I’m back! Not just in the country. Though I did safely return to the United States a year ago on July 22nd. (I guess I’ve been a little busy.) More presently, I’m back at the SLM Orientation!
My mission journey became a reality 3 years ago when I was welcomed to the 3-week long SLM Orientation in preparation for my departure for Cambodia that November. My orientation was quite the experience, and one that I will never forget. I made lasting friendships and gained skills that I will be able to use in any new situation. (Transitional struggles are real people!) And now it is my great honor and pleasure to serve in the role of returned missioner for the new batch of SLMs that, God willing, will embark on their own mission adventures late summer into early fall.
I remember being inspired by the returned SLMs at my orientation, listening to their stories and how they came through their experience with countless memories, having survived both the good and not so good times. I wished and prayed that I might have the same success – that is returning and being able to share the tale and pass on my “wisdom” – and here I am, ready to do my best to fulfill that dream.
With 13 new candidates, ready for their new adventures, we begin our orientation! Week 1 is underway and the end of week 3 will be upon us before we know it. I am excited for this new group as they grow and learn together and prepare for experiences that will surely change and shape their lives. I could never fully qualify how meaningful my time as a Salesian Lay Missioner has been, and it all began with the orientation. I guess the SLMs in my group knew what was up though…
May God bless all missioners and volunteers serving around the world, and in a special way watch over the current and new Salesian Lay Missioners!
Everyone will tell you that mission is full of surprises. I have certainly found this to be true. Just about every moment of my mission in Cambodia has presented a new experience that I never could have imagined having; perhaps the most surprising being the Charity Concert held at Don Bosco School in May of this year. For me, every step taken to complete this event was not only surprising but also inspiring and motivating. This is my attempt to share this experience in a way that makes you feel the same.
The first surprise came at the end of my English class one day. It was a normal, hot December day (remember that this is Cambodia) and the bell had just rung to signal the beginning of the break. I had just dismissed my class when two of my students approached me with a fascinating idea. Both of these students were also involved in the Music/Band SYM Interest Group which I oversaw. As this was the first year for this group, we were starting off slow and trying to determine what the group was going to be. Then came the fascinating idea. These students told me, in plain English, that they wanted to have a charity concert. In case you don’t know the mission of Don Bosco, Salesians serve the youth, especially the poor; so you can imagine my surprise when the students of Don Bosco were asking to take on the task of raising funds for charity. At first I thought maybe something got lost in translation. “What do you want to do?” I asked. “We want to have a charity concert. You know, have a concert to raise money for charity.” Nope. I wasn’t wrong. These students of Don Bosco had decided that they wanted to do something to raise money for the poor of Cambodia. I shouldn’t have been surprised that they wanted to help the poor. The Sisters and teachers do an amazing job of instilling morals and values in the students, and despite the demographic of our students, they also encourage the students to give when a tragedy occurs, like they did for victims of a fire in Phnom Penh and for those effected by the earthquake in Nepal. But, nevertheless, I was caught off guard by my students’ request. However, once the shock passed, pride and action took over and I was ready to jump into action to make their dream come true.
The Sisters were equally proud of their students’ request and after presenting an overview of what I had discussed with the students regarding their vision of the concert, the Sisters gave us a green light. The students had many ideas: asking outside groups to join; seeking sponsorship from companies; requesting a magician (one of our past pupils) to come and join the event. After some other dates having been discussed we finally settled on May 28 as “Concert Day” and so our countdown began.
One of the most important tasks was creating and selling tickets, which we assumed would be our largest generator of funds. Before we could make the tickets or the programs, or anything else for that matter, we first needed a logo. I put it to the Singing and Music/Band groups to create a logo for our event, and one of our seventh graders stepped up to the challenge. After giving me over 30 different designs, I brought it to one of our office staff who helped make one of the student’s designs a reality. From there she also created the ticket, so we were ready to sell 800 tickets for the event. Enlisting students to sell tickets to their families and friends, asking students to sell after church on the weekend, and encouraging parents to come to the school to buy their tickets were the methods we used that allowed us to sell all of our tickets just in time for the concert. The students also took on the task of writing a sponsorship letter which we then distributed. At the same time, the students were starting to pull their performances together, many practicing every day during their break time. We also began contacting outside groups trying to find the best performers that could help promote a good image of Don Bosco School while providing bonus performances for the concertgoers. As performances were being nailed down, we were compiling a program that would be sure to please all who came to enjoy the concert.
Our amazing selling and fundraising teams!
Meanwhile, there was also a lot happening behind the scenes. This being our first large scale event, we needed to make sure our sound system was prepared. We couldn’t have done this without the tireless efforts of Pu Prambai,
a friend of the Sisters, who supplied the additional speaker power we needed and made countless trips to our school to make sure the system was ready. Without him, our event would surely have been a catastrophe.
We were preparing to sell food and drinks at the event. Our school canteen staff, students and teachers of the Food Technology and Hotel Services Vocational Training program, and some of the high school students readied to serve their delicious creations to all who were in attendance. Many aspects of the concert were going to be carried out by the students, but we needed to assign people to oversee them. The teachers truly stepped up to the plate on this one.
Whether it was collecting tickets at the gate, ushering in guests or checking to make sure the restrooms were tidy, they took on their role with zeal and ensured that everything would be concert ready and our concert guests would truly enjoy the evening. The important aspects of security and parking also had to be addressed. We were so lucky that our maintenance staff and PTA came together to organize these very important logistics of the event.
One of my favorite moments throughout all of the planning was this group’s planning meeting. Ideas had been thrown around as how to approach parking and security, but no plans had been solidified. So just 2 weeks before the event, our maintenance men, some fathers from the PTA, and a few of the office staff came together and collaborated to work out all the kinks, ensuring that they would be ready for anything come concert day. (Spoiler alert: We had no problems. They were truly prepared!)
One final piece of preparation was initiating an online donation possibility. All I will say about this, is that we are very blessed to have so many generous people who, although they couldn’t join for the event, showed how valuable and meaningful this project was through their donations. We can never thank them enough for their support from afar.
As all of these things came together, I realized that this was no longer merely an event thought up by a few students. It had become a large, collaborative, well-managed effort of the DBS, Teuk Thla community. The concert’s success, or failure, would be everyone’s. (Another spoiler alert: It was NOT a failure!)
The most important behind the scene event was choosing the charity which our concert would benefit. Some students from the Singing Group and I approached the Missionary Group, a group committed to doing service for the school and for families of our students. We put it to them to think of how the money could be most beneficial. After many great ideas were suggested, we came around to thinking we might want to build something, not really sure what we could build with the limited funds we would raise (if we only sold tickets, we would have raised just $1600). But then the father of Sr. Neath, the first Cambodian FMA, came forward with the suggestion of a poor school outside of Kampong Cham (a province of Cambodia about 2 hours from Phnom Penh). This school, Tuolvihear Primary School, was certainly in need. Serving over 300 students, from kindergarten to 6th grade, Tuolvihear has 1 school building with 3 classrooms for grades 1-6 and a small shelter (only sticks and leaves) for the kindergarten. Grades 1-3 study in the morning and then 4-6 in the afternoon. The most shocking thing about their situation is that they only have 2 toilets: 1 for the teachers, and 1 for the 300 students. Fortunately, some very generous donors have helped the community secure the land next to the school and they have begun construction on a new building with 3 more classrooms, which will help to house the kindergarten and a new library (supported by the NGO “Room to Read”). But no plans were made to expand their toilet capacity. So that became our goal. We learned that we could potentially support the building of 2 more toilets and also purchase much needed supplies and furniture for the school. So that became our dream and the motivation to sell our tickets and get as many donations as possible.
After weeks and months of meeting, planning, programming, organizing, practicing, selling, fundraising, advertising, decorating, and so much more, concert day was finally upon us. About 2 weeks before the concert, we put up a countdown calendar, and every time that we put an X over another day finished, we all took a collective deep breath and prayed that everything would work out fine. For a while I was living in the comfort that since this was the first attempt at this kind of project at DBS, anything would be a success. But I realize now that I never really had to worry.
When concert day came, we were so prepared for anything and everything.
Sound system – check. Lights – check. Performers – check. Food stalls – check. Tickets sold – check. Parking – check. Restrooms designated – check. Emcees – check. Ushers – check.
We were ready and all we had to do was open our gates at 3:00pm and it was go time.
I cannot imagine how this event could have been more successful! We had 20 different performances. There was singing (solo, duet and group), dancing (traditional Khmer and pop), a Magic show, and a Tai Chi and Kung Fu demonstration. We had nearly 1000 people in attendance. Once it got dark, every seat in our hall (over 900) was filled!
We had to drastically limit the number of people that were coming into the concert, since our hall can only contain so many. Once we sold out of tickets the Wednesday before the concert, and then even throughout the concert, we had people coming to the school asking if they could still get tickets. Concertgoers and performers alike were enjoying the many different fares available (rice porridge, noodle soup, sandwiches, sweets). Throughout the evening I was keeping an ear cocked ready to solve any problems that might have arisen (all for naught, I am glad to say). I also monitored all donations being made throughout the night. We were very blessed to have had a friend of one of our teachers donate over 200 notebooks
and 600 pens which we added to those already donated by our very generous 6th grade students, which we would be able to add to our donation to Tuolvihear School. And, just in donation boxes from the night, we raised about $100! Because ours is an open hall, we did worry that the show might not go on if it rained heavily enough (rainy season had just gotten underway), but God smiled down us through the sun that never stopped shining until it set and the moon took its place, not a cloud in sight. We closed the evening by inviting all those who had been instrumental in making this concert possible onto the stage to be recognized. Each of them, from the students to the parent group, smiled their appreciation. (See top photo.) But I could tell that their smiles were not so much about being thankful for being thanked, but rather being thankful for having been a part of this amazing event. The energy on that stage with all of those dedicated and passionate people made me realize that this project was beyond simply raising money for the poor. It was also forming young people to understand compassionate giving. It was bringing a larger community together for a common cause. It was instilling in others the truth that everyone has something to give. It was creating formative memories that will live on in the minds and hearts of all those who were touched by this project. It was bringing Don Bosco and his mission to life in Cambodia.
Charity Concert 2016 at Don Bosco School is something that I never could have imagined happening in my wildest and most ambitious dreams of doing mission in Cambodia. But it is okay. Because I don’t have to imagine it. It did happen. I was a part of making this amazing event happen. And I am going to keep that with me forever.
After the Concert
All in all, after the tireless efforts of students, teachers, parents, volunteers, and Sisters we raised over $3000! This was far and beyond what I or anyone ever guessed we would do. All of our hard work had truly paid off. Our dream of supporting Tuolvihear was going to come true. We did it!
The students had done so much good work we thought it was only right that they should get to visit the school that they were supporting. Although we would have liked to take all 290 of our students, we (and funds) could only take 34 accompanied by 6 teachers, 2 parents and 3 Sisters.
On June 24, 2016, we embarked on our journey to Kampong Cham to visit the students and teachers of Tuolvihear School. After a long and muddy trek, we arrived in Srok Kang Meas and were welcomed by the students of Tuolvihear School.
After a very warm welcome by the Principal, we got to work cleaning the school and planting trees and flowers. In a couple hours the students and teachers of DBS, having worked alongside the students of Tuolvihear, had finished their work leaving Tuolvihear School spic and span (as much as possible – this is Cambodia, which is an extremely dusty country.).
After lunch the real fun began.
We put on a mini-concert for the students of Tuolvihear, singing and dancing. Then, we got the students involved playing Freeze Dance and Simon Says. To keep the merriment flowing, the students distributed the donated notebooks and pens and also gave donuts and a milk to all of the students. (We were able to bring the milk because all of the students in the high school paid for 1 to give to the students at Tuolvihear.) It wouldn’t have been a complete day without just a little more dancing, but then we had to say farewell and begin our trek back to Don Bosco. As Tuolvihear students left for home on foot or bicycle, we climbed into our bus and headed back to Phnom Penh. After a day of fellowship and service our students were all smiles, laughs and snores. I can’t be sure what was going through all of their minds after the day we had, but I do know that this is something that will not leave them, or me, soon.
Don Bosco School’s Charity Concert was conceptualized and completed by poor students of Cambodia for poor students of Cambodia. I have learned so much through this experience, but I think the most important thing is that we can always give. There is no minimum or maximum, but we should always find a way to give of ourselves for those who are in need. My students showed me that they were willing to dedicate themselves to serving others and I pray that I can always follow their example.
(Special thank you to all who helped contribute photos to this post – Charlene, Sr. Gema, and Catholic Social Communications of Cambodia.)
That was how I was greeted by a Salesian brother that lives in Sihanoukville, a beach-town in Cambodia that is home to an SDB managed hotel school.
I have been a member of the Salesian family for nearly 2 years. (I became a member when I was commissioned as a Salesian Lay Missioner in August 2014.) If you don’t know any Salesians, then you are missing out on knowing some of the most amazing, generous, and loving people in the world. No matter what branch of the family they come from (SDB, FMA, or any of the other 26 recognized groups of the Salesian family), Salesians are ready to welcome and value anyone who joins the family.
The two original (religious) branches of this family are the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA). Don Bosco founded the SDBs, and then began looking for someone to take on the same work he was doing with boys, but with girls. He found his counterpart in Mary Domenica Mazzarello and they co-founded the FMAs. Many different groups (religious, lay-consecrated, and lay) have been established from these two so it is still the appointed leaders of the SDBs and the FMAs that act as the spiritual and familial guides of the Salesian family: the Rector Major (SDB) and the Mother General (FMA). These two persons provide the necessary hope, love and communion necessary to keep Salesians all around the world committed to their mission of serving the youth, particularly the poor, through what Don Bosco called “loving kindness.”
As a new member of the Salesian family, I have been slowly, but surely, learning all about what it means to be a Salesian. Living with the Sisters (FMA) in Cambodia, I have learned a lot about hospitality, generosity, obedience, poverty and what it means to be in a family. For those of you who don’t know, I come from quite a big (12 children) and loving family; but I still learned a lot about being a member of a family, and I am so blessed to say that I have been able to truly embrace the Salesians as mine.
That being said, you can only imagine how excited I was when I learned that I was going to get to meet both the father and the mother of the entire Salesian family!
The Rector Major
Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, SDB, Rector Major of the Salesians since 2014, came to Cambodia in February of this year in part to celebrate the 25 years of presence of the Salesians in Cambodia, but also to meet with all of his “children” who have been working tirelessly to serve the poorest of the poor, especially youth, in Cambodia. His presence, effectively representing Don Bosco, gave a new found joy and spirit to all of the Salesian priests, sisters, cooperators, past pupils, volunteers and students who have striven to make the spirit of Don Bosco truly alive in Cambodia.
His attentive ears, open heart, and beaming smile reenergized all the Salesians in Cambodia to continue forward in doing all that we can to serve the poorest of the poor in Cambodia in the most effective ways possible. Especially as a Salesian “toddler,” I could see and feel the power of Fr. Angel’s visit. The Rector Major made me desire even more to continue working to help the Salesians’ missions in Cambodia, as the Rector Major reiterated how crucial and life-changing the work being done here is.
The Mother General Mother Yvonne Reungoat, Mother General of the FMAs since 2008, was in Thailand this year to celebrate the annual, global day of gratitude. “Gratitude Day” is a Salesian tradition in which all members of the Salesian community are shown appreciation for all of the work they have done. My experience of this feast (which has been entirely limited to South East Asia) usually includes several different singing and dancing programs, words of thanks, presentation of gifts, traditional washing of hands (a blessing of the young to their elders), and baby powder! Unfortunately, the baby powder did not make an appearance with Mother Yvonne, but all of the other simple, yet meaningful shows of gratitude provided a true atmosphere of thanksgiving, not only to Mother Yvonne, but to all FMAs and all members of the Salesian family who are working with the most downcast and neglected members of societies all around the world. Mother Yvonne radiated love and understanding during her stay in Thailand. We were fortunate enough to share meals with her, participate in prayer and “good nights,” and even have a few minutes of “volunteers only” conversation with her. Every moment that I saw her I couldn’t help but smile because she was being the most sincere and attentive person to all present. Several of the Sisters shared that they were able to have 1-on-1 conversations with her – even if it happened to be after midnight! (Remember that Sisters generally have very early rising times.) Mother Yvonne not only humbly accepted the show of gratitude prepared for her by the FMAs in Thailand, but more importantly showed how grateful she was to all of the women who have dedicated their lives to serving the poor and the youth by being available to them and making sure they knew they were not alone.
We were 5 volunteers that went to the event from Cambodia, effectively being the only volunteers from outside of Thailand that attended the event. There were nearly 100 Sisters there and they were all itching to get time with the Mother, so we mostly just hung out on the sidelines, watching as all of the Sisters gave their all to make sure Mother Yvonne was happy and would always remember Thailand well. However, when our moment came (suddenly and unplanned) Mother Yvonne treated us as if we too were her “daughters,” expressing her gratitude for our service and inspiring us to continue in our missions in order to serve those most in need. I will always treasure the moment she gave us volunteers (people she did not know and did not have any responsibility towards) her time and love and perfectly demonstrated what a Salesian, specifically an FMA, embodies.
Mission is all about community. No matter what your task or your goal, building community is an important, even paramount, aspect of having a successful mission. The crucial thing about community, however, is that it cannot be a one-sided effort. In order to build community all parties must be committed to working together and finding common ground on which to live. I have been truly blessed that my Salesian family, from the students I teach all the way up to the Rector Major and Mother General themselves, has embraced me and encouraged me to work toward building community with them all. I know that God allowed me to meet these 2 very important members of the Salesian family so that I could better understand this, and also embrace that the Salesians have truly become part of my “forever” family!
This is certainly something most of us can get behind. We love our mothers. (I certainly love mine.) I recently learned a great deal about how much my students love theirs too. Not making the connection of how close it was to Mother’s Day, I assigned my 9th graders a writing assignment: write about a woman that you know in Cambodia. Some of them chose to write about their sister, aunt or someone in their village. One boy even wrote about a female soccer player that is his role model. However, a vast majority of them began their composition thusly: “I want to tell you about a woman in Cambodia. She is my mother.” They were beautiful, funny, heart felt, and very honest expressions of how much they love and appreciate their mother. I guess they forgot that I was the only person reading these because many of them ended with “Now I want to say ‘I love you mother.’” But it was so nice to read how important their mother really is in their lives. So in celebration of Mother’s Day, I thought it would be a nice treat to share how the stories of some mothers and how they are valued by students in Cambodia.
n.b. While I did do some minor grammar editing, most of these are written down as the students wrote them, including parentheses, strike throughs, etc. Also, most of these are excerpts. I pulled out the really good stuff for your enjoyment. 🙂
My mother is a very beautiful woman in my life. She is very friendly and kind. I want to say that I love my mother so much and she is everything in my life. And I want to do everything make her have happiness while I have a chance.
My mother is special for me. Every day she works hard all day because she loves me. She doesn’t want me poor in the future. (I love my mother.)
My mother is my hero because she works hard for family members. She is good at cooking. I like her food. It’s so delicious. She is a strong woman. I love her very much.
My mum is the housewife in my family. She is the best woman in my life.
My mother is so beautiful and then so clever woman. Her freetimes she likes to cook food, brush clothes, look after her baby and then she does everything she can do. I love my mother very very much and I hope in the future I can work in the bank and I have some money and this time I can give my money to my mother. I want to see her smile forever. I don’t want to see her sad. I want to tell her ‘I love you so much and I thank you for everything.’
My mother is very special woman in Cambodia and I love her very much more than I can say. She’s a good mother for me. She’s tall, big eyes, small nose, yellow hair, white skin, medium mouth and ears. She’s a kind person and good mother. She’s a very intelligent mother and she works hard to find the way for me to study every day with my brother. She’s a good cook. I like to eat her food very much. When she cooks it’s very delicious for me to eat I want to eat again and again. I love my mother and she’s a special woman for me and my family. I love her more than I can say. She’s a good mother. I love my mother very much.
I love my grandmother very very much. She so very beautiful for me. She is a good woman. I hope the future I can help her I don’t see her difficult.
Today I want to tell you about one woman in Cambodia. I know she loves me. She is my mum. Mum is like an angel that always takes care of a person. I pray for mum everyday and hope for her good luck for everything that she wants to do. I love mum very much.
My mother for me is beautiful and perfect.
She is my mother. She is beautifully dark. My mother is friendly and soft-hearted, but she is a bit nasty. We live with happiness and joyfulness. We all love mother. We want to live with until her the end of our lives.
Today I wanna tell one woman that she’s really important to my life and she’s really an awesome woman that I’ve ever met. You know who is she? She is my beloved mother. She has curly hair, brown skin, with a cute smile. Let’s talk about how strong she is. She has to take care of three children, she has to do everything. One day it really make me understand mom always loves her children. Now I’m still asking myself am I do anything to make her smile? So at the last I wanna say love your mom. Make her feel happy to have you and remember mom always loves you.
My mum is so beautiful. She has long hair. Sometimes she very hard but she never tells me. My mum really loves me. Now I want to tell her I love you so much. You are so special for me.
My mum is beautiful. My mom is a factory worker. She has a good job. In her life, my mum is difficult. I love my mum.
My mother is kind and friendly. Sometimes she tells jokes to her family and she usually teaches her children how to cook. When she has something she always shares to somebody and her family. My mother, she didn’t study well because her family had some problem and she decided to stop study and get a job to support her family. Everyone loves her very much.
She is my mother. Sometimes when she is stressed she blames us and we angry her because we don’t know the reason. And now I know I want to say thank you to mom. I love you mom.
I love my grandmother and she is a good woman for my family.
Today I want to tell you about one woman who is the best woman in my heart that gives me a lot of love everyday. She is a part of my life. You know who? She is my lovely mother. She liked to sing very much and her voice is really nice like a famous singer. I really love my mom. She always takes care of everyone around her.
My mother is kind, friendly, hardworking, brave. Moreover my mother is very beautiful for me in my heart. She always gives much advice to me when I do something wrong. I love her very much and I want to live with her forever until the least death.
(Some of the students shared about the harsh realities their mothers have faced or they have faced regarding their mothers.)
She is my mother. Her life is not easy because her family is poor so she can’t study well. She graduated at grade 3. She didn’t have money to go to school and she has a log of sibling so she need to stop her study.
My mom is a housewife. She has 5 sons and 3 daughters. Her husband passed away. So she has to work hard to help her son and daughter alone because my family is very poor. My mom is a good person for me she loves her family and tries to do everything for my, my sisters and my brothers. She always worries about us and told us to do everything good. She never tells her children when she was sad or has a problem. Just makes her children happy, smile and live with love.
My mother lives in the province. Her life is difficult because she is stop studying, have children and work all day at home, because her husband died and she has many children. She got married when she was young. When she go to the interview and the manager didn’t receive her to work. She she didn’t earn any money to support her family. She gave her children to another family because she didn’t have money. This is a real life of a Cambodian woman.
My grandmother and my aunt always tell me about my mother. She does everything that she can do, she never complains again and again. She does everything to satisfy someone in the family. Six months later, after I was born, my mother sick and then she passed away. I never see my mother a long time until now. I want to say I love you mom. I want to listen to her voice. I want to hug and kiss you and do everything that I can do. Sometimes I want to cry when my grandmother tells me about my mother’s story. I think she is very nice woman in my heart.
My mother is a factory worker. Before when she was young, she lived in a rich family, but after Pol Pot she had to continue her study but she also needed to help her mother to sell fruit at the market.
(One student shared about one of the Sisters who is in charge of the girls that live with us at the school.)
She is a good woman because she likes and loves students in Don Bosco and all people in the world.
(And some were just brutally honest.)
Her life is difficult because she is my mother. I want to say I love my mother so much.
Life in Cambodia continues. Nearing the year and a half mark, I am recounting all that I have done, seen, and experienced and realizing that I have lived a truly full and real life here. No experience left untried; no feeling has been spared.
To prepare for mission, most of our discussions surrounded the experience we would have of leaving our home lives and the impact on ourselves of entering others’ lives. There would be things that we would miss and there would be things that we wouldn’t understand. This was going to be mission. So we must be prepared.
Before leaving, it was suggested that we have the very serious conversation of what should happen if there is a death in the family while we are away. This is a very practical, albeit difficult, discussion to have so that we are prepared for anything. However, this conversation did not prepare me for the experience of death in my mission life. Nearly a year after my arrival in Cambodia, I personally experienced death when my friend, Phanna, was taken from this world.
He was the driver of someone I know at the US Embassy. I saw him every Sunday, at the very least. He walked with a slight limp as he had been injured when in active military, but he always greeted me with a smile. He had an infectious laugh, and although I couldn’t always understand him (he spoke very little English), he loved telling me funny stories about his life. A perfect example is the story about how his daughter was born on the ferry trying to cross to the mainland from his province to go to the hospital. He told that story with joy in his eyes and a laugh from his belly.
Then, a very good friend and fellow teacher got the devastating news that her younger brother died as the result of a moto accident, as well. I saw her suffer in a way that no older sibling should have to suffer.
Wasn’t this supposed to be just a place where I witnessed life? I wasn’t supposed to also witness death. This experience shook up my world, but it also made me realize something: this is mission. When I decided to go on mission, I desired to fully experience what life was like wherever God sent me, and I should have realized that that must include experiencing death. In this Easter season, we celebrate not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also his death. Without death there is no life. It is death that proves the existence of life, and both Phanna and my friend’s brother were truly full of life. A life that will always be remembered by those who will always preserve their memory.
But I have also experienced lots of life in Cambodia! Not only have I been party to the laughs and joy and every day goings on of life, but I have witnessed plenty of hope in welcoming new life. To date, 5 babies have been born among the teachers and staff that I work with and 2 more are on the way! I have gotten to witness the excitement on the faces of the mothers and fathers and see the future generations of Cambodia continue to grow. So this too is mission.
Mission is joining the circle of life and death in a new place. It is taking a full and active part in something new and letting it change how you see the world. It is accepting that our lives are not independent from the lives of others, no matter how independent we may be. Mission illustrates that more than anything we are a global family, and when we share in each other’s lives – the good and the bad; the happy and the sad – that is when our world is made a better place.
It is actually the same mission (Don Bosco School, Teuk Thla, Phnom Penh, Cambodia); but things have changed so much that I am feeling re-energized and excited to embark on this “new” mission.
The number one difference: that I have been in this place for a year already! I sometimes forget that there was a point in my time in Cambodia (obviously the beginning) when I understood so little of how things worked here. I knew NO words of the language; I had NO experience as a teacher (least of all as an ESL teacher); I had NEVER lived with religious Sisters; I had NEVER had to memorize 180 names in a different language; I had NEVER had to wake up before 6AM every day, etc., etc., etc. NOW I have a full year of all of these things under my belt and I feel ready to improve in living them out in year 2!
Goodbye Elementary. (very bitter-sweet)
New school year, new uniform! I even got new shoes!
If you ever do a mission, know that the second year gets so much more awesome because you are not on this perpetually steep learning curve. Year 2 “inspires” a lot more work out of you. They have me doing art!
New site partners “Coming Soon.” Looking forward to greeting you, Colleen and Cara!
The truth about my second year of mission, is that (so far) it has only improved except in two particulars: having to say goodbye to those who ended their mission in Cambodia and the reality that I still miss my home (namely all the people that make up my USA home) terribly. But I am fortunate to feel ready and ambitious for this new year, excited to discover what God has in store for me! All the prayers and good thoughts you can send my way will be greatly appreciated! Peace!
I have had the extremely great fortune to take a small detour from my Cambodian mission and do a small stint in Vietnam. I never expected that I would be this fortunate, nor that it would be so transformative of an experience; but I am, and it was.
For 1 month, I went to Ho Chi Minh City and lived with a community of Salesian Sisters (the same order that I live with in Phnom Penh), where I taught English to about 14 Sisters and roughly 30 university students. It was what one might call a ‘working vacation.’ As I was teaching almost the entire time, I was able to have the most atypical but also most rewarding tourist experience.
Some people might say “Wow! A month! That is a long time!” However, especially considering that I have been removed from my native land for 10 months now, a month is truly a mere blip of time. And my time in Vietnam came and went in the blink of an eye — but not without leaving a lasting impression.
The people that I met in Vietnam showed nothing but compassion and care for me during my stay. Whether it was the Sisters who anticipated and fulfilled my every possible need or desire, or the university students who treated me like royalty and never stopped giving of themselves to make me feel more at home and happy, the family of my dear friend who took me around to experience different parts of the city, or even the priest who went out of his way to say bits of his homilies in English just for me (I was the only non-Vietnamese person in the church), the Vietnamese people just never stopped giving! I was humbled by the gifts they bestowed on me and it is a time that I will truly never forget!
I once met a man in my travels in Cambodia. He was on a 6-month trip, travelling for a month in 6 different countries. He had just come from Vietnam before he came to Cambodia and his commentary on Vietnam, especially on the people, was hardly a glowing reference. The experience had left almost a sour taste in his mouth. I kept his comments in mind as I was preparing for and travelling to Vietnam. However, as soon as I arrived, I was able to put all doubts in my mind to rest. The second I stepped off the bus I realized that clearly this man did not do Vietnam properly. Just as the people in Cambodia have been, the Vietnamese were a welcoming, enthusiastic and loving people, and in just a month they showed me how easy it is to love their country. I am sorry that that man did not have the same positive experience, but I know that I will always treasure mine! Like the t-shirt says “I ❤ Vietnam!”
The Sisters manage 3 university student dormitories. These girls became truly great friends during my stay there! I was so lucky to meet them all! I can’t wait until I “See You Again!” 🙂