‘It was a holy discontent. Our supermarkets are full of food!’

Janelle’s story | Waiting on God in Cambodia

“I’m a dietitian. I started off as a researcher but I was always interested in food and nutrition, so I completed a Masters in dietetics. As I studied, I often wondered how I could use my skills, passion and experience in low resource countries and improve the health of a nation.

After finishing my Masters, I found myself working in a clinical setting on the Gold Coast, with people who needed to lose weight. Some clients wanted advice on how to eat less at the buffet on their cruise! I knew there were people in the world without enough to eat, and there I was working with people with too many food choices! I became increasingly frustrated. I think it was a holy discontent.

About this time my husband Scott and I started thinking about working overseas. He ran a tennis coaching business. We didn’t know how it would work out, but with nothing to lose, trusting in God’s will for us, we applied with a Christian mission agency and were accepted to go to Cambodia. We’d never been, but I was pretty keen, imagining that my dietetics background would be really useful, and I could make a bigger difference.

We arrived in Cambodia in 2012 and we started learning language and culture. We loved Cambodia. It was so different and so much fun. Then we moved to a town closer to the rural areas. By then, I’d realised there were significant dietary deficiencies, malnourished kids with stunting and wasting, and most women were anaemic. There were NGOs doing work in nutrition, so I knocked on a few doors, but they didn’t open.

I didn’t know why. I would have loved to help. I kept praying about it. Meanwhile, Scott’s opportunities really took off! He started building a community using tennis, and he began teaching tennis in local schools and villages. It brought kids and youth together. Some of them ended up representing Cambodia in overseas tournaments … and through tennis, the communities welcomed and trusted us. It was amazing! The gospel was being shared and the kids were praying and reading the Bible. Scott was doing what he loved! It was such a privilege to see God’s hand at work through him.

I kept wondering, though, what about me? What have you called me here for, Lord? I cried out to God, reminding him of my passion, and God said ‘not yet’. Four years went by. I slowly realised that it wasn’t about me. It was about God’s plan for our family and the Khmer community. Eventually, I surrendered to him, laying my heart’s desires at his feet, and he gave me a peace in what he’d called me to do, supporting Scott, our children and our ministry.

Then in 2016, unexpected little opportunities started falling in my lap. I was asked to do village talks on healthy eating. Then I was asked to train up locals in nutrition. For the first time, I wasn’t trying to make it happen. God was at work. I was thrilled! Then in 2018, I saw a newspaper article mentioning an Australian uni conducting dietary research in Cambodia. I sent them an email and they immediately offered me a job! They needed an Australian dietitian living in Cambodia, with Khmer language and research experience. It was a perfect fit for me! Amazingly, the work was also able to fund our tennis ministry.

We ended up developing an app that captured the dietary intake of locals. I took thousands of food photos in the market, talked with Khmer friends and weighed portions. I just loved it! When we left Cambodia in 2019, I continued the research in Australia, and last year it turned into a PhD … potentially impacting the long-term health of the Cambodian people. Wow – imagine that! It’s been hard and it’s been humbling. But like it says in Ephesians 3:20, God is able to take our skills and passions and “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

That’s how it’s felt for me. God has worked infinitely beyond my highest prayers and hopes! But I’ve learnt that I have to give up my own ideas and keep laying them at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, here I am, use me as you know best.’”

Janelle’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.

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