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I think one of the most frustrating things about Cambodia is feeling like a newborn child. When I arrived, I felt (and mostly, still am) incompetent at just about everything. I just about crashed the moto during practice, because I couldn’t work out the brake versus the ignition. Useless at buying food from a Khmer market. I couldn’t work out how to work the gas stove so succumbed to buying 2-min noodles until our team leader showed how (but I was also not very well so not eating much anyway). And how on earth would you post a letter from here?

You feel like you’ve been thrown off the deep end and you don’t yet know how to swim. The experience is overwhelming and if you don’t learn how to swim fast, you quickly go under. I have no doubt most missionaries feel useless and incompetent in a lot of things in the country they live.

As I become more and more comfortable on the road, I’ve been driving more like the Khmer do, weaving in and out of traffic. But that also means my close calls with other vehicles (stationary, most often) have been more plentiful. Cars park in ridiculous positions (ie. anywhere that they can fit), which makes congestion a major problem and drive as if mirrors and blind spots do not exist. There have been times when I’ve been between two cars, or a car and a truck who decide to both change lanes towards each other, before noticing that’s a bad idea. I’ve been cut off by motos driving so close to me I’ve just about run into the back of them. Spatial awareness is key.

I came into my English teaching ministry feeling useless and inadequate. After this last month, I feel as though I’ve found my groove. Even if the younger kids don’t understand many English phrases, google translate is of incredible help. I can see they are picking up on things I am saying, phrases like “Let’s sing a song” or “Lets play a game” (phrases the kids love) and understanding what I’m teaching through my limited khmer writing and speaking. 

The most encouraging part of it all is as I learn more and more Khmer, my reading skills are also improving. I’m recognising more and more consonants and am able to put them together to form words. What those words mean, however, I have no idea! Speech is becoming more and more recognisable and I can communicate in market terms and I feel as though the lady we bought water off yesterday understood what I was saying. It feels like there’s been some breakthroughs with the language. 

It’s easy to feel like you’re sinking in the sea of foreign people (except I’m the foreign person!), sounds and smells. It’s a constant learning experience, where plentiful mistakes are made and you stuff up regularly. But, God always comes through. When we are drowning, we have a saviour who can walk on the water and has always gone ahead before us. He has provided great Khmer friends and a wonderful church to be apart of while here (which is almost fully in Khmer, and I can understand very little – but who cares?!).

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””‭‭ (Matthew‬ ‭28:18-20)

The promise of the great commission is that He will be with us always, to the very end of the age. We have the promise of Jesus with us to enable and sustain us to live effective lives on the mission field – and even if we feel incompetent, the work of Christ on the cross and the indwelling Holy Spirit are not. 


One comment on “Sink or swim.

  1. Hi Nate! Just wanted to say that your post brought me so much joy. I laughed when you mentioned the driving and the moto. I recently traveled to Cambodia on a mission trip and it was amazing to say the least. Just being able to visualize exactly what you are conveying is such a blessing. Thanks for sharing!! Praying for you.


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