Hi! My name is Megan Sarian and I’m a writer on the OMF (U.S.) Communications team. What this means is that I’m passionate about capturing stories that deepen people’s understanding of God’s work in East Asia. After years of writing from my office in Littleton, Colorado, I’m getting the chance to travel to Cambodia to hear these stories firsthand. For the next two months, I’ll be chronicling my journey in this blog series. Thanks for joining me!
To read part 1 of this series, click here. To read part 2 of this series, click here.
Since arriving in Cambodia, I’ve been asked how my expectations for this trip match reality. The question brings to mind those memes where a glamorous image is set next to the comical play-by-play of someone’s actual life.
Those popular memes serve to express some kind of sadness, or at least an exasperated sigh, about the disparity between our dreams and real life. But for me, the contrast has been something to celebrate in Cambodia.
In this post I’ll explore three areas that have unfolded differently than I anticipated and share my reflections about why the gap is actually a great thing.
Expectation: I will frolic up and down busy streets, stopping at food stalls to sample interesting local snacks. How adventurous I will be! How at home I will feel among the locals! I won’t even miss American food.
Reality: I’m enjoying many aspects of Cambodian culture, but I haven’t adapted to Cambodian cuisine like I had hoped.
When I visited Thailand last September, I practically bragged about how much I loved the food. And while I do enjoy Khmer dishes (often some combination of rice, vegetables and meat), I don’t crave it. Instead, I gravitate toward Western comfort food.
What’s good about the gap: This unmet expectation challenges my self-image. No longer the easy-going, adaptable missionary, I have to grapple with a new identity: someone who struggles with basic elements of cross-cultural living and depends on familiar pleasures.
This wrestling increases my compassion for people from other cultures who have to adapt to my American way of life. It also challenges me to put my self-worth in the Lord instead of how naturally gifted I am at crossing cultural boundary lines.
Expectation: I will sit on the floor of a bamboo hut, intensely scribbling notes on a pad of paper. I’ll lean in as a Cambodian person shares their story (which I will understand completely, having become fluent in Khmer).
Reality: Okay, maybe I didn’t expect to learn Khmer within a month, but I did think I’d be more self-sufficient than I am.
I’ve become acutely aware of my dependence on long-term workers. To conduct interviews, I borrow from the trust
they’ve built with each person, as well as their language proficiency and familiarity with local customs. Without the groundwork they’ve laid, my willingness to listen, while a good starting point, wouldn’t produce much fruit.
(Side note: I use the Voice Memo app on my iPhone to record interviews. I may not look like a real journalist, but I’m saving on ink and hand cramps.)
What’s good about the gap: Watching missionaries nurture local friendships reminds me that shortcuts don’t exist when it comes to (successful) missions work. Investment pays off.
My reliance on long-term workers also deepens my appreciation for the body of Christ. While self-sufficiency feels good on a personal level, it’s a useless model for the church. With a team of 65 people from roughly 20 countries, my colleagues in Cambodia provide such a beautiful example of the global church building God’s kingdom together.
Expectation: I will aimlessly wander around Cambodia. I will surely get lost and not be able to understand anyone who attempts to help me. Somehow, I’ll end up in Vietnam, but I’ll deal.
Reality: Within the last year, Cambodia has developed ride-hailing apps like PassApp and Grab. They work almost exactly like Uber: I set my pickup and drop-off location and at the end, I know exactly how much I owe. With Cambodia’s apps, I get the added benefit of the tuk tuk option (which is more fun for shorter distances, in addition to
A SIM card allows me to access the Internet at all times, so I not only find rides easy to arrange, but I can also Google the quickest walking route to the nearest grocery store.
What’s good about the gap: This time, “what’s good” probably doesn’t require explanation. I DO want to visit Vietnam at some point, but not so spontaneously.
I will add that, while we can lament Western influences or “modern advancements” in other cultures to an extent, it doesn’t hurt to appreciate things that make missionaries’ lives easier. In other words, YAY for minimizing cultural stressors. I’m grateful that not haggling with tuk tuk drivers has freed up some of my energy for other challenges – like acclimating to Cambodia’s year-round hot and humid weather!
These three points don’t make for a comprehensive list, but they provide a glimpse into some lessons I’ve been thankful to learn through unmet expectations in Cambodia.
After many conversations with long-term workers, I’ve found that these lessons aren’t limited to short-term workers. But thankfully, neither is the grace and love of our God. He will never shield us from challenges we will be better off from having experienced.
And that … is a really good thing.
In Megan’s next installment, she’ll introduce you to some of the Cambodian Christians she’s had the privilege of interviewing. Their stories will deepen your faith. You won’t want to miss it.
Megan has been working in communications for almost 10 years. Currently serving as Content Manager for OMF (U.S.) she enjoys writing, editing and over-thinking everything word-related. When not in the office, Megan spends her spare time cycling, thrift shopping, exploring her city and drinking coffee with (or without) friends.
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