My initial thought getting onto a plane that will take me to the other side of the world was, “I have no idea what to expect, but God, here we go.” I went in with an open mind excited to see God’s creation. After being on a plane for 15 hours straight and traveling for 24 hours, God taught me patience.
I stepped onto Cambodia soil, inhaling its humidity, carrying luggage that contained over 100 lbs of food. I walked out of the Phnom Penh international airport to a crowd gathered by the entrance. I scanned every single unfamiliar face on the look out for my aunt and uncle I was meeting for the first time. My uncle spotted me, and my trip began.
I always heard about taking a tuk tuk as a way to travel throughout the city. It’s a two wheel carriage attached to a motorcycle. We had a designated tuk tuk driver, Sang Hai. He was one of the most accommodating, kindest, and fun local I got to spend time with.
He took around Phnom Penh to see all the tourist sites! This picture was from Silk Island, where we went scarf shopping!
The Tuk Tuk!
My aunt, uncle, and one of their children:
E Nay and Boo Socheat took such great care of me on my trip. They are some of the most laid back and patient people I’ve ever come across. Their hearts are filled with love and passion. They are so happy to have what they have. That’s what I love about Cambodia. Their resilience and ability to see beyond the bad days. To see today as another day they have survived, and they are thankful. I cry as I write this because I have to come to love them so deeply.
Being in Cambodia has allowed me to witness the generational barriers and family systems of abuse. It opened my eyes to understand my family’s dysfunction on a deeper level. Cambodia’s love language is through acts of service. The way they communicate and honor their own people is always by serving each other. The basic question one asks another is, “What can you do for me?” or “What can I do for you?” A utilitarian relationship. Witnessing this culture has brought this understanding in my family that this is their love. There is a disconnect and lack of healing, simply because they do not have the tools to progress. The country is still really wounded from the Khmer Rouge. They are picking themselves back up with their only resources. They are loving at their own capacity to love.
And me? God has expanded the capacity in my heart to love His people more like He does. When you finally get to experience and see a culture in its own context, it brings healing. It brings knowledge. The uncle that remembers I wanted to eat bamboo sticky rice the moment I got here, takes me all over Battambang to go sightseeing. When we pass a man selling it on the street, he stops. He remembers. He loves me. The aunt who wakes up at 6am every morning to take care of her kids, goes to the market, buys me breakfast, cooks lunch and dinner in between teaching classes, loves me. The other aunt who won’t stop feeding me food, and buying me excess amounts of food, loves me.
I no longer need words to know I am loved and known by God. He has taught me so much about how we can serve one another and it’s going to be in His way, and not of this world. We’re living in His world, not America or Cambodia. God’s world. God didn’t say there was one way to love and connect.
I learned more about how my mother was the most traumatized and affected by the war. She is the oldest of 12. Four of her siblings died during the war. One brother came with her to the states, but the rest of them remained in Cambodia. My mother struggles a lot with wanting to be in control of everything. It’s manifesting into OCD. The way she expresses herself and communicates is through guilt. Her siblings are not the same. There’s a 20+ age gap between the her and the youngest sibling. My mother grew up in it, and the rest of them grew up near the end of it. They are affected differently. As for my mother, when you’re the oldest of 12 during the war, you’re constantly in survival mode to take care of everyone in your family. Little healing took place. It has damaged her. Understanding my mother’s trauma has been a difficult truth for me to deal with. God is showing me His grace everyday to love on her. He is constantly showing me how to love someone who has hurt me.
When violence is something that you’ve been immersed in for most of your childhood, it becomes ingrained in your generation. Abuse takes place, and it’s not condemned because it will never be like the Khmer Rouge. You no longer have the mental capacity to empathize with other’s struggles because it can never compare to the trauma of the Killing Fields. I went to the Phnom Banan temple where my Dad was evacuated in 1975 and his uncle and brother were tortured and killed. I was never able to emotionally connect with my father because of his own trauma.
My own struggles as a child were never validated. They were overlooked or minimized. I wasn’t known as a survivor of child sexual abuse, but seen as someone who just needed to stop being depressed and move on. Through God’s grace, I learned to understand why and forgive them.
It’s in my generation we must break this barrier. We must find healing. We must educate.
God always opens new doors to show us how to love like He does. The best part about having a savior is the story of redemption. We are redeemed from the darkness when he pours out His light into our hearts. Our very God who is so eager to pour out love, forgiveness, and bring healing into our lives. He has redeemed Cambodia and He is not done yet! They are resilient, they are relational, and they are loving; just like Him. His creation. God is always present.
And He’s calling me to serve His people for a few years.