Mission Notebook 2015

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

2000-2001     2002    2003    2004   
2005    2006    2007    2008    2009    2010    2011    
2012     2013     2014     2015    

Report from Nepal

27 December 2015

Click here for some pictures and thoughts about Christmas 2015 in Cambodia.

A Christmas tree of another sort

26 December 2015

Tree blooming at Christmas time


I haven't heard of many people shoveling a white Christmas in North America this year, but there was no chance of that happening here in Phnom Penh. We have trees and shrubs and everything else that grows blooming all year round. Here along the Tonle Sap River is a tree I passed on the way to Christmas morning mass with red blossoms that are most seasonably appropriate.

Christmas Decorating Party

12 December 2015

Olga Pacumbaba and Ann Sherman
After the all-day planning meeting, all the CMT were invited to the Maryknoll Sisters' house for a traditional decorating party and pizza dinner. Olga Pacumbaba and Ann Sherman watched the gate as the Maryknollers arrived.
Setting up the last decorations
This year the sisters had put up most of the decorations before the rest of the CMT arrived, but the traditional nativity scene, with figures brought from many different countries, was not finished so Karen Bortvedt and Sami Scott (right) applied their creativity.
Decorating cookies
A hallowed tradition at the sisters' house is decorating Christmas cookies. Here Nancy Davies, Luise Ahrens, Meding Tan (hidden), and Karen Bortvedt apply frosting to stars and trees and animal shapes.
Conversation in the living room
While the cookie people worked in the kitchen, others chatted in the living room. L-R: Bob Wynne, Mary Little, Dee Dungy, Sami Scott (foreground), and James Havey.
Putting out the pizza
Finally the pizza arrived and Ann Sherman, Len Montiel (checking to make sure her anchovy pizza arrived), and James Havey set out the food.
The musicians for Christmas carols
The decorating day always ends with the singing of Christmas songs and carols. While Luise Ahrens monitored from the rear, Sami Scott (flute) and Meding Tan (guitar) provide accompaniment while Maria Montello and Mary Little sang "Frosty the Snowman."
Singing Christmas carols
Once the food was put away and the dishes washed, the whole Cambodia Mission Team joined in the singing.

Cambodia Mission Team Planning Day

10 December 2015

Discussions during the planning day
Every eighteen months or so, the Maryknoll Cambodia Mission Team gets together for a planning session to look at what we're doing, what are the signs of the times, and maybe changes we should make. This year we met for a day and a half. There were lots of discussions. (L-R): Nancy Davies, Mary Little, Sami Scott, Meding Tan, James Havey.
Posting discussion ideas
Charles McCarthy and Karen Bortvedt post ideas from small group discussions on display boards for all to see.
James Havey
James when Sr. Luise left the room for a minute.
Cambodia Mission Team 2015
This is the CMT at the end of 2015. (Front: Karen Bortvedt, Len Montiel, Meding Tan, Maria Montello, Olga Pacumbaba, Hang Tran. Middle: Mary Little, Luise Ahrens, Bob Wynne, Nancy Davies, Dee Dungy. Back: Charlie Dittmeier, James Havey, Ann Sherman, Sami Scott, Charles McCarthy, Kevin Conroy. Missing: Helene O'Sullivan.)


Maryknoll Leadership

28 November 2015

Brian Barrons introducing himself at Maryknoll

The Maryknoll Lay Missioners and the Maryknoll Sisters, for reasons of civil and church law, are separate organizations from the Maryknoll Priests and Brothers, but they all share the same name. And increasingly they are working together in the same sites and with the same structures, especially in Asia. The Maryknoll Priests and Brothers are currently undergoing a series of changes to simplify their structure in Asia and Fr. Brian Barrons (maroon shirt) is now the superior for their group in Asia. Because they work with us in various ways and fund some of our projects, Brian came to visit Cambodia and meet us and see our work. Here, at our regular Wednesday meeting, he introduces himself to others who didn't know him.

Another New Country

27 November 2015

Flag of RwandaThe 105th country to hit my homepage is Rwanda, a small landlocked country in central Africa, east of the Congo. About the size of the U.S. State of Maryland, Rwanda has a population of 12+ million people.

Thanksgiving in Cambodia

26 November 2015

Thanksgiving with the Salesian Sisters Today for the first time in my life, I had two full Thanksgiving dinners. For lunch the Salesian Sisters--drawn from all over the world--invited us to an American Thanksgiving with them at their school. Somehow there was a connection with the US Embassy. Here Fr. Kevin Conroy struggles with a turkey. The turkey won and a lay missioner took over.
The Americans at the Sisters' Thanksgiving This is the group of U.S. citizens at the lunch--the first Thanksgiving meal ever for all the non-Americans. The three ladies on the left are from the embassy, and then there are three Salesian lay missionaries and the three of us Maryknoll priests.
Thanksgiving with Maryknoll Then in the evening the Maryknoll community got together for our annual holiday dinner. Luckily this year Thanksgiving coincided with the Water Festival so it was an actual holiday for us. This table had a deaf staff member from DDP so it became the sign language table with additions from Korea and the Philippines. A great day!


Catholic Alliance for Charity and Development

3 October 2015

Maryknoll banner



Last week the Diocese of Phnom Penh had a special meeting and exhibit to show the people in the small Catholic parishes around the provinces what the church is doing to help and serve the population. Each Catholic agency and NGO was asked to prepare a banner illustrating their mission and their activities. This is the Maryknoll banner, created by Maria Montello, as it was displayed. Olga Pacumbaba and Sami Scott were at the meeting and posed with Maryknoll's banner.

Deaf Week

22 September 2015

Deaf Week Theme


This is International Deaf Week and DDP is celebrating with the deaf community in Cambodia. Today we a presentation about deaf people in other parts of the world and this afternoon we had an international food-tasting. We invited people from various countries to prepare some dish that is native to their culture, and then they brought them to DDP where about fifty people gathered to sample them. It was a great success! Thanks to the people who volunteered their time and trouble to offer some tempting dishes!

Another New Country

6 September 2015

Belarus FlagRecently my home page flag counter registered country #104--Belarus. Belarus is a country of 9,000,000 people, squeezed in between Poland and Russia. Belarus has a treaty with Russia so that the two of them constitute the remainder of what used to be the U.S.S.R. They feel comfortable being together in this new union because both of them have authoritarian governments which routinely trample on people's civil and human rights.

And MORE Jackfruit!

2 September 2015

The fruit of the jackfruit


Finally--this is what jackfruit looks like on the inside. This is what you eat. It has a sweet taste and most people like it even though the taste is strong. (And I found out why the locals put the wooden stake into the jackfruit [See 25 August] when they cut them down--"It's to make the fruit turn yellow inside, Silly! Everyone knows that!" Say what?)


Still More Jackfruit

25 August 2015

Jackfruit cut open

For those of you who have never seen the inside of a jackfruit, this is what it looks like--at least the thick hull layer right below the prickly outer skin. The hull or husk is two to four inches thick. When our guard cut down this jackfruit, he cut away the outer hull that seemed to be rotting and left this gaping hole. You still can't see any of the actual jackfruit that you can eat. Why he drove the wooden stake into the middle of the jackfruit is one of those mysteries I will never know.

Jackfruit Revisited

24 August 2015

Jackfruit ready to cut


Three weeks ago I showed you a photo of two Cambodian jackfruit on a tree in the front yard of the Maryknoll office. Today as I was going to work, the guard showed me a bad spot on the smaller one and said that it needed to be cut. And he went and got the chopper and proceeded to do just that. Can you see the growth in 20 days of the two larger jackfruit? Growth is certainly obvious in the cluster of smaller ones on the tree.

Dittmeier's Own #9

26 May 2015

Often I find that what people are most interested in about life in Cambodia is the ordinary stuff: where do you get clothes? what are grocery stores like? etc. I've started an occasional section called "Dittmeier's Own," where I identify places where I get various things done. The name is a take-off on "Newman's Own" that Paul Newman used for his recipe for salad dressing.

Kiwi Bakery

Every month our parish Liturgy Committee has a lunch meeting. We need a place that seats seven or eight people and isn't too noisy. The place we use most often this year is the Kiwi Bakery and Restaurant. It's in the area where most of us live and work so it's easy to get to and they have a good selection of western and Khmer dishes to keep everyone happy.


Photo Exhibition

20 August 2015

Arvin Mamhot photo exhibition


Arvin Mamhot, a member of our English-speaking parish who has done photography work for DDP and taught photography to deaf people, opened an exhibition of his work this evening at the Intercontinental Hotel. Here in the second-floor Inner Gallery he talks about his photograph "One Way" with several visitors.

Doesn't make sense....

19 August 2015

Gun control cartoon>

Khmer Architecture

16 August 2015

Khmer architectural style



Architecture in Cambodia is quite distinctive. There are certain designs that are repeated over and over for housing; there are cultural icons and graphics that appear everywhere; and there is this distinctive type of architectural flourish that appears on many buildings. This tiled roof with its elaborate extensions and protrusions is on a government building near the river but all the wats (pagodas) and many other buildings use this style which comes from a heritage that both Cambodia and Thailand share.

MKLM August, 2015

11 August 2015

Cambodia MKLM group 2015

As our Maryknoll Lay Missioners group has gotten larger, the times are less frequent when we're all together at the same time. This past weekend we had a monthly meeting with all participating so we took a group photo for the record. Front (L-R):Maria Montello, Sami Scott, Charlie Dittmeier, Dee Dungy. Back: James Havey, Karen Bortvedt; Nancy Davies, Charles McCarthy, Hang Tran.

Final Profession

8 August 2015

Sr. Sovathanak


This week the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco welcomed their first Cambodian sister to full profession. Sr. Mary Tang Sovathanak here is speaking her final vows as a sister at a special ceremony at the new diocesan center in Phnom Penh Thmey. Bishop Olivier was presiding.


6 August 2015

Ambassador Bill Todd at MaryknollU.S. Ambassador Bill Todd (blue shirt) leaves Cambodia next week after 3½ years here. He has been a most positive voice--and push--for much needed change in the kingdom. That has made him anathema to the ruling party but has endeared him to those who want better for the poor people of Cambodia. He stopped by Maryknoll Wednesday night this week--our meeting night--to have an informal chance to talk and say goodbye. He has also been an active member of our English Catholic community.

Cambodian Grapes

4 August 2015

Jackfruit at Maryknoll office




These are Cambodian grapes. Pretty impressive, huh? Actually they are jackfruit, something not much seen in North America or Europe, and they do grow large! These two big ones are within a week or two of harvesting but you can see there are another five or six smaller ones on the tree also.

Graduation Dance

1 August 2015

Traditional danceThe school year ends in July in Cambodia so there have been a number of graduations recently. These girls are students of the Salesian Sisters Vocational Training School for Girls and they are performing a traditional welcoming dance for the school's graduation. Charlie Dittmeier has mass for the sisters and some of the students at the school every Friday morning at 6:15 AM.

Time to Leave

29 July 2015

Maddisen Brennecke, Shalina , Zack SturmFor many years, Notre Dame University in the United States has sent two students to Cambodia to work with Maryknoll in various projects. This year Maddisen Brunnecke (L) and Zack Sturm spent two months with us teaching English at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Now it is time for them to return to the US--and to school. Also here, for a longer time, was Shalina Stilley. In the US, she is a seminary teacher in Missouri. Here in Cambodia she worked with an anti-trafficking program. Shalina will also be leaving this weekend. They were all most pleasant people to have with us and we hope we will see them again!

Another New Country

24 July 2015

Greek FlagRecently my home page flag counter registered country #103--Greece. I always wonder how people find my home page and whether they are deaf or not. This time I suspect I got the hit because I recently was in Greece for an international conference on deaf education, and I suspect someone to whom I gave my business card clicked on the website address while they were there.

4th of July in Phnom Penh

4 July 2015

Every year the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh has a celebration at the embassy for the Fourth of July, but I have never gone. Then this year, the departing Ambassador Bill Todd had a smaller reception in the morning and I was invited (he's a good friend of Maryknoll) so I went.


Marine Corps Honor Guard
To open the hour-long celebration, the Marine Corps honor guard presented the colors.

Ambassador Todd addressing the group
Then Ambassador Todd spoke briefly. He has been criticized by the government of Cambodia for his "arrogant insolence" because he is very outspoken, and he laid a zinger on them today when he noted that the government is not handling a new anti-NGO law in accordance with good principles of democracy, consultation, transparency, etc. The Cambodian government can't wait to see him leave!

A Trip to Remember?

3 July 2015

Greek crisisEarly Sunday morning I and one of my DDP staff fly to Greece for a week-long conference on deaf education. The conference is held every five years so it has been planned for a long time, but in the last two weeks the Greek financial situation has become more and more precarious. A stream of e-mails from Athens assures us participants that everything is OK and we will not be affected by the crisis, but I think I may still bring along some Kruggerands and a box of colored beads for bartering.

Haang Bai Eating

1 July 2015

This is an eating establishment called a "haang bai" or rice shop. The large pots each contain a different cooked dish, some all vegetables, some vegetables and meat. A customer gets a big plate of white rice and another plate of the contents of the pot he points to. The two plates together cost about 75. Here David Henshall (with bag) is deciding which pot to choose while Keat Sokly engages the cooks in conversation. The three of us had five or six dishes and the total cost was still only $4.25.

Ordination Day

27 June 2015

Priests in vesting room before ceremony
This morning Deacon Sok Na was ordained a priest for the vicariate (diocese) of Phnom Penh. All the priests from all three dioceses came together for the event. Here we gathered in the old seminary chapel to vest and receive instructions on the flow of the ceremony.


The ceremony at St. Joseph Church
There were about 50 priests present and about 1,000 of the faithful. For such large ceremonies, an outdoor (but covered) stage at St. Joseph Church is used and then tents are set up to shelter the congregation. Today the "feels like" temperature from AccoUter during the ceremony was 106.

Dittmeier's Own #8

23 June 2015

Often I find that what people are most interested in about life in Cambodia is the ordinary stuff: where do you get clothes? what are grocery stores like? etc. I've started an occasional section called "Dittmeier's Own," where I identify places where I get various things done. The name is a take-off on "Newman's Own" that Paul Newman used for his recipe for salad dressing.

Charlie's shop for drinks

On the left of the laundromat (a new type of business in Phnom Penh) is a little drinks shop on Street 310. (I live on Street 320.) I try not to drink too many Cokes but when I do want some, I go to this little shop because they sell the 1.25 liter bottles for 96 each. Lucky Market, the main supermarket for foreigners, sells that size Coke for $1.30--quite a difference. This is a little family-owned shop and the mother is often rather surly but I put up with that for the cheap price.


Dittmeier's Own #7

26 May 2015

Often I find that what people are most interested in about life in Cambodia is the ordinary stuff: where do you get clothes? what are grocery stores like? etc. I've started an occasional section called "Dittmeier's Own," where I identify places where I get various things done. The name is a take-off on "Newman's Own" that Paul Newman used for his recipe for salad dressing.

Watch repairman

In a market near my former home, this young man has a watch repair shop. It's like a small telephone booth on wheels and he sits behind it all day. I needed to get the watch stem reinserted in my watch and it turned out that he had to replace it with a new one. It cost me $1.00.


Phnom Penh's Past

25 May 2015

Old NCDP building

This is one of the old Phnom Penh colonial-era buildings that has been well preserved. There aren't too many of them left. This building was the offices of the National Center for Disabled People but now it has been taken over by the Ministry of Women's Affairs.

LGBT Dialogue

23 May 2015

Setting up the dialogue

Today the Finnish Embassy, Maryknoll Lay Missioners, and Chab Dai, a trafficking NGO, sponsored an LGBT-Christian Dialogue to look at and discuss the welcome offered by the Christian churches to the LGBT community. About 60 persons attended and had a lively session that seemed quite productive. Karen Bortvedt (R) and James Havey (seated R) got together with two members of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission to set up the facility before the three-hour session.

Report from Nepal

20 May 2015

Fr. Joe Thaler Click here for the most recent report from Maryknoll's Fr. Joe Thaler who lives and works in Nepal and is now involved in the recovery work after the earthquakes there. The formatting got messed up but it's still perfectly readable.

A Letter to the Editor

17 May 2015

Canada Letter

Something to think about...

Dittmeier's Own #6

15 May 2015

Often I find that what people are most interested in about life in Cambodia is the ordinary stuff: where do you get clothes? what are grocery stores like? etc. I've started an occasional section called "Dittmeier's Own," where I identify places where I get various things done. The name is a take-off on "Newman's Own" that Paul Newman used for his recipe for salad dressing.

Selling bread on the street

Every Friday morning I ride past this man selling bread on the corner near the Don Bosco School where I go to have mass for the Salesian Sisters at 6:15 AM. I always think how delicious this French bread is here in Cambodia but then counter with the idea that even after fifteen years here I don't like to eat food sold uncovered on the dirty, dusty streets of Phnom Penh. Today I arrived at the gate of the school, just 100 feet to the left of this gentleman, and a young woman, a cook at the school, opened the gate for me. She was just coming back with a bag of French bread she had bought from this man on the corner--and which was served to me at breakfast after mass. So much for the caution about not eating the bread from the street!


Farewell to Steve

26 April 2015

Supper for Steve's farewell



Steve (L) is leaving tomorrow for the United States after finishing his contract with the Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Tonight, after the Saturday evening mass, the Maryknoll community got together to say goodbye to him.

Dinner together


We discussed a bit about how to celebrate Steve's departure and, because we were gathering right after mass, it was finally decided that it would a "heavy hors d'oeuvres" meal, with everyone bringing something. It worked out beautifully.

Singing the old songs together



After we ate, Maria Montello showed us a video presentation she had put together with pictures from Steve's time in Cambodia, and then Maria and Steve led us in singing some of the old songs we all know.

Maryknoll group photo



Then we decided to take a group photo to remember the departure of really well liked and well respected member of the Maryknoll Cambodia Mission Team.

The Mission Cycle

22 April 2015

Sami Scott, Steve, Maria Montello


Today at our weekly Maryknoll Wednesday meeting, we said goodbye to Maryknoll Lay Missioner Steve (C) who is finishing his time with us and returning to the United States. We hate to see him go, but at the same time, we rejoice that Sami Scott (L) and Maria Montello announced today that they have renewed their contracts with the Maryknoll Lay Missioners.

Cremation in Cambodia

18 April 2015

Cremation facility



During the just-finished holiday period for the Khmer New Year, an elderly man connected to our community died. It was a bit more complicated than usual getting the medical people, police, and municipality to work during the holiday, but a cremation was arranged for the afternoon after his death. This is one of the four new crematoriums established by the city to remove the burning and ashes from the densely populated urban neighborhoods.

Another New Country

14 April 2015

Flag of IranYesterday my home page flag counter registered country #102--Iran. I always wonder how people find my home page and whether they are deaf or not. I wish there were a way to see if people were searching for a keyword that came up on my site or if they were just surfing generally and stumbled across some link that brought them to Parish-without-Borders or ???

Siem Reap Wedding

11 April 2015

St. John Apostle Church

On Thursday I took a VGS Travel van to Siem Reap for a wedding I witnessed on Friday. The couple was from Phnom Penh but wanted an English-language wedding in Siem Reap so their families could see Angkor Wat and the other temples during this trip. This is St. John the Apostle Church in Siem Reap where we had the ceremony. It was really hot! I was wringing wet at the end of the ceremony. I came back to Phnom Penh this morning.

VGS Travel lost my business on this trip. The last four trips the wi-fi in their vans hasn't worked (the trip up took seven hours!) and when I complained they said they have stopped the wi-fi in the vehicles although they still advertise it. I told them that false advertising is illegal in other countries and the woman at the counter admitted they were lying.

35th Anniversary of Archbishop Romero's Death

24 March 2015

“Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous,
tranquil contribution of all
to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.”

                                    Oscar A. Romero

Couples for Christ

12 March 2015

Christian Life Seminar

 The Couples for Christ movement in Cambodia is quite active, with two groups who offer courses, seminars, and other events to help people appreciate and practice their faith better. Recently they started a Christian Life Seminar that will run through the Sundays of March this year. Fr. Charlie Dittmeier was the first speaker in this series. Here the group starts the seminar with some spirited singing.

Welcome, Charles!

11 March 2015

Arrival of Charles McCarthy at airport

We gained a new Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Cambodia today, Charles McCarthy who arrived from the US East Coast, getting off the plane into temperatures in the low 90ºs after leaving five feet of snow in Massachusetts. Greeting him at the airport were (L-R): Karen Bortvedt, Maria Montello, Nancy Davies, Meden Tan, Sr. Ann Sherman, and Sami Scott, with Charlie Dittmeier behind the camera. Charles will live with Charlie at the Maryknoll office.

Friends Across Borders

5 March 2015

Friends across Borders with Maryknoll Cambodia

Once again this year the Maryknoll Lay Missioners organized a trip called Friends Across Borders which brings people from across the United States who are interested in mission and that expression of their faith to a mission country like Cambodia. We had a delightful group with us for two weeks and on their last Saturday night they posed with Maryknoll Cambodia for a group picture at World Vision.

Friends together again

15 February 2015

Motoring out to the floating village Click here to see my trip with old friends to Siem Reap

Lay Missioners Meeting

1 February 2015

International lay missioners meeting

Each month the lay mission groups from various countries gather for a meeting for reflection, socialization, and friendship. Today we met at the house of Lieke, a missioner from Belgium.

Thomas Merton

31 January 2015

Thomas Merton


 Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and one of the most influential spiritual writers of the 20th century. This is a photo of him at a hermitage on the grounds of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky where he was buried after his death by accident in 1968. He was a remarkable person and writer. More about him can be found in these links from PBS.

The End is Near

27 January 2015

Maryknoll gathering on WednesdaySam Stanton, the director of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners worldwide, has been visiting Cambodia after participating in our retreat and meetings earlier in Thailand. Here he is (far right) at one of our Wednesday gatherings. Now his time with us is drawing to an end. He has visited the ministries and talked with all of the lay missioners individually and now it's time to head back to Maryknoll, New York--if all the flight cancellations from the predicted big snowstorm don't affect his departure.

Rest in Peace

25 January 2015

Mausoleum at St. Joseph Church


 Generally in Cambodia most of those who die are cremated, following Buddhist tradition. Only the foreigners and the Cambodians with really strong Chinese roots are buried. There are no real cemeteries. Instead most cremation ashes end up urns which are placed in small stupas, usually on the grounds of a wat. Now St. Joseph Church has built a modern mausoleum on the church grounds for the ashes of the Catholics who die and are cremated.

Bishop Olivier

11 January 2015

Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler and Pope Francis

Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler was ordained as the Apostolic Vicar (a bishop in a mission country) of Phnom Penh three years ago and was the third youngest bishop in the world. He has been very active and is a wonderful man to work with. Here he is meeting Pope Francis in Korea a couple months ago.

A New Country

2 January 2015

Marshall Islands flagI continue to be amazed at the variety of hits on my website. The most recent, right after Christmas, was from the Marshall Islands, two small island chains just over the International Date Line, on the western side. That brings the total up to 101 countries that have clicked on my website. I was looking at some information on the Marshall Islands. The total land area of all the islands is about the size of Washington, DC.

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