[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I was in 6th grade God touched my heart for the country of Cambodia. It’s something I can’t really explain, only that I fell in love with a faraway land and a people I didn’t even know. I knew someday I would go to Cambodia but I had no idea that someday would come so soon. At the end of my Senior year of high school I thought about the possibility of taking a gap year. I wouldn’t describe it as something I chose but rather a direction God led me in. There was never any doubt that if I did take a gap year I wanted to spend it in Cambodia. I wanted to volunteer at a Christian orphanage somewhere in Cambodia. That’s when I discovered the organization New Hope for Orphans online. I was really impressed with their ministry so I emailed them about my desire to volunteer.
For the past 8 months I have traveled all around Cambodia staying at each NHO orphanage for 2-3 weeks. During that time I taught English, tested the kids’ English proficiency levels, taught computer skills, helped in Church activities, preached, taught at Bible studies, and built amazing relationships with the kids. I can honestly say that this experience has changed my life and forever changed how I view the world.
When I first came to Cambodia I had to adapt to a huge change of life style. Here there is a vastly different way of thinking and of doing things than in America. I learned right away that rice is eaten at every meal. After 6 months I knew every kind of rice and that rice is not only a staple food but can be made into a sticky snack, a sweet dessert, and a breakfast porridge. I learned that you can communicate a lot of things without speaking. I also learned there are things you just can’t communicate without speaking…which will leave you pretty confused. I do finally understand what real rain is. (Something I never knew growing up in the desert.) I was shocked at the power of monsoon rain and just how loud it is when trying to sleep. This rain acts in a bipolar manor by strangely and completely disappearing for 6 months. Dry season is when the heat and humidity consume you and ensure that you will never take AC for granted again. Then there’s also the bugs. Wow, what an amazing variety of insects and insect bites! Now I know that I can survive a poisonous spider bite and that eating fried spiders actually doesn’t taste that bad. One of the best surprises for me was the stunning, natural beauty of the Cambodian countryside. Watching a vibrant pink sun sink behind the gold rice fields littered with palm trees I always think how Cambodia is most beautiful place I’ve ever been.
Even more beautiful than the landscape is the hearts of the New Hope for Orphans kids. Right away they welcomed me into their lives. It was a blast to bond with them in playing all kinds of games from soccer, to duck, duck, goose, to ninja. Some of the happiest moments of my whole life were spending entire evenings acting silly with the kids and giving hundreds of piggy back rides. These children come from extremely sad and difficult backgrounds. However, their lives have been completely changed by God’s love. It was my honor to become a friend to all of them. I also spent a lot of time teaching English. It was incredible to see breakthroughs and to see the kids grow in their confidence. I greatly enjoyed trying to come up with more and more learning activities. Sometimes I had the kids race to grab objects, shoot rubber bands at vocab words, or act out the ABCs. Through all the classes and lessons Cambodia showed me you always learn more than you teach.
I owe a huge thank you to all of the house parents who welcomed me into their homes and made me a part of their families. I have never met more hospitable or kind people. They always made sure I was well taken care of and helped me to understand more and more of Khmer culture. Many of the house parents also took me on adventures that I will never forget. With them I’ve hiked up a mountain through the jungle to ancient temples. With them I’ve toured a floating village. With them I’ve preached the gospel to the poorest of the poor. I also owe a huge thank you to all the NHO staff who have helped me plan me travels, extend my visa, and get whatever I needed. They have been so helpful and this trip would have been impossible without their guidance. I can see the love of Christ so strongly in the lives of all the NHO children and staff. God is at work in them and is using them to build his kingdom and to reach Cambodia for Jesus.
My time here has been a journey that has challenged me more than I could have imagined. However, it has also been a journey that has blessed me beyond my wildest imaginations and allowed me to live out my dream.