TO TEACH AND BE TAUGHT
Part II of Suzanna Lee's reflection as a missionary
Cambodian Methodist Bible School
I first went to Cambodia in 2011 to teach at the Methodist School of Cambodia on a MITE (Missions and Internship Training Exposure) program organised by the MMS (Methodist Missions Society). Having completed my term there in July 2012, I came back to Singapore and then enrolled in the Singapore Bible College in order to ‘sharpen my saw’ before returning to Cambodia in April 2016. This time round, I was assigned to two ministries in Phnom Penh: the Cambodian Methodist Bible School (CMBS) and the Joy Methodist Hostel.
CMBS is a Bible seminary that offers diploma and degree courses to equip prospective pastors and leaders for the churches in Cambodia. In this school, my duties included the teaching of English, Piano and Choir; preaching at the morning chapel services; and being a mentor to the students. Though these duties came with challenges such as language barriers and cultural differences, it was a joy to see progress in my students’ ability to speak and write English, to play the piano and to sing in four-part harmony ‘a capella’ on special occasions such as the annual Graduation Ceremony. I also treasure the chance to share God’s Word at the chapel worship service. As I delved deep into God’s Word and put into practice the homiletics skills that I had learned at the SBC, I found myself growing spiritually as well.
Students of English Class
The full- time students at CMBS are mostly between their late teens and mid-twenties and come from very humble family backgrounds. Their weekday routine typically starts at 5 am with morning devotions and ends with evening vespers twice a week. On the weekend they have to travel out of Phnom Penh (for up to 5 hours each way) to a provincial church to perform their Field Education practicum. Some of them face tremendous challenges and obstacles such as opposition from their family and friends. For instance, there was a particular young man called Keora who, together with a younger brother, was raised by a poverty-stricken single mother. As far as he could remember, they never had a proper permanent home; ‘home’ was sometimes a makeshift shelter under a tree or a shack beside a river. They often had to resort to begging to keep body and soul together. When he was still very young, his mother died, and he and his brother were eventually placed in an orphanage which was run by a Christian NGO. There, he was given a proper education and eventually came to know and receive the Lord. He then decided to study at the Bible School because he was moved by the love and care he received from the Christian staff and missionaries at the orphanage.
In the school, he found it difficult to follow the lessons and to cope with the heavy study load as his mind kept going back to the past, which made him tear and unable to focus on his studies. A fellow missionary and I counselled and prayed for him. After a few months, he had improved much and was able to concentrate on his studies. In his third year, Keora found a girlfriend; however some months into the relationship, the girl decided to break up with him as she did not want him to be a pastor whereas he was adamant not to give up his calling. He explained to me: “I would rather give her up than to give up my dream to be a pastor!” I was moved by his words and assured him that God would honour his faithfulness. Several months later, Keora texted me to say that he had found a new girlfriend who loved the Lord and would be getting engaged to her soon!
Worship cum birthday celebration
There was another student, a widow called Samorn, who enrolled at the school at age 56. She shared with me that before she became a Christian, she often had encounters with evil spirits who taunted her about her life situation. Then one day, after she had heard the Gospel and accepted the Lord, the spirits came to her and cried: “Now you have Jesus Christ in you, we won’t come and visit you anymore!” Hence they disappeared and never bothered her again! This is one reason why she decided to enrol in Bible school – so that she could be equipped to serve the Lord. However, due to her age and the interruptions to her education caused by the Khmer Rouge regime, she experienced tremendous difficulties in her studies. Nevertheless, she persevered through her course with great tenacity.
The other ministry where I served, the Joy Methodist Hostel, is a ministry that reaches out to tertiary level students, both Christians and non-Christians, who have come from different parts of Cambodia to study in Phnom Penh. I helped the hostel manager to plan and implement the outreach and discipleship programs which included weekly worship sessions and monthly leadership training sessions. However, it was not easy to implement our programs as most of the students here have to take on a job to support themselves while studying part time either in the evening or on weekends. For this reason, our weekly worship sessions plus the twice –a-week group devotions had to be held at 9 pm, the time when all the students were finally back from their work or studies. Notwithstanding the numerous challenges I faced here, it always gave me much joy to see a student come to know and accept Christ through this ministry or to see others grow in their faith and discipleship.
Choir singing at the Cambodia Methodist Bible School 2018 graduation
My second term in Cambodia was prematurely ended by the Covid 19 pandemic in end March 2020 when I flew back to Singapore on the last plane out of Cambodia. Though it was only four years, my short stint was packed with rich and memorable experiences which have impacted my life in many ways. Firstly, I am humbled by the determination and perseverance of the students as they pursue their studies in the face of hardships and difficulties as demonstrated by the examples of Keora and Samorn. I am also humbled by the Cambodians’ simplicity and sincerity in their faith which is evidenced by the way they pray, worship and share their testimonies. Many of them pray in what is known as the ‘Korean style’ - that is, with loud and intense groaning – and during worship services, they sing with much heartfelt gusto. Through their testimonies, I learned about the different ways God has worked in and through their lives. In interacting with them, I have also learnt to be more patient, more tolerant and more understanding towards other people.
I have much to thank God for sending me to Cambodia. I thank Him for the opportunity to share the gospel and make disciples in this country where the harvest is truly ripe and the labourers few. I thank Him for equipping me for this task, and helping me navigate the complexities of life in this unfamiliar, cross-cultural environment. I thank Him for the invaluable experiences and lessons I have gained there. I now realise that my short stint in Cambodia is an essential part of my spiritual journey – I have gone there not only to teach others but also to be taught by them and by God; not only to make disciples but also, in the process, to become the disciple that God wants me to be. Amen.