As we prepare to leave Cambodia, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the swirl of emotions.
Sadness. Guilt. Pain. Tiredness.
And a list of potential outcomes which I feel I have failed to achieve over these six years.
It’s human nature, this tendency of ours, to focus on people’s outcomes. I understand why and I do it myself – in conversations with others it is much easier, usually much safer, to talk about what we’re doing, the organisation or group we work for or are part of, to use tangible outputs to explain why we are in Cambodia.
It’s easier to talk about these things than to have conversations that poke and prod around our hearts.
I hadn’t been here very long, but long enough to understand that my ideas of ‘helping’ were a bit idealised and often culturally irrelevant, when I met a woman. We went through the usual introductions. Children, yes. Husband, yes. Passport country, a bit of explaining on her part, but then these answers are always interesting in a diversely international community.
Her next question was expected, the script of meeting people is comfortingly predictable: ‘So, what are you doing here in Cambodia?’ But the words that came, forming slowly, tentatively were not part of my usual, predictable answer. ‘I’m not sure that my being in Cambodia has much to do with what I can do for Cambodians. I think it has more to do with how God is transforming me through Cambodia and her people.’
I didn’t know it had a name, this reverse mission that I felt God was doing in my life. Turning on its head my almost arrogant sense I had that we were going to Cambodia to help her.
Sure, our time here hasn’t been a waste at all and we could list of a range of outcomes achieved. But what we hadn’t necessarily expected was the extent God would use Cambodia to work in our lives, and the Cambodian people God would use to teach us about love and generosity and kindness and acceptance and sacrifice and pain and suffering and perseverance and faith. Gifts from people who in the world’s eyes have nothing to give.
Those whom the world has made victims God has chosen to be bearers of good news.
So we will return to Australia with a mental list of outcomes ready for those quick conversations explaining what we’ve been doing these past six years. And in our hearts we will carry a treasury of God’s gifts to us in these years, and eyes and hearts open wide for the ways God will use this next adventure in our lives to continue His transformation.
[detail: Henri Nouwen writes about reverse mission in his book Here and Now: Living in the Spirit. "The poor have a mission to the rich...Those whom the world has made victims God has chosen to be bearers of good news."]