Christian Animism, Secularism and the Excluded Middle

Holy smokes did this writing by Paul Hiebert really hit home. About 6 months ago I started to realize something with my prayer life: I wasn’t asking God for anything; I was telling Him what to do. It wasn’t “heal this sickness so you may be glorified” it was “make it better so they don’t hurt.”

Hiebert describes this as a type of Christian animism or magic. Both are ego-centered and focused on humans. Trying to learn the secret words so we can get what we want. Yeah I never tried to concoct a potion from rat’s blood and pig eyes (or break an egg over an irritable stomach and smear it around then wrap it with an ace bandage) but it was magic nonetheless.

The other extreme is secularism. There is no spiritual realm. Modern science anyone?

So his “Flaw of the Excluded Middle” describes a balance between the two extremes. Many of us have questions in life that aren’t explained completely by one side or the other.

Two of my favorite quotes from his writing:

“I do not want to deny the need to deal with the spirit world and related subjects. Yet we need to center our theology on God and his acts and not, as modern secularism and animism do, on human beings and their desires. We need to focus on worship and our relationship with God, and not on ways to control God for our own purposes through chants and formulas.”

“I began to realize in a new way that true answers to prayer are those that bring the greatest glory to God, not those that satisfy my immediate desires.”


Random snippets

Wish I would have kept better track of things I don’t typically hear in a normal week back home:

“Yeah I think she has leprosy.”

“My missionary wife has had Dengue fever….at least twice.”

“It feels really nice in here after being outside.” Inside an 87 degree home.

“Please come he’s dying.” 3oish year old with pneumonia. “How’d his uneducated village wife know he was actually dying?” “They just know….get to experience it first hand quite a bit.”

“Are you on your honeymoon?” New life goal: get asked that at least every few months.

“She’s just scared of the ‘barong'”  aka big nose

“I think if I were to get a newer vehicle (current SUV has around a quarter million miles) I’d get a truck with open bed……lost track a long time ago of the dead bodies I’ve transported in here….”

“They just don’t really treat pain here.” Huh?!! Yep. Busted knees, sore backs and throes of death nearly all go sans painkillers. Oofta.

“AWESOME! I can use tap water to brush my teeth again.”

Sometimes just gotta say “wow”

We had breakfast at our hotel today for convenience sake. The room was full with about 100 people from the USA (man are we easy to spot), Korea, France, Germany, Cambodia (obviously), China and plenty of others I’m sure. It’s cool to hear so many languages.

Anywho-when we walked in I told Stacy, “that’s the hostess we met last year.” Stacy wasn’t sure but I said yep. After we sat down for a while and ate, we made eye contact and I lifted my Bible and said “Cray Hesoo?” which I think is supposed to somehow possibly mean Christ Jesus in Khmer. She smiled and said, “You Zonatahnn and Stahcee?”

Last year over breakfast we would give thanks for our meal and read a chapter from the good book. She came over and asked if we were Christians. She was so excited to meet fellow Christians. Believe it or not everyone here doesn’t just say they’re Christian so I guess it was memorable a year later.

So please pray for her. I can’t remember her name but God knows who she is. Pray she would be encouraged in her faith and others would come alongside her that she may be encouraged as well.

12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

1 Thessalonians 2 (NIV)

A beautiful conclusion

Today was our last day of clinic and just what I needed. A selfish statement I suppose but just being honest. We helped a whole bunch of people, had a great translator, and got to spend some quality time with one of my heroes Brandon. Plus he regaled us with stories such as his vasectomy in Bangkok (tied down all fours in spread eagle) and shall we say “follow up confirmation testing” in Phnom Penh where he didn’t know the language in the clinic so trying to get across exactly what was needed was….an adventure🙂

It’s always funny when someone grabs our camera to get some pics. We never know what’s going to show up so here goes:


Took about an hour each way out of Siem Reap. A fair amount down some twisty, lonely dirt road.



Who needs lines outside when we can all crowd around inside?






Gratuitous barefoot bathroom pic


We didn’t get photos of helping the ladies at the AGAPE Employment Center today. On purpose. That’s where women brought out of “difficult” situations are given skills, education and value.

We helped well over a hundred folks, feeling pretty good physically and now looking forward to about 2.5 days of rest and travel. Can’t thank each of you enough for the prayers and support. We truly couldn’t do it without you.

Jon & Stacy

survive and advance

It may not be March yet but that’s a fair thought process for the day.


After leaning our suitcase against the back seat the driver slammed the door three times and then kicked it a few. Then our missionary friend said “he asked if there’s anything breakable in that suitcase.” A tad late for such details.


Our view for 8 hours. The funniest (well maybe in a few weeks) thing was Stacy’s Fitbit registered her climbing over 50 flights of stairs within two hours. Yeah it was a bumpy ride.


Never again will I complain of leg space on a domestic flight

What you don’t get to experience is the Khmer version of hits including: Hear Me Roar, Stand By Me and Achy Breaky Heart. At ridiculously high volumes. Noise blocking headphones were not enough.


Yet she still smiles when it comes time for a tuk tuk ride. The most amazing woman I know! Actually most amazing person but that just sounds kinda weird. She’s simply amazing!

We’re off to bed. Wake up before 6 tomorrow to head to our last round of clinics here outside of Siem Reap. Sounds like we’ll be in the van for a handful of hours to get there🙂

……..well bed maybe but there’s some kind of karaoke event going on outside our room. Seriously. Think concert in the park only louder.


If one of us had to struggle in the heat, I’d much prefer it’s me rather than Stacy. I’m chivalrous like that.

We got some decent rest yesterday evening, but I just had that feeling of not getting rested and being exhausted. Fell asleep Skype-ing with the kiddos even. I made it through an hour of church this morning but then left to find a place to lay down. Not violently ill and still upright but just difficult to put one foot in front of the other. Thinking back over the years this generally happens around day 7-9 for me. The stress of planning for months, global travel and unfamiliar heat just adds up. I hate it because I pride myself on being fit and healthy but it’s a good reminder in where I need to find my strength.

It’s sneaky here because the locals are wearing fleece sweatshirts and knit caps and the missionaries are talking about the cool season and how wonderful it is. However it’s telling when an 84 degree home feels nice and then I think about how hot it must be everywhere else.

A few days ago it was so much fun to see faces that I recognized from years past. The last few days it has been a bit sobering. It’s no big deal for people to wear the same pair of glasses for more than 2 years, but it hits home that there aren’t any other good options for many of these folks.
Tomorrow we take the local van to Siem Reap. All day with our new Khmer friends who probably know zero english. It’s cool; we were the only white “big noses” in the Banlung market too. I love that it doesn’t even bother us anymore. In fact I think it’s great to be somewhere where you’re the outsider and people really do stop and stare.

Enough of that off to some pictures:


Did we mention it’s kinda dusty? Fortunately Kevin is a professional dry season driver. I think he uses sonar to traverse through these dust clouds. 


For my Aunt Pat and little brother


Stairs into the church. Always amazed at the blind old Grannies who make it up and down.


Some of those fishies still flopping around


I think that’s a bat. Either way tasted like chicken


Our seamstress and her husband. She remembered us from a few years ago. Her glasses just broke so she was quite happy that Jenny will be delivering a new pair.


It’s like an anatomy lesson right there at the restaurant


“Woof woof”


Kids being kids


Here’s what they are throwing at each other kinda like dodgeball. It’s a cross between a hacky sack and a badminton thingamadoodle. Rather than kicking it to each other (normal way to play with it) they’re throwing it at each other. At least it’s not a wrench.

blind in one eye and can’t see out the other

Kind of an unfortunate recurring theme today sprinkled amongst the hundred patients we saw.


This fellar lost his left eye years ago. We gave him they old one glance “sorry ain’t nobody aside from Jesus gonna help.”

So then we decided to make do with what he has. Turns out his good eye is crazy near sighted. -5.00 for those keeping score at home. Big E on the chart? Ha. Not even close.

But holy smokes did he light up when we started working on glasses. It wasn’t “clear” vs. “blurry” but he was saying “light” at first which was awful confusing since it sounds like “blurry” in Khmer. Side note: I speak just enough Khmer to confuse the translators into them thinking I’m understanding what the patient is saying.

Anywho here’s one crazy part of these trips: we get back to our room and I ask Stacy “why did I ask you to take a picture of this guy?” His incredible story gets lost in the sheer numbers, high heat and car sickness🙂

So after a morning at the health center we headed further into the jungle.



Picnic lunch. His brother was delicious.


Thank God for amazing people who heed the call to be missionaries to unreached peoples. This is the Olsons’ village home.


Heading up the Sesan River



Village life along the Ho Chi Minh Trail


Have eye chart will travel


Strikingly similar to the first gentleman talked about today. He came to us using his hands to feel for obstacles (no red canes here). Unfortunately this guy needs more than just glasses. What many of us would consider uncomfortable, cosmetically undesirable and disturbing to our vision has caused near blindness in this third world country.

A pterygium is due to wind, dust, sun (chronic irritation) so you and I could: wear sunglasses, use lubricating drops or medicated drops if it got bad enough or if it really got bad enough go have surgery. Unfortunately he would now need bilateral corneal transplants they are so far advanced. We got him some glasses so he can hopefully tend to his fields but he won’t have his sight for long.

It’s heartbreaking but I have patients back home who no one this side of heaven can fix. And sometimes we think “goodness if you would have just come in when this started we could have saved your eye.” So it’s not always a simple case of being born on the wrong continent. We’ll continue to hand out drops and sunglasses to try and protect the next patients from getting to this stage.

Thanks for the prayers. This cool season business of about 95 in the shade is for the birds.