the scoop on cambodia

I’ve been putting off writing this post because it means a lot to our family, and I want to get it right (and well, Bedbug Patrol is keeping me hopping). And we tossed around the idea of Gabe writing the post, so the naysayers (actually just one so far) could stop naysaying. But, as Gabe would say, I’m the writer, not him. And after the one-pager I wrote to our friends at the leasing office this morning, I’m kind of on a writing roll.

Here’s the deal (my mom loves it when I say that). Our fam of five is moving to Cambodia in January (unless God would clearly shut the door he’s opened). We made this decision as a family, and we made the decision based on a go-ahead we believe we got from God. This decision has been almost three years in the making (longer if you go all the way back to our first trip to Cambodia in July 2010). And the time is right.

And now, for the big questions:

What are you going to be doing there?

I’ll give you the three-sentence elevator pitch first and then expound in a bit.

God gave Gabe a vision back in January 2012 to move to Cambodia to make disciples. To train young men and women in web design, photography, and other digital stuff, and then employ them, giving them a path out of poverty. And to introduce them to Jesus and help them grow in him.

What organization will you be going with?

As it stands right now, we’re going on our own. This may change. We don’t know. We personally know of some amazing organizations doing great work there already. We’d love to help them out in any way we can but only as we’re needed. We’ll be chatting with the director of one particular organization we love to see if there’s a fit for us there.

We understand that this makes people nervous. How can we go to Cambodia on our own and not under someone’s umbrella?

Here’s all we can say right now. God’s got us. It will be okay.

Are you hoping to swoop in and save Cambodia in a single bound? 

You mean that whole White Savior Complex thing? Yeah, no.

Here are two big words God has been giving us lately: humility and trust. We’re not swooping in to Cambodia to save anybody or anything. Will we be doing what we can to help fight poverty and human trafficking and tell people about Jesus? Of course. But there is soooooo much we can learn from our Cambodian friends who are already doing that very thing.

We’ll be spending much of our first few months, I’m sure, just learning, watching, gleaning, soaking stuff in. Praying, asking God for opportunities, asking him to show us where he wants us, what our next steps should be.

So, we know what Gabe will be doing. What about the rest of you?

We’ll be supporting Gabe in whatever way we can. And learning the language. And making friends. And volunteering at The Hard Places Community (the Boys Center and Girls Center). And unschooling. And I’ll be writing a lot, because it’s in my blood and I can’t not. I’ll hopefully have the chance to tell stories and be an advocate, that kind of stuff, the kind of stuff I do right here.

Another part of Gabe’s vision is to help other missions organizations/non-profits by training young people who will then do their web design & marketing for free. And he’d like to find sponsors in the U.S. to pay these young folks a living wage to design this stuff. Then the organizations won’t have to spend $ on it.

So, you kind of have a plan. But wouldn’t you feel better if it were a little more concrete?

In my former life, I would’ve said yes. But God has had us on a path these last few years that is all about taking steps of faith, without really knowing what might happen when we do.

And last week I got the most beautiful, timely email from a dear friend I’ve only ever met online. She and her family live in Haiti and work with pregnant women, and they are some of my very biggest heroes. Here’s part of what she said:

I saw your post about the tickets to CAMBODIA. I know you are afraid and thrilled and all the feelings at once. You guys only need each other and God to walk forward. The quote of the year for me and one you need now:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

You don’t need to know what lies on the path ahead yet. It is fine to know what you know today and trust God with the darkness that lies ahead. Knowing how it will all play out and having all the answers would actually be a curse, because if you’re self-sufficient and know all the things, you don’t really need God or your husband or anyone else. The most reassuring truth about faith and life with Jesus is that everyone is on an equal playing field — nobody gets to know what happens tomorrow. Lean in hard on Jesus and go out into the darkness with your hand in the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.

Yes, I cried. So perfect. Thank you, Tara. And so many of you have written with such encouraging words for our family. THANK YOU.

What will you do about money? Are you going to raise support like missionaries?

Yes. Kind of. Our amazing church, Sanctuary Columbus, has generously offered to collect funds for us. Your donation to us through Sanctuary will be tax-deductible, and that money will go toward things like plane tickets, visas, immunizations, housing, etc. As it stands now, we won’t have access to those funds “just because.” That money will be used for specific expenses.

If you’re interested in making a donation through our church, let us know, and we’ll give you the details.

Right now, we’re not setting a goal or a number of supporters or a monthly amount we need. Some people have already given as the Spirit has led them, and that’s how we’re going to operate for the time being. Not fund-raising or asking for money at this point.

We’ve also been putting money away in our savings since March (mostly from The Dancing Elephant, but also selling other things and what have you). Since one-way tickets are cheaper than round-trip ones, we’ll be able to use some of this money for things we need to buy before we go. If you want to donate money to our personal fund, it won’t be tax-deductible. Again, contact me for details.

The girls will also be making lots of beautiful handmade cards between now and when we go, so order as much as you can while you have the chance. We won’t be shipping them from Cambodia!

What about accountability?

We’ll be accountable to our church for the big expenses, and we’ll be honest/transparent about the rest. If you don’t feel comfortable giving to us under these circumstances, we completely understand. We’d love to have you as prayer partners instead.

If you don’t raise a certain amount of monthly support, how are you going to live?

We haven’t done the regular paycheck thing in what feels like forever. We’re used to this. Both Gabe and I have earning potential (web design and writing) and the ability to do it from wherever we want in the world. Ideally, we’ll be doing less of our own stuff and more ministry/missions stuff while we’re in Cambodia, but anytime we need some money, we can stop what we’re doing and earn some.

And plane tickets aside, it’s cheaper to live in Cambodia than it is here in America.

Are you sure you want to move to Cambodia? It seems like you’re really in a groove there at Abbey Lane.

That is so true. We really are. We are loving life here and building relationships like crazy. Ever since we made the decision to move, it seems like our ministry here at Abbey Lane has ramped up bigtime. So many opportunities and friendships and great stuff happening.

We definitely hope it continues in these next four months, so we can leave on a high note. And set the stage for others to take over for us. And keep in touch with our friends when we head across the globe.

We won’t be wishing these months away. We’re asking God to help us redeem each and every day for his glory.

WHEW. LONGEST BLOG POST EVER. If you made it this far, let me know. I feel like I want to send you a present.

Any other questions? What did I leave out? Let us know!

36 thoughts on “the scoop on cambodia

  1. Pingback: what will become of our stuff? | Marla Taviano

  2. I live in Cambodia

    Do you know that proselytizing is actually illegal in Cambodia? 98% of Cambodians are Buddhists. For you to look down on their religion as if it is somehow not as good as your own is morally indefensible. Imagine if you were terribly poor and the only way your children could learn a skill to work (say web design or digital photography) was if they became Buddhists. They would do it so they wouldn’t starve, but would you as their parent really think that is fair? There’s nothing wrong with helping Cambodians but unfortunately a great many missionaries help only in exchange for religious conversion (although, of course, they all deny it).

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Hello, friend. Thanks for your comment. You’ve kind of backed me into a corner by saying we’re only “helping in exchange for religious conversion” and if I say otherwise, I’m just “denying” the truth.

      So, let me give an example of my current life situation as “proof.” We have been living and working in a primarily Muslim community for almost a year now. Our apartment complex is 75% Somali refugees, and our church holds a tutoring program for children here during the school year. In all that time, our family has helped countless families in many ways (hosting dinners, taking them to run errands, babysitting, helping with repairs, etc), and we consider them friends (they are a huge blessing to us too). We have not once proselytized to their children, and we only share our faith with the adults in conversation when we are asked questions about what we believe. There are no strings attached to our friendship. Yes, we believe in Jesus and that he offers the greatest hope there is in this life. But we let our lives speak that. And we never look down on their religion. In fact, we’re currently doing a study to learn even more about Islam.

      You could ask any one of our Muslim neighbors to vouch for us. There is much mutual respect, even with our differences.

      In Cambodia, we will live and love like Jesus (to the best of our ability). Conversion to Christianity will never be a prerequisite to receiving our help in any way. In fact, we don’t want people to pretend to choose Jesus just so they can have a job. If they choose Jesus, we want it to be because he has irresistibly drawn their hearts to him. We will love them and serve them no matter what. And we will humbly learn from them as well.

      Like I said, I can’t force you to believe me. And I completely understand where you’re coming from. We’d love to hang out with you someday in Cambodia and hear more of what’s on your mind.

      1. I live in Cambodia

        First, let me say that I know many missionaries who are doing good work in Cambodia. My problem is with missionaries that do a sort of quid pro quo, but my experience is that they don’t think this is what they are doing. They may be running a school in a village and then give gifts (refrigerators, wells, etc) to the families that they work with who have chosen to accept Jesus. And look, I get it. You want to help your friends. But to the people in the village, it’s pretty clear that if you accept Jesus, you’ll get a refrigerator, too. The missionaries don’t seem to see this as a quid pro quo, though (which is where my ‘they deny it’ comment comes from).

        I see why you would feel that backed you into a corner with my comment, but I also think that you are already backed yourself into a corner of your own making when you believe that anyone who practices another religion is somehow still lacking. I honestly don’t understand why you can’t show your love for Jesus by helping the needy without trying to turn them away from the faith they already have.

        I appreciate that to a degree that this is what you are already doing, but when you wrote above that you would help people out of poverty and then introduce them to Jesus, it seems pretty clear that conversion is your end goal. Isn’t alleviating poverty a worthy enough goal without trying to destroy Cambodians’ traditional culture (of which Buddhism and animism is a major part)?

        1. Marla Taviano Post author

          First of all, I really appreciate your respectful tone and your honest questions. Thank you for that.

          I have way too much to say for a comment box, so I’ll try to nutshell it. And I’ll start by saying I don’t have all the answers. I’m just one person with her own personal experience. Jesus has changed my life and given me hope, and if someone comes to me with no hope and wants to know where mine comes from, I will always give all the credit to Jesus.

          If someone is happy and fulfilled in their Buddhist faith, I’m not going to try to destroy their religion or culture and convert them to some “superior” Western religion. There is so much about Khmer culture to learn and love and appreciate. And besides, Jesus was not American (many American Christians forget this little tidbit).

          But if someone comes to me hurting and has no hope and is not finding the peace and fulfillment they had hoped to find in Buddhism, I will share what I believe is the answer: Jesus.

          My job is not to argue or persuade or change minds with my words. I am not on a mission to convert the world to Christianity. I seek only to love like Jesus did and point to him when people want to know why I live like I do.

          I can’t prove that we’ll be helping people with no strings attached, but that’s what Jesus did. He healed people first, then they were drawn to his love.

          I hope you’ll stick around (and help keep us accountable).

  3. Kim

    Sous s’dei, friends!! This has been my prayer for you for so long! I have been following your updates and am very excited to watch God’s plan for you unfold further. I have complete faith that this is the right decision and He will provide everything you need. A way, the money, the jobs, the future He has already planned. All you need to make it happen is a passion and faith that God will use that, and all 5 of you so clearly have both. We will keep praying throughout the journey!

    I’m also praying God opens a door to get our family back there, too! Our hearts are still there, for sure.

  4. Rachelle

    In an awesome article, “Obtacle To Obedience”, by J.D. Greear he quoted one of my favorite mission advocates of all time.
    “During his lifetime, Oswald J. Smith made 21 world tours promoting evangelism and world missions. He reminds us of the selfishness and absurdity of disobeying the Lord: “No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once! We talk of Jesus’ Second Coming, when half the world has never heard of the first.”

  5. Laura Eckstein

    How exciting is this???!!!!!! I am so happy for all of you! I will be praying for your ministry on a regular basis….as always kid! We are involved with a church that is very missions minded….is it bad that I cannot wait until the possibility of asking if anyone would want to go on a missions trip to Cambodia? I will patiently wait for your needs and wishes for that day! You can do this!

  6. Krysten

    I love this post SO much, friend!! It doesn’t scare me at all that your concrete is still wet because God is your foundation. He’s always had you and always will. It is inspiring, the way that you and your family trust Him in all the right ways. I cannot wait for more exciting moments as this new, great big ol’ chapter of life begins on the other side of the world. LOVE YOU.

  7. Gloria

    Marla, I’m so happy for you guys and always feel like doing a happy dance every time I read one of these posts. I will miss getting to see you in person every week, but I know I will get to live vicariously through your updates.

  8. valerie (in TX)

    You guys are my heroes. :) I do know that you wouldn’t want anyone to say that, but having watched your story unfold (through bloggy land) for….gosh, I don’t even know how long now….I’m just so in awe of all that God has done and how you have faithfully followed Him every single step – even through the really, really hard stuff. I love so much how He put a dream in your hearts, and now is faithfully bringing it to pass. Gives me hope for some of my own dreams. 😉 I’m praying for you guys, and am so very excited to watch the next season of your story unfold! Thanks for letting us come along!

  9. Anne Fickel

    So, so, so many times in my life God has asked me to do something without having all the what, where, when’s in order. So, so, so many times has He asked us to do something that seems ridiculous in the world’s (even Christian world’s) eyes. We step because He asks. We are always on the lookout for where He’s headed, so we can follow! And man, when we do, the blessings can flow! Now….they don’t ALWAYS flow. But when we obey, it opens the doors for His blessings (big or small.) I’ve been given, count it…ONE time…a bigger picture of what God’s plan was with the small steps He asked us to take. He showed me how He used the past circumstances and our obedience…because He KNEW how it was going to go, to bring the good into our lives from it!! AND WOW, did it blow me away. Stay with it Tavianos. You guys ROCK!

  10. Tara Rhodes

    As Charles Stanley would say: “Obey God and leave all the the consequences to Him.” Love you guys! (Grandma Marilyn would be so proud.)

  11. martha

    WoW am I the 1st to comment? I am excited for you- I appreciate your hearts for adventure by way of faith. God has proven to you that HE provides. Now to move on and encourage others that HE exists. Love you my Taviano friends Prayers too

  12. Christina Burt

    I get excited when a new blog post pops up. I love to see what the Lord is doing in your lives. I saw the negative comment before too and I can’t pretend that I didn’t kind of gasp when I read the first revelation but the bottom line is that missionaries move their families to other countries ALL THE TIME!! And you know why? Because God leads them there. Praise the Lord that you (and Gabe and the girls) all have the courage to go where you are led!

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