by Suzanna Lee
Suzanna, who was a teacher at a government secondary school, answered God's call and went to Cambodia as a missionary teacher with the Methodist Mission Society in 2011. She returned to Singapore in March 2020 partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. She is now fully retired and serves the Lord in various ways, including singing in the CCMC virtual choir and sharing her missionary experiences with small groups.
This is the first of her two-part sharing.
I was only in my teens when I first heard God’s call to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). I then saw a vision of a country somewhere in SE Asia which, over the years, was gradually revealed to me to be Cambodia. And I promised God that when the time was ripe, I would go. It was however, only decades later, after I took early retirement from teaching, that I finally fulfilled my vow and signed up for an internship programme at the Methodist School of Cambodia!
"And I promised God that when the time was ripe, I would go."
Arriving at the school on 18 February 2011, and assigned to two classes of English (Grade 10 and 11) and later, a Girls’ Brigade class and a class of Christian Education (Grade 9), my heart fluttered with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. “So, I am finally here! How should I conduct myself? How should I dress? What are the students like? Will they be able to understand my English? What if they can’t? What if...” Questions flooded my mind and I felt not unlike Anna of “The King and I” when she arrived in Siam to teach the king’s children. But instead of “whistling a happy tune whenever I feel afraid”, I would “whisper a simple prayer” and God would give me the answers: “Just dress and behave like you did in Singapore. Speak slowly and simply.”
My trepidation soon gave way to relief as I discovered that the Cambodian students are, in many ways, similar to Singapore students! They have the same physical, emotional and spiritual needs and face similar challenges to do well in school, to find their niche in life, etc. Even the way they behave in class is no different from Singaporeans. While most students are quiet and attentive, a few boys are at times playful or even boisterous, just like many boys in Singapore! There was a particular boy, notorious in the school for sleeping in class, for not bringing his books and not doing his homework, etc. One day, he actually told me with a straight face that his pet dog had chewed up his homework! After a few sessions of counselling and praying with him, I could see an improvement in his behaviour. To fast forward the story, later in the year, this same boy came running excitedly to inform me that he had accepted Jesus into his life!
"One day, he actually told me with a straight face that his pet dog had chewed up his homework!"
On the other hand, there are challenges faced by the Cambodian youths that their Singaporean counterparts are spared from. These challenges are those of a country that is still reeling and recovering from the ravages of the political turbulences of the 1970s and 80s. As Cambodia embraces modernisation and globalisation, the gap between the haves and have-nots is becoming wider; development and global trends are driving up the costs of food, petrol and other necessities while wages have remained low or largely stagnant. Against this background, many of the students and parents find it a struggle to make ends meet. Moreover, quite a number of students come from dysfunctional or single-parent families and many of them have to help out at home or to help augment the family’s income. To be an effective witness to them, one therefore has to be sensitive to all these factors and to make the Gospel relevant to them. Mingling with the students and staff during the breaks, and joining a group of Christian students in their weekly prayer sessions really helped me to understand them better and to show my support for them.
In June 2011, I was asked to head the English Language Department, which I did until the end of my second term in July 2012. During my second term (from October 2011 to 31 July 2012), I was put in charge of the library, and was also rostered to lead the morning devotions on a fortnightly basis while my CE and GB classes were then off-loaded. Being Head of the EL Department and leading devotions gave me more opportunities to interact closely with the teachers and to share the Gospel with them. To make up for the loss of my CE and GB classes, I later decided to conduct my own Bible study classes for two groups of students.
As time went by and I got to know the Cambodians better, I felt that there was much that we could learn from them. For instance, on the busy crowded streets, one can witness the patience and tolerance that the Cambodian motorists and cyclists show to one another – they give way readily; honking is surprisingly rare while road rage is totally unheard of. Another example can be seen every day at the school canteen where groups of students or teachers share food together. Anyone who has no food is welcome to join in! Among the students and staff members, there is also a readiness to help one another whenever the need arises.
"As time went by and I got to know the Cambodians better, I felt that there was much that we could learn from them."
I am now more convinced than ever that to reach out to these people, our “walk” is more important than our “talk”. In the words of Bishop Dr Solomon who spoke at the 4th MCC Conference, “If the Church walks like the Master, then I think the world will listen, the world will notice.” I sincerely hope and pray that my one-and-half years’ walk, as well as talk, with the Cambodians has been a blessing to them. Amen.
First published in Harvest Force, magazine of Methodist Mission Society, in 2012.