Wow. What a trip! I’d never have imagined you could fit so many experiences in just two weeks. Visiting ancient jungle-infested temples. Trying new foods like crickets and tarantulas (though let’s be honest, calling them food is a bit of a stretch). Witnessing an impressive circus performance that told the story of Cambodia’s tumultuous history. Riding gondolas in a floating village. Flitting through crowded city streets in tuk-tuks. Wading up a chest-high river in the jungle. Learning to cook Cambodian desserts. Motoring out to a tropical island for a relaxing swim in the clear water of its beaches. Teaching Cambodian kids about web development and story writing. These have been some of the highlights of the trip, but all of these experiences are framed by the country’s culture, and Cambodian culture is moulded from quite a storied history.
We learnt about the country’s ancient history, when the grand Angkor city was built under the reign of the Khmer Empire and Cambodia (then one kingdom with Thailand) was considered the jewel of Asia. We learnt about modern history, when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge ravaged one quarter of the country’s population in their barbaric scourge of all outside influence, including anyone educated or using technology as simple as glasses. We learnt about the present culture, a rapidly-developing society that’s pulling together the pieces left in the wake the Pol Pot regime, rebuilding trust within families and communities, and reinstating virtues like hospitality for locals and foreigners alike.
This all leaves me wondering what my place was in that culture, as a short-term missionary seeking to help in some way, to make a small but tangible contribution to the country’s revitalisation. What help is actually needed? What could I do that would have a positive influence in the long-term?
On that note, perhaps the biggest highlight of this trip has been learning what true missionary work looks like. It’s not throwing money at the poor like a bandaid on a bleeding wound; it’s coming alongside them, loving them, and in doing so showing them what God’s love looks like. Often that just means being there, spending time with them when their own family won’t. It’s harder and a lot more time-consuming than simply sending money their direction, but it’s what’s needed. Quick fixes may bring quick results – give a man a fish and you’ll satisfy his hunger – but actually do more harm than good in the long term. If immediate relief is needed, then by all means, provide that relief. But more often than not, a person needs to learn that they’re capable of meeting their own needs, and don’t need to rely on the handouts of others. Sometimes they need help learning that lesson, which is where missionaries are able to do their most effective work. Just by being there, encouraging them, helping them to get a job or stand up for themselves or manage their time and money better, we can make a real lasting difference.
So the time we spent with the children at Milk and Honey’s English School is the most valuable aid we could give them. Not money, or food, or better housing, but time, attention, and ultimately empowerment that they can handle those needs themselves.
That’s a lesson I had to learn this trip too, and it’s one that will stay with me as I return to the routine of life in Australia. Because the poor are everywhere; not just the materially poor, but the relationally poor, the spiritually poor. The approach to alleviating all these forms of poverty is the same: come alongside them, understand where they’re at, and help them to rebuild their relationship with themself, or with others, or with God – whatever is needed.
I pray for the wisdom and courage to see and grab such opportunities – opportunities to empower others and to help them see God’s will for their lives.
That’s all for this blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed following our journey and learnt a few things too.