I could have never prepared myself enough for what I face each day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Poverty lines the streets. Naked children play in piles of trash. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that Jesus would come to take all of this pain away.
I want to give and give to the people around me, and yet, finding the strength to even get up some mornings and face reality is a challenge. However, I’ve always believed that you should do things with passion or not at all. So I try to remain as passionate as I can about serving. I believe that the people of Cambodia deserve nothing less than passionate love.
Serving as a volunteer teacher in Cambodia has been one of the most challenging jobs of my life, but I’ll be forever thankful for how much I’ve grown since I’ve been here. Some days are wonderful, but others are painful and lonely. Sometimes, all you need is for someone to look you right in the eyes, straight down to your soul, and say that they truly believe in you. Today left me with a memory like that, one I’ll always cherish.
My students are learning the books of the Bible. Each week they memorize ten new books along with a memory verse. In order to shake up our somewhat monotonous routine, I decided today to write the names of the books on the whiteboard in cursive.
Every so often I have the students practice their handwriting, and they usually want to kill me for doing so; they think that writing anything in English is hard. Today I chose to answer their complaints by explaining that even though learning new things can be challenging, it’s ultimately going to be good for them.
One of my fourth grade boys was almost in tears as he looked up at my cursive. “Teacher, it is easy for you and very difficult for me!” he yelled out in desperation, hoping that I would change my mind about the assignment. The little boy looked so hopeless that I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself, knowing that he had some of the most beautiful handwriting in the class.
I knew that he would continue to complain if I ignored his appeals. So, I knelt in front of his desk and looked right into his teary brown eyes. I said, “You can do this! I know you can.” He quickly pleaded, “No Cha,* I cannot at all!” I gave him a disbelieving look, and he understood that I was not going to change the assignment.
Still kneeling in front of him, I asked him to please try again. I remained at his desk for a few minutes until he finally put his pencil to the paper and slowly wrote out E-s-t-h-e-r. In between each letter he would look up at me for support. He finished the last loop on the r, and I gave him the biggest smile I could and said, “Perfect!” All of a sudden, his eyes lit up with confidence, the trace of tears making them sparkle. “See! I knew you could do it!” I said. I returned to my desk and watched him quickly finish his assignment.
This was such a simple moment, yet it burned deep into my heart. I couldn’t help but see myself in my student. So many times throughout the past five months I have found myself in tears, pleading for an easier assignment. I picture God up there, chuckling inside because He knows that I can do it.
It’s hard being here. I struggle a lot, but today I felt like God looked right into my teary brown eyes, straight into my soul, and said that He truly believed in me. And I felt like that was enough to show me that God hasn’t left me all alone in Cambodia. He is continually working on me, and in the end I will be thankful for my assignment because after all, learning and experiencing new things may be challenging, but it’s good for me!
*A nickname for teacher that Cambodians use.
From the United States, Amber Aqui served as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at the Cambodia Adventist School.
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I don’t remember much from those days. But one thing I will never forget. In the midst of my suffering and doubting, God reached me with just one electrifying realization.
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