This summer MTW intern Caleb Robey ventured out to Angk'jeay Village outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to help missionaries Luke and Sokha Smith with everything from English classes to guitar lessons. Here are some of Caleb’s reflections as he blogged his way through the summer.
As soon as I arrived in the village, I observed one of the main ministries of missionaries Luke and Sokha Smith—English classes, which I would help teach. By 11:00 a.m. students began to pour into the yard to prepare for the noon lessons. Three days a week the Smiths, along with Samuth, the pastoral intern, use the recess hours of public school to host English classes for beginning, intermediate, and advanced speakers.
Why teach English? Well, learning English in Cambodia is like getting a business degree in the U.S. It opens doors for students to pursue further study in college, get good jobs, and support their families. Many students—both Christians and Buddhists—come weekly to learn English at the Smiths’ home. As a result, many in Angk'jeay have become friends of the Smiths, are prepared for better futures, and have been exposed to and put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Tuesdays and Saturdays (yeah, they have school on Saturdays here) I teach fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English classes in the public school. Our hope is that my time in the public school will create an even better relationship between the Smiths’ ministry and the school. Perhaps some students will consider joining the classes at the house.
Volleyball and guitar
To my delight, many days end in playing sports. The students here love sports. They play soccer and basketball, but most of all they enjoy volleyball. Not what you were expecting? I was surprised as well, especially when I was humiliated by students who were substantially smaller than I am. You know what they say: its all fun and games until you're getting spiked by someone who's six inches shorter than you.
Another large part of the Smiths’ ministry to the village is teaching guitar to members of the church. Since Sokha is still in recovery from just having had a baby, I teach these classes (with plenty of tips from her). Apparently Khmer adults and children alike love learning guitar, and it’s fun to teach them.
Sunday at 6:30 a.m.!
Let's talk about Sundays. Can you imagine a world in which church starts at 6:30 a.m.? Who would speak of such things? Cambodians would. Cambodia is hot, and after 10 a.m. the list of things that you want to do in a buttoned-down shirt and khakis is composed of exactly nothing.
Sunday school begins with a decent bit of socializing and playing for the students, and includes some games and activities organized by secondary school students. I often play along, but indiscriminately break the rules, because, as is the case with most things in my life here, I'm only pretending that I actually understand what's happening.
Khmer college students return to teach the Bible
The next part of Sunday school, the Bible lesson, is my favorite. Let me explain why. Luke and Sokha have been in the village for about five years teaching English and Bible classes. Some of their students have graduated from secondary school and, thanks to a discipleship/vocation program, students who are demonstrably committed to the ministry here and capable of attending college have their post-secondary education expenses covered by the project. They then have the chance to attend college in Phnom Penh with hopes of getting jobs that will allow them to support their families, churches, and communities.
Why is this important to Sunday school? Almost every weekend one of those college students makes the two-hour trip back to Angk'jeay to teach the Bible lesson for the children in Sunday school. It is incredible to see the care these students have for their home village and the students who still live here. Many of these students come from families that do not believe in Jesus Christ, but nonetheless they are committed to the church and its work here in Cambodia.
Following the Bible story, we make our way to the front of the Smiths’ home for a time of group worship. The morning is filled with Khmer hymns, liturgical readings, and a sermon, which for the last number of weeks has been given by the church's Cambodian pastoral intern, Samuth.
Samuth became a Christian in a similar ministry to the one here in Angk'jeay. He eventually attended Bible school and decided to pursue pastoral ministry. We have been meeting three times a week to go over some basic English phrases in hopes of building confidence in his language skills. Samuth hopes to start a similar ministry in another village sometime in the future.
A final reflection
This summer served as a beautiful reminder of the transience of life. Christians are not called to be comfortable. This world is broken by sin; we are called to live in that brokenness, to hold our own comfort and interests with open hands, and to place our hope in a future when the brokenness will be no more.
Caleb Robey is a sophomore at the University of Florida studying computer engineering.