I used to blog prolifically about my mission trips. I’d post stories, sometimes daily, about what was happening during our outreach. Lots of pictures, along with detailed descriptions of the desperate conditions of those we went to serve.
Of course, I’d tell the stories of what God was doing as well, but it was almost like I needed to set the scene (poverty, disease, injustice) to really show off His work. And maybe justify my journey?
The stories I shared were true–but honestly, I am not sure they were honoring to the people we served. I don’t think they’d be thrilled to read about themselves in the somber hues I painted them. And that really bothers me . . .
I do have one story to tell about our recent trip to Cambodia, however.
The purpose was mostly missionary care–we went to love on our friends who serve in Phnom Penh. But part of caring is witnessing what they do. So we spent quite a bit of time following our friends around to get a feel for their daily lives of ministry.
One day, we got to visit a small village not far from Phnom Penh. Every Sunday, a dozen or so young people from our friends’ church head to this community after worship service. Most go by “moto”–(motorcycle or moped)–to share the love of Jesus with the Buddhist villagers. The Cambodian pastor takes a small group of youth to go with him to evangelize, while others stay behind to play with the local children or pass out food and hygiene items.
Temps were approaching 100 when we got to the village, with the kind of humidity that makes it hard to breathe–let alone move. I decided to tag along with the pastor and followed him and a small group of students as he visited with villagers who were taking a siesta in the heat of the day.
There were no doors to knock on, as most folks were taking refuge in the shaded open areas underneath the houses. Men swung in hammocks, women scolded children playing in the dust, dogs hunkered, panting, in any bit of shade they could find–everyone conserving energy on this sweltering day. We were a welcome diversion.
The pastor shared the gospel in every home, eliciting lively discussion with the Buddhist occupants. It was all in Khmer (language of Cambodia), but the students kindly translated for me, delighted to practice their newly acquired English speaking skills on this eager foreigner. (most of the students came to know Jesus through an Engish class taught by our missionary friends).
As we took our leave of the first home, I asked (through my translator) if I could pray for the family. The pastor–and the women he’d been talking to–thought it was a capital ideal. One woman needed healing, another needed work, a third asked for peace for herself and her family. After a short prayer, I sat next to the woman who wanted peace, swinging my white legs as we sat side by side on the bamboo platform below her house. She’d seen Westerners before but was still fascinated by me–or at least my skin–and picked at a few moles and freckles on my arms as if she was trying to erase them.
As if she knew we were sisters underneath our skin.
Through my translator, I learned we were the same age, although I just celebrated my fifth grandchild while she already had six great-grandchildren. I asked if I could take her picture and she laughed and said yes–but only if I put it on Facebook! We chatted a bit longer as I played peek-a-boo with one of her grandchildren, leaning into her like we were old friends. Finally, we hugged goodbye and our little group set off in the hot sun to the next house.
The young woman who’d been translating for me fell in beside me as we picked our way through the dust and debree.
“Have you been to this village before?” she asked, overcoming her shyness to make eye contact.
“I haven’t,” I told her. “But I’ve been to many villages like this one in other countries. It feels like I’ve been here before.”
Even as the words left my mouth, I realized I wasn’t referring to tangible similarities between this place and villages I’ve visited in India, Africa, Indonesia, Mexico and Alaska (although similarities do exist). It was the connection I felt with the women, the shared humanity, that made the village feel familiar.
I used to be struck by our differences as I traveled to other countries. But now I’m more aware of how we’re all kin, broken and beautiful, full of hopes and dreams and prayers for peace. All in need of a Saviour, hearts beating in unity under our skin.
I hope this story honors my new friend. And maybe she’ll even see her picture on Facebook someday :). I will continue to pray for peace for her and her family . . . the Peace that passes all understanding and longs for every heart to rest in Him.