It's official! I'm leaving for the US in two weeks and will return to Cambodia around New Year's... but not to my status quo. Instead, I'm planning to move to the capital of Preah Vihear province, a small town about five hours away. I loved immersing myself in Khmer language and culture there and have often visited since then. But of course moving there long-term will be an adjustment.
I've been wondering for a while about the timing of my US trip and the team that I should join next, now that I'm no longer on the education team. So it's great to have both of those questions settled. At the same time, as I announce this news, I'm fielding questions that I've been contemplating myself. I'm posting some of my questions here with my best stab at their answers.
1. What exactly will I be doing?
World Team's Preah Vihear (PV) team has many great things that I could get involved in: a high school dorm for students from low-income rural families, a Bible school for house church leaders in the villages, Bible studies and church plants in the villages, translation and creation of Christian resources, and trainings for Sunday Schools teachers. There are other possibilities like guest-teaching for education majors at a local college and teaching English to kids in town. I won't be able to invest significant time into every one of those. It sounds like early on, a priority will be visiting Bible school students and dorm alumni in their homes out in the villages, to encourage them and help them start more Bible studies. As I observe and dabble in other programs, hopefully I'll find my niche over time. For now, I'm also continuing my role as a language coach for other World Teamers in Cambodia, mostly remotely.
|A small group of dorm students discussing during a nutrition seminar I led in 2018|
2. Where am I going to live?
I'm going to start out living with fellow World Teamers Jim and Carolyn Gabriels in their traditional Khmer wooden home while I adjust to life in PV. I'm so grateful they were willing - I feel very comfortable with them, and it makes my transition more gradual. The plan is that for at least the first six months, I'll share the rent for my Phnom Penh apartment, where my dear friend Rachana will be staying. That means I can leave most of my furniture here for now and will still have a bed available when I visit PP. I'll see what's available for rent in PV and eventually transition to my own place there... after that, I can stay in a guest room at the World Team office when in PP.
|Petting a neighbor's calf in front of the Gabriels' home during my 2016 visit|
3. How much time will I spend in Phnom Penh?
The Gabriels and their teammates Joel and Sina recommended that I plan to visit the city about once a month. That will let me decompress, maintain friendships here, stock up on groceries (anything most Cambodians don't eat is probably not for sale in PV), manage errands and appointments, and meet my language coachees. I'm not sure how long each visit will be - probably between two and five nights. It depends partly on how much I need to do in each place and how much can be done remotely. I'm hoping to find a balance that will allow me to thrive, and I'm not sure yet what that will look like.
4. What will I drive?
I was initially assuming I'd need to buy a larger, more powerful motor scooter. My 50-CC Honda Today runs pretty well, but it bottoms out even on some speed bumps and can't handle rutted or flooded dirt roads. But Jim recommended that I keep it for now and plan to borrow his motor scooter and/or car for my trips to farther-out villages. My Honda Today is fine for getting around this town of 24,000; we'll see if I can make it work for a while or will want more freedom to go to the villages. Either way, I'll need a license for the first time after a decade here. (I don't even have a driver's license for motorcycles, let alone cars - I think licenses are only required for motos above 125 CC.)
|Can you believe Silat and I beat the storm home that day?|
5. Who will I spend time with?
I know some of the people that I hope to hang out with. Besides the four other World Teamers, who are some of my favorite people ever, I'd count one Cambodia YWAM staff (Silat) as a dear friend and am friendly with the other three as well as the three staff kids. (Can't wait to be the kids' "ming" again!) I was also excited to see my teammates' plans for following up with dorm alumni and Bible students; I enjoy several of them who lived in the dorm during my summer there. Turnover is inevitable - some friends are planning time away to study or get more experience, and several dorm alumni would like to return as dorm staff now that they've graduated from YWAM's Discipleship Training School. In short, I'm excited to renew existing relationships but I'll need to stay flexible and begin many new friendships. It will be a big change for me to have very few other foreigners around, and I'm expecting to feel lonely and out of place at times. But the Cambodians I know there are very gracious and I've been so glad to see the deep mutual trust they've built with my fellow American teammates.
6. What is God going to do?
I really don't know this one. If the past year didn't teach us that life is hard to predict, I don't know what would! What I do know is that when World Teamers first went there, Preah Vihear had about a dozen believers in the whole province. Now it has dozens of house churches! I believe God wants His children in Preah Vihear to mature, let truth permeate every area of their lives, and multiply as they share the good news of Jesus with their families and neighbors. I hope to come along for the ride.
7. What new things will I need to learn?
A lot, I'm sure. How to change a tire. How to ride a manual moto. How to find my way around rural roads and villages that all look similar to me right now. What to do when my home is visited by a biting gecko or a vicious centipede or even (shudder) a snake. How to grocery shop for a month at a time. I'm going to be spending a lot of time in farming communities, and I can barely pick a mango or remember the word for "plough." My Khmer speaking will definitely need to improve as I'll have a lot more conversation time, and I hope to get better at understanding the PV dialect. I have a feeling next year will also stretch me spiritually and teach me new things about myself. I'm expecting a lot of growth opportunities!
|Sometimes visitors do you a favor and eat each other. Photo credit: Holly Ferguson.|
8. What will I do for fun?
One thing I'm excited about is the scenery - PV has more "mountains" (OK, foothills at least) than most of Cambodia. There are day trips in the area to waterfalls, a sort of lake, etc. During my summer there, I often had fun cooking Western food like tacos with help from my Khmer friends, who have mad kitchen skills (homemade tortillas? better than mine!) and flexible taste buds. We also played a lot of Nerts, a card game, so I'd like to stock up on card/board games that don't require a lot of English. Dorm activities included regular aerobics classes and dance parties. Cambodians in general are good at sitting around chatting without needing a lot of structured activities. I've always been an avid reader and have recently gotten into songwriting, two hobbies that are portable and can be done in solitude. (Though I'd love to try partnering with Cambodians to write a song in Khmer!) I'll be 2 1/2 hours from Siem Reap, a popular destination for my Phnom Penh friends as well as international visitors, so I'm expecting to spend some weekends there. There are many options, and who knows what else I'll discover?
9. Will I feel ready to move?
My US visits have ranged from three weeks to two years, and I've never felt fully "ready" to say goodbye to my family. So even though this trip (4.5 months) is longer than the last few, I'm sure my return will be bittersweet. Plus I'm nervous about all these unknowns. But I'm already excited and hoping to feel recharged and ready to jump in come January. I've felt drawn to PV since my first visit in 2016 and have wondered what it would be like to make it my home. Here's my chance.
10. Will I be OK?
There are so many ways to define "OK"-ness and so few guarantees about what next year holds. I don't think next year will always be comfortable or straightforward, though I do think I'll have a good group of people rooting for and helping me.
This quote keeps coming to mind: