INTERVIEWS | Tess Holgate
Saturday 2 January 2016
At the end of November, a group of teenagers and young adults aged 14-23 boarded a plane to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia for a two week mission experience with Bible Society Australia.
Grace George, a 19-year-old university student from New Zealand, was among the team, and Eternity caught up with her about the trip.
Why did you go on this mission trip?
I have been to Cambodia before, and this was my fourth time going back. The main reason I wanted to go was my love of Cambodia, the people and the culture, and I also have a real heart for mission.
What did you do in Cambodia?
Basically, we went out to villages and met kids and churches and visited the literacy programs.
We would do one village in the morning, and one in the afternoon for a number of days. That [schedule] was quite challenging because it was a long journey out there, it was really hot, we were all tired cause we had the early morning, and we had this massive bag of all of our things for the performance, and things to give away and various all sorts.
And once we got there and saw the conditions that these people lived in—there were little shacks, and a lot of the time mud and rubbish everywhere, there were these feral dogs running around, and then the humidity and the heat on top of that—it was just really overwhelming to your senses.
But then, you get to meet the people and see their smiley faces and smiles can just turn your world upside down and it did in this circumstance because you were there and you were able to see all the kids. Kids are such a delight and it’s no different in Cambodia. These kids just smiled and they laughed at our really lame jokes and our really poor acting when we were doing the Christmas drama and it just made all the difference.
What is life like in the villages?
In the villages, sometimes the church was a little shack with a straw roof, and sometimes it was a building but it was a person’s house as well but it also worked as a literacy class, so it had all these different functions. It reiterated to myself the immense privilege we have [in the West]. We have a home, a church, a school; all these different buildings in separate places, separate communities we can go to, but they just have this one hub where all the life was at and where all the people gathered around.
I love the sense of community they have. One of the things I’m always challenged by when I go over there – but particularly this time – is the lack of community we have in comparison.
So even though they had this one building, this central location, all the people from the village would gather around there and would interact with the people there, it was a real communal spirit that existed.
I find, particularly where I live, I don’t even know my next door neighbours and that saddens me, because we live in our own little individualistic bubbles and we don’t branch out to other people.
When you’re in Cambodia you just do, it’s almost as if there’s a shift in you in that if you’re walking down the street you wave at people, and interact with the people in the villages, you just talk to them freely, whereas in these developed nations that we live in there’s almost a bit of resistance to open up to others. But what I loved on this trip was just that freedom and openness to share with others, and share their faith predominantly, so we’d walk up to strangers and pray for them.
How have you been encouraged in your faith?
I think one of the fundamental things that I’ll hold on to forever from this experience is the fact that I have so many awesome brothers and sisters all around the world.
We often talk about Jesus being the vine and we’re the branches, he’s the head and we’re the body, and all these different beautiful analogies, but we often forget to have that perspective as we’re living.
And so when we were in Cambodia with all these different people, a lot of whom didn’t speak our language, it was really cool to have that knowledge that even though we can barely communicate, we’re still connected because we’re united in Christ and we’re brothers and sisters despite language or cultural barriers.
I think I’ll always hold on to that because having that mindset creates that connection with you and someone else, even a complete stranger. Knowing you’re both Christians gives you that sense of unity together and that’s a really beautiful thing.
How has your faith been challenged?
I was challenged in the sense of obeying God. So often the Holy Spirit can prompt us and we can refuse to obey it, or just ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen.
But as I was in Cambodia, he would tell me crazy things, like “pray for that person,” or “say this word to a person,” or “give something to someone,” and to me it made no sense, but when I did it and I was obedient to Him and had the response from the other person, I realised that was such a God thing, He wanted to encourage another person through me.
It is quite astounding that he uses someone like me, who often feels so inadequate at times, to be able to bless and encourage others. So that was a massive challenge for me, to not only be obedient when I’m on mission, in such an amazing place having all these wonderful experiences, but to also be obedient to him in my day to day mundane routine life.