Hello from Cambodia!
I realized that I left home exactly 1 month ago today and in some ways, that’s hard to believe and in other ways, it feels like much longer than that since I was in Ohio. So much has happened! I’ll try to sum up this past month..
On August 16th, 2016, I said good-bye to my family and home and left for Chicago. I find good-byes really hard so believe me when I say, there were lots of tears! But nonetheless, I met up with other YAGM and arrived in Chicago to start orientation, which was held at the beautiful University of Chicago. Orientation was tough in a number of ways. First, it felt so weird to be packed & ready for this year in Cambodia and to have said good-bye to all my family & friends (dog included!), only to find myself in Chicago — where a number of my friends live and 1 hour from my sister’s college. Second, we had many difficult conversations. From race and privilege, to accompaniment, to details about insurance, newsletters, and fundraising, there was a lot of listening, note-taking, and discussion. As difficult as some of these conversations may have been, they were so important for us to try to understand our role as young, American, Christians (and many other identities as well) in our global context (I hope to unpack some of these things more throughout my year). But after many discussions, wonderful services at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), and a fun closing talent show of sorts, I found myself in Chicago’s O’Hare International Aiport getting ready to board a plane to Cambodia! Well, not exactly. Here was our flight plan:
Chicago ➡️ Detroit ➡️ Seoul, South Korea ➡️ Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The flight from Detroit to Seoul was the longest flight I’ve been on to date and I was thrilled when we finally landed about 15 hours later. When #YAGMCamFam (that’s what we call ourselves, silly aren’t we?) landed in Phnom Penh, we were greeted by our new country coordinators, Matt and Jen. Though I had never met them before, they were so kind and welcoming, qualities you need to be surrounded by when you are suffering from massive jet lag and culture shock!
The next day we started in-country orientation. Over the course of the next 2 weeks, we ate many delicious Western and Khmer meals (as we acclimated our bodies to the new environment), shared our stories, toured the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Fields, attended a Khmer cooking class, rode around in tuk tuks, learned about the ELCA’s partners in Cambodia: Life with Dignity (LWD), RACHA (Reproductive and Child Health Alliance) and the Lutheran Church of Cambodia (LCC), haggled our way through the markets, visited the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom, and spent time together in prayer, singing and sharing devotionals. I had a wonderful time getting to know my fellow Cambodia YAGM cohort and our country coordinators and honestly, I was sad to leave them. But as important as those relationships have become to me, that’s not really what this year is about.
As a Young Adult in Global Mission, our job is to go out into the world and be the hands and feet of Jesus. I like to think that being the hands of Jesus refers to our placements. For me, this means serving with Life with Dignity, an entirely Cambodian-run organization that works to address the needs of the poor and oppressed through innovative, community-based techniques, and teaching English at the local school. I can already tell that I will be doing a lot of different things & witnessing amazing work this year and that is very exciting. However, the other, more important, part of our role as YAGM is to be the feet of Jesus. I believe that this refers to our call to serve in accompaniment with our partners. Accompaniment can be complicated and I won’t dive into the details right now, but it boils down to building meaningful relationships with God’s people (Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or otherwise) all over the world and simply being. This means recognizing that I will not change the world this year. I will not end hunger in Cambodia or repair the wounds left by the Khmer Rouge’s bloody regime. I will not be able to ensure that every child receives an education or clean drinking water, which every human being on this Earth deserves. Hopefully, you weren’t actually expecting me to accomplish any or all of those goals! All I can really do is be here. Now, as a recent college graduate who is used to doing so much, this is a challenging part of my role. Though I can edit reports, teach English to the staff, and suggest new ideas, my main purpose here is to walk alongside my Cambodian counterparts. I am here to show support not just from myself but also from the ELCA. I am here to bear witness to the incredible work that LWD, RACHA, and the Lutheran Church of Cambodia do and to share these stories with all of you.
I have been at my placement for almost 1 week now and I look forward to sharing the stories and lessons I will learn. But for now, peace and joy to all of you!