Because I’ll be sitting here at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia for the next 3 hours (it’s been 2 hrs already..), I find I have ample time to reflect on my time in Cambodia over the last two weeks. There have been times of great joy, times where I’ve had a heavy heart, some tears (some were mine!) and some lifelong memories formed.
The Tourist Times
Being a “barang” (foreigner), it seems fitting that we do a few touristy things.
We saw the markets, both tourist and Khmer (Phsar leu), ate at a variety of both Khmer and western restaurants and went to the Phare circus, which told a phenomenal true story from the Khmer Rouge times – some parts I cried.
We had the opportunity to see the Angkor complexes and learn a bit of the history of the Khmer empire. Cambodia, as a Buddhist kingdom was not always so – Angkor Wat, as did several others , originated as Hindu temples.
Our final tourist stop was yesterday at monuments of remembering the atrocities committed by Cambodians against Cambodians: the Khmer Rouge. We visited Toul Sleng, otherwise known as S-21, a high school which was repurposed by the Khmer Rouge into a prison. The museum provides audio tracks as you walk around, sometimes with survivor testimonies (of the 7 who survived) or their family members, sometimes the testimonies of Khmer Rouge members themselves. This was a place where Cambodians were tortured, forced to make false confessions of guilt and forced to implicate family members and friends as CIA agents. Foreigners were not exempt from the same treatment.
Choeng Ek, the killing fields, was one of hundreds of places people were trucked to be executed. The mass graves of thousands of victims exist across the country, normally killed with farming equipment because bullets were too expensive. The most heart wrenching sign said: “Killing Tree Against Which Executioners Beat Children”.
My heart is still heavy writing this. I cannot fathom how the Khmer Rouge could justify what they did.
Now onto something happier.
The Ministry Times
For our week in Siem Reap, our task was to provide a kids program for the missionary kids of OMF missionaries. OMF holds a field conference and missionaries from all over the country meet in one place.
Of course, in a foreign country doing some short term mission work, something would be amiss if we were not out of our comfort zones. All of my experience in kids ministry for the last 7 years has been dealing with kids aged 6 to 12. In all the years in kids church, I’ve served once in the 3-5 year olds. The group I was assigned at the conference? Of course; the 3-5 year olds.
There were tears (not mine) due to separation from parents. There was joy and laughter in games like “the floor is lava!” and “What’s the time mr Wolf?” There was cool crafts made by the kids. There was a tongue twisting fruit of the Spirit song that even I can hardly sing, let alone a bunch of 3-5 year olds. There was time swimming and throwing water balloons at me and beating me up with pillows. I loved seeing the childlike faith of these kids and the joy they have in Christ.
During my time we visited to churches, one out in a village where an OMF missionary and two Khmer nationals are holding a children’s program teaching English, bible stories and playing games. The second was another village church, which was entirely in Khmer. I still recall them singing How Great Thou Art in Khmer – such a joyful experience to hear that song in their native language.
On Tuesday just gone, I had the opportunity to visit the church and the ministry I’ll be joining called the Jesus Village Church. Out in Prey Key, the ministry i will be joining is an English teaching one and the kids there are really beautiful. There is something so wonderful and infectious about a Khmer child’s smile, especially when they see you are a white, bearded foreigner. We played games, I watched their teachers at work; I’m really excited to be a part of what is going on there when I return next month.
I’m kind of sad I’m not still in Cambodia. It’s at a point where the culture shock hasn’t yet set in (I won’t be so happy when it finally does..), met so many great people and I’ve had so many great moments of joy and experiences of God at work in that nation.
The roads are ridiculous and I’ll be learning to drive on them. I’ve already begun language lessons in Khmer. I’m going to have to learn how to do the simplest of tasks all over again. My new home is already ready to go.
But for now, time to come home. There are things to do and buy, people to see, friends to watch get married.
I will fly out again on the 18th of July, to return to Australia again in January next year.
The 18th of July cannot come quickly enough.