Songs of the Journey

Music
A friends blog recently listed his 10 favorite songs and got me thinking about how songs have impacted my life. Perhaps it was a song that connected me with another, introduced new thoughts, or challenged me to act.

Only a few of these songs would make my all time favorites list.
I fought the urge to include songs that were “more alternative”, had “street cred” etc – but ultimately these songs chose me.

So here’s my list so far:

New Years Day – U2
What About Me – Moving Pictures
Solid Rock – Goanna
Imagine – John Lennon
One – U2
Eva Cassidy – Fields of Gold
El Shaddai – Amy Grant
Healing Touch – Russ Taff
Walk On – U2
Summer of 69 – Bryan Adams

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By darrensterling

Superhero begins her Flight

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“All her life she has seen
All the meaner side of me
They took away the prophet’s dream for a profit on the street

Now she’s stronger than you know
A heart of steel starts to grow

When you’ve been fighting for it all your life
You’ve been struggling to make things right
That’s how a superhero learns to fly
Every day, every hour
Turn the pain into power

When you’ve been fighting for it all your life
You’ve been working every day and night
That’s how a superhero learns to fly
Every day, every hour
Turn the pain into power

All the hurt, all the lies
All the tears that they cry
When the moment is just right
You see fire in their eyes

She’s got lions in her heart
A fire in her soul”

Taken from “Superheroes” by The Script

In an urban African slum I meet her
Seeking refuge from the afternoon sun, she quietly appears next to me
The awkward silence broken by small talk
Perhaps she senses safety in me, perhaps its a curiousness, perhaps she’s simply so damn broken,
But unexpectedly she starts to share her story

Little eye contact is made as a personal “horror story” unfolds before me
The story so horrible, that for a moment I wonder whether I am being tested,
Yet I sense the truth when her eyes I briefly glimpse
And in this urban maze, above the groan of the city,
A sacred space unfolds and this young heart opens itself to a stranger.
.

Thankfully, she has found her way to a place of help
For I have little to offer, than a listening ear and an open heart
Childhood a place she’s never known, yet a new life within excites
Something, someone to love; to lover her
New life stirs in the ashes of this life.

And she’s gone, quietly skirting the crowd
Her hair cropped short, her clothes the cut of a male
Her life has taught her to fade into the background
Know-one notices she’s gone, this child of God
immobilized, broken, I can only watch her go.

The ache of the inhumanity she’s suffered has not left
A scar of a sacred hour etched on my heart
Yet in brokennes is strength, in the scorched, new life
Sadness and joy, desolation and jubilation
The ashes give way to a rising Phoenix

Two lives collide, without reason or rhyme
“Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth”
A brief moment in time, a sacred space shared
She’s turning her pain into power
A superhero starts to fly.

“You don’t choose your Life – You Live It”

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Some experiences in life, just stand out as a little bit different. Today was one of those days.

As the dusk commenced her decent I found myself in Northern Uganda, in a Franciscan Agricultural college, standing with three Ugandan girls washing our clothes in the communal laundry.They began talking about my bracelets and when I looked down in surprise, I had subconsciously placed three elastic bands around my wrist during the day. I explained some of the many uses of such “bracelets” and gave one to each of the twenty-something girls, who were amazed by its “beauty”.

After hanging my clothes on the line flanked by corn fields, I walked down to the main residence taking photos of this stunning Ugandan landscape.

Dinner was shared with the Global One team and the Franciscan Brothers after which we watched “The Way” about a pilgrimage through Spain on the Camino de Santiago. Sitting with Brother Tony from Ireland, watching a film about a pilgrimage, in the middle of rural Uganda, just seemed a little surreal.

As we finished the night we made our own way under starlight to the college residence.

As a key line in the film says, “you don’t choose your life, you live it”. Tonight as I lay under a mosquito net, watching the stars through the open window and listening to the voices of Ugandan youth, it really feels like today I have lived my life.

Cambodian Prayer

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God bless me with the discomfort of easy answers,

Of cultural assumptions and superficial relationships,

So that the wisdom, grace and beauty of the Khmer people

Will dwell deeply within and enlarge my heart.

 

God bless me with an anger for injustice,

The past horror of the Khmer Rouge and the current systems of exploitation,

That I may work and advocate for justice, freedom and peace

For my Cambodian sisters and brothers.

 

God bless me with tears to shed – like the mango rains

For those dealing with the horrors of the past, or rejection, exclusion, exploitation or starvation currently,

So that my heart reaches out to love them,

And my hands to demonstrate solidarity and oneness.

 

God bless me with a heart and mind that always remembers,

The innocence and beauty of a child, the courage and determination of advocates, the passion of youth and the commitment of a teacher,

So that in times of frustration, doubt and disillusionment,

I will again be inspired by Cambodia and her people.

 

And may God bless me with enough foolishness to believe,

That I can make a contribution (however small) to this beautiful country,

To walk respectfully and lovingly with the Khmer people,

So that together we can find hope, wholeness and peace. Amen

Ragamuffin Roadside Samaritan

By the roadside he lay
The pain too much to bare
They came, the “professionals”
The first perhaps too important
Had “clients to see” and walked on by

The second seemed interested
To stop and observe
Yet with an unconcious patient
No diagnosis could bestow

Finally came a woman
With no recognised skill
Yet she saw this crumpled body
To the soul that was still

To love the other
Is to see the face of God
So without hesitation she sat on the road
Through the gift of presence
A love demonstrated

She helped him to sit
Bedside him in silence
His value unspoken, yet physically shown
She listened intently as he drew in the dust
Conveying a story, he knew she would trust

And so on they journeyed, the seen and “unseen”
A process of healing, a process of love
And thats transformation, this journey of others
To invest oneself fully
A connection of souls

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The Wait

I’m waiting
It forces me to stop
to reconsider priorities
to reflect on highs, on disappointments of today

I’m waiting
My heart and breathing slow
I begin to notice those around me
My senses given freedom to explore

I’m waiting
I’m learning to enjoy these “timeout” moments
The urgency of youth
Giving way to Present Moment Life

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The Bloom of the Bud

The power of refugee
Of safety, serenity
It quietens my soul and mind
Enabling the thoughts and cares of others
To rise to the surface

Creative Art
Visual bridge between souls
Meaning is yours, – its mine
An intimate marriage of respect and care
To love is to allow another to find their way

To see the world from their own standpoint
Their pain and joy
Its not for me to judge
To determine value, meaning or worth
For to do so, diminishes us both

My task to hold
To love, to listen
To enable wings to this mirror of the soul
Maturity a willingness of not having to do
But to rest in the empowerment of others
Rejoice in the bloom of the bud.

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By darrensterling

Lessons on the Cambodian Road

Road

In January, I spent 2 weeks travelling with a group of Australian and Cambodian youth across Cambodia. 

Here’s some key lessons I learnt or had reinforced on the journey.

1. Relationships are paramount. Sopjara and Seakheng showing the strain of fighting imminent eviction from their homes, amid their tears shared the “destilled” insight that its relationships that will affect change.Their commitment and courage moved and inspired me.

2. Many talk about transformation, but when its real words are not required; you can see it and feel it. Women who have been forced into sex work or trafficked are the focus of the local NGO Daughters of Cambodia. They create employment, provide ongoing medical and psychological care and in the process have created a spirit of kindness and hope that is visible to all. Visit them in Phnom Penh.

3. It’s important to step into the gap. Arriving at a handicrafts producer we met a team of young men and women sewing bags created from old hessian rice and wheat sacks. The layout of the room created something of a barrier between the crafts-people sewing and our group of visitors.

Finding a plastic stool enabled me to sit next to one of the ladies and only then did I become aware that the entire group could neither hear or speak. But in closing the physical and social gap I had the amazing privilege of meeting Chea Linna. We could only communicate by written word and physical gestures as I could not sign. It was a powerful reminder that when we step out and invest ourselves into connecting with another, we can sometimes be blessed beyond any expectation. Chea Linna also reminded me of the power of gratitude. Her face was dominated by her smile, despite a number of hardships in her life.

A week later I happened to be in the area and as I walked along the street where Peace Handicrafts is located, I heard noise from above and looked to find Chea Linna and her coworkers smiling and gesturing to me to come up and share their lunch break. I hope to keep in contact with Chea Linna and her coworkers and will forever be grateful that I got off my backside and walked across the room.

4. The simple joys are the best. In a rare break, I spent an hour sitting with Sreymey and Sreymoy the two youngest daughters of our rural home stay family, playing noughts and crosses with some old chalk. The simple joy of “being in the moment” and sharing this time with precious children in the cool of their outdoor living space served as a reminder to de-clutter my life.

5. The greatest investment you can make is in others. Travelling to a small rural informal school we discovered it to consist of a simple verandah area attached to a house that was probably 4 meters by 4 meters. A young male teacher supported by his pregnant wife have opened this little space to invest themselves into the children of their village. With little income from such financially poor families, they survive through their second job as farmers. An important reminder not to store up treasure but to invest it in others.

6. Your blessed to be a blessing. Visiting a child training session on children’s rights, we discovered that the inspiring Ly Srey Neang, the 16 year old young woman presenting was actually currently sponsored through World Vision by a family in Australia. Ly Srey Neang was grateful for the support her community had received and was now heavily involved as a volunteer teacher to children living in poverty and even assists World Vision in working with other children. Our journey shapes us and its important to find an outlet to bless others, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

7. You have one life; invest it in making this world a better place. I had the joy of meeting Swiss, Australian and English citizens who had traded their lives in their own country to provide training and capacity building for Cambodian youth. The only empire these people are building is for the future of Cambodia, with most of their profits going back into other local community organisations. If you’re in Siem Reap visit Haven and Genevieve’s Restaurants and the New Leaf Bookstore and Café.

Innocent Bystander

The Killing Tree

No tree should see the horrors of here,

It’s trunk bears witness to our inhumanity,

What kind of evil brings infants to this beauty,

And demands it play a part in this unthinkable crime.

 

Despite its efforts, it could not bend,

Small heads and it’s trunk in deathly collision,

In darkness they created this stain,

For who could watch such terror rein.

 

How can beauty survive such a scar,

It’s shell maybe healed, but it’s heart stands ajar,

The tears falling gently on the scorched earth below,

Softening the cries of the hundreds now asleep.

 

Today it stands quietly, hiding its shame,

It’s innocence taken for ideological gain,

And watches as others quietly stand in her shade,

Questioning again silently how we allowed such pain.

 

But as you look deeper, theres beauty still here,

Her baby sized leaves dance on the wind,

And sheltered amongst are capsules of seeds,

Bringing new life and beauty to diminish their deeds.

 

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Cambodian Fireworks

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As I write this tonight from the safety of my mosquito net, the day replays vividly in my mind.

I walk down dusty lanes in the early morning light. An old farmer squatting and puffing a cigarette to ward of the morning chill glances my way. Families prepare for the day ahead; tending to animals, getting ready for school, all with a now familiar Cambodian backdrop.

Everywhere children ride old bicycles along the roads on their way to the rudimentary looking primary school.

I walk back into town and have breakfast at a market stall, watched by the local police enjoying their meal. They glance at me and laugh and somehow I doubt they are laughing with me, but I can’t blame them.

I walk through the market and am met with understandably curious glances but soon people relax and smiles and laughter appear.  I purchase a football and volleyball for a school we hope to visit and head home.

Mid-morning we meet a group of teachers and elderly community members who are working to improve the educational experiences of their children. Today they are working on a strategy to minimise school drop-out rates and attract parents to stay in the area rather than seeking work in Phnom Penh or Thailand. They show us with pride a library they have assembled of new books which probably contains 50 books at most. I’m struck by the dedication of these men and women, but mostly at their age. Teachers in Cambodia are poorly paid and generally maintain another income to try and feed their families. A teacher shares how he would make more money simply working on his farm full time, but as he said “if we don’t invest in our children, who will?”

The inability of the government to meet the basic educational needs of its children, has meant that thousands of parents, grandparents and committed individuals sacrifice their lives to try and raise the country they love to a higher level.

We return back to the town centre and I am blessed to spend an hour of simple joy playing noughts and crosses with the two youngest daughters of our host family. As I sat on the old wooden bench and watched the delight of the 9 year old in beating me at a game she only learnt yesterday, I was thankful “be in the moment” and recognise its beauty and be grateful.

As the day heads to a close I’m teaching English to 25 year ten students at the local high school. I loved the interaction and the smiles on their faces at a teaching approach far different from their normal schedule. I’m struck by the enormous potential of these students and the realisation that their lives will continue to be very challenging. There’s no internet here and computers are something they see on TV.

I return to the World Vision office in town, and a staff member asks me to meet a community leader and teacher whom she has passed on the football, volleyball and exercise books I had purchased. These two elderly men had ridden an old motorcycle for one hour to reach town and represent a school in the mountains that receives little contact and even less funding. Their joy at a few small gifts reinforces the staff member’s description of the high levels of poverty and challenges that face them.

I find a few more item s and package them into a box for them to take. The sight of these two old men on a single motorcycle, the box of goods between them and the two balls in a net hanging over the rear man’s shoulder heading home under a dusk sky, is something that I will long remember. I resolve to do something more to assist these inspirational and loving old men who are so committed to the children of their community. When you come across great people who invest their lives in helping others, a small gift can be as much for their encouragement as for the ultimate recipients.

After dinner I light some fireworks for the host family’s children. The older girls call their friends who appear and soon we gave 20 people standing under the clear star filled sky watching small balls of colour explode.

In the darkness these balls of colour and energy ignite the sky and stir those watching. And I realise that the day has been filled with fireworks in the form of wonderful Cambodian people who despite their own difficult circumstances, sacrifice their own advancement for that of the future of their community.