I sometimes get the feeling that some people think we’re ‘super Christians’ to have lived in a slum for the last 12 years with our family… but to us, it’s just life. We don’t think we’re special. We are just using our lives and the gifts God has given us, to be good friends to our neighbours and respond to those whom God is placing in our midst.
Our first years were all about learning. Learning the culture, the language, how to wash the clothes by hand, how to shop at the market, how to live with 17 people in the house… and how to be parents for the first time. Learning was hard, painful, and disempowering for ourselves, but was the ultimate step in allowing us to serve, empower and champion Cambodians, rather than come in on top of them with our education, power, money and white skin. Here’s what we learned:
nterruptions are not interruptions if we see it as God bringing someone into our lives. So often we book up every minute and never have time for the thoughts, things or people that God places in our midst. We need to shift our posture to allow God the control and space to work. Leaving our door open means anyone is able to come into our home with a need, or share life with us.
Life is mission. People don’t drop by at convenient times. It’s usually dinner time! We need to be flexible to respond. People are not ‘work’, because work happens in the 9–5 and people happen in the 24/7… people are life. We do, however, need to take time to rest, or we burn out and are not useful to others.
Living in community has its ups and its downs. We see births, weddings, funerals, parties and sadness… we’re on this life journey together. Khmer culture goes well with Aussie culture, but is also very different. Sometime we get along, sometimes we don’t. It is enriching to our lives to find a way to get along with others, rather than just hanging with those who are similar to us.
Have an empowering mindset. When we worked in an NGO for the first few years, it was a slow process to empower our Cambodian colleagues until they came up with the lightbulb ideas. It can be arduous work for us, but it means Cambodians will own these initiatives. It’s about having an empowering mindset when you see a problem: Can that person bring about their own change? What about their family? Can their community? When those avenues are exhausted, maybe then it’s appropriate for the mission worker to step in. Partnering with the local church is also another way to work with ‘people of peace’ who want to see the gospel spread and change in their community. True help brings about long-term change and empowerment.
Through being present in our community we have been able to see needs and journey with Cambodians who are willing to respond. These include: helping someone navigate the health system, advocating with the village leader to get the drainage fixed, standing in-between a husband who is beating his wife. Homework clubs have started so that kids can pass their exams and speed up their literacy. A local preschool started under someone’s house, so that kids can become ‘school ready’ before they hit grade one. Justees, our fair trade t-shirt printing business, helps young ex-drug users earn a wage to support them through their schooling, and Connect Street Work is responding to direct requests for us to be advocating for users from poor communities in the drug rehab system. The small things make a great difference for the people that society thinks are at the bottom of the heap.
It takes pressure off when we believe that God can do great things! We need to be in a right relationship with him and submit our lives and ideas to him so he can speak, lead and guide. We’re just being us, in this place, looking to see the way he is working… and being part of that.
David and his family have lived in community in Cambodia for 13 years.