My first overseas international mission trip was to Cambodia in August of 2006. A couple of missionaries from our home church in OKC had co-founded Resource Development International Cambodia and we were going to do some work with them. We flew from Oklahoma City to Phnom Penh (took over 24 hours in total with our itinerary). Our group was mostly made up of college students, a couple of high school students from our church, a couple of friends, and a few pastors from our church. In total, there were about 15 of us. For most of us, this was the first international trip we had even been on where you had to fly over an ocean to get there. And for one of my friends, it was even her first time to fly (ever).
Once we arrived in Phnom Penh, we loaded up in trucks and trekked out to Kien Svay. Some of the work that they were (and still are doing) included: digging fresh water wells (often times shutting down the wells that another organization had built…I will leave them nameless…because the arsenic levels were deathly high and making people sick), making water filters using clay pots lined with silver, teaching improved farming techniques for livestock & crops, developing medicines using localized herbs, and even a media department that was teaching people about germs through cartoons and bible stories using Cambodian actors/actresses. The majority of their work was/is focused on helping the Cambodian people in that area to be self-sufficient.
Every morning, we had coffee and breakfast at a local café owned by one of the elders in church. It was always an incredible time of fellowship with both our team and the locals who came by and ate with us. We talked about the previous day, what we had seen and experienced, prayed together and figured out what we were doing that day. I ended up spending most of my works days with a crew of three guys (Tut, Euon, and Wee) digging fresh water wells for their neighbors.
The most technologically advanced tool we used was a gas operated pump to remove the water as we got further down into the water shed line. Otherwise, we had a couple of shovels and buckets. Yet, in just four days we had finished nearly five complete wells. It was incredible to see and experience. Over those few days, despite a massive language barrier and with the help of an occasional translator but mostly lots of hand gestures and common sense, I came to know those three guys. I knew their families, their stories, their hearts. It was life changing.
We also spent some time doing wat walks at some of the local wats (a wat is a Buddhist temple). We got to meet a few of the monks and even speak with them as many of them spoke great English. According to a couple of the monks we spent time with, most of the monks in that area of Cambodia at least became monks for one of two reasons: their families had given them to the wat to try and appease their ancestors OR they were trying to make a better life for themselves and their families and knew that as a monk they could get educated and learn English (and would eventually leave to get a job). There were not many older monks, mostly due to the tragedies that occurred during the reign of the Khmer Rouge when many monks had been executed as enemies of the state. We walked amongst the killing fields, saw the museums and shrines to all of the people that were killed and heard first hand the suffering that this people had endured.
Our last weekend there was what really solidified my heart for missions. We were very fortunate to be able to be apart of a baby’s coming out or naming celebration. The parents typically wait months after the child’s birth to formally introduce them to the community. It was an incredible celebration and we got to see the community (believers and non-believers alike) come together and rally around this family and this child. They included us as if we had been there our whole lives. What an amazing difference to the stand off nature of most American neighborhoods and communities. We also attended church in the same community. That was my first time to get to hear the same songs we sang in church be sung in another language. That was my first real experience to see that God is the same in America as He is in Cambodia. My first time to truly understand that these people, with whom I could barely communicate, were brothers and sisters of mine because of and in Jesus Christ. And that any one of us could have been born anywhere else, but God chose to place us exactly where He has us for specific purposes…His purposes. It was one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had and it was also one of the most convicting experiences I have ever had as well.
If you have experienced life in a country that is considered more ‘third-world’, I am sure you understand a bit more of what I am talking about. You cannot truly experience the type of life that is lived there and walk away unchanged. I think that all believers should experience this. And you do not even necessarily need to leave the U.S. to do so.
Story by: Zach Douglas
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