Missionary Diary: Fumbling through another day at the whistle's call

Maurice and Amanda are halfway through their first term serving in Cambodia with the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Their main focus is on learning the Khmer language, and hope that in the future, they will begin teaching in that language at Elim Bible College.

“Do your trees grow roosters?” It’s only 4:30am and still dark outside. I don’t want to get out of bed yet, but I can’t help but smile when I hear the many roosters in our part of the village begin their morning routine of calling back and forth to each other, and I remember this comment made by a friend who stayed with us a few months ago. He was from the city, and after spending a relatively sleepless night due to all the strange sounds in the countryside, the first words he spoke when he got out of bed were, “Do your trees grow roosters? How many roosters do you have out here?”.

I lie there for a little longer, then I fumble my way out of the mosquito net that enshrouds our bed and make my way downstairs for a shower. It’s relatively cool here at the moment, and I’m not looking forward to the buckets of cold water I’m about to splash over my head, but I know I’ll feel better afterwards. (Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of fresh water in abundance.)

We’re just two sheep farmers from Tassie – what would we know about growing rice in the tropics?

This is waking up at Elim Bible College in rural Cambodia. My husband and I arrived here only a few months ago, after first spending time in the city acquiring some Khmer language. The college is a live-in campus, with six Khmer staff (three couples), 17 current students, and my husband and me.  Each couple have their own home – a ‘Queenslander-style’ open wooden home on stilts. The students share smaller, modest wooden huts – the girls’ huts lined up on one side of the campus, and the boys on the other. We have been placed here through the Church Missionary Society (CMS) to serve the college mainly as agricultural consultants, which is a bit of a stretch as we’re just two sheep farmers from Tassie – what would we know about growing rice in the tropics? (Please, Lord, teach us the things we need to be useful to you here.)

As I finish my shower, the whistle blows – the whistle is our timer here, not clocks or alarms, but the whistle. It blows to tell us to get out of bed and shower; it blows a few minutes later to call us to morning jobs; it calls us to meals, to class, and to worship – everything is done to the whistle. When we arrived in Cambodia last year, the country had just gone into its first COVID lockdown, and we were quarantined in a hotel for 14 days. I remember joking with my husband that we had become a modern-day Pavlov’s dog experiment – the only excitement to come into our day was when we heard the elevator door ‘bing’ and we knew food was coming! And it’s a bit like that for us here at Elim too – we hear that whistle and react to its call.

The students walk softly from their huts along darkened pathways to the dining area, where they will all be assigned a morning chore. Chores vary from day to day, depending on what’s happening around the college grounds. Sometimes it’s pruning the mango trees or chopping firewood for the kitchen stoves, or painstakingly picking through our rice supply to remove tiny stones or poisonous seeds. Today, though, we have two truckloads of gravel dumped at the gateway of the college to be used to fix our potholes. We’re divided into teams – some shovel the gravel into the trailer, some pull the trailer oxen-style and others wait along the road to shovel it out again. It’s hard work, but with everyone working together, the load is shared, and the sound of joking and laughing fills the early morning air. (Thank you, Lord, for the young men and women you’ve called here to learn how best to serve you.)

A day in the life of a missionary is a day in the life of an ordinary person, made useful by an extraordinary God.

After an hour’s labour, we wash quickly and go in for breakfast. This morning it’s fried fish and rice; it’s always rice here, three meals a day. After breakfast, we shower again and change for chapel and then class starts. I attend the classes as a student to help me with my language learning. We’ve been here a year and a half now, but today as I sit in class, it feels like it could be my first day! I’m swamped by a lot of vocabulary I don’t know; I studied the wrong chapter before class and now I feel completely lost, and then the teacher asks me a question. I know this because all eyes are on me, but I have no idea what she asked. (Please, Lord, help me to gain enough language to be useful to you here.)

The rest of the day passes in a blur, but as I sit and write this, I’m reminded of the constant reassurance I have of the Lord’s presence with us here. My dependence on him is reflected in those small prayers throughout the day, one minute praising, the next pleading, but always confident of being heard. A day in the life of a missionary is a day in the life of an ordinary person, made useful by an extraordinary God.