In December of 2017, I was blessed with the opportunity to give my time, effort, and eagerly excited heart to serve in Cambodia. We spent two weeks in Phnom Penh serving the community. The Hope Volunteer Corps (HVC) in Cambodia was the second international trip I’ve joined with HOPE worldwide. Looking back, it had been an amazing experience - working hand-in-hand with the other participants and with the locals. As someone who has grown up in a neighbouring South East Asian country, I see the resemblance in how open and eager the culture is towards those lending a helping hand, albeit I do understand that we can’t compare (especially considering that spending only about two weeks, we’re barely scratching the surface!). The main bulk of our time was spent at a local primary school on the border of Cambodia’s capital city, constructing from the ground-up what we hoped would be a functioning toilet for the school of the 250 students. In addition to that, at the school we were also presented with the opportunity to interact with the students both inside and outside the classroom. As someone interested in public health and community development, initially what came to my mind was that this was an amazing experience to contribute to the ongoing hygiene and sanitation programs being implemented across developing nations globally. What I learned from conversing with the locals, and the Cambodian disciples helping to manage the HVC program, was an even darker tone to the project, the school we were to spend our time at was highly disadvantaged due to the crime and drug-induced goings-on during the nights in the area. In addition to that, as a school, necessary basic resources that I have taken for granted such as basic hygiene facilities and running-water were often lacking. This stirred up feelings of injustice and indignation. One thing I did not expect was how we were often greeted with open arms and kisses, and even with language-barriers we were able to understand how grateful the children and community we served were, touching hearts and touching lives through the little contribution we could make.
I was able to see how much all this time, effort, and outpour of love is nothing in comparison to what God has placed into our lives. Even this opportunity for myself to join a HVC was actually a mix of both being terrified of not knowing what it would be like spending two weeks with absolute complete strangers, and the deep butterfly-inducing excitement of spending some little time I can hope to contribute doing what I love most in the world- serving communities in developing countries. Cambodia being one of the countries I had always dreamed of one day being able to volunteer or work in, was a dream come true when I saw the listing of HOPE volunteering sites and programs being held in 2017.
One of the most profound moments I felt God used us on the HVC program was through the day where in small groups, together with staff from the Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE, we were able to join for Homecare visits, hear stories, and give hugs to outpatients living with varying conditions including HIV/AIDS or Tuberculosis. I believe God presented that opportunity for us to mutually impact each other’s lives and show us that love brings warm healing to not just our soul, but to the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. From the HVC I learned that hard work is not just seriousness - God gave us a sense of purpose and joy. I choose to see and believe that He has a greater purpose for all of us. We may not see it from our perspective right now - but God allows his wonderful plans to unfold through the right pieces falling into the right places at the right time.
To me, this verse has always stood as the ground for why I dream of serving local communities. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Not to grow or experience for my own gain, but to hopefully impact lives through the love and care I should always remember came from Christ first. Therefore, evangelising through my actions. One of the greatest motivation to serve on the HVC trip is because I believe that only with pure love in action can a person direct the attention of the people around you to see the extent of God’s love, compassion, and grace.
Having lived in Australia for the past four years, I watch as people drive themselves deeper and deeper into dissatisfaction in their lives. In a society of instant gratification and where every basic need has been provided with ease, it is easy to fall into the traps of self-centeredness and feel hollow. Coming back from the HVC, there continues to be great purpose burning in my heart that if we are to humble ourselves at Jesus’ feet, continue to pray, and seek our purpose in placing God as a priority, He will show us a way. He wants your whole heart, attention, and priority to be placed front and centre on Him. Luke 10:27 says this: “He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'". By making the decision to fulfil those two most important commandments can we then find inner peace and solace. Months after taking the volunteering trip to Cambodia, I still continue to live by the belief that to fully comprehend what love is and how we can continue to love as Jesus does, we ought to live with conviction that we’re accountable to no one but God. To me, to seek righteousness means to live with God as the only person we fully love first - then can the rest of our lives be pieced together to fulfil our life’s destiny. Matthew 6:33 says “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
I honestly did not know what I expected, but one thing I can say - I’m glad to have made friends with the other members of the trip - we’ve grown a community that would bond us forever. I believe one of the greatest reasons the trip could be considered such is a success is due to the great diversity and mix of the participants, with members from varying countries, cultures, and age groups. The humble learning attitude each member brought into giving their all into everything from mundane tasks as pouring cement or brick-laying, to fervent prayers and singing worship songs together, was what made the experience memorable. I want to thank all of them for showing me what it really means to go the extra mile and to dream of a better tomorrow.
For some the prospect of taking a leap outside your comfort zone to serve your whole heart in projects and communities in foreign surroundings may seem daunting, but to me - I believe this may be my calling.
I want to encourage all of you that there are endless opportunities for us to serve and be the pure-hearted servants God calls us to live and love by. Look around - see the needs. Act. Be the light. Impact.
Written by Maydeline Suherlan (Cambodia HVC, 2017)