Cambodia, where do I even begin… A country that pushed me mentally, spiritually, and physically but left me so much better off for it.

Week one: Jet lag was brutal. It was not like “Oh I’m a little tired and should probably take a nap”. It was an “I could go shopping with the bags currently under my eyes and if I lay down now I’ll probably go into hibernation or a coma and end up sleeping for anywhere from 3 to 5 business days” kind of brutal. 12-hour time differences are no joke. By the grace of God, the excitement of being in a new country overrode the desperation for sleep and most of us ended up going to explore the city of Siem Reap the first night. Because we had been sitting for so long, Logan, Megan, and I had decided to walk to the main local market in the heart of the city. We had no idea this would turn into an hour-long walk. During the hour, Megan and I decided to start practicing our Spanish. Disclaimer: they do not speak Spanish in Cambodia, they speak Khmer. This was very unfortunate for me and Megan because we would not get to use our 4 years of high school Spanish knowledge here. However, we did discover that it made for a perfect “secret language” to talk in when bargaining in the market. This meant we could communicate with each other about prices without the sellers being able to understand what we were saying. Logan on the other hand knew nothing in Spanish except for “Hola”. This also meant that we could use our secret language for him too. Megan and I preoccupied ourselves on the long walk by calling each other “coocarachas” and making jokes in Spanish. Logan however (the non-bilingual) was not amused and probably found us pretty annoying, rightfully so. It also became significantly less amusing when it started to downpour only 5 minutes into our hour-long walk back, and it didn’t let up once. That silenced us pretty quick. Logan finally got the walk in peace he had been longing for since initially agreeing to go out.

The first week in the city consisted of many rest days and adventure days. We discovered that we could get coffee that was better than in the States for less than $3. I think we tried almost every coffee shop within a 10-mile radius of our house. It was also this first week where we discovered the most beautifully efficient and freeing mode of man-made transportation we had ever laid eyes on. Tuk-tuks. What a good life we were living.

In week two we started a temporary ministry helping with construction at a fish farm. When we showed up for the first time in the little rural village where the fish farm was located, we came as quite a surprise. All of the workers had thought the volunteers they were getting were going to be a large group of men… we were a group of 7 white teenage girls. Reluctantly, they still put us to work digging trenches, mixing concrete, laying bricks, and teaching us how to take care of the fish. The UV in Cambodia is brutal and the kind men that we worked with made us take breaks about every 45 minutes. We were desperate to keep what we had left of a summer tan, but in Asian cultures being pale is considered beautiful and they did everything they could to keep us out of the sun. “You have to stay in the shade because when you go home your mother say “AGHHH why is my baby black?!” – Tan (the Cambodian fish farmer).
While we didn’t end up being as helpful with the manual labor as we hoped, we still got the opportunity to minister to the workers by leading devotions at lunch every day. It was amazing to get to hear their testimonies of redemption. In a country where less than 1% of the population is Christian, it was so beautiful and refreshing to see their faith and devotion to the Lord. We also got a chance to play with some of the kids of the men who worked there. There were two little girls named Lee Van Da and Prum Na Ree that we spent most of our time playing with on our many breaks. Spending time with them included braiding hair, playing tag, finding frogs and throwing them at the poor men who were just trying to do their job, fitting 3 people on one bike and riding through the field, making art, trying to teach us Khmer and us failing miserably, playing soccer, and so many other shenanigans. Overall it was a week filled with new friendships and learning about new cultures. The week however came to an end and we said goodbye to the friends we had made.

The third week was when we started our longer-term ministry with Victory Church of Cambodia. This is where we met our beloved ministry hosts Jane and Ralph. A typical week of ministry looked like a mixture of helping at different local ministries. One of these ministries was helping at a local school called New Dream Children of Cambodia. Here we helped teach English to kids to set them up for better jobs as adults. Siem Reap is a city whose economy thrives mostly on tourism. Giving these children, the valuable asset of being able to speak English opens up so many more doors for potential jobs for them in the future. Working at this organization was cool for many reasons. The kids were so fun and kind, they loved to play tag and dance and laugh with us. We tried to teach them some traditional American dances like the cotton-eyed joe, footloose, and how to “get sturdy”. However, despite our best efforts, the only song they enjoyed and threw down to was “Gangnam Style”… shocker. The teachers who taught alongside us were also great. They tried to help teach us Khmer (even though all we could ever remember was how to say hi and thank you) and they became some great friends. And finally, the story behind the organization is just incredible. The man who started the nonprofit’s name was Bong Kim. He grew up in a very, very poor farm Village. He told us about how his family was so poor they couldn’t afford food most of the time so they ended up eating whatever they could catch, this included bugs and rats most of the time. Kim was only a kid when he came to the realization that there was no future for him if he stayed in the village with his family, so he decided to run away. He walked for three days with no food or water and was on the brink of death. By the time he finally reached the city. This is where he was taken in by monks, who fed him, gave him a safe place to live, and provided him with the resources for an education. He started picking up jobs and would always send money back to his family in the village because he wanted them to thrive as much as he did. He had a generous servant’s heart for serving others and always had the best interest of the people he loved in mind. Later in life, Kim had some people share the gospel with him, and while he still practices Buddhism because he feels like he owes it to the monks who saved his life, he also believes in Jesus. He started this nonprofit school so that the kids who grew up in similar situations would have access to an education. He believes that no kid who wants to learn should ever not have access to an education because they can’t afford it. He has such a heart for the kids that go to his school and he just wants the best for them. It is so inspiring to see his heart and his determination to make his dreams come true even though all odds were against him, it is a testimony to God’s faithfulness! While we were at the school, we got to teach the kids English and about the Bible. One of my favorite moments was when we taught the kids the song “Jesus Loves Me”. Just hearing them all come together and sing that song, proclaiming the name of Jesus with smiles on their faces, stirred up my heart so much. Cambodia is God’s country and He is moving and changing lives!

Ministry also included teaching college seminars at a local university 2 times a week. Considering the fact that none of the girls on my team had ever been to college, we all felt super qualified to be teaching college classes (we felt very unqualified). All of the students that we taught were either the same age as us or older and walking into a whole new culture of people our age who spoke a different language than us was just slightly intimidating (we were all shaking in our boots). The class we taught was about American Communication in the Digital age. It was focused on students who were learning English and had aspirations of one day moving to and getting a job in the States. It helped these students learn about the importance of in-person and digital communication in both personal relationships and the workplace. It also talked about some differences between cultural norms in Cambodia and America as well as walking them through the process of finding, applying for, interviewing, and getting a job in America. We made all of our curriculum and got to teach it to the kids ourselves, so even though we were all on a gap year, we still ended up getting a decent amount of time in school. At the university, we were able to connect with and make friends with a lot of the students. Even though sharing the gospel wasn’t the focus of our ministry here, after we made connections with the students there were doors opened and we still got to have some good conversations about religion.

The house we were living in while in Cambodia was a 3 story building on top of a church, so ministry also included preparing for and hosting church with Pastor Ralph and Jane every Sunday. We would start the mornings off by going to the village where the Victory Church plant church was. This is a more rural community, about an hour tuk-tuk ride away, where Ralph and Jane had been pouring into the community for the past few years. We got to teach children’s church first which included a couple of fun Jesus songs with motions and then a bible story. The kids thought our dance moves were super cool and we befriended many of them. After the kids, we had a combined youth and adult gathering where we had worship and a message. After church in the village was done we drove the hour back and started getting ready for church in Siem Reap at 3. We worshiped and listened to a message and just enjoyed relationships with the people there. Once all of our church services were over we wrapped up our day with our favorite restaurant ever… Khmer taste. I still stand by my word today that Khmer Taste has the best fried rice in all of Asia if not all of the world. That place single-handedly kickstarted my and Megan’s obsession with fried rice and I can’t even be mad about it. I kid you not we ate fried rice from there at least 3 times a week, with our record being 6 times, but who can resist when you can get a heaping pile of the best man-made fried rice for $2? Man, I hope they have fried rice that good in heaven.

There was one week toward the end of our stay where we got the privilege of going to work at another plant church of Victory Church in a neighboring city called Battambang. Ministry here included park ministry which consisted of us face painting and making balloon animals for kids at a local park. It is here that I also unknowingly drank a whole cup of Cambodian toilet water (which is NOT safe to drink, just in case you were wondering) and by the grace of God, I am still alive with no parasites or diseases (that I know of). In Battambang, we also taught at a local college (just couldn’t escape college life even after moving to the other side of the world…). We also led church on Sundays at the home church and a local village, and we got to meet a lot more super cool people. Outside of ministry, it was such a pleasure to get to be in fellowship with our hosts in Battambang. They were a group of young adults from the Philippines who were missionaries in Cambodia and now live there. It was so beautiful to get to be a part of their community and pour into them as well as having them pour into us. There are so many cool memories I would love to share but if I said them all now you would probably be here reading my blog all day.

The last week of Cambodia was such a bittersweet time. We held a Christmas youth group event for all the kids we had been teaching English to. We danced and sang and got to pray over all the kids and say goodbye. That week Ralph also took us out on a 36 mile long bike ride (we were not aware of the immense distance we would be biking when we agreed to it originally) but it ended up being one of my favorite days in Cambodia. The last week was full of so many sweet memories and sad goodbyes. We still miss Ralph and Jane to this day but Raphie poo still sends us Instagram reels occasionally so my heart is content :).

Cambodia was such a period of growth spiritually, mentally, and physically. Everything that training camp had been preparing us for finally was happening and despite the month and a half’s worth of training I still face-planted when I reached the real world. But the beautiful thing about it was that God just picked me right back up, sat me on my butt, whipped the mud off my face, helped me stand again, and walked with me holding my hand the whole time. All I had to do was trust and keep my eyes on Him and he guided me every step of the way. He is such a good good father.

Now, a small compilation of some of my favorite moments from Cambodia, I hope you enjoy hearing these stories as much as I enjoyed living them out.

– The spiders in Georgia were big but somehow still did not prepare me for the massive 8 legged beasts that resided in “the bode”. One night we were just enjoying our dinner when Grace had to use the bathroom. Thankfully there was a bathroom attached to the kitchen we were eating dinner in. She wasn’t in there long before coming out and telling us about the massive spider that was on the wall above the toilet. Curiously, a few of us walked in there to see said massive spider and when we saw the fact that it was the size of someone’s fist, we decided it needed to be killed immediately. Paige grabs the broom and the insect repellent and starts going to town on the spider. After a few minutes of work, she can no longer see the spider so she and Grace walk defeated out of the bathroom. Little did we know that the reason we couldn’t see the spider on the wall anymore was because it had crawled on the floor to Grace‘s foot, up her leg, and was now on her back. As soon as we all see the spider on Grace‘s back, all hell breaks loose. Grace starts screaming. Paige starts screaming. Megan starts screaming. Rebekah starts screaming. I start screaming. Someone grabs the broom and absolutely starts whacking the life out of Grace’s back. Then Paige starts bug-bombing her. I am so sorry Grace but I wouldn’t be surprised if you lost some brain cells from the amount of bug killer you inhaled. At this time everyone is delirious after a long day of ministry and is losing their mind. Grace is jumping up and down screaming “Get it off me! Get it off me!!” while getting maliciously attacked and fogged. After way too many minutes of chaos, the spider ends up releasing its grip on Grace and falls to the floor. This is where I step in as a hero and finish the insect off by brutally murdering it with my massive metal hydroflask. There is still a battle scar dent in my water bottle to this day.

– On one of the last days in Cambodia, Ralph took us on a 36 mile long bike ride around the city. When he first proposed the idea, he asked to make sure that was something we were all interested in and felt comfortable with. There were no complaints. It was not until the next morning after we had already paid for and rented the bikes, that we figured out our sweet friend Grace was not the best bicyclist. When it became slightly more obvious that Grace wasn’t as comfortable on a bike as the rest of us, I asked her why she didn’t speak up earlier when we had first discussed bike riding for the day. Her response was “Well I learned how to ride a bike as a kid so I thought I would still remember how to do it… but if I’m being honest I think the last bike I rode still had training wheels on it.” STILL HAD TRAINING WHEELS ON IT. The moral of the story, Grace made it out alive, but there were 2 parked cars and a tree that suffered from minor injuries. She also had a near-death experience with a moto, but God is so good and kept all of us safe on the ride (and I’m pretty sure he put some invisible training wheels on the bike just for Grace).

– While we were teaching at the school, we would always end early to be able to play with the kids a little bit before school was over. Me, Teacher Emily, and Teacher Megan (being the bestest and most funnest teachers ever) would come up with the best games to play. The kids’ personal favorite was red light green light. We would stand at one end and turn our backs and say “green light” and all of the kids would sprint to us. But then when we said “red light” we would turn back around and the kids would have to freeze. If we saw any of the kids move, they had to go all the way back to the beginning. Because the kids were too good at this game and because Megan and I felt like being absolute menaces, we would go around and try and make the kids laugh to get them out. It started out as us making funny faces at them but it quickly escalated. Before we knew it we were embarrassing ourselves by crawling on the floor, dancing, yelling in Spanish, pretending to fight each other, trying to sweep the kids up with a broom, and so many other tactics just to get that validating giggle or smirk to know that our efforts weren’t in vain. But how far were we willing to go? I really knew I hit an all time low of desperation to make the kids laugh when Megan looked at me and said “Make a chicken noise”. And without hesitation, I squatted down at their feet and let out the loudest and most atrocious chicken bawk that could come out of a human. Like I had been a chicken my whole life. Grew up on a farm cluckin and crowin since the day I was born. That snapped us back into reality real quick and both of us fell on the floor crying and almost peeing our pants with laughter. I don’t know if it was the non-human noise that came out of me or the fact that me and Megan were rolling in the dirt hysterically, but every single kid in our class cracked up and we ended the night in triumph.

If you made it this far, congratulations here is your gold star ⭐️
Thanks for hanging in there with me and I hope you enjoyed the overview of my time in Cambodia! There are so many more stories that I couldn’t fit all on here that I would love to tell you about so feel free to reach out with any questions or comments! I love you all lots and am forever thankful for your continued support!
God bless!!