Vines and Branches

IMG_0138This is Rev. Chea Vantha, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide administered by the Khmer Rouge. Miraculously, he was able to flee Cambodia and through a treacherous journey eventually found refugee status in the US. While in the US, as a refugee, he was introduced to God and found community and solace amongst his new faith friends. He studied and eventually felt a leading back to his homeland to plant a Church in hopes of being a beacon of light to his people. In 2002, through Gods mercy and grace Rev. Chea Vantha established Peace of the Lord church in the slums of the Mean Chey District. It started as a home church and over the years Rev. Chea Vantha has watched God slowly transform his neighborhood, an area ramped with gang activity, drugs, gambling, sex and murder. He is known as a man with integrity and has taken a role as father figure in his neighborhood, caring 12 children, many who’s young parent have died of HIV. His salary from the church is $20 a month and his wife and oldest daughter work to help support the needs of the family and greater community. Hearing their story was inspiring to say the least.

As he told his story, the underlying theme, through it all; the travesty of an evil regime, the hardships living as a refuge, and his difficult call back home, was Gods faithfulness. Rev Chea Vantha has seen and experienced much pain in his life and yet he sees a God who is faithful and good, just and loving. He has made covenant with the God of all gods because he knows that God knows his deep pain. He knows that covenant with Jesus can not be broken and that covenant comes with a promise of healing, peace and life everlasting. And, this assurance is what gives Rev. Chea Vantha a voice. A voice he uses to speak truth about Gods love for all people.

We’ve been in Cambodia for three days, we have seen the Killing Fields. We have seen the systematic and brutal way young men sensesusly murdered millions of precious human beings. We have seen the “Killing Tree” where babies were taken by the ankles and smashed to death. We have seen the S21 torture prison and have no words. We have wept. We have seen the Palace where a King sits among his people, weak and helpless. We have seen his beautiful gardens and the special Buddha tree that is only allowed to blooms in his yard or in a Pagoda. But we have seen something more, something divine. We have seen a little tender shoot coming out of the ground here in Cambodia. It is inconspicuous, just another vine among vines. And yet, we can see that it’s roots run deep and wide. We can see that it’s roots run through out all of South East Asia and around the globe.

In the ancient text Jesus says “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1) which is the last of seven “I am” declarations of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel. These “I am” proclamations point to His unique divine identity and purpose. Jesus said, “I am the True Vine” only a short time before Judas would betray Him; in fact, Judas had already left to do his infamous deed. He was preparing them for His pending crucifixion, resurrection, and subsequent departure for heaven. He had just told them that He would be leaving them and knowing how disturbed they would feel, Jesus wanted His friends, not only those eleven, but those of all time, to know that He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. His living energy—His spiritual reality—would continue to nourish and sustain them just as the roots and trunk of a grape vine produce the energy that nourishes and sustains its branches while they develop their fruit.

We are encouraged by this vision and believe that this tender shoot, this tree of life, that we see in Cambodia and through out SE Asia is Gods promise that, even though we (collectively) cannot see Him, we are as closely connected to Him as the branches of a vine are connected to its stem. Our hope for our family in this part of the world is that they would be encouraged and energizd as they serve and  “abide” in Him. May the branches in Cambodia and through out South East Asia produce much fruit!

 

This Land Is…

CNLD-PANO

This is what we’ve learned. And this is how we’ve understood it. This is a story we feel is worth re-telling. For those who have ears…

It’s about a fella named Tim DeChristopher verses the United States Government.

Hearing this story as a fellow US. Citizen was eye opening. Hearing it as a mother, was heartbreaking and yet invoked a sense of pride.

This is an paraphrase from a website called peacefuluprising.org which tells his story better than I can.

“From West Virginia, Tim came to Utah in his early 20s to work as a wilderness guide for at-risk and troubled youth. In 2008 as a student of Economics, Tim attended a Symposium at the University of Utah, where he was greatly moved and galvanized by Dr. Terry Root, a scientist for the International Panel on Climate Change and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Dr. Root explained to the audience that elements of the climate crisis were already irreversible and that many species, natural wonders and bioregions were in imminent peril. Her words haunted Tim, and dramatically changed his personal worldview.

While Tim was taking his finals, advocates for Utah’s wilderness like Robert Redford and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) were attempting to bring attention to a controversial auction of Utah public lands, orchestrated by the outgoing Bush Administration. The auction included parcels adjacent to natural resources like Canyonlands National Park. SUWA and other regional advocates brought a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in efforts to halt the auction pending further review and public comment. Through no fault of SUWA or their allies, the lawsuit could not settle the issue prior to the auction.

On December 19th, Tim finished his last final exam and went to the protest that SUWA and others had organized outside of the auction. On arrival and with no prior plan of action, Tim decide to enter the building where the auction was held and approached the registration desk. When asked if he was there to bid, Tim made a quick decision. He registered as Bidder 70 and entered the auction.

Tim intended to stand up and make a speech or create some other kind of disruption. Once inside, he waited quietly with his bidder paddle lowered, until he saw a friend from his church openly weeping at the sterile transfer of beloved red rock lands away from the public trust and into the hands of energy giants. It was then that Tim decided to act.

At first, Tim simply pushed up the parcels’ prices (some starting as low as two dollars per acre, and were ultimately sold for $240 per acre). Once almost half of the parcels had been sold to oil and gas companies, Tim felt he could no longer bear to lose any more public lands. Tim bid on and won every remaining parcel, until he was recognized as an outlier and escorted from the auction.

Once it was revealed that Tim did not have the intent or the means to pay for the parcels he won, the auction erupted in chaos. Because Tim won so many parcels and inflated the prices of so many others, the auction had to be shut down. The incoming administration took office before the auction could be rescheduled. Upon review of the parcels in question, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar dismissed the auction, declaring that the BLM had cut corners and broken many of its own rules, including a crucial statute requiring all federal agencies to take the impacts on our climate into account prior to auctioning off public lands for the purpose of energy development.

Tim’s action garnered a great deal of media and public attention, and catalyzed an overwhelming influx of support and applause for his creative, effective, and nonviolent act of civil disobedience, which ultimately safeguarded thousands of acres of Utah public lands.

Although Utah’s public lands were safe, Tim’s action on December 19th radically changed the course of his life. After the current administration decided to indict Tim, despite the confirmed auction’s illegality, Tim took his message to the widest possible audience to bring attention to the desperate need for effective action to combat the climate crisis.

It took the federal government more than two years to convict and sentence Tim. The trial was delayed a total of nine times by the Prosecution. Federal Judge Dee Benson dismissed Tim’s initial defense (the “Necessity Defense,” claiming that Tim’s crime was the lesser of two evils when weighed against the threats posed by the illegal auction). The Defense’s assertion of Selective Prosecution (as no other bidder had ever been indicted for failing to pay for parcels at an auction) was also dismissed. The threat of climate catastrophe that motivated Tim was banned from the courtroom and kept from the ears of the jury, as were the fact that Tim managed to raised adequate funds for initial payments on the parcels after the auction; the fact of the auction’s confirmed illegality; and the dismissal of multiple parcels.

Despite the multiple rescheduled dates, climate activists, organizers, and advocates from all over the country came to Salt Lake City for Tim’s trial to demonstrate their solidarity with a brave young man willing to offer up his own future to fight for the future of our planet.

On March 3, 2011, after hours of jury deliberation, Tim was convicted of two federal felonies: one count of false representation, and one count of violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act.

On July 26th, 2011, Tim was sentenced to two years in federal prison. In the pre-sentencing report, the Prosecution openly admitted that Tim himself was not a threat to society or at risk to reoffend; the stated purpose of the sentence was to deter other activists from taking similar action to further the climate movement. In his final statement to the Judge, Tim said that he understood why the Prosecution saw him as a threat. “[My message] may indeed be threatening to the power structure,” he said. “The message is about recognizing our interconnectedness. The message is that when people stand together, they no longer have to be exploited. Alienation is perhaps the most effective tool of control in America, and every reminder of our real connectedness weakens that tool.”

After his sentence was issued, Tim was removed immediately from the courtroom and taken into the custody of federal agents. 26 people were arrested outside the Salt Lake City courthouse, and 26 solidarity actions happened at federal courthouses throughout the United States.

Tim’s conclusion to his final statement to the courtroom at his sentencing hearing crystallized his own personal stake in that commitment:

“You can steer my commitment to a healthy and just world if you agree with it, but you can’t kill it. This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow.””

Rulers rise and fall. Our elegance is not to a government system but to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. We are thankful and inspired by Tim’s willingness to sacrifice for the good of us all. We are thankful to share in the woes and the joy.

“Those people are your people are my people are you people are us people!” ~The Hollands!