state of the family

“How’s life in Cambodia?”

What a great question. And my answer depends on my mood. Or how the last 10 minutes have gone. Or how much sweat is dripping off my face and/or pooling in my bra.

“How’s life in Cambodia?”

Amazing. Wonderful. Hard. Hot. A dream come true. Really, really great. Unbelievable. Complicated. Lonely. Really, really hot. Awesome.

I really, truly, no kidding pinch myself every single day here. If I don’t do a literal pinch, I say to myself (and more often, out loud), We live in CAMBODIA.

We live in CAMBODIA.


It’s crazy, really. I mean, I don’t even know if it’s real. Is it real?

This morning we had our Big Assessment for Level 2 (Khmer School). If we passed, we’d move on to Level 3. We passed! The girls did amazing, and we did all right too. I’m so proud of us. Level 3 is where we learn to read and write the Khmer script.

Hold me.

No, I’m actually excited. For as long as I can remember (3+ decades), it’s been my dream to learn a second language. Like, really, really learn it. This is an honest-to-goodness dream come (coming) true. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s not killer hard either. Our school is amazing. Our teachers are fabulous. And, so far, God has provided the $ we need to continue. (We need $600 more for Level 3. If you’d like to help us out, click here.)

My most favorite thing ever is using our budding Khmer with the people we meet in our daily lives. Fruit sellers, servers at restaurants, neighbors, our sweet tuk-tuk driver, people we meet when we’re out and about. It’s really really cool, and it’s got me itching to learn more and learn fast.

(Every good writer knows better than to use/over-use the word “really.” I can’t help it today.)

Gabe has been blowing my mind with his photography trips and making new friends and getting involved with ministries using his photography skills. (I’ll have him share more about that soon.) We’ve been talking about our future here in Cambodia and, while it’s still not laid out for us in crystal clear form, the picture is becoming a little clearer.

I’m sensing that it’s all going to have to do a lot more with photography and less to do with web design. Gabe comes alive when he’s behind a camera. He comes alive when he’s making new friends. He comes alive when he’s making people smile and telling their stories, and I just have a feeling that all the pieces are going to come together in due time. (And I can see our whole fam getting involved as well. Exciting!)

So, yay speaking Khmer, and yay photography. What’s so hard about living in Cambodia?

Um, the heat. It zaps you faster than you can say muy, pi, bey (1, 2, 3). We heard tell that April was the hottest month (100+ degrees every day) but we’re over halfway through May, and the temps haven’t let up. Any minute now the rains will start to fall, and then we’ll probably be lamenting how hard it is to do anything when it’s raining all the time and flooding everything.

What else? Oh, cooking. I’ve mostly given up on it. We can eat out for cheap, and we meet new friends, and I just chalk it up to ministry. I have some editing jobs I do instead of slaving over a hot stove, so it’s all good. Aside from mostly healthy meals, we’ve been eating a lot of crap (junk food snacks), but when I’m not tired, I shop for fresh fruits & veggies & cut them up, so that’s cool.

Missing people. We miss people. A lot. Besides family and our close friends, we miss Abbey Lane LIKE CRAZY. Too much feeling to even write about right now.

Family unity. Or the lack thereof. We are mostly pretty awesome at getting along with each other in close quarters and being together 24/7. We’ve had a lot of practice over the last few years, and I have to give us credit. Yay us.

But holy cow. Sometimes stuff hits the fan, and hoo boy, we’re all a wreck. The girls don’t have a place to go play. They don’t really have friends outside of the families we sometimes hang out with. Nina met a friend two weeks ago who she adores (praise you, Jesus!) but she’s leaving for the States from June to September (her dad is Khmer, but her mama is from Oregon, and they haven’t been to the U.S. in 3 years).

Our family loves being together and we have fun together, but we’re also individuals who aren’t carbon copies of each other and need different things. And sometimes I feel stretched too thin. And sometimes Gabe feels like he’s all alone (only guy + 3 years of hard stuff that bonded the girls & me). And then there’s all the third culture kid stuff and the moving to a foreign country and blah blah blah.


We have friends coming to visit us in less than a month. Yay! And they’re bringing us goodies from our church family. Yay!  (our packages are taking a looooong time to get here, and we’re hoping they’re not “lost”) Then Gabe’s mom is coming in July! Yay!

So lots to look forward to. But I’ve reeeeally felt convicted these past 4 months to take one day at a time, enjoy it, and not for a minute, wish a day away or look ahead to something easier.

These girlies of ours are growing too fast as it is.

Well, hey, I think that about covers it. I didn’t really get too deep into anything, but I don’t feel like I’m hiding anything either. Thanks for listening. Anything else you’d like to know?

15 thoughts on “state of the family

  1. Delaine... The Brain

    Can you write blog posts about:

    1. Khmer Rouge (if you hadn’t already). I just need a refresher course…. okay- I know nothing about it.

    2. Cambodian food- what’s a typical meal? In a Khmer household, do they usually eat together? What’s your favorite meal your family has found? (I live vicariously through food stories #sorrynotsorry).

    3. Marriage broad. You’ve spoken so openly and honestly about marriage. How has the move and life there as “ex-pats” changed, strengthened, etc your marriage? This might be more of a personal, email type thing, but of course since you know us, you know why I’m asking 🙂

    When you share these posts, I feel like I am right there with you all 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Melinda

    I’ve been doing reading on post modern ministry and from what my research says, postmodern ministers are all about “doing life” with people. So you may feel like, or it may appear like, you aren’t really doing “ministry” yet but actually according to the times – you are! Your family has made the choice to live right alongside people in need. You began doing that in Ohio. You’ve just transferred your address of where you do that to Cambodia. And that’s a very good description of millennial leadership. For those of us used to “modern ” ministry methodology, we may be waiting for the “okay we are officially starting a ministry! ” from you. But the Taviano model is more like Shane Claiborne, Ron Sider, going right back to the incredible John Perkins in Mississippi. You get right in there with people and live alongside of them as people of God. I loved reading how Gabe is using his camera to do exactly that. And of course, you want to be learning the language so you can really communicate your hearts to people. You guys aren’t about a “us versus them ” ministry. It’s, “Hey Cambodia – we are in this together and we are committed to you and want you to know that God wants you to be reconciled back to him. ” And you’re willing to be daily hot and sweaty and relationally challenged among yourselves, and basically uncomfortable a lot – to do this. Can you let us know if we are able to do a monthly EFT to support you guys?

  3. Elizabeth

    So great to read this, Marla! And your reply to Stacy as well. I’ve kind of got the picture from various FB posts and blog posts, but good to have it all-in-one! 🙂 Personally I think it’s fabulous that you’ve chosen to live your lives in Cambodia and see how God leads you in loving the people around you. From my (avid) reading and learning over the last 5 years I have recently come to the understanding that we are here (in this world) to learn, from the situations we encounter, how to love more and more fully. That is challenging enough in one’s own culture, but it is truly inspiring to see your family living that out in a different one! So happy to hear that you all passed Level 2! Praying with you for the remainder of your fees to come in soon for Level 3! So happy to have found you again and to be able to be a part of your journey! Blessings!

    1. Sharon

      *Like* to Melinda’s comment. Also, agreeing with Marla’s reply to Stacy. I have friends who were missionaries in South America and the first step was language school full-time. I don’t recall if it was for one or two years.

  4. Stacy

    I have been thinking about supporting your family but I would like to hear more about what your ministry is. You have been there for 4 months (I think I read that?) and if I missed a post i apologize but I haven’t seen where you have described what ministry you are involved in that you are raising funds as missionaries. Could you elaborate on that in a post? (I looked on your but it just says we will figure it out when we get there).

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Hi, Stacy. Great question. Right now we’re learning the language pretty much full-time. Many (if not most) missions agencies require missionaries to spend 1-2 years learning the language before they start doing “real ministry” work. Gabe is having a little trouble sticking to that, so he’s been doing quite a bit of ministry stuff in the afternoons and on weekends. On Thursdays he works with young boys who are at high risk of being trafficked and teaches them photography and they go on photo excursions. On Tuesdays he’s teaching some young men photography/photoshop as an alternative path to the demeaning work they’ve been doing. He has also developed friendships with a bunch of photographers and has been sharing his faith as opportunities arise. And he has donated his photography/web design skills to several ministries here in Phnom Penh as he has time. (His workload exhausts me.)

      Me? I blog and do social media and share our heart for the people of Cambodia. I also write/edit for pay (we only have 33% of our monthly support raised and bring in the rest ourselves). And learn the language/culture and be a wife/mom. We’ll see how my role evolves as we transition out of language school.

      We totally understand people wanting us to be doing hands-on ministry before they start supporting us. That’s part of the reason we’re not doing a big push to raise 100% of our support. The amazing people who have already joined our team are some pretty special folks who trust that God will reveal his plan in his perfect timing and want to start supporting us ahead of time. We don’t know yet if we’ll join an existing ministry or start our own. We just know we’re supposed to be in Cambodia and trusting God with the rest.

      Hope this helps!

      1. Stacy

        It does help some. Thank you. I do understand that learning the language is key.
        I also feel that transparency and accountability is as well.

        When you say you have raised only 33% of your support what is that total support amount based on or arrived upon?

        This blog post is so on the money I think.

        “If you support a mission or missionaries, you have the right and responsibility to know if they’re actually engaging with the community in ways that make sense and reflect a heart for God’s mission. You should know what they do, and why, and you should be abLe to get a pretty clear understanding of how they do it”.

        1. Marla Taviano Post author

          Hi, Stacy. I’ve read that post of Jamie’s and she definitely makes some good points. I can’t address all the parts I’d like to ask her about right now (maybe I can do that in a future post), but I’ll answer your $ question.

          The $3000/month we need for living expenses is actually not enough. I’ll give you a rough breakdown. Our language school is $300/week. So, $1200/month. Rent: $450. Transportation: $200. Bank/paypal/missions agency fees: $100ish ($17 transaction fee for every $395 we withdraw from ATM). Electricity/utilities/internet: $150. Groceries/toiletries/cleaning/health: $1000ish. Giving: $300. Web hosting/web design software subscription: $70. Ministry expenses: $100ish. We don’t have health insurance.

          Here’s the thing. Our supporters are almost exclusively family and close friends who have been watching our lives (and/or doing life with us) for a long time. They’ve seen how we use our $ and how we’ve lived out our faith, and they believe in us and what God is doing and will do with us here.

          I have the feeling that, if I spend hours defending myself and our “call,” it still won’t be enough. I share honest details of our lives online and in correspondence with supporters. I realize it’s hard to understand that language learning is a full-time thing. I can see someone wanting to wait until we have real missionary jobs before supporting us. But we can’t go to school full-time and work full-time, so we’re dependent on others now.

          I’d advise you to pray and ask God for discernment. If he tells you to support us, go for it. If he gives you “red flags,” or even “meh” feelings, don’t. Maybe your $ would be better spent either on a reputable missions organization or missionaries you know and trust.

  5. Carrie-Anne

    I so look forward to the updates on your family. Thank you for continuing to share your adventures with us. God is doing, and will keep on doing, amazing things in and through your lives. Many prayers and blessing to you and your family!

  6. Nancy

    I love reading your updates. I have to confess — the thing that made me happiest is that you didn’t say “the girls and I.” But, you know, a lot of people are going to read that and think that your grammar is slipping. (Ha! Now I picture your grandma falling!) The schools did a great job of teaching the use of “my friend and I” but they forgot to teach when that’s used. (Wanna know my pet peeve?)

    Sounds like you all are doing great — or normal at least. You’re experiencing the same emotions that any family would living in close quarters in a hot climate — but YOU LIVE IN CAMBODIA! Can’t wait to see where God leads you guys. So proud of you for learning the language and for how Gabe is stepping out and finding his niche (LOOOOVE the photos!!). I know day to day things are hard but one day you’re all going to look back and not believe how far you’ve come! You’re an inspiration!

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Thanks so much for your encouragement, friend!! So, let me guess, you wouldn’t want me to say, “Oh! That’s been Gabe and I’s dream for a long time!” 😉

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