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14 Weeks in Phnom Penh

I had the wonderful privilege of spending 14 weeks in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as part of the OMF Serve Asia Program. As a trained Podiatrist I was able to observe and learn from a couple of different podiatry projects happening locally but spent most of my time doing English teaching. This was a challenge in itself as I had no previous teaching experience and was teaching kids from 6 to 17 years old, the majority of the time without a translator. At times, I felt out of my depth, but was constantly reminded that God is faithful and that He equips us for the work that He has called us to. With each week that passed and the more that I learned about the Khmer culture and what is important to them as a people group, the more I fell in love with the Cambodian people. The hospitality that I received, and the love poured out to me often felt so undeserved.

It was often said to me before my trip that short term mission is not about how you change the place you are going to but how the place changes you; how much you are put out of your comfort zone and grow as a person. While I dislike this thought of using short term missions as a form of ‘self-improvement’, I found a level of truth in it. My biggest frustration was in that I could not get more involved in various things due to my short stay. For one, I was not able to communicate effectively. I wanted to encourage all the inspiring people I met. I wanted to tell all the kids that ran up and hugged me as I entered the school gates each day how special they are and that they are loved by God. I wanted to ask the dear lady who sat beside me in church each week with her hand on my knee, what her story was. I wanted to congratulate the lady who walked up the river bank after being baptized grinning from ear to ear with tears in her eyes; I wanted to know what brought her to that place of worship. Apart from communication, there was also just the sheer lack of time. Many of my students didn’t know how to swim, and I would have loved to be able to take some swimming classes for them but never found the time. But I learned that my time in Cambodia was not about me and what I wanted to achieve. It’s easy to fall into a trap when you feel called into a certain mission or people group that your presence there will be one of fireworks and mass baptisms. But the majority of my time there was spent doing the day-to-day, mundane; stumbling over the language, cleaning kids bleeding knees and trying to escape the heat. I was learning language and culture and how to get around, not leading healing meetings. So yes, my time in Cambodia was not about how I could change the place. It was a small step of obedience to God where I had the privilege of meeting so many obedient and passionate people doing remarkable things for God. They encouraged and inspired me to see the world in new ways, to grow in my relationship with God and to love deeper.

Having been back in New Zealand for a month now, I am still processing a lot of what I saw and experienced. I can’t help but think that I will never be able to compact my three and half months down into tidy, easy to articulate bullet points. But one thing I know is that during my time there I fell in love with the Khmer people. Cambodia is a beautiful country filled with beautiful people with big hearts. Sometimes the poverty hit me like a ton of bricks and seemed so overwhelming. Sometimes it was hard to see God in the rough situations. But I know that God has got this country in his arms. Please pray with me that God continues to work in this country and these people that he loves so dearly.

Written by Serve Asia Worker Hannah.
Originally published by OMF New Zealand

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