we never could have imagined.
“Will you still go back to Cambodia?” some people ask. (We try to answer this question graciously. The people who really love and know us do not ask this question. They know we’re going back to Cambodia.)
But we will be going back without a house, without jobs, without a plan for the future. What if we didn’t have a church home and friends to lean on? MAN. I can’t even imagine.
We arrive in Siem Reap late at night on August 9. Our tuk-tuk driver friend and Livi’s boyfriend, and one sweet young guy, Ratana, from church are there to meet us. I choke back tears and try to be thankful for this kind little reception.
Six days after we get back, we go to C-group. Our friends pray for us. For strength, for wisdom, for the grace to let go of bitterness and hurt. We’re so thankful.
The next evening, August 17, Pastor Jan and Marleen ask to take us out to dinner to catch up. It’s a beautiful time. We learn more about them, hear more of their story. The life they led in Belgium, God’s call for them to plant a church there, then another call to Cambodia.
They want to hear more about what happened with us and HPC. They are super kind and encouraging and they assure us that they are 100% positive that God has big, big plans for our family. They are excited to be along for the ride.
We tell them that we are excited too. That we have been hurt and things have not been fun, but we know that time will heal all wounds and that we, too, know that God is up to something.
And then Jan says, “I wasn’t going to tell you this…”
(I wish you could hear Jan talk. With his excited booming voice and Belgian accent. He reminds me of Gru from Despicable Me. Gabe thinks I shouldn’t say this. He thinks it’s an insult to be compared to a cartoon character. It is NOT an insult. It is FREAKING COOL.)
(p.s. Between when I wrote those words ^ and when I published this post, we were at a Vision Night at Church, and Pastor Jan was booming excited about what’s next for Freedom, and Gabe nudges me and says with a smile, “You were right. He does sound like Gru.”)
Back to dinner. Jan looks at Marleen. “I haven’t even told Marleen. Because I know what she would say. She’s very practical. She would tell me to give you some time, some space. That it’s too early for me to say this to you.”
So… is he going to tell us or not?
“God gave me a vision for your family.”