Sioux Falls is like a middle child. She doesn’t relate much to her older sister, the big city, who commands attention just because of her presence and large personality;

but she finds herself unlike her little sister, the small town, who simply receives the attention due to constant chatter about her amongst the townspeople. Sioux Falls is a little lost as to who she wants to be, just caught in the middle of two places.

And I think this is why her and I have gotten along so well these past two months. My roots are deeply ingrained in small-town life, but my heart sometimes feels like it is more alive in the big city. I get caught between the tension of the two worlds, of community and diversity, which is why whenever I come back to Sioux Falls, I feel a new sense of having found myself through much time of reflection, of understanding my roots, but also of dreaming of a new future.

This little “break” of life that I’ve been brought through by no choice of my own has been such a blessing. I find in myself a new appreciation for my family, for where I’ve come from, but also a sense of closure with my past and feelings of excitement towards moving on into the upcoming phase of life. Through many discussions with my parents, I’ve been able to understand where they are coming from which, in turn, teaches me a little more about where I’ve come from and essentially, where I’m going. This stuff isn’t the easiest to learn about- our histories are all filled with garbage that we hope disappears on it’s own. But I’ve found that sorting through this stuff, recognizing it’s presence but not clinging to it, only makes the grace I’ve received through the blood of Christ that much sweeter. I wrote this “poem” if you can even call it that, after a conversation with my parents about their history and, truthfully, my history too.



I am from divorce, from affairs, from alcoholism -to death stemming from indulgence.

I am from physical and emotional abuse; from ritual Catholicism to stoic German silence.

I am from conflict, from large-scale restraining orders to those Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking at your front door.

I am from mental illness, from atheism, from small-town farming to the California Gold Rush.

I am from drug abuse, from homelessness, from laziness to hopelessness.

This is all flowing in my very blood line. A cycle of disobedience.

But how beautiful that JESUS CHRIST breaks every chain. His blood has washed away the past; has redeemed my life from a pit of emptiness.

And now, THIS is WHERE I’M FROM:

I am from the bloodline of David; from a place of hope in a desperate world.

I am from the Risen Savior! From the redemption that saved me from my sinful inclination.

I am from a God of compassion, from a Father who sent His very son to feel the pains of my past life so He could relate.

I am from a place of grace, of Holiness deeply rooted in love.

The truth is, this and worse is the history in all of our bloodlines.

Death and destruction are at the very core of us, but we have been chosen to receive a priceless gift of new blood.

We are forever free to love again.

Praise the Lord for new blood!


ohhh what to do with this last month of my Cambodian life now that it is over and i am faced with snow and individualism instead of my hot-cultured community?

There are actually no pictures to show the realities of what happens in cambodia, so here is my attempt at words. A few brief moments stick out that I want to remember forever, my Popeye moments. The first is the sadness, the brokenness that we witnessed there. When we began looking and overcoming the honeymoon phase of traveling, what was revealed to us were situations in which men were taking girls, some as young as 5 or 6, away from restaurants that seemed to be fronts for brothels. Right before our eyes were these situations happening, of which you always hope are untrue. but it really isn’t; I’m not trying to dramatize this in any way, but I have witnessed the reality that thousands of little girls get sold into prostitution by their families, who are desperate for money. thousands of innocent children. Other children not being sold nightly were frequenting our beachside table, happy to eat our leftover food or to sell us something else we do not need.

and i would return to my beautiful hotel at night and go to meet with God but couldn’t find him. The voice I did hear said this: “what you do for the least of these, you have done for me.” Jesus dwells in the broken, the needy. Continually I am reminded that I am the one not meeting Him.

The holy hallelujah was found in the joy and peace at the aftercare home, another memorable moment for me; we were blessed to spend time playing games and laughing with girls anywhere from age 6 or 7 to about 18 at this home in Phnom Penh where girls can live. The reality is that these girls had been rescued from human trafficking, every one of them. It is true that this experience was probably more for us than it was for the girls. I didn’t like the feeling that we were only creating short-term, superficial relationships with them at all, but what was unmistakeable about this place was that there were several solid, long-term investors in these girls’ lives that could show them continual love and support for as long as they needed it. We were able to catch a glimpse of the hope and the life that can come out of this difficult work of seeking out the hurt.

This month has been an incredible journey that confronted me head-on with living a life of pursuing justice not ever for any reward or acclamation but because it has been commanded of us. I’ve learned about my personal journey in this fight, of the place my specific gifts and life experiences are calling me to live this out. The beauty of it all is that people in every vocation can live a life that points towards freedom for the oppressed, the poor, those discriminated against if we keep our eyes open.

Habakkuk asks the Lord, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” This whole idea of ignorance is appealing at times. In America, we have the resources and even the liberty to choose not to see the hurt going on around us every day–NOT only abroad. Injustice isn’t a fun topic because it requires action- you are compelled to act on it when you see it and it isn’t comfortable or easy. But the Lord promises to do amazing things in and through us in this fight for justice — “Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”

and a small part of this amazement was displayed to us this month of January in the beauty of a vast, mysterious ocean, of spending our day off on a boat cruise, of friendly tuk-tuk drivers and hotel staff in Phnom Penh, of morning runs on the beach, and of this sense of deep community with people.

The length of time we spent in cambodia made it interesting in that being in a place for only a month doesn’t allow many discomforts or daily routines to sink in. I will miss the hot-cultured atmosphere of a place like cambodia and especially of living in community and doing daily life, discussing deep topics over dinner, learning and growing with the same people for an extended amount of time. I’ll also miss the art of photography- taking the time to look for beauty in the things that every-day life often overlooks.

i’m not sure what will come next in this travel blog– if anything. before cambodia, my future plans seemed to have traveling, possibly living abroad somewhere in them. This may still be true (and in all honesty, i hope it is!), but my entire mindset on life abroad changed through this experience. I was able to see the self-sufficiency of the Cambodian people and the worth there is in having organizations and help coming from internal sources. The language barrier is, in fact, a large barrier. I have a tendency to go to a place expecting that they will need me in some way and am humbled to say that many of the organizations there have a solid grasp and Biblical base of seeking justice–as I’ve said before, we have much to learn from them in this.

so those are only scattered thoughts, ideas that are not set in stone, always changing and definitely open for commentary! thanks for reading!


view from Life University in Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville beach

human knot with students at Life!


sweet hotel staff at the Goldiana!

Jazzercise in the park at night

Phnom Penh's famous elephant!

Russian market

beautiful Khmer restaurant

creeping on.. a creeper

Cambodian's.. birdie?

Bloom cupcakes!

I am fascinated with these hanging plants!

just for fun 🙂

We’re headed to Sihanoukville Wednesday; we’ll be spending the week teaching English to different groups of students and exploring the Gulf of Thailand!

As Richard Avedon (whoever that is!) says- there are so many words needed to go along with these pictures to fully explain. I can’t write now–Soon though!

Pictures first!

group shot- riverfront

Genocide museum

street vendors

drum show

A bright, slightly cheesy red sign lights up every night here in Phnom Penh: “Cambodia: Kingdom of Wonder” it reads. And this has proven to be so true; maybe not always in the way it was intended, but this country has produced so many “I wonders” in the short 11 days we’ve been here.

We’ve had some incredible experiences in the past week- busy schedules filled with learning, laughing, swimming, eating, watching a drum show, playing soccer in the park, jazzercising (Cambodian’s exercising!), meeting new people, and always near-death tuk-tuk riding. We finished studying the history of this complex country with a visit to the Killing Fields where thousands of Cambodians died in the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. There was something unique about getting to hear firsthand the re-telling of their pain- to see their vulnerability and the literal scars showed me what a resilient, endearing people I am privileged to learn from.

I have been dwelling in this land of paradoxes. The Cambodian people have hours to sit and think about little while we in the U.S. are given much to think about, but no time to reflect. We desire a darkened skin, while what they find beautiful is the lightness of skin. Their desire is to Westernize everything, while the people doing missionary work in the church fight for contextualization of their faith.

It’s hard for me to believe that there is a darkness here that the statistics and stories suggest; I’m continually caught in the honeymoon phase of being in a new place. The brilliant sun rising, the smiling people, the unique smells, the simplicity of life, the bright oranges and reds of the restaurants we enter make it hard to understand the fact that there is large suffering going on, much of which I still haven’t been exposed to or fully opened my eyes to. I’ve found myself in this clash of emotions — pure joy and then sadness fighting each other. I’ve been confronted with this grief in looking deep in the eyes of the shoeless children begging on the streets, clinging to our hands, their empty eyes looking for money, attention, love. It is a helpless feeling to have to continually deny them of this when I feel like I have so much to give. During the next week, we’ll continue learning about these children we see on the streets and the ones locked away, the human trafficking and sexual exploitation issues that are rampant in this country.

On a different note, a conversation with two men at a Buddhist temple led us to a beautiful moment of learning, questioning, and confirming faith. To hear them explain their belief in Buddhism made everything we had learned in class more tangible. In their fight to cleanse their minds from the cravings of this world, all through their own effort, the question still lingered: but what remedy is there for your heart? What of the craving of this powerful piece of you?

But, we found the heart on Sunday morning, in this insignificant building that could not hide the life that poured out from it. The Buddhist temples we had toured the days before seemed so dead compared to this building filled with Christians from all over the world, all coming together to worship our God despite language barriers and culture differences.

I can hardly believe it, but I’ve come to the point of being sick of thinking deeply about anything for the past day or so. So I’ll end with a fun picture! Happy 1/11/11!

Life in Cambodia is a beautiful collision of people, history, and complexity. There is SO MUCH i could say about this place and I’ve only been here for four days.

I’m here with a group of 26 Americans, all of us on this journey to figure out what social justice looks like in a country that has been oppressed with semi-recent genocide and that continues to struggle with violence, human trafficking, and child poverty. We are staying in the capital city, Phnom Penh, for the next two weeks in a hotel in a busy area of town. There’s a pool on the roof and lots of friendly Cambodian people to talk with. We leave our hotel and are greeted with tuk-tuks and always-smiling tuk-tuk drivers- our form of transportation. The city is loud but the people reserved. They are collective and simple. Again, I want to ask all kinds of questions of them: what makes you happy? what are your fears? what is beauty to you? but the language barrier makes communicating difficult. They speak a language called Khmer, and it is humbling trying to learn (my default is spanish). We usually meet for a class discussion (outside!) for a few hours during the day, and have already spent other time touring the Royal Palace, National Museum, S-21 (genocide museum), and infamous Angor Wat in Siem Reap. Although these are definitely the places to find tourists, of which I don’t really like claiming for myself, I’ve learned a lot through it all. And of course, produced more questions too.

Being surrounded by people with a completely different life than mine continues to impress upon me feelings of this large, complex Creator we serve. My egocentric, American-centered view of God seems to be so skewed and narrow sometimes. It’s easy to make judgements and comparisons about these people- supposing that their lives are hard, they are sad, they need some kind of help. The truth is, I desire their simplicity. We always seem to want what we cannot have- always are looking for a better life, one that will fulfill us. But more and more, I am recognizing that life here is not meant to fulfill, but to challenge and engage us in this beautiful journey of who we are and where God is calling us to. My tendency to want to help people sometimes causes me to judge their situations, to think I myself know how to make their lives better when, really, I am not the ultimate healer. This is not to say that these people don’t need any help- they do need people to fight for their freedom, to become educated, and overcome their past tragedies. It’s just that the kind of help may look different than how we expect it to look. I’m excited to learn more about this in the coming weeks.

I’m really finding joy in being in this place despite some of the darkness we’ve encountered. I’ve been so blessed by this group of people here with me already– we get to spend our nights exploring the city, walking or taking a boat along the riverfront, and eating at these incredible restaurants.

I’ve also been SO blessed to use this incredible camera, courtesy of fellow traveler (currently, uganda) alex potter!

hotel pool, of which we've already spent a fair amount of time 🙂

motobike! this is what tuk-tuks are attached to

the city of Phnom Penh

simplicity in cambodian restaurant

Angar Wat- Buddhist temple

more temple at sunset

S-21: genocide museum from late 1970s. This genocide killed over a third of Cambodia's population: the majority being the educated, skilled and intelligent

Today, we toured the S-21 genocide museum here in Phnom Penh and it is definitely not something easy to see. But I love this idea that amidst all the darkness, there is this light that cannot be shaded no matter how much barbed wire is up anyway.

Thanks for the prayers! I’ll write more soon.

Ive been having this internal struggle lately about comfort and how important it is for me to be comfortable.

Whenever I come home I always feel it – the desire to have my own house, my own family that is comfortable. I think we want comfort for others as much, if not more than we want it for ourselves. So I have these feelings of one day being able to walk through Macy’s and buy any expensive sweater I want, or of booking a 10-day vacation to Hawaii for my family. But then, right next door to those feelings are these desires to travel the world and live among those with nothing. A few weeks ago my world was rocked when someone proposed the question that maybe my dreams to travel were selfish dreams. It completely changed my mindset for a few days- I vowed to get to the bottom of this and figure out what my intentions for traveling actually were. I’ve come to the conclusion that it all comes back to that one word- comfort. My desires to experience the world outside of my comfort zone aren’t necessarily desires to stay at the most beautiful resort or eat the fanciest meals, but rather to make myself a little uncomfortable, as a stranger in a new place with new possibilities. I look at the life of Jesus Christ, the man whose life we are called to mirror. And realize that never in the Bible does it say Jesus Christ, born and raised in Bethlehem, lived 33 years of his life in the family carpentry business. It also never says Jesus, who lived in the ULTIMATE comfortable place, decided not to come down to the most UNCOMFORTABLE place, the earth, the experience the most UNCOMFORTABLE death, on the cross for us. Letting go of everything and moving isn’t meant to be comfortable. But I think the times we are going to experience Jesus the most are when we actually give Him room to work and to provide for us. How is he supposed to perform his miracles through us if we have all the money we need and can provide everything for ourselves?

On the surface of my life, the part most affected by worldly things, I’m persuaded to keep all my stuff, all of the people that support me and live in comfort- maybe someday even get a pool in my backyard or some great clothes. But then I feel from the depths of my heart and my soul, that this would not make me content. Comfortable, yes, for a little while anyway. But content, no. Contentment can only be found in letting go of everything I cling to and giving the Lord room to provide for me.

Sevilla soccer game!

Sevilla soccer game!



Bull fight

Bull fight

Well, I guess it’s time for me to write my last great entry in this blaaahg. The two last activites in Sevilla included a Sevilla futbol game and a real live bull fight. The game was amazing, one of my favorite memories of Sevilla. Somehow we ended up with front row seats– we’re still not sure how we planned that one out, considering we bought tickets the day of. Anyway, Sevilla won, 3-1, which was so fun! The bull fight was definitely an experience that I’m glad I have, I think.

I’ve left Sevilla, for good, for now but hopefully not forever! Kristin and I flew into Lisbon, Portugal, and are currently having our day of “cleansing” and I guess a little bit of processing too. What a semester! Probably the best one of my life.

It’s weird for me to leave Sevilla because I’m leaving more than just a semester of school work and friends. I’m leaving a life there—a life I’ll never have again. Living as a foreigner is so humbling, difficult, but so rewarding at the same time. I want to keep some of the habits and lifestyle that I’ve learned here!

I wouldn’t say that I necessarily “fell in love” with Sevilla itself, or that I could ever see myself living there someday. But I know I will always hold Sevilla in my heart because it did teach me so much about myself and the world in a hands-on kind of way that I could’ve never learned if I had stayed in the comfort of the Midwest. I’ve learned to accept the fact that people are so diverse—fitting in is a concept I let go of a long time ago, probably the day I got about 800 weird looks for running in the pouring rain or wearing flip-flops instead of “Spanish” boots. Through missing people and missing home, I’ve been realizing that the US and Minnesota specifically is the place that I belong, at least for now in my life.

It was sad to leave Ana, sad to leave the place I found a new life on my own, without any kind of solid ground underneath my feet. But, something has to end for something new to begin!

I’ve learned and experienced so much more than I can even describe! I would love to share more about this semester, and hear about all of your lives, in person!

This entry officially ends the blog of Kayla Jelen’s free thoughts!  See you guys soon!