The chanting died away in the background and gave way to a mournful crying wail interrupted by fireworks. This was a Buddhist funeral service, a completely new and foreign experience to me. Yet it turned out to be one of the most impactful moments during my student missionary year. Knowing that “we sorrow not as others who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13) means very little until we have seen how those who have no hope sorrow.
From August 2019 to August 2020, I lived in Cambodia, working as a student missionary and teaching English to grade-schoolers at Adventist Frontier Missions’ Ponong project. The teaching part was not my favorite. All the other adventures, however, made my time there worth it.
I learned all kinds of things in Cambodia, besides how to teach English as a second language. I learned how to make and lay bricks. I learned to ride a small motorcycle, and all about picking, roasting and shelling cashews (a fascinating, long and tedious process). And I learned a few words from another language.
Living in another country is both fun and scary; it is exciting and wearisome at the same time. There are new places to explore and sights to see. There are elephants to ride and temples to tour, but at the same time there is much more responsibility and some dangers, along with homesickness.
For all the wonderful and inspirational things we hear about pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, pretty much none of us enjoy that push-out. It is uncomfortable, shocking, or simply unpleasant… But it is worth it!
It’s impossible to do something like an SM year and not be impacted in too many ways to count. When you sit in the homes of new believers watching them throw away every thread of protection they have ever known and see them shakingly place their faith entirely in Christ, it has the power to change you. It changes the way you look at the world, at evangelism, and at other people groups. When you visit their houses—nothing more than a hut the size of my bedroom—see how little they live with, and eat their rice… your worldview will never be quite the same again.
The student missionary experience helped shape who I am, gave me an incredible amount of confidence, and helped me become more interested in missions. I can’t imagine living the normal life I lived before ever again. In a way, that’s why I started my current volunteer job with FARM STEW international.
As I left that Buddhist funeral, my heart ached for my friends. Swerving my moto around potholes in the dark on the way home, I cried out to God, “Why? Why did you give me all this abundance of blessings and truth, and so many of your children still know nothing of this gospel? How unfair is this?!” It was one of those turning points when I realized that I would be a missionary forever.
May I ask you this question: how much have you been blessed with that so many do not have? How unfair is it that you sit here enjoying all the blessings of your privileged home while others die without hope? Why not go as a missionary for a year or so?
If you have not thought about that before, I invite you to start thinking about it, and if you have thought about it, then maybe it’s time to start taking steps in that direction. There is no one whom God has not called (Matt. 28:18).
There is someone out there waiting to hear the gospel from you, the way only you can tell it (Rom.10:14,15). The world is filled with unreached people groups waiting for you, and the world is fast approaching the end; now is the time to reach them.
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me’” (Isa. 6:8).
Karissa Ziegler is a volunteer with FARM STEW International who lives in Paonia, Colorado.