Taking a short term mission trip to Cambodia this summer has been a great opportunity for learning about God and his mission to transform people, including me. I want to thank Redeemer Alliance Church for organizing this trip, and allowing me to participate.
With three people from our family going to Cambodia, the first lesson was a refresher course in God’s providence.
I wondered how we were going to find the money, even after fundraising, to pay our part of the costs, but the fundraising was so effective, including support from my congregation in Rockland, that the three instalments required of us were much less than anticipated. God also helped us to be very disciplined financially this year, so that even the cost of Jana’s wedding and the Cambodia trip have been met. I kept thinking that surely this time we’ve overcommitted, but God has taught about His faithfulness, and trained me further in responsible choices.
I was, as is my habit, too busy this year. The second job to support my church work, combined with Jana’s home improvements and wedding, preparing to direct Family Camp at Golden Lake, political involvement during an unexpected election, fundraising for Cambodia, and even the decision to have a bit of fun by joining Ottawa’s Capital City Chorus in time for their Spring Show over-filled my schedule. After Family Camp I had four days to get over a cold, catch up on sleep, pack and prepare mentally for Cambodia. Though I had been praying and reading for the Cambodia Mission, I think the trip really snuck up on me! Was I really ready for this adventure?
Being the only non-Redeemer member of the team had me wondering about whether I belonged, but even on the flight over, God was addressing that. As Garry made his rounds talking to each team member on the flight, encouraging us about how to pray for the trip, I realized that God did have a part for me. I was reminded of what a privilege it is to share this experience with my wife and daughter (and it was amazing to see Meg’s confident service and commitment during this trip,) I was moved in prayer to see the opportunity to really support and encourage the other members of my team. Though I had not been as involved in the Redeemer-side fundraising as the rest, the team building that those times had provided really began to gel during travel time. I chronically struggle with feeling like an outsider, and during the first days on the ground I faced that issue intensely. Yet that intensity forced me to pray quite directly and fervently into the issue, and I really think that God did a new thing in me through the openness of the Redeemer team, the partnership of the teams from Vancouver, Ohio and Minnesota, the mission staff, and the incredible friendliness of the Cambodian people.
Cambodia is a country in great need. It’s a beautiful land, agriculturally fertile, but deeply wounded. In the 1970’s Pol Pot’s dictatorship killed one quarter of the population, primarily among the ‘educated’ and urban population. The impact of this is evident the more you see of the country. One generation excised from the population, and subsequent generations suffer from the loss of parenting, knowledge, infrastructure, government and property, while trying to deal with a pain that permeates the land. Yet a brief overview of their history shows problems that preceded Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I was struck by the social and personal needs that have been unmet by the religions of the country, by the difference it makes when, in Christ, the message of God’s love for every person is proclaimed. Truths that even atheistic North Americans count as self-evident are missing from the very structure of Cambodian society. The evidence of the sex-trade is everywhere, of ineffective and corrupt government, of racism (the church here is the biggest exception to the acrimonious division between Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Khmer that exists in this country). We heard Bhuddists who recognized that the moral teachings of the Bhudda were not accompanied by the power to change lives. Here is a country where the familiar traditions are not satisfying the people, and where the Gospel is being welcomed by many. How I began to long for the same openness to the Gospel in our own jaded and cynical culture!
I hope that some of the non-believers saw something in my life, but I know I was able to encourage some of the Christians there: a pastor’s son who is struggling with a call to ministry, a student who is ambitious to serve Christ. I shared a devotional message with the message of 1 John: “This is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I emphasized that real love gives real help- God in Jesus Christ healed the sick, welcomed the outcast, and rescued from sin. That he loves us at great cost, even laying down his life for our salvation. (I didn’t say it directly, but I am struck by how different this is from every other religion-) God doesn’t simply demand that we do better, try harder or merely appease him: Instead God gives us great help through his effort and his sacrifice because of his great love. I concluded that it is good to put our trust in Jesus Christ because he has proven trustworthy.
When I returned from Cambodia my first sermon was “What if we were missionaries?” on the text “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” The greatest lesson in going to Cambodia was the experience of seeking God even more intensely than usual. I sometime think I’ve put the Kingdom of God first in my life, but compared to my time in Cambodia, my average level of devotion seems like complacency. It wasn’t just the need in Cambodia, the brevity of the opportunity, or the obligation to make the high cost of this trip count for something. (More than ever I realize that here in Canada the need is great, the time short, and the cost of this mission is high!) Though all these things contributed to the effort to go deeper, it was the example and encouragement that God provided through the team, the missionaries and the local Cambodian churches that began a work that hopefully will continue transforming my life. I come home renewed in my conviction that we are all missionaries here in our homes and neighbourhoods, and partners in Christ with missionaries throughout the world. May God help us to live lives worthy of this high calling!