There’s so much I could tell you about how incredible our outreach was , and the ways we saw God at work. I want to share just one story of how the theme of discipleship played out, and how God is continuing to revolutionize a small village province called Preah Vihear to, in turn, impact the Buddhist nation of Cambodia.
Months before we left on our outreach, we wrote down personal and team goals that we prayed through and felt like God put on our heart before going to Canada and Cambodia. Our team really felt led to make it our goal to ‘Listen. Obey. See God move.’ which quickly became our go-to phrase. One personal goal in relation to this for me was to pray and watch to build one long-term relationship. I had no idea what that would look like or how it would come to fruition. Then on the long bus ride to Preah Vihear, I was talking with my friend and prayer partner, Katie, and telling her I just felt pulled towards being with moms, doing the everyday with them and helping them see God’s truth in their lives. Again, I didn’t know what to expect or how that would look, but God kept impressing it upon my heart.
So when we arrived to this rural area, we realized quickly that most of our ministry would be spent alongside the local church and helping with youth in the community. We found that the area was both centered around community while also being very private and withheld in personal matters. It took time to build trust, and our own ideas of ministry had to shift to meet the needs and feel of the culture. The youth were at first very stand-offish, but warmed up after the first few days, and more and more kids came streaming in. We were able to teach English along with Bible stories with our translator’s help, and show them love in various ways. They intently listened and asked questions, and it was amazing to see their lives change as they opened up to Christ right in front of our eyes.
However, I kept wondering what God was doing with my desire to be with moms since we weren’t really meeting their parents, and most adults at the local church didn’t know English to carry on conversations. I was continually trying to practice really listening to God prompting me, and it was one night that He pointed me towards an adorable chubby baby that changed everything. We were at the church’s prayer meeting, and our group had arrived early. I noticed a group of women outside the open doors, one with the chubbiest baby I’ve ever seen! She was just precious, and without even thinking, I got up to go play with her as I felt prompted to do. I was loving playing peek-a-boo with her, and smiled at her mom a couple of times. Just as the prayer service started, her mom looked straight at me and spoke to me in perfect English.
‘I came for prayer tonight,‘ she said with desperation in her voice. ’I used to do ministry at the youth center where you’re staying, but then moved to Phnom Penh after I married and now have two children. My husband has just left me, and I am now living at my parents here with nothing. He has turned from God and our family, alcohol and the world have stolen him away,‘ she cried as she explained she was losing hope in the process of all this happening.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5)
I couldn’t believe how open she was, and as I prayed Romans 5 over her that night, asking God to renew her hope in Him, I knew this was the beginning of a very special relationship. Being in my first year of marriage, I felt like God allowed my heart to be broken in a whole new way, empathizing with what it would be like to have the loss of a husband and the difficulty in your life changing in an instant. I felt the entire weight of her situation, and grieved alongside her.
She asked me to visit her, so I did the next day, and as she sorted through lies that Satan was feeding her of deserving this and feeling unwanted, God let me walk her through it in confirming His truth instead. Her parents are Buddhist with spirit houses and a darkness very prominent in the home. They ridiculed her for marrying foolishly, and couldn’t understand how Christianity could help her. As she transitioned into a new way of life, it was such a privilege to see God work in her life and rebuild her faith.
Each day I would go just to talk, play with the kids, read Scripture and pray with her. Some days I didn’t have the words to say, but just hugged her as she cried. However, there was one day that I went over, and could see a visible change in her demeanor. Her hair was combed and she had a nice skirt on, different from the way I’d seen her unkempt the last week or so. Her eyes were bright and she smiled as I came in. I told her she seemed different, and she smiled saying, ‘I feel as though God is giving me my life back. Another chance to do ministry.’ She went on to explain that a couple in the church had offered her property in the village for free that she could build on when she was able. She was excited about going back to the village, and having the chance to teach English and the Bible to the youth as well as start a women’s group. It was amazing to see how God had renewed her right in front of my eyes. As difficult as her situation was, God was re-writing her story to use her for His glory.
We went through Acts as a team over our outreach, and what stuck out to me that applied here, and will influence the rest of my life and approach, was Acts 1:7-8: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ We cannot always control the place or type of ministry we will do, but it is God who engineers our goings, where and how, and we are simply called to live as witnesses to His gospel and truth. I realized we were living as the Church as a whole in Preah Vihear, sharing and also re-telling the gospel story to each other to remind of God’s truth in times when one could turn away. Others on our team also made amazing relationships that are just the beginning of things to come as God continues to work. These are the people who live in this culture and village province, making a difference for Christ and teaching the children, and we had the opportunity to disciple them just for a time. What we realized was that, in the everyday, ordinary happenings alongside the Khmer people, God was doing extraordinary things for His purposes and glory. As we listened, we stepped out to obey His promptings and saw Him move.
Before all of this, I don’t think I really had a confidence in actually being able to hear God, but stepping out on one nudge led to a life-changing relationship with Him. The discipling we did is just the foundation as these young men and women build into the youth of Cambodia. For us to be there for such a time as this meant building into a few lives that could potentially affect hundreds and thousands of others in this generation as God works. We can’t wait to see it continue. As my new friend and I continue to stay in touch, please be praying for her and the others we met, for strength in their faith and willingness to be bold in living it out.