No onomatopoeia in this world can adequately express the sound of tires spinning in mud. It’s a mixture of a sick sounding engine in desperate need of cough syrup with a high pitched “whirring” that leaves a rock in the pit of your stomach. It’s the sound of futility, frustration, and a bad morning.
Missionaries and casual drivers alike all over the world are familiar with this sound. We’ve all felt the “oh, no” and slight panic while pressing on the gas and gripping the wheel. Mud is universal. So is getting stuck in it.
We spilled out of the van, flip flops suctioning up and down in the red earth with each step. Sympathetic passersby rolled up their own pants and joined us in the push. The whirring sound continued. The van slid sideways. Finally, with bunches of sticks and branches from the side of the road propped underneath each wheel, the whirring downgraded into a deep rumble, and with one final push, we were free!
I was also splattered. Standing at 5 feet zero inches, pushing directly behind the back right wheel as it sputtered its way forward, equaled a head to toe mud bath. My button-up was a Jackson Pollock painting. It was kind of cool. The kind of cool that still hasn’t come out of my jeans after three washings, but hey—art is art!
We proceeded down this familiar path, rolling and dipping our way to a cluster of primary schools. Our 12 passenger van was filled to the brim with 18 people, 3 in red plastic chairs in the trunk. We stopped at 3 different primary schools, letting off members of our national missionary team in groups of 4 or 5 at each location. Our final group drove the last 15 kilometers to the last and furthest primary school, Dong Chraing of Preah Net Preah district.
In seconds, the stress of the road melted away as we were greeted at the gate by hordes of students honoring us with the traditional Khmer greeting, hands lifted together in prayer. Old tires had been painted and transformed into flower beds. Students were sweeping and cleaning their own classrooms in preparation for us. The attitude was one of expectation and joy. The English teachers were here!
Our group split up between four classrooms. Each team member started their class with prayer and singing, before diving into English. We were using our Water Drop program, an English program that uses a mixture of Bible stories, improv games, and conversational English to teach the kids about the love of God while giving them a solid foundation for English language learning.
Here in the mud, even the teachers got involved. The principal, a smiling man of 60 with only months to go before retirement, had gathered together all his teachers and community leaders to join us. They humbly sat in chairs designed for much smaller bodies, and painstakingly began the process of copying the alphabet into their notebooks. They were here to learn. The eagerness and determination were palpable. Every teacher in the room has been teaching for over 10 years. Most of them were older. All of them were willing.
“I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength!” Both teachers and students alike were learning our first Bible verse of the program, the verse that tells us we can do this. When we bowed our heads in prayer, I could see tears in a few eyes.
I think the Holy Spirit loves mud. I think He loves that we got stuck in it and that we kept going. I think He loves that we showed up in the middle of nowhere, and so He decided to show up too. I think He rubs his hands in glee when unqualified people go forth with the intention to love. I think God’s heart is found exactly here, in this spot, the one that barely makes the map, and no one in their right mind comes out to visit.
The coolest part was that we were one of four teams. English classes and prayer were simultaneously happening at 4 schools in this area, led by our team of national missionaries. Over 200 children were getting a touch of the love of God every morning for the past 3 weeks.
When we finished class, every child ran up to us for a hug or a high five. The older students practiced their new English phrases with me and asked to take selfies. No one cared that I was covered in mud. They just giggled and hugged me even tighter. The joy followed us out the door, back into the van, and out onto that same muddy road. “See you tomorrow!” We waved, as the kids followed us out.
The team will continue their ministry in these four schools for four more weeks during the Cambodian school break. Once school begins, our ministry will change to our technical centers, where we will start not only Water Drop classes, but electricity, engineering, nursing, music, and English grammar classes as well. These four primary schools are only a tiny picture of the 488 schools across the province yet to be reached. The tech centers will be centers for education and Christ’s love in each of the nine districts of this province.
Our van, which we love dearly and push fondly through these muddy paths, is currently our only vehicle. As we make plans to minister in our 5 different tech centers, we are praying for vehicles. The only way to reach these centers or these clusters of primary schools is via the red mud paths that get us there. Please join us in praying for stout vehicles with four-wheel drive and engines that don’t quit. Our team is ready and willing. All we need is a few more wheels, and maybe an extra push.