Mission Notebook

Random ideas, comments, reflections, and information on mission and life in a mission country.

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New Year's Reflection

...living as realistic human beings and Christians

31 December 2004

"It helps now and then
to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
"We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something
and do it very well.
It may be incomplete
but it is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are the workers, not the master builder,
the ministers, not the messiah.
We are the prophets of a future that is not our own."

From a prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated while celebrating mass in El Salvador by right-wing death squads

Maryknoll Birthdays

The Filipinos give them life!

29 December 2004

Sing Every month we choose one of our Wednesday meetings and dinners to celebrate the Maryknoll birthdays occurring in that month. We have a large contingent of Filipinos as part of our group, and with their musical tradition they add a lot of song and gusto to our celebrations. Here they lead the singing for the December birthday event!

Christmas in Cambodia

...the celebrations here

19 December 2004

In a country that is 95% Buddhist and 2% Muslim, Christmas is not celebrated. December 25th is just another working day although creeping commercialism is prompting merchants to put up Christmas trees and hang Santa Clauses around to attract the dollars of the large number of Westerners here with the UN and different NGOs.

Nevertheless there are Christmas celebrations available for the small part of the population, mainly Westerners, who are Christian:

December 11 The mostly Filipino choir at the Saturday night liturgy gave their annual Christmas concert after the mass. They do a really good job on this, and they sang several more times at the Singapore and Philippines embassies and a hotel.
December 19
The larger international Christian congregations held their annual combined Christmas service at the Phnom Penh Cultural Center. We have used a hotel ballroom in the past and some objected to the opulence and option for the rich for a celebration of Jesus who came to serve the poor. This year we tried the exhibit hall of the cultural center for the first time. It was more noisy, less homey, and the lighting not so good, but we had to put out 800 chairs, 300 more than we had at the hotel last year. Maryknollers usually take an active part in this. Seminarian John Pahls had the first reading and Charlie Dittmeier led the service.
December 19
Decorating at the Maryknoll Sisters' house
December 24 Christmas Eve liturgy with the English-speaking Catholic community
December 25 Christmas dinner at the Maryknoll house

Thailand Hospitals

...the way medicine ought to be

18 December 2004

BNH Hospital lobbyNow that my job doesn't require me to return to the US every year, Maryknoll asked me to get a physical check-up in Thailand when I passed through on my way to the deaf meetings in Indonesia. I have mentioned this before, but the hospital experience in Bangkok is nothing like its American counterpart. The service is much, much better in Thailand, and it's much, much cheaper. From the moment you walk in the door, the differences are obvious. All the staff are in nurses uniforms or in suits and ties; no T-shirts and jeans. And they are all smiling and asking if they can help.

I registered at the BNH Hospital at 7:30 AM and immediately a nurse led me to the first of many stations for different examinations. Each time I finished a test, another staff person led me to the next floor or the next office. And while I waited for the results of blood work, they sent me to their restaurant for a late breakfast. I saw the doctor last, and as a staff member in a suit took me to the doctor's office, she apologized that there were two people ahead of me. I waited less than ten minutes, but even with that, the staff member came back to tell me the first person was almost finished, and then again to tell me that it would be just a minute. BNH Hospital in BangkokAnd when I did see the doctor, she was unhurried and seemed willing to give me all the time that I needed.

Probably most surprising to me was the sign on the front of the registration desk at every station: "If you have been waiting more than fifteen minutes, kindly inform the nursing staff." Can you imagine seeing a sign like that in an American hospital or doctor's office?!

Busy time

4 December 2004

This week has been crazy! We had a huge budget cut from our funder in Finland and have been having extra meetings to decide how to compensate. Then Friday was the International Day of Disabled People, always a big event in Cambodia where there are so many people with disabilities. Now I need to prepare the program for a joint Christmas service with all the major Christian denominations in Phnom Penh, and then get ready to leave for Jakarta on Monday morning. I was going to put a photo of IDDP here but just realized the pictures are on the other computer at home and I'm here at the Maryknoll office where we have a Net connection.

Thanksgiving Notes

..and one safe turkey

29 November 2004

A turkey in CambodiaThanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November is a holiday only in the United States so there was no such celebration here. However, the US Thanksgiving Day this year coincided with the first day of the Cambodian Water Festival so we actually did have a holiday. The Maryknoll crowd--mostly Americans--got together that evening for a delicious turkey dinner. The turkey was imported for us by local restaurant whose New Zealand owner is a good friend of Maryknoll.

Earlier this week I was greatly surprised to see this American-style turkey wandering around the grounds of the Killing Fields! In my experience, various countries have turkeys but they are quite different in size and shape and plumage from the US version. Maybe this one was hiding out here until the holiday taste for turkey dies down in the States!

Moving to New House

...Maryknoll office getting crowded

14 November 2004

Charlie packing things in his roomWe have known for a while that the Maryknoll office, which has six bed-rooms, was going to be full when autumn arrived in the United States, and now there are seven of us living in the building. It was also anticipated that two or three would move out to an apartment in the area to relieve the overcrowding and allow for a guest room or two. Ed McGovern and I are going to be the two movers, and today I was packing up things in my room because Ed has arranged for some motordupe (motorcycle taxi) drivers to come tomorrow and help him move his things to the new place. I will be in meetings most of tomorrow but if I get boxes ready, they'll get thrown on to the truck also so I put in many hours today readying things for transit.

Charlie's New E-mail Address

A more reliable address

11 November 2004

As you probably saw when you arrived at my home page, I am starting to use a new e-mail address. My old address was cditt@mail.com, an address I have been using for many years. Actually it was only a forwarding address that sent all mail to my real address which I did not make public. Mail.com started off as a freebie service but in the dot.com meltdown three years ago, it started charging. I stayed with them until now because I liked the simplicity of the address and the fact that it was the only one that most people knew for me.

But then I started hearing more and more that people were sending me things that never arrived. It seems Mail.com was being used by spammers to send unsolicited e-mail, and that caused it to be put on blacklists that would block any mail from being delivered if it was sent to mail.com. I was missing quite a bit of mail.

I have always had a Maryknoll.org address which I never used, but I figured now is the time to dust it off and get away from my Mail.com problems. So, effective immediately, please change my e-mail address in your addressbooks to cdittmeier@maryknoll.org. Everyone is going to have to learn how to spell "Dittmeier" correctly! :)

Pauliina Aalto Arrives

Cooperation Officer from Finland

10 November 2004

Pauliina Aalto at Phnom Penh airportThe Deaf Development Program in Cambodia is administered jointly by Maryknoll Cambodia and the Finnish Association of the Deaf. Pauliina Aalto (with orchid) is the FAD Cooperation Officer in Finland, and today she arrived in Cambodia for a familiarization visit and discussions on DDP's future. Here she poses at the airport with (l-r) Liza Clews, Neang Putheara, and Justin Smith.

The US Elections

Closely watched in Asia

3 November 2004

Priests watching US election results in CambodiaIt is 8:32 PM (Cambodia time) and 8:32 AM (EST in the US) and it looks like George Bush has won the election for the US presidency. That is really distressing to a great many people here in Asia, both expatriates from other countries and expatriates from the United States who view American foreign policy quite differently from the majority of Americans who live in the US. The election was very closely watched here. This picture was taken during a break in a meeting this morning at the bishop's house when it was 11:00 PM November 2nd on the US East Coast. From left to right the watchers are Cambodian, Italian, French, and US American.

Ed McGovern

Left as a seminarian, returns as a priest

9 October 2004

Ed McGovern returns to Cambodia Ed McGovern spent 2½ years with us here in Cambodia during his Overseas Training Program. He then returned for another year of study at Catholic Theo-logical Union in Chicago and was ordained in June, 2004. Now he has returned to us as a priest, re-assigned to Cambodia. Many of the Cambodia Maryknollers were on hand at the airport to greet him (flowered shirt) this morning.

Lay Missionaries in Cambodia

A monthly gathering

3 October 2004

Members of various lay mission groups from six or seven different countries get together once a month in Phnom Penh for reflection, discussion, prayer, and planning. The meeting this month was an opportunity for three members to reflect on their faith journey. Afterwards a potluck supper was delicious!

Lay missioners at the monthly gathering Lay missioners at the monthly gathering

The church in Cambodia...

...the same but different

10 September 2004

It is so easy to think "church," unconsciously calling to mind the church as we know it in our home country, and then without thinking project that model on to the church of another country.  One area where the common reality of the one, catholic, holy, apostolic church takes on a different expression in the western world and in Cambodia is the notion of priesthood.  For hundreds of years in the West, there has been an expectation that Catholic priests have a university background with the equivalent of graduate studies in theology.  But in Cambodia, there are only five Khmer priests and four of those were ordained nearly three years ago with a first or second-year college level at best.

Last night, the bishop of Phnom Penh and the rector of the seminary (a house where he and another priest and five seminarians live) came to dinner at Maryknoll, and we discussed what going to seminary means in the present in Cambodia. The five young men currently beginning their studies are in their early 20s, and are basically struggling to complete their high school studies. Coming from remote rural, often very poor backgrounds, from families and societies disrupted by the Khmer Rouge and warfare, they have answered a call to priesthood but their formation and education will be far different from what it would be in developed countries as the local church here tries to build up an indigenous clergy.

The rainy season...

..has bad effects inside the city, too.

8 September 2004

During the rainy season, the daily rains are often quite heavy and the streets flood. Click here to see flooded Nehru Street.

The rainy season...

...halfway through and the water's still rising

5 September 2004

Rising flood watersThe rainy season in Cambodia starts in June and can continue through October although the rains generally subside in September. The levels of the Mekong and Bassac Rivers at Phnom Penh have not yet risen to dangerous stages, and local people are talking of a year when there may not be serious flooding. There is always some flooding as can be seen in this photo near the deaf school. The principal of the deaf school is watching closely because there is only another three feet before the water comes over the road embankment and into the school grounds.

Troubled by aliens?

Who you gonna call?

31 August 2004

Alien Control Office in Phnom Penh


When confronted with invading space aliens, the United States has the Men in Black. Cambodia has the Alien Control Office. How effective are they?  Well, as far as we know the department is still untested.  But at least we're ready!

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time


28 August 2004

Click here to read the homily given for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time at the liturgy for the English-speaking Catholic community in Phnom Penh.


Healing in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge

19 August 2004

Craig Etcheson at workshop on reconciliationReconciliation is a major issue in Cambodia. There are deep divisions in the country between the Khmer people and the Vietnamese living in Cambodia. But most of all, the country needs to be reconciled with its past history, especially the period of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

Today Dr. Craig Etcheson, a Visiting Scholar from the School of Advanced International Studies at The Johns Hopkins University, presented a workshop on reconciliation and its implementation in Cambodia to a group of ten Maryknollers and one Khmer scholar. He defined the groups needing reconciliation; the issues that divide them; the methods of reconciliation; traditions of reconciliation; and then he explained how these techniques can be applied in Cambodia. He spoke from more than 25 years of working on reconciliation in Cambodia to counter the effects of the Khmer Rouge. His presentation was really insightful and helpful.

Democrats Abroad

.Getting out the vote in Cambodia

10 August 2004

A meeting of Democrats Abroad in CambodiaSix of us from the Maryknoll community attended a meeting of Democrats Abroad. This is a newly organized chapter of the international organization, put together here partly because of the anticipated close political race between John Kerry and George W. Bush and partly because of the memories of the fiasco in Florida four years ago where absentee ballots could have easily changed the results of the election. There are six million Americans resident overseas, a number of voters larger than in several of the states. Two people attending tonight's meeting had been to the Democratic National Convention in Boston three weeks ago. An election officer from the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh was present also to explain the procedures for registering to vote and making sure absentee ballots are returned correctly and on time.

Electricity Blackouts in Cambodia

...and SUVs in the US.   Are they connected?

23 May 2004

We are still having electricity outages here in Phnom Penh. Last week I experienced four power cuts in two days at the deaf office, at the Maryknoll center house, and at the Disability Action Council. It was getting really difficult to do any work. Part of the problem is the lack of rainfall so far. The rainy season hasn't really arrived yet, and the hydroelectricity system which generates 35% of our power is functioning at a very low level. The other 65% of Cambodia's electricity is from oil-fueled generators, and I suspect the power cuts are because the government doesn't have the money for fuel as the price of oil continues to rise.

The current price for oil is the highest it's been for decades, and a government like Cambodia's doesn't have the reserves to deal with steadily increasing prices. The single most significant factor in the high price of oil is consumer demand, especially in the United States. Americans are demanding more and more oil for SUVs and other gas guzzlers, and this keeps the price high. American drivers can't be given full responsibility for the power cuts in Cambodia, but it is important to realize the correlation between the US's selfish driving habits and the lack of basic electricity in other parts of the world.

Maryknoll Birthdays

Part of our local tradition

19 May 2004

John Morefield, Bill Burns, and Cho Hae InPart of our tradition as Maryknoll Cambodia has been to recognize the birthdays of our members. That was relatively easily when there were just twelve of us when I first arrived. We just chose the nearest Wednesday meeting to the actual birthday and celebrated then. Now with the possibility of several, even many, birthdays in one month, we have chosen one Wednesday a month to recognize all those born in that month. Today we honored John Morefield, Bill Burns, and Cho Hae In for their years of life and years of service.

Peace Education

Something to Reflect on

18 May 2004

By Russell Mokhiber & Robert Weissman, two Washington DC-based editors who wrote about the September 11 attacks and quote Colman McCarthy, a pacifist.

'We forgive you. Please forgive us.'

Forgive us for what?

'Please forgive us for being the most violent government on earth,' McCarthy says. 'Martin Luther King said this on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York. He said "my government is the world's leading purveyor of violence.'

'In the past 20 years, we have bombed Libya, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, and Yugoslavia. There are two things about those countries - all are poor countries, and the majority are people of dark-coloured skin.'

'(Bush) should say that the United States will no longer be the world's largest seller of weapons, that we will begin to decrease our extravagantly wasteful military budget, which runs now at about $9,000 a second.'

Are you saying that we should just turn the other cheek?

'No, that's passivity,' McCarthy says. 'Pacifism is not passivity. Pacifism is direct action, direct resistance, refusing to cooperate with violence. That takes a lot of bravery. It takes much more courage than to use a gun or drop a bomb.'

How to break the cycle of violence?

'The same way you break the cycle of ignorance - educate people,' McCarthy responds.

'Kids walk in[to] the school with no idea that two plus two equals four. They are ignorant. We repeat over and over - Billy, two plus two equals four. And Billy leaves school knowing two plus two equals four. But he doesn't leave school knowing that an eye for an eye means we all go blind.'

Instead of bombing, we should start teaching peace.

'We are graduating students as peace illiterates who have only heard of the side of violence,' McCarthy laments. 'If we don't teach our children peace, somebody else will teach them violence.'

Excerpted from the Third World Network Features - September 2001

A Louisville, Kentucky license plate

...in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

6 May 2004

Kentucky license plateOccasionally we will see a United States license plate on a car here in Phnom Penh.  I've seen Texas and California before. They aren't legal but that matters little in a country where laws are not enforced and many cars don't have any license plate. Today I got a surprise, though, when I saw a license plate from Kentucky and from my home town of Louisville! Who knows how it got here....

More frequent rains

A new season approaches

5 May 2004

Girl on a rainy streetThe rainy season is soon to be upon us.  There have been rain showers on three of the last five days, and they will increase their frequency until we have rain every day within a week or two.  People generally welcome the onset of the rainy season because the clouds portend cooler (maybe better "less hot") weather. But the disadvantage is the omnipresent dust now will become permanent mud.

"The Kentucky Derby, the greatest two minutes in sports!"

Sez who?

4 May 2004

Smarty Jones winning the 2004 Kentucky DerbyTonight at supper, I asked the 30+ Korean priest who lives with us if he had ever heard of the Kentucky Derby.  "What's a derby?" was his first response before confessing that he had never heard of THE Derby.  I learned early on in my career overseas that few people have heard of Kentucky's pride and claim to fame.  That was especially true in Hong Kong which has a 150-year horse racing tradition of its own with two thoroughbred tracks.  The Chinese are Serious gamblers, and the amounts of money wagered on horse racing each year are staggering.  Last year Hong Kongers bet US$1430 for every man, woman, and child in the territory.  That's 7 million people in a former colony the size of Jefferson County wagering $10 billion compared to the 280 million people in the United States betting a total of $14.5 billion at American tracks.

The Louisville Courier-Journal did a superb article on Hong Kong racing last year. If you're interested, click here.

A falling tree trunk

takes out our power for the third time

3 May 2004

Removing the offending tree trunkTwo times already in the past five days our power has been out, due to unknown causes.  Things like that are never explained in Cambodia.  Today, Monday, as a small thunderstorm approached, rising winds toppled half of a eucalyptus tree across the road onto the power lines in front of our house.  The power went out immediately.  Today is Royal Ploughing Day (when the agricultural fortunes of the country for the new year are determined) and a holiday, so we were greatly worried that the lines would not be repaired until Wednesday (tomorrow is another holiday, the transferral of Labor Day on Saturday to a weekday.  Fortunately, however, power was restored 3½ hours later.

Seen on the streets of Phnom Penh...

What's he up to?

27 April 2004

Jim McLaughlin in cycloIs he a typical suburbanite making his way home from Home Depot? Is he a car bomber? No, it's Jim McLaughlin, Maryknoll lay missioner coming home with a ceramic water filter and a rattan stand made by a village group in Kampong Cham Province.  A friend of ours is advisor to the group, a women's cooperative, that uses the clay in their province for making water filters that make typical village water (from a stream or well) safe for drinking.  (The three-wheeled vehicle is called a cyclo.)

Iraq: Out of Control

Bring in the United Nations

14 April 2004

The situation in Iraq becomes more disturbing day by day. MoveOn is a balanced (I believe) organization with a common-sense approach to Iraq that has possibilities of success. Please click here to see MoveOn's idea for transferring responsibility for Iraq to the United Nations. And please sign the petition requesting such a move.  This is a way good people can become directly involved in a good way in this dilemma in which the United States is now embroiled.


Easter Sunday

...and justice for workers

10 April 2004

Tomorrow is supposed to be an ecumenical Easter service sponsored by the four major international Christian groups in Phnom Penh: The International Christian Fellowship (interdenominational); International Christian Assembly (Assembly of God); Church of Christ Our Peace (Anglican); and the English-speaking Roman Catholic community.  I was responsible for doing the advertising on the service this year.  Now a problem has developed in that workers are on strike against six of the top-end hotels in the country, including the Le Royal whose ballroom we use for this Easter service.  The issue is a service charge that the hotels levied on all bills but which went to management rather than to the workers.  Quite a few members of the churches are saying that they don't want to cross a striker's line at the hotel so it will be interesting to see who and how many show up for the service Easter morning.

Comment on Iraq

8 April 2002

...Our troops in Iraq don't know who they're fighting and who they're saving. They don't know when they're coming home or when they're being forcibly re-upped by Rummy. Our diplomats in Baghdad don't know who they're handing the country over to next month. And Bush officials don't know where to go for help, since the military's tapped out, the allies have cold feet, the Arab world's angry, and the rest of the globe is thinking, 'You got what you deserved.'"

Maureen Dowd, New York Times Op-Ed columnist (8 April 2004)

Annual Funding Meetings

Negotiating with our partner, the Finnish Association of the Deaf

2 April 2004

Colin Allen and Liza ClewsI've been gone most of the last week with preparations for our annual funding negotiations with the Finnish Association of the Deaf and then the meetings themselves. I just returned to Phnom Penh this evening. This photo shows Colin Allen and Liza Clews, our two program advisors in Cambodia, making a point during the discussions which were held at a camp outside of Phnom Penh. Come back to see the full story.

The Tempest

A chance to see it in action

21 March 2004

Tempest land-mine clearing machine in actionIn December I showed some pictures of a Tempest, a land-mine clearing vehicle that was displayed at the International Day of Disabled Persons.  On 19 March, I was invited to a demonstration of the Tempest in connection with the formal opening of the new workshop of DTW (Development Technology Workshop) which makes the Tempest.  DTW took us across the river to an empty field to put the Tempest through its paces.

Fourth Sunday of Lent--Year C

Charlie Dittmeier's Homily

20 March 2004

People have asked me for the homilies that I preach here in Phnom Penh where we have liturgy every Saturday evening for the English-speaking Catholic community which meets at the Russian Cultural Center.  I have plans to redesign my website, and when I do, I want to add a section on the church in Cambodia, and I might create a section there for homilies.  Until that happens, maybe I'll just post them here for anyone who is interested. For the Fourth Sunday of Lent, click here.  I prepare homilies in outline form to allow for plenty of latitude when I'm actually giving it, and I hope that is not too difficult to follow.

Wat Phnom

Buddhism's central shrine in Cambodia

16 March 2004

Wat PhnomA central feature of Phnom Penh is Wat Phnom, the wat (temple) that is the spiritual center of Khmer Buddhism.  (The guidebooks always say that it is actually in the center of the city, too, but it isn't.)  It is located close to the Mekong River waterfront, the royal palace, and the national museum so it sees a lot of visitors like the tour group in the picture.  It always seems somewhat incongruous to me, but the first thing you see as you approach the wat is the big hillside clock.  Somehow it just doesn't seem appropriate to me although I'm sure it did to some tourism minister in some past year.  I want to put together a page of photos about Wat Phnom so come back later to check on the progress!

Keeping up with the diocese

Difficult with the newspaper's delivery schedule

13 March 2004

Charlie's mailboxThe Catholic diocese of Louisville sends me The Record, the diocesan newspaper every week, but its arrival is anything but timely.  Sometimes by some unknown quirk, a copy could arrive with other airmail letters in nine or ten days.  That's unusual, though. Because of its bulk-mail status, I tend to get copies of The Record in bunches. This is a picture of my mailbox in the Maryknoll office last week when I received ten copies of the paper on one day.  They were issues from March to May, 2003!!

Fred Klotter's Visit

Reconnecting with a friend from the diocese

9 March 2004

Charlie Dittmeier and Fred Klotter 

Fred Klotter is a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville who is currently studying canon law in Rome. On a break from studies, he visited friends in Thailand and decided, while in the neighbor, to visit Cambodia also.  He only spent two days here but they were full days.  Click here to see photos of the places and events of his visit.

International Women's Day

The DAC Celebration

3 March 2004

The women staff of the Disability Action CouncilMonday, March 8th, is International Women's Day.  In a country with such a strongly UN-influenced modern history as Cambodia, it is not surprising that the day is acknowledged here more prominently than in many other countries.  The Disability Action Council, with its sixteen staff, celebrated the women of the staff with a luncheon today at a restaurant overlooking the Mekong River.  I work at the DAC as an advisor on deaf programs throughout Cambodia.

Charlie's Birthday

Photos from the DDP Celebration

21 February 2004

Photos of the birthday celebration at the Deaf Development Program!

Click here

Charlie's Birthday

A surprise party!

20 February 2004

Charlie with a birthday giftYesterday one of the Deaf Development Program advisors told me that our new program manager wanted to have a staff meeting this afternoon and wanted to know if I could come.  I told her I could, but when I walked through the gate at 4:00 PM today, all the staff were lined up to greet me with a surprise birthday party! And it was a real surprise! I didn't have a clue they were planning anything.  In the picture I'm holding one of my gifts, a drawing of all our staff made by two of our staff artists. It's a wonderful gift that I will treasure!  Come back to see more photos!

Life Prayers

by Marianne Williamson

18 February 2004

[Parts of this poem were used by Nelson Mandela in his Inaugural Address]

Our deepest fear
    is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear
    is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light,
    not our darkness,
        that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves,
who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people
won't feel secure around you.

We were born to make manifest
the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us;
it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

In Life Prayers: Affirmations to Celebrate the Human Journey

Celebrating the Lunar New Year

Guests of the Hong Kong Lay Missioners

14 February 2004

Celebrating the Lunar New Year
Lucia and Stephanie, two members of the Hong Kong Lay Mission Association working in Cambodia, invited a group of friends to celebrate the Lunar New Year today.  The celebration was late, first of all because the Chinese restaurants were closed at the actual new year holiday, and then several of the invited people were out of town.  The group that gathered tonight was quite diverse with members from Colombia, England, France, Italy, Hong Kong, Korea, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and the United States.  I was the only American there.

Kathy Bond and Flavio Rocha

Visitors to Maryknoll Cambodia

1 February 2004

Flavio Rocha and Kathy Bond with some of Cambodia  lay mission groupIt's not often that we get Maryknoll visitors from Latin America! Flavio Rocha and Kathy Bond (seated, left) are assigned to Brazil but visited Cambodia and Thailand last month.  Kathy went to Brazil years ago as a lay missioner, met Flavio, and they married.  Flavio then joined the Maryknoll Lay Missioners also, just finishing the orientation in December, 2003. There is a chance (we hope!) that they will consider mission in Asia with us after their present assignment.

Trafficking in Cambodia

A New York Times series

29 January 2004

The trafficking of women and children, especially as part of the sex trade, is a huge and sordid industry in Cambodia.  Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has investigated trafficking here in Cambodia and has written a series of four articles about his buying the freedom of two teenage girl prostitutes.  It gives a good sense of the personal tragedy and magnitude of the problem. Here is a link to the series.

Delightful Weather!

It's much cooler than usual...

26 January 2004

When people ask me what Cambodia is like, I usually reply "Hot, dirty, corrupt. But a good place to be." But the past six or eight weeks have been a pleasant surprise. It hasn't actually been cool--at least not to my way of thinking, although the locals would argue--but it has definitely been less hot, and since the rainy season is over, the less hot is combined with less humid to make a definitely more comfortable daily climate. There have even been days when I've only taken one shower instead of two--or three. Granted all that, it's still constantly above 80 degrees in my room, but at least it's much nicer outside.



Raymond's Death (continued)

A family photo

15 January 2004

The Dittmeier family in 2002

Several people asked where Raymond came in the Dittmeier family.  He was number five of the eight children.  Standing, from left to right: Martha, Mary, Jane, Ann, Chuck, Dennis, Ray, and Paul. Mother Martha Dittmeier is seated. (Taken June, 2002).

Raymond's Death

A very special experience

5 January 2004

All of us have to die but few of us control many of the circumstances of our death.  If we could, however, probably Raymond Dittmeier's death would be a model for us to copy.  He died with great dignity in a very simple way, surrounded by people he loved and who loved him.  Some observations and comments about the family's experience of his death:

  • From the time Ray was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, he never once complained.  He certainly did not want to die, but he simply observed that some people are going to get cancer and he happened to be one of them.  At the same time, he tried to take advantage of treatments that were offered him, but it wasn't from any sense of panic or grasping at straws but rather trying what seemed to offer some reasonable hope for himself or even just for others who might benefit from the research his experience could provide.
  • He had a very high tolerance for pain.  One of the nurses from Hospice noted that, observing that the doses of pain killers he was taking would themselves have killed most people.  And yet I never once heard Ray speak of his pain unless someone asked him about it. And we would have to ask because he didn't show it and didn't talk about it.
  • The brothers and sisters of Ray (there are eight children in our family) were in and out of his house daily throughout the Christmas season because we knew this was the last time we would be together.  As Ray's condition started worsening after New Year's we were there more often, and the last 24 hours we never left his home where he was being cared for by Hospice.  It was an extraordinary privilege to be with him throughout that night, to give him his medicine, help him stand when he couldn't breathe, and just be present.  We didn't have any schedule but throughout the night two or three of us would always be by his side while others slept on the floor or couches.
  • Ray owned a construction company with a super partner, Marty Thieneman.  Sentry Construction did special jobs with steel erecting, and it was so powerful to see the big bearded, pony-tailed, muscular steel workers standing beside his coffin with tears running down their cheeks.  Three other construction companies that sometimes worked beside Sentry on a site let their workers off for the afternoon so they could attend Ray's funeral.
  • The family of Tammy, Ray's wife, the Pences, were also with Ray during his final days, and a strong bond developed among all of us, sometimes leading to special moments when all of us, Baptists and Catholics together, would pray together.
  • When the Hospice nurse left finally after Ray had died, she commented that she had never seen a family like that. I really hope there are many, many families that can be there for each other at such times.

Raymond Dittmeier

First of the brothers and sisters to die

3 January 2004

Raymond Dittmeier is one of my younger brothers, the fifth of the eight children in our family.  He contracted a rare form of cancer from working with asbestos in his construction company and died 3 January 2004, thirteen months after he was diagnosed, at the age of 49.  He was married to Tammy and they have one grown son who is married.

Raymond was an exceptional person.  One of his lifelong friends spoke of him yesterday as a good person who never did anything wrong.  He was known among his family, friends, and workers as an honest, humorous, hard-working individual with tremendous personal integrity and real concern and care for others.

He will be missed.

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