There are few moments when the time zone world collide and things work out just right. For example, 7PM in Portland, Oregon, the perfect time for wine and fellowship, happens to be 9AM for me the next morning, perfect time to be wide awake and visit with my church family back in Portland. Earlier this week, I got the chance to “call in” to my church back home during their/our May Mission Month. It was such a blessing to see you all! I’m so encouraged that Oaks Parish is participating in May Missions Month. Pastor Bryan asked me to answer a few questions before our chat. We didn’t get time to get through them all so I figured I would answer them here. Again, it was so great to see you all. And for those of you who sent Easter cards – I just got them! My dad brought them over on a business trip and they were so appreciated. Thank you! Ya’ll sure know how to make a girl feel loved!
- Why did you feel led to life and work in Cambodia?
I’ve had a lifelong dream of traveling to Cambodia, I think it’s because I read in a Zoobook that they have fresh water dolphins and that was enough to sell me on this magical country. In 2014, my parents and I made this dream a reality and spent two weeks traveling around Cambodia. Ever since then, God has been calling me back.
I’m actually spending this weekend traveling to Kratie (about five hours north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia) with a few girlfriends in hopes of seeing these endangered dolphins for the first time!
- Tell us more about the culture of Cambodia and your work with Daughters.
One thing I love about Cambodia culture is when it comes to food, you share it! I’ve learned if I’m going on any type of trip to pack twice as many snacks as I need, just so I have the opportunity to share it with people – friends, strangers, kids on the street. You name it (or in my case: point) – you share it. I love that food is a very easy to way to bond with people. At my office, the girls are always sharing snacks with me. I trust that they won’t give me anything that will make me sick and so far, I’ve tried a lot of really different foods – frog, fermented duck eggs, something I call “fish floss”, and a bunch of other street foods for like $0.30! I love it. Just this week, one of my co-workers shared jicama with me! That was an interesting language opportunity:
Jenna: Oh, jicama! Khnom nam srok Americ dockinier! (Broken Khmer for “I eat in America – the same!”)
Bong: Hicama? Spell it.
Jenna: J-I-C-A-M-A. But the “j” is a “h” sound.
Jenna: Well it’s actually a Spanish word. And in Spanish, “j” is a “h” sound.
Bong: So no Americ word?
Jenna: Not really, we just use the Spanish word in America. But that is okay, because Khmer doesn’t have a “j” sound anyways.
Bong: Proceeds to “jicama” randomly for the next couple of minutes.
Jenna: A-ah-nah! (Khmer: Very good!)
I seriously have no idea how to pronounce “jicama” in Khmer. But I did learn it is considered a fruit (ply chur) and not a vegetable (bon-lie).
Work at Daughters is going well. Since I just hit my seven months of being in Cambodia, I’m doing six month updates for Client Update Interviews. Daughters does this every six months with the girls who are in our Sponsorship program. It’s really cool to be here for six months and sit down with the same girls who I interviewed during my first month, when I was absolutely clueless, and hear directly from them how their lives have changed. For example, they have moved into better houses, there kids are in school and doing well, how God is answering their prayers, what they did for Khmer New Year, etc. It’s really great. Most of them participate in my weekly work out class so I always ask them what is one thing they have learned in my work out class. Which always gets a chuckle out of the girls, since this is the main time I really get to hang out with them. I’m working hard to get all the updates done before July, since I’ll be home for most of that month.
- How does the gospel meet unique spiritual needs in Cambodia?
In the work I do at Daughters, the gospel provides so much encouragement and fact.
God loves you.
He has wiped away your sins.
There is nothing you can do to make God love you less.
He sets captives free.
He hears you and listens to your prayers.
When you call out to Him, He will rescue you.
He breaks chains.
There is nothing to big/messy,/complicated, etc. for God.
Every day at work, I get the opportunity to speak these words over girls. Everyday I get the reminder that those truths are also just as true in my life as they are in the girls’ lives. And for that I’m extremely thankful and blessed.
The spiritual needs for Cambodia are great. It’s an entire nation recovering from genocide. There are orphans, fatherless, widows, addicts, abusers, abused, broken people, doing the best they can to survive. While it’s messy, confusing and a little overwhelming. There is so much hope, potential and opportunity here. Generational sin, abuse, addiction and fear are slowly being broken – one person at a time. Working and serving here is like getting a front row seats to watching people take the first, third and hundredth step forward. It’s truly a honor to be so close to the action, when you know you didn’t even buy the nosebleed seats. Being able to cheer people on is definitely the best part, even if it is just in silent prayer walking Bullet around the block.
- What can the church in Cambodia teach us?
I go to two churches here in Cambodia, one is in English and serves primarily ex-patriots and the other is in Khmer (Cambodian national language). The number one thing I’m learning from the Khmer church is that God loves worship – not matter what. No matter if you understand the sermon, the song, the prayer, you can still worship God. I’m getting more confident in singing a few worship songs in Khmer and if you are focused on the right words and understanding the translation – it doesn’t matter how your voice sounds. Plus, it’s fun to be encouraged by your Cambodian friends.
On the flip side, I believe the Cambodian church is learning a lot about unity and being in unity with one another as the body of Christ. This is something I would love to see continue to be strengthened within my Khmer church. That you can love one another even in the midst of being broken. None of us are perfect and none of us have all the answers or even the right answers, but we are trying to do life together in community and to do that we need to be in unity with one another, supporting and encouraging one another.
When it comes to my English church, they are so focused on community care. They love on each other well. My Bible Study spends one hour just hanging out doing community and one hour on the actual study. I love the group because we are all doing different things here in Cambodia, some of us are studying malaria, some of us work in human trafficking, counseling, teaching or emergency response and radios! It’s such a cool bunch of people doing very different things. It gives me a lot of exposure to what to be praying about for my group throughout the week.
- What challenges are you facing personally and how can we pray for you?
I’d really love continued prayer for safety and protection. I’m a single woman living in a third world country so I’m not naive to the fact that what I’m doing is a little risky. I recently joined a motorcycle group called “Prayer Circle Cambodia” which has historically been a group of guys riding into rural Cambodia to teach about Jesus. They recently opened up the group to four women and I’m extremely honored to be one of them. The entire team could use this prayer, but since I’m a noobie, I could use some extra prayer. (Especially when it comes to cows.)
There is a lot of stuff happening around Cambodia as well. I would strongly encourage you do some research on your own to what that entails and pray for peace within the country of Cambodia. We are entering into an interesting time within the nation and prayers for safety and protection could also be applied here.
Have any other questions about life in Cambodia or how you can support the work I am doing? Leave a comment or send me an email! I would love to hear from you! (Also, friendly reminder, I’ll be back in the States July 15 – August 1.) Please send me an email if you’d like to meet up.