Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The stories and people that affirmed my call to Cambodia

My time in Cambodia in May 2008 was wonderful (except for the first few days of terrrrible culture shock - click HERE to read my first blog from Cambodia) but it was my extended stay in May-June 2009 that affirmed my calling to Cambodia.

Over the course of the year that passed between my first and second trips to Cambodia, I read multiple memoirs written by survivors of the Khmer Rouge - "When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge" and "The Tears of My Soul: The Story of a Boy Who Survived the Cambodian Killing Fields" and "First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers" and others.  Upon reading these stories, I could not look at the Cambodian people (especially the older generations) the same, even if I tried.  In my eyes, I saw pain and hopelessness.

Many have not recovered from the devastating effects of the five-year genocide from 1975-1979.  More than three million Cambodians (one-third of the country's population) were murdered or died of starvation and disease.  Children watched their parents be killed.  Parents watched their children suffer.  Siblings were separated and often never reunited.  These years of pain and suffering have left very deep scars on both the hearts and the skin of the Khmer Rouge survivors.  Since my first exposure to Cambodian history, the Lord has laid Isaiah 61:1-3 on my heart:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor."

Titus' Mom
Traveling through Cambodia reveals a vibrant palette of color. Rural rice fields shimmer like emeralds; Buddhist monks’ saffron robes glow in the sunlight.  Khmer food is as stunning in color as it is in flavor, mixing green cucumbers, red chili peppers, yellow mangos, and white rice to create recipes that [usually] gratify even this particular American girl. But the people of Cambodia, their warmth and beautiful smiles, bring the most color of all.

Despite not knowing if and when I would ever return to Cambodia, I built warm, unguarded relationships with many I met in 2007 and 2008.  Because of the Lord's call and favor, many of those relationships continue today!  My favorite Cambodian memories are with these people - doing Bible studies on the floor, praying and fasting together, hearing their stories, visiting their families, teaching new English worship songs and learning Khmer worship songs, playing games, and being vulnerable.  Jesus has been in the thick of many of those moments - opening my eyes, growing my love, and drawing me back.

It's what I'll continue to do when we go back.  My ministry will be in our home - to Titus, to Sophear and Chamnab, our unsaved family members, neighbors, area university students... all who enter our home through the front gate.  My desire is to create a space in our home where old friends and new friends can gather - a place to share the joys and struggles of life and to share with them the Hope of Jesus Christ.

With the girls at the Wesleyan Bible Institute
Teacher Chetra and I with my friends and English students in Kratie

Teacher Tess and I with my friends and English students in Kratie

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