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



Five Countries

We are halfway through August and that marks approximately 10 months in Cambodia already!  Time is moving fast!  With that in mind, I wanted to share a few updates that are coming up in our near future and ask you for your prayers.

  • Ian is finishing up his year of Khmer language studies early and will be joining the office staff full time in September.  He’s very excited to be back in engineering and they are excited to have a structural engineer.  (Let’s be honest, when Ian is talking to the team about engineering, he’s like a kid in a candy store with unlimited pennies.)
  • I am going to continue language school through this year.  I still love my grammar and reading Khmer in particular.  I’m also working on helping out with a few office items (data cleanup and gathering resources for discipleship training).
  • As of this week, we will have five different countries in the office – Cambodia, Canada, USA, India (rotating staff) and South Korea (intern).  We can’t wait to all learn from one another but also are going to need a lot of grace and patience with that many cultures!
  • In the next couple days, our team is getting together for some serious self-evaluation.  What worked well and what didn’t this last term.  How do we want to handle different scenarios moving forward?  This will be good for office progress.

A lot is happening and even more coming down the pipe.  Stay tuned!


Loving Neighbors

When we first moved into this house, I was excited but a little nervous.  Where we lived in the apartment near the school was a mix of Khmer and expats.  We wanted to practice our Khmer language, but there was always someone nearby who spoke English if we got stuck, or a western restaurant if we missed a taste of home.  The markets were used to Westerners and we had a bakery across the street.

Since moving to this Khmer neighborhood, our neighbors were quick to take us in and make us feel welcome.  Geordi and Ian have been a popular attraction on our street and are followed by a herd of small children on the daily walks.  When I’m outside, often the women come out and ask me lots of questions.  I try to be good about cooing over all the little babies and practice asking questions too (I need to learn more baby words).  Cookies from our oven are a popular attraction.


We are learning all sorts of fascinating things from our neighbors too.  Recently I bought an interesting fruit from the market, but Ian and I didn’t really know what to do with it (I’ve been told its a “pomelo”).  A neighbor was over and asked me if I wanted her to show me how to cut it properly.  Yes please!  Thanks to our neighbor, we were able to enjoy this delicious fruit — and now I know for when we get it again.  She has also taught us new words and how to spell some of them.  Other things we have learned:

  • How to get wall paint (very different from paint I’m used to) out of clothes (using gasoline).
  • How to give directions to our house when the street has no name.
  • How to get deliveries or help from the moto drivers to hunt down the pizza guy.
  • How to cook rice properly.
  • Names for household items or foods and how to cook them. The kids especially are always excited to teach us new Khmer words.
  • How to care for tropical plants.
  • If there is something we can’t find, we can ask a moto driver.  They know where everything is!

It’s humbling to no longer know some of the basics we take for granted in the US.  We are used to big hardware stores that have everything, but now we need to ask where to find a hose or a tool. One store might have it, or they might send you across town to another.  I’m used to walking into the grocery and being familiar with what I’ll find.  Being in so many unfamiliar situations makes me thankful for good neighbors who answer halting questions, rather than laugh when we don’t know something small.  I am grateful for their patience!!!


Teacher or Student?

Volunteering with Isaiah Cambodia has become a highlight of my week.  I really love these kids and their excitement and passion for learning.  Recently the older kids have been working on Peter and Jane books.  We have them read in English and then translate it back into Khmer, to make sure they are understanding what they read.  When they translate them back into Khmer, it’s a fascinating study for me to see what words they use in the translations.  The girl pictured seems to come alive every time she teaches me something about her language so I’ve started to use that to help her learn English.  Win-win for both of us!

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!