I looked through the one-room schoolhouse window where a group of elementary students sat at their desks doing work. There was no floor, and the students were working with mud up to their ankles. The metaphor wasn’t lost on me as I pondered how these students could possibly rise up from this level of educational poverty.
It was summer 2017, just a few months ago, and it was my first visit to Cambodia after wrapping up my last four years as a teacher in Shanghai, China. I was here to take a look at my possible future job. Having just left a metropolis of 28 million people and a classroom of students capable of running the world, now: all I could see was mud.
Where does one start when there aren’t even floors?
The vision presented to me was undeniably enticing. Mark Geppert of South East Asia Prayer Center (SEAPC) had invited me here to join a bigger cause. The vision? To train 3,000 fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers across a rural province of Cambodia in the English skills necessary to take back to their classrooms and influence a total of 127,000 students while creating a new mindset of hope.
Impact? Mind blowing.
Working conditions? I looked back at that mud floor. Maybe “undeniably enticing” was too strong of a description in the face of this reality.
There was no way I could say “yes” to this. But I also knew, deep inside myself that I couldn’t say “no,” either.
The next two months involved being jobless and living at my parents’ house in Phoenix, Arizona and contemplating my life choices. I had worked in poverty before, for two years in Iquitos, Peru. I vividly remembered killing tarantulas and not having enough change one day to buy my fried rice for breakfast. I also vividly remembered my most recent lifestyle in Shanghai, overlooking the fancy cityscape from my highrise apartment window with not a spider to be seen. I had a lovely salary, phenomenal students, hobbies and city living galore. Was I really ready for this pendulum swing back to a difficult life?
And then I realized that sometimes I’m just asking the wrong questions. How about this question: Do my difficulties even hold a candle to students learning ankle deep in mud in a language that Rosetta Stone doesn’t even offer as a learning option?
I couldn’t say “no” any longer. So, I said my “yes” in the form of a long message to Mark full of fears, caveats, and reservations. But there it was. A yes.
Since saying that yes, I have been praying a LOT and working on curriculum that will not only teach English, but create a new mindset of hope. Through My Precious Book (a children’s Bible storybook in both Khmer and English), we will teach who God is, using new vocabulary that will open them up to both a globalized world and a new foundation of faith.
Who. God. Is.
I find myself picking out memory verses for our lessons, things like Psalm 27:1 “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” And Psalm 118:1 “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; his love endures forever.”
As I pick out these verses, the character of God as a good God, a God of love, a God who is our fortress and our salvation, it strikes me that this is a God they have not had access to. In a country that was ravaged by war and genocide less than 50 years ago, they have never been exposed to a God who loves them, a God who will protect them, a God whose love never fails.
I am humbled by the pure audacity of our message. The audacity to say that behind their reality—their pain, their suffering, the PTSD that still plagues the older generation in their families, the poverty the new generation is still trapped in—is a different one, where chronos and kairos are lining up, one where God says it is truly the time for Cambodia to arise, one where God has never left them nor forsaken them.
This goes beyond all English teaching. This is now about not only providing people with the language skills to break out of poverty, but the opportunity to believe in a different reality than the one they see with their eyes- one based on truth and the pure, unswerving character of God.
Please pray that:
– Mindsets are changed as both teachers and students get to know this character, God, through the My Precious Book, and come to know him as their personal, loving creator.
– An overwhelming sense of urgency and determination sweeps across these teachers and students to take action in their part to help Cambodia arise by studying hard and staying committed to the English program.
– Cambodian leaders rise up to lead this program, empowering Cambodians through Cambodians.
– All our needs, financial and personal, are met through the Ultimate Provider.
For more information on what is happening in Cambodia, please click here.
We are still trying to raise 20k to make these English trainings possible. If your heart is moved and you would like to partner with us, you can donate here (Please use the “other” donation section, and be sure to enter BC ARISE ENGLISH in the designation box next to it).