Monday, October 3, 2011

Family: Teaching Christ's Love Without Saying a Word

While hanging laundry this morning, I overheard our grandmother next door talking about our family to a young woman. Just to clarify, “overhearing” takes no effort with neighbors in Cambodia. In point of fact, this particular neighbor can hear just about everything we say and do as well. “They have many children, and they are about to have another one” she said. I gathered who she was talking about as I tried to bend over to pick up a rag I had dropped which was proving difficult because I could not see it for my growing stomach. “But they love them so much. They are such beautiful children. Their hearts are full.”

To our shame, we do not always speak gently or calmly to our vivacious children, and grandmother has to know this. I have worried from time to time about the validity of our witness when she has most certainly heard an outburst of anger from me over spilled sugar or pancake mix in the bathroom. It really is amazing what a kid can think to do with a bidet and a bit of flour.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. I Cor. 12:9. Thankfully, God works on our hearts daily, washing us of selfishness and any number of shortcomings.

Through His power and despite our weaknesses, we could have no greater witness for Christ's love than our family. In this culture and context, our family speaks volumes to all we meet. I am just now able to start seeing and understanding how our friends, neighbors, and perfect strangers view us, and I have felt compelled to share how the Christian family in Cambodia and in any country in the world can bless the nations through their witness because the Christian family is different.

First play in the rain
Khmer families struggle with the same sins that rot our families in America, just in different ways. One of the most obvious struggles seems to be that of favoritism: preferring one child over another. We are often asked which child we sleep with (which translates into which child do you love the most) and which child we think is more beautiful or clever. We have fended off these questions, shielded our children, praised them equally, and even contradicted what people have said while our quizzical friends have looked on wondering what all the fuss was about, even going so far as to call out their own children to demonstrate to us how to compare. Through God's grace, after two and a half years, people are praising our children equally and have quit criticizing them all together. We are different because we love without discretion (Galatians 3:28). Our neighbors know this not because we have told them Jesus said so, but because they have see how we love our children.

Anywhere from one to six men sit outside our gate every day on their motos available to taxi someone to market or wherever else they might choose to go. Chris has learned a lot from and about these men, and the favorite topic...their adulterous relationships. I'll be honest: it has been very difficult for me to treat these men with respect knowing what they are doing to their families in full view of their wives, children, and peers. I have had to “count to ten” a few times as they have offered to help Chris find a girlfriend. Smiling but firm, Chris has modeled fidelity to these men by coming home before dark day after day (these men know our comings and goings quite well, and I am pretty sure they have figured out that I go somewhere with A/C as soon as the power goes out). Now, our moto taxi drivers tease Chris about his girlfriend when they see us going out together, and that girlfriend is me! They know we are different because we are faithful (Matt. 19:4-6), and they have not heard a single sermon on keeping wedding vows.

We LOVE babies!
Our growing family has not only left our American friends scratching their heads but also our Khmer friends. Nongovernmental organizations have proven very effective here in reducing the birth rate and in proliferating the view that children are a burden, something that keeps you from happiness or being able to buy that Lexus (the ultimate status symbol in our capital city of Phnom Penh). For most of our neighbors, taking preventative measures for pregnancy has little to do with monetary poverty and a whole lot to do with spiritual poverty. The shocked look that crosses people's faces when we tell them we care for the children ourselves and would love for God to give us more is a great practice in self-control. I have been known to burst out laughing at the incredulity. When our neighbors see Chris taking a child or two to work or to pay bills, when we take our kids to the playground on Saturdays, when we accept more children from our Father, people see we are different because our children are a blessing to us (Ps. 127:3-5). We really do not eve have to mention this fact because it is evident in our actions. 

As we consider these things and so many more, we realize how, despite our shortcomings in ministry, our struggling and fledgling attempts to reach the hardened hearts of our dear ones here, God has been working hard by speaking through the differences in our family. I cannot tell you how many wistful looks from women when they see the way Chris treats me or the way I hug my sweet children have led to conversations about our own weaknesses and Christ's amazing power. My neighbors do not doubt my humanity, but, to them, our family expresses the supernatural – and they want to know how to be different, too. Our continued prayer for our family and yours is that God will continue to keep us from conforming to the culture around us (the world) and continue being a light in the darkness through the powerful witness of the Christian family. May He make your neighbors talk about you and keep your hearts full!

Casey M. Allison
Missionary Wife and Mother in Phnom Penh, Cambodia


  1. Now I understand what scripture means by "children are a gift from God." Thanx for the reflection.

  2. Amen, Amen, Amen! I just sent you an email earlier today and I hadn't seen your newest post. I am so glad you are writing again Casey. This was so encouraging to me. Praying God's protection over your family and strength for your relationships as you stand firm together against what Satan wants to tear apart.