This story took place last year, and I wrote it down this last June, a few weeks before leaving Cambodia. Re-reading it still makes me emotional, and I pray it’s as much a blessing to you as it was to me.
“Teacher, what is it? What day is it??” Sreyleng asked, excitedly. I already knew what day it was– her birthday! She had told me several weeks before when it would be, and I had kept track. But I had a plan, and so for the moment, I played dumb. “Huh? It’s Monday!” “No, teacheeeerrrr!! What happens today?” But just then it was time to move on the next part of the lesson, and I delayed answering her question.
A few minutes later, the students were working on another activity in their books. Sreyleng finished early, and after a series of pointed looks, she began pestering me again. “What is today, Teacher??” I pretended again not to know. She gave up asking, though the looks continued. But I think she was losing hope that I remembered her special day.
My students enjoyed playing games at the end of class, when we had extra time. One favorite was Hangman, a classic word/spelling game that you may be familiar with. On this day I made sure we had extra time, and then as usual, I picked a couple of students to direct the game, writing correct letters in their proper places and completing the hangman when wrong letters were called. The two came to the front, and after telling them to be quiet, I pointed to my computer screen, where I had typed the phrase for the hangman: “Happy Birthday Sreyleng!” They both covered their mouths, trying to keep from laughing, one involuntarily glancing her direction. They started leading the game, big smiles on their faces.
It took a few minutes, but as the blanks started filling with correct letters, and the phrase was nearing completion, Sreyleng suddenly started looking at it a little more closely, puzzled. I distinctly remember the moment that she recognized the note being written, for her, and a huge smile spread across her face. Her teacher hadn’t forgotten her birthday after all!!
After that, we all sang Happy Birthday to her, and I closed class with prayer. I handed out my teaching supplies to several students to help me carry back to my office, something they loved to do. They all came and left again, except Sreylee. Several minutes later she still hadn’t come with my laptop, and I returned to the classroom. Sreylee still sat at her desk, a little cluster of girls around her. They saw me come in, and said, “teacher, Sreylee cry. Sreylee happy!” It was true. She was beaming. Teacher hadn’t forgotten!
Of all the moments of my two years teaching, that is perhaps the most special to me. I’m not a teacher this year, but I still pray for Sreylee often. Soon I’ll have to say goodbye to her and my other students indefinitely, as I return to America at the end of this month. But I pray that someday I’ll get to stand beside her, both our faces beaming, hers and mine, as we look up and see our God coming and realize that He hasn’t forgotten us, either. ❤️