6 levels, 10 months, 13 teachers, lots of friends…

It is done. It is finished! (But not really.)

Yesterday, I (Ian) finished my formal Khmer classes. (Laura will continue through the end of the year, as her role requires more language proficiency than mine does).

Starting from our second or third week on the ground until now, we have been attending classes, working with language helpers, and studying late into the evenings. All told, that’s over 540 classroom hours (about 35 college credits worth), and thousands of words, phrases and grammar structures learned.


It’s been quite the experience, and there are a lot of good memories along the way. We’ve become close friends with our teachers and fellow students. After all, when you only know how to ask a few questions, you get to know everyone’s responses pretty quickly. I can tell you more quirky details about my friends Mike, Gerjan, and Lucy than I can tell them about some of you.

Gerjan, Lucy, Ian & Mike

With the end of language classes, I will start working from the office regularly on Monday. Starting the “real work”, the reason we came to live in Cambodia. At the moment, I’m lined up to help build a new church, facilities for an agricultural NGO, a school, and a few other projects. Personally, I’m really glad to be getting back to engineering — among everything else, this year has confirmed that is what I was built to be! Laura also has some exciting things lined up that she’ll write about soon.

A mystery location… Stay tuned!

For all we’ve accomplished, it’s easy to see how much more there is to learn. Right now, I can rattle off a lot in a market, and am sometimes able to hold my own on a construction site. But ask me about issues of worldview, or theology, and I run out of Khmer really quickly. It puts the challenges of those famous first missionaries (Hudson, Carmichael, etc) in perspective — those were dedicated, tenacious people, to find the ways to communicate the depths of the Gospel in brand new languages.

So, after a short breather, I’ll be continuing to learn Khmer on the side. There are lots of words still to learn, and lots of concepts to reinforce. It’s a long road — but after this year, I have the tools I’ll need to travel it well. Some day, I’ll be able to fluently share the hope we have in Jesus in both English and Khmer. But in the meantime, I’m thankful to be able to lean on our brothers and sisters. DCIM100MEDIADJI_0007.JPG



(Don’t) Find me in the river…

A few days ago, I (Ian) was able to go with a teammate (Chad) to visit a church here in Phnom Penh that is having some trouble. As with many of these visits, we had been referred by word of mouth passed along a few times, so we really didn’t know what to expect. We try our best to go into these meetings open minded, but it was still a bit of a shock to see what was going on.

This church has a small congregation of ethnic Vietnamese, and has been around for nearly 20 years. They have services on Sunday, plus classes and community outreach during the week. They also normally have a family that lives in the church to take care of the property and protect it (empty buildings here often fall prey to vandals or thieves).

So, when we walked in and saw this…. it was another reminder of how many things I grew up taking for granted.20180821_1421131887343289.jpg

This church happens to be located on the bank of the Mekong River. And as you can see, when the river is in flood stage (as it is currently, and will be for several months), the lower level of the church floods. It is currently close to a meter deep — and as you might imagine, that water is not particularly clean. This cuts off access to the only bathroom, and the care-taking family is not able to stay at the church until the river recedes. While the church has done a great job taking care of the building as best they can, the roof is also well past due for replacement, causing leaks and water damage.


So were these folks discouraged, or ready to give up? Not at all — they still meet there every week. In fact, they asked us out to look not only at fixing up the building as it currently stands, but how it might be possible to expand the building!

We’re still sorting through the possibilities to find the best way to help with this project. But I really hope we get to work with them in the future. It’s a great reminder that while we certainly want to do our best to provide good, safe, healthy facilities, the Gospel will move on, no matter what the conditions.

Projects, Updates

Site Visit!

Hello all! It has been a busy time here in Cambodia as we’ve moved into our new home across town. We’re excited to be settled in now and back to a (new) normal schedule.

We have an exciting update — a site visit!

As you know, Laura and I have spent the last 9 months primarily learning the Khmer language. We still have a ways to go there — while we’re passable in many everyday situations, there are a lot of ways we still want to improve. That’s especially apparent now that we are building relationships and want to be talking about life, emotions, and faith. However, we’re also starting to look forward to our roles in the office with the rest of our team.

Today, I (Ian) happen to have the day off from school, so Chris and I went to meet a local ministry constructing a new facility here in Phnom Penh.


They’ve had some questions throughout construction which we’ve answered along the way, but also have some significant questions about wanting to re-purpose their space. Many times, an NGO building process takes several years from original concept to funding to completion, so it’s not uncommon for their personnel and needs to change along the way. We’ll be working with this ministry to help them through this process and make the best use of their new facility.

One other common theme has been a question of matching local construction practices with western expectations. So far, the workmanship we’ve seen has been well-thought out — but NGO’s frequently like to have a professional they can trust observing that rather than going from their knowledge. Most NGO staff don’t have a background in construction — they have backgrounds in education or theology or health. That’s one of the big roles we’ll be playing here, as “owner’s representatives” or “cultural translators”. By knowing both western construction standards and local construction practices, we can bridge the gap, making sure that the NGO ends up with a quality building that meets their needs, without placing complicated, onerous or expensive requirements on the local contractor.

We still have several months of language learning to go — but today, it felt good to get the work gloves back on!

Meet the Team, Updates

Meet the Team — Nivo

Nivo is another new member of our team here in Cambodia.

He comes to fill a major role as our first architect, and highly recommended at that! Nivo has been a critical part of big projects for organizations across Cambodia in the past few years — hospitals and schools. From design to coordinating on the ground — Nivo knows how things get done in Cambodia.

But it’s his heart that has us most excited about adding him to the team. A lot like many of the others, Nivo wrestled with reconciling his faith and his future during his teenage years. He wanted to serve God — but knew that being a pastor wasn’t the right fit. Architecture was, but through school and into his early career, he held on to a promise that his life would have impacts around the world. Now, with EMI, he’ll be a part of exactly that.


Please join me in welcoming Nivo and his family to the EMI Cambodia team!


Khmer New Year

This week has marked our first Khmer New Year in Cambodia. This is one of the biggest  holidays celebrated in Cambodia, with lots of celebrations and parties. And games — they love to play group games! Many aren’t too different from those we played as kids. In the games we’ve played so far, I’ve recognized elements of spoon races, shuttle races, bocce, even one that’s a lot like a piñata.

There’s also dancing — some serious, some silly — and a lot of good food of course.

Cambodia has a lot of public holidays (28 this year) — but KNY is special for us. Opposite of the Water Festival (Bon Om Touk) in November, many Khmer return to their ancestral home villages to celebrate the new year with their families. And in a culture that values working really hard (most work between 5½ and 7 days a week), KNY is set aside for rest (even if one told me “rest so that you can work hard next year”).

Rest. When we were preparing to come to Cambodia, we were told several times that rest was critical. As in “ignoring rest will either burn you out or kill you” critical. And as we’re approaching a more normal lifestyle after living in Cambodia for 6 months — that same draw to just add one more event to the schedule, just help one more person, just postpone rest for a few days has come back hauntingly.

Thankfully, the warnings stuck. And we have come to understand what rest really means. Rest is trusting and honoring God. When we rest, we acknowledge our place in the world. When we rest, we re-affirm our relationship with God. When we rest, we rely on Him to be more than we can accomplish on our own.

So this weekend — we’re resting.

And celebrating! Happy New Year!