We (my team members and I) landed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on August 28 a little after 10 PM. Upon stepping out of the airplane, I could instantly feel the drastic difference in the air; the humidity was no joke. The reality was that we were no longer in NC. Everything was completely different - the air, the people, the traffic, the language. I had one culture shock after another. What I couldn't get over was the fact that we were actually here; we were finally in Cambodia. Each of us had been waiting for this opportunity (some longer than others). I know for certain that our team leader, Grace, had been waiting for this day since the last time she left eight years ago.
The first thing we all noted was the humidity. It didn't take much for sweat to start forming on my face... my ENTIRE body felt sticky. You think NC weather is humid? Wait 'til you step into Cambodia. I promise you, it does not compare. However, despite the humidity, I don't recall anyone complaining much about it. I mean we all took turns saying that it was humid, but none of us seemed to have let that fact affect our attitude or the overall mood of our team. The important thing was that we finally landed in Phnom Penh and we had arrived safely without much problem at all (well... except for the fact that I put 4 tubes of toothpaste in my carry on and got it taken away in Korea.. my bad).
Settling down in our hotel rooms was a bit of a struggle. We had about 20 bags/suitcases of luggage we needed to take to the 7th floor. Thankfully, we had help from the hotel staff and our team members to help unload the luggage from our van, stuff them into an elevator, make a few trips up and down the hotel, and get our things into our rooms. Whew, we had so much stuff (considering that each bag was almost 50 pounds... the trips up and down the hotel was no easy business).
The next morning, on August 29, we had breakfast at the hotel and we left right away to Phnom Penh's newly built mall. The mall was huge... to put it into perspective, it was about twice the size of Crabtree Mall (a two story mall in Raleigh, NC). There were a total of three or four floors. Each floor had a variety of stores... some of which were of American and Korean brands (this includes Puma, Adidas, Skin Food, LG, Sony, Tous Les Jours, etc). As nice as the mall was, I felt strange being in it. Yes, the mall appears to be a comfort location since there are many such buildings in the US, but the odd thing was, this mall was completely out of place. Right outside the mall, maybe within a mile or two mile radius, there is the undeveloped side of Phnom Penh - outdoor markets, dirt roads, trash piles, and a distinct stench in the streets.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not at all hating on Cambodia. In fact, I actually LOVE it here. Despite the fact that Cambodia is an underdeveloped third world country, I find peace and comfort in living here. During the few days I've been living in both Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, I made a mental list of observations about my surroundings (none of them are in any particular order):
The last bullet point brings me to my next topic: education. As you all may know, I am going to be a first grade teacher at Life School in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The importance of teachers does not really have much affect on the Cambodia people (generally speaking). Why? Let me take you through a brief history lesson.
From 1975 - 1976, Pol Pot, a leader of a communist party (The Khmer Rouge) in Cambodia, took over the country, overthrew the emperor, and ruled over the Cambodian people. Under his rule, Pol Pot declared that educated people were a threat to his throne, so as a result, the Khmer Rouge Regime took place. This was the mass genocide of the Cambodian people; over 2 million people were murdered. Anyone who was, sounded, or even looked educated were taken into concentration camps, interrogated, tortured, and then ultimately killed. According to Robert D. Kaplan, "eyeglasses were as deadly as the yellow star" as they were seen as a sign of intelligence. This dark era is commonly associated with the term Killing Fields and the prison, Tuol Slang, which became widely known for mass killings. Because of this mass genocide, many Cambodian people (not speaking for all Cambodians) today are uneducated and do not know why it is important to have an education... many people assume that there is no other life other than the labor work that they already do. Hence, since basically all educated people were killed no one could really educate the rest of those who survived, which led to little value in education.
A few days ago, on the same day we visited the mall, my team members and I were given the opportunity to visit the notorious prison, Tuol Slang. I didn't know what to expect. Honestly, I wasn't expecting to be as impacted as I did when I walked out of the prison. I was absolutely horrified and traumatized. The most twisted concept of it all was the fact that the prison was actually an old school building... which was supposed to symbolize a safe place for students to seek refuge. The first building we walked through broke me. In the middle of each room was a wire bed frame; they were old, rusted, and blackened. Some even had dents in them. The wall of almost every room contained a photograph of a deceased, decayed body that was at one point a living being, tortured and murdered in the room... that fact really shook my core. The photographs were slightly hazy, but still very much real and graphic. By the time we reached the third or fourth room, I mentally lost it. My stomach was already churning and tense to start with and my body was hunched over as my arms pressed across my chest, my fingers gripping the straps of my book bag (I'm pretty sure I left nail indents in the palms of my hands). I couldn't control the sobs coming out of my mouth nor the tears flooding out of my eyes. I was a complete mess - a broken faucet spewing out water in all directions. It took my entire willpower to stay under control and not fall to the ground in front of everyone (yeah, I sound like a drama queen, but this experience took a huge emotional toll on me).
The second building contained most of the pictures documenting the Khmer Rouge. There were endless photographs of all the deceased victims. I saw photos of young boys and girls. I saw photos of middle aged women and men. I saw photos of elderly people. I couldn't grasp the fact that ALL of these people were brutally killed in cold, merciless blood. After seeing all those photos, I physically and mentally could not go through the remaining buildings. The horror and reality of this was too tremendous for me to handle. I couldn't understand how such an atrocity could have taken place. How heartless, cruel, and evil for another human being to do that to another human being. And to think that this happened only 40 years ago and that these atrocities still happen around the world. My heart was literally broken... going through this experience gave me reason to be more compassionate and loving towards the Cambodian people. I will never forget this day. I may have not gone through all of the buildings, but it didn't take much for me to be heavily impacted and broken for these people.
I still have much to learn about the culture, language, and lifestyle in Cambodia, but as of now, I feel at peace and nearly worry free about living here. Despite the fact that I still know so little, I have a strong feeling that I will adjust well and grow to love this place more and more. The peace that I have comes not from myself, but from God alone. When I think about surviving in Cambodia and teaching my students for my own glory under my own accord, I panic and become very distressed. However, when I think about doing my absolute best to bring Him praise and glorifying Him through all that I do, I really am filled with a joy and peace that I can't explain. These next 11 months are definitely going to be challenging, but I know they will be worth it.
Thanks for reading to the end. I put a lot of thought and care into writing this post.
After staying in Korea for about 5 days, we packed all our bags again and flew into Cambodia on August 28!
Thank God we had no trouble with visa, luggage, or health!
Please pray for us as we travel to Sihanoukville today. It is a 4-5 hour drive. But we'll finally see the school and settle into our dorm rooms tonight!
Longer update to come!
August 21, 2014. Where has time gone?! It seems it was only yesterday that I had turned in my Cambodia application. I know I can't speak for individual team members when I say this, but preparing to leave has been quite a roller coaster ride. We each had different challenges throughout this process. However as a whole, we've also shared many moments through bonding, growing, and adapting. Each of us have experienced something different, but overall, we grew together as ONE team and ONE body in Christ. Since the time we each committed to go to Cambodia until this very moment, the day we depart America, we have gone through several different stages of preparation: spiritual training, team bonding, and organizing. Going into this mission trip, I had no idea how much work went into the preparation process. Every detail counts. Preparation is key to ready our hearts, mind, and body for what we will face in Cambodia. I'm sure even if we were ill-prepared, God would use us... but to what extent? Even now, we aren't fully prepared; no one can ever be 100% prepared. However, we have tried our best to ready ourselves and we are going into the mission field knowing God is leading the way.
A huge part of our preparation process was through Open Gate. Open Gate was a summer academic camp that each of us was a part of; Grace Choi was the "headmaster", Sally Han was a substitute teacher, Sarah Park was a 3rd grade reading teacher, and I was a reading teacher as well. Although each of us had a different role, we all worked towards the same goal: to work in a way that would provide the best care for the students, parents, and each other. In order for the camp to succeed, we all needed to flourish in each of our roles as a principal, teacher, or substitute. Through the difficulties we encountered during camp, we all learned to either change or adapt to the situations. We also learned to adapt to each other. Not one of us was left to struggle alone; we managed to have continuous communication with one another throughout Open Gate and the preparation process. Through the camp, we each took away a different learning experience that ultimately made our team unite and grow as one unit.
Alongside Open Gate, we also went through a series of spiritual training. For certain, we all can agree that the spiritual training portion of the preparation process has given each of us time for self reflection and reflecting on where we each stood in our relationship with God. Lessons we had each learned in the past were re-learned. Although certain points on topics such as love and holiness seemed like common sense, we each realized how much we had put in the back of our minds and how much more we needed to be in Christ. Each week, we reflected on a new topic in the ways of God: Supremacy of God, His love, Sovereignty of God, and Holiness of God. Through each topic, each of us had been able to open up and share our personal experiences about our relationship with God.
To say preparing for Cambodia was an easy matter, I would be lying. Throughout the last couple of months, I have struggled immensely within myself. At times, I've wanted to give up because the feeling of being attacked emotionally, physically, and spiritually was made bigger in my mind than God. When I took things into my own hands, I found myself drowning in misery. However, when God was put into control over my life, I had never felt more peace and reassurance about the decision to go to Cambodia. Each of us has struggled in our own ways and battled internal wars of our own. However, in the end, God was (and still is) bigger than all that we had faced and with that, I can confidently say that we are at peace and ready to start a new chapter of our lives in Cambodia. The future is a mystery, but through thick and thin, God is and will be sovereign over all things.
"Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all" 1 Chronicles 29:11-12
My name is Sally Han and I was born in Los Angeles, California on February 21st of 1992. In 1998, our family moved to High Point, North Carolina so that my father could attend Seminary school. My father is the Senior Pastor of our church in High Point, called Korean Presbyterian Church of Greensboro, and my mother is a piano teacher in addition to being Pastor's Wife. My whole life I spent going to church and learning about Jesus Christ. By God's merciful grace, I was blessed with wonderful parents who taught me about God's love. Therefore, I loved going to church and I loved being there. To me, church was always like my second physical home. For me, the role of being a Pastor's Kid (PK) was second nature to me. It was almost like a part of my identity. I could not imagine myself not being a PK nor could I imagine my life without God.
Although my father is a Pastor and my mother is Pastor's Wife, I know that my parents' faith cannot insure my salvation. By the grace of God in 2005, when I was in 8th grade, I accepted Jesus Christ into my life. Our youth group went to JAMA (Jesus Awakening Movement for America) Conference in Dallas, Texas and it was there that I met Jesus Christ personally. I knew in my own heart that Jesus Christ was my Personal Savior and Lord of my life. Then in 2007, I was baptized and I confessed in front of the
congregation that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord; and I became a born-again Christian. My testimony is not extravagant like some people's. To be honest, I was a good kid who obeyed my parents, who was nice to everyone, who worshipped and prayed to God. I did not have a huge rock-bottom moment that led me back to God. However, now looking back on my life, I believe it is a blessing from God and not by my
own deeds that I was able to have a life like mine: having loving parents and a great
younger brother whom I love and being able to know Jesus Christ and go to church
without being persecuted for my faith.
I first heard of this mission trip to Cambodia at VM when they announced it in the fall of 2013. I had just started my senior year at UNC-Chapel Hill. At the time, and it is still true now, my dream was to work for the United Nations and help especially with human trafficking prevention. Cambodia did not stand out to me in particular because I was still in school and I thought afterwards I would go straight into graduate school. However, after leaving VM during my last semester of college to serve at my home church, I was given the opportunity to hear about Cambodia one more time at Graduate Night at VM. When Pastor Jacob was talking about Cambodia, right then in my head I could not help but think, "I wonder if it is too late for me to go..." It was very odd of me to think that all of a sudden because before then I had not even thought about Cambodia, let alone think about going. But God works in amazing ways. As soon as I thought that in my head, Pastor Jacob said, "It's not too late to go." I was pretty shocked. It was like he read my mind. But I know it was God who answered my question.
That is the beginning of my long, internal battle with myself. "Should I go to Cambodia? Is this what God is telling me to do? Am I just making this up in my head?" Truthfully, what was really holding me back was my doubt. I doubted my own motives. I knew this was a mission and I knew how serious I should take it. Therefore, I did not want to just go because I did not have a job lined up yet or because of other selfish reasons. So, naturally, in order to avoid my selfishness, I wrote off Cambodia as a "no". However, God kept bringing up Cambodia to me in my thoughts and through close people in my life.
I went to Cambodia for the first time in 2006. At that time, I had no vision for my life. I was only 23 years
old and it was my first mission trip. Afterwards I felt the longing to go back. Many people have that
feeling after a mission trip; they miss the kids, the foods, the experience. So they always say “I want to
go back next year. I want to go back again”. However most of the time, it’s short-lived. But for me, it was
different. The longing to go back was a deeper calling.
I went back to Cambodia three times after that, leading a different mission team each time. And I kept
feeling a stronger conviction to come back and serve in a bigger way. I realized that 2~3 week short term mission trips didn’t make as big of a difference. I wanted to be used in a bigger way, in a bigger capacity.
It was then that God gave me the vision for education. I had been teaching for a long time in many
different ways, but I never considered it as a career. However God showed me that He was the one who gave me the gift of teaching and leadership, and that He wanted to use me in the field of education. In
order to better prepare myself for this calling, I decided to apply to graduate school. In 2011, through
God’s grace, I earned my Master’s degree in International Educational Development from Columbia
This year, when I heard that our church was preparing to send a small group of missionaries to
Cambodia, I thought to myself, “Has my time come? Is this the opportunity I’ve been waiting for?” So I
started to pray intentionally (작정기도) for that one thing. I came to church every morning at 8AM for
over a month praying specifically for direction. Of course in my heart, I wanted to go right away, but I
did not want to go to Cambodia on my own accord. I believed that it is crucial to wait for God’s timing
and calling when going on missions. I had waited this long, and I was not about to mess up God’s plan
and timing because of my own impatience.
But thankfully, I felt the Lord confirming that this was indeed the opportunity I was waiting for. I felt the
Holy Spirit giving me peace about this decision. I have no doubt in my mind and am fully confident that
God is sending me to Life International School and He will be with me every step of the way.
I am very excited to go back to Cambodia. It has been 5 years since I’ve been there; 7 years since I’ve
been to Life School. But I still kept in touch with the Cambodian students and friends I had met there.
They always asked me when I was coming back to see them and do ministry with them again... and I
always had to answer carefully, “When God sends me... if it is His will”. But finally, now I can say, “I will
see you soon! God answered our prayers!” Thank you Lord for sending me back to Cambodia.
Soli Deo Gloria!
It was the beginning of freshman year in college when I lost my connection with God. This relationship that took more than half of my life to build, disintegrated within a couple of months. I could not understand why something so righteous could fall so easily. Once my faith started to weaken, questions started to accumulate. I began doubting His creation, His will, and even His power; but the most shameful thought that came across my mind was questioning His love for me. Over and over again, God speaks of His sovereign love for His people. It is shown through His scripture, and it reflects through His children. Even His voice is engraved within His creation, but because I was so caught up with my worldly views and recycled temptations, I could not witness His presence. I became spiritually dead, and I began to fear for the path that I was starting to follow. I became desperate and scared, so I started to pray. I wasn't aware of how powerful the Holy Spirit was until that day when I was so broken, kneeling before Him. At that point, there was no way I could doubt His existence. That was when I felt God's calling to go to Cambodia. I knew I wasn't the only person who was struggling with my faith. There are so many of His children lost, and so many who have yet to witness His love, but nobody to awaken them. If I hold the knowledge of God's presence and can hold His words in my hands, I want to share them with people who are willing to open their ears and listen to the words He desperately wants them to hear. I look forward to the day of Revelations when we will join together to glorify
God's name in one voice. So I ask, why not start now?
My Reason to go to Cambodia
Ever since I was a high school student, I’ve wanted to go overseas to do missions. Of course, I did not know when or even where that would happen, but I knew I wanted that to be a part of my future. Throughout the many years I’ve attended FKBC, I have seen various groups of missionaries from our church being sent out to China, Philippines, Cambodia, and Mexico. When I watched these people go off to serve in other countries, I started to form a desire to do the same. My heart went out to the people living overseas who did not yet know Christ. The life I live in America is so comfortable and I see the many blessings that God has given me in my day to day life. I live such a privileged life here… and I know that there are people that are across the world who don’t have that kind of life.
Last summer, in July of 2013, I had the opportunity to go on a short term mission trip with a team of 50 people to Yucatan, Mexico. During my time there, I was able to experience a glimpse of the kind of life the native people lived on an everyday basis. The people I encountered lived in homes that were literally made of the forest that they lived around. Their homes consisted of wood, dirt, leaves, and whatever resources they had. I had always seen these kinds of situations through the Internet or tv, but I never was able to see and experience it physically. I was blown away by how different our lives were. And, I was even more blown away by how these people have grown to appreciate the life that they lived. God had blessed these people despite their living situation. I realized that it does not matter where you live and what kind of situation you are going through because through those things, God will bless those who seek after Him and He will be faithful to His people.
With that in mind, I knew more than ever that I wanted to go out and serve Him. I realized that this life that I have is not about the “American dream”. It’s not about living comfortably or having a “privileged life”. My main mission is to follow God’s calling - to serve Him, to witness, to go out! All the doors leading to the decision of going to Cambodia opened for me. God allowed me to take this opportunity and I knew in my heart that this was the path to take. Before going to Cambodia, I know I still have much room for spiritual growth and discipline, but I also know that God has placed me into a community of sisters and brothers in Christ who are here to support me and help me in my journey of growth. I’m so thankful for this church and for those who have encouraged me to be bold. I do not know what this year will bring… Maybe I will encounter enormous hardships, but I know that God is greater than anything that could come my way. I trust that I will be fine and that He will be glorified in the end.