Last weekend, I said goodbye to the village where I’ve lived for the last year.
The whole week, I’d led week of prayer for the members. Some didn’t come, but some did, and we had a great week learning about trees, and reading different Bible stories comparing people to trees. And of course, we prayed, asking God to help us be like these examples. We started by learning about the fig tree that Jesus cursed. Fig trees start growing fruit first, then leaves. It was not the season for figs, and most trees were leafless and dry; but this one tree had leaves. Thus, even though it was not the season, because it had the sign of fruit, it should have had the fruit. Jesus was hungry and went to look… and nothing. The tree was empty. And Jesus cursed the tree as an example to the disciples, of how important it is to not just be Christians on the outside, but to bear fruit: to be Christians in our hearts. The second night we read a few verses from Psalm 1, describing the opposite situation of that represented by the cursed tree. We can be like trees, planted by rivers of water, which bear big, beautiful fruit. We just need to be planted close to Christ, to be connected to Him, making prayer an ever-present part of our lives.
The next night we discussed the huge variety of trees in the world. Some, like papaya and mangoes, grow very well in the heat and humidity of the Cambodian lowlands. Others, like avocados, do better in the slightly cooler climate of the hills. Other trees, like apples, can’t grow in Cambodia at all, but thrive in the dry, dynamic climate of some parts of the USA. Some types of trees don’t grow fruit at all, but serve to provide shade, places for birds to nest, or medicine to help us when we’re sick. People, likewise, all have gifts from God, but those gifts, the callings God gives us, vary as dramatically as the trees… and yet as long as we’re following His calling, we’re just as important to His work.
The last night, we talked about what happens when a tree dies. Are they still useful, or is their usefulness gone? One of the church members observed that some trees are useful after death, some aren’t. Maybe the ones that are useful are like the people who follow God, he said. We discussed how many trees become fertilizer for new trees to grow. I told them about the Lodgepole Pine in America, which has cones that cannot open and drop their seeds except in the extreme heat of a forest fire. And so the very thing that brings death to the trees, is necessary to bring new life. We discussed Stephen, whose death apparently made a great impression on Saul, the persecutor, who later became Paul, the great evangelist. Would Saul have made the decision to follow Jesus, if he hadn’t had the influence of Stephen’s death? Maybe. But I think it’s likely he wouldn’t have.
We reviewed all of this on Sabbath and I closed by giving a word picture of heaven, and a request for all of them to meet me there. They know the sacrifices they must make, but some of them are struggling in their faith. Pray for them.
After church and a potluck dinner, I took one of the aunties who doesn’t have a moto, home. She got off the moto, a little more sober than her usually ultra-outgoing self. “You’re leaving tomorrow?” “Yes.” “I’ll miss you,” she said. “You won’t forget me?” “No,” I assured her. “I couldn’t.” She said goodbye and then ran up the stairs into her house so I wouldn’t see her cry.
In the evening, we gathered all the kids in the church, as well as a lot of the neighbor kids, for a last kids’ program. We sang together, old Khmer kids’ songs, as well as one that I’d taught them. I told a Bible story, we played games, lit sparklers, and took a break to take a picture with the sunset. Then we cracked glow sticks and prayed together to close, just as it started pouring rain. A lot of them came to hug me and say goodbye, before running to their dry homes.
The next morning, I moved out. My landlord, another church member who lives in a house next to mine, stayed to say goodbye instead of going to her rice field. And with that, my incredible time with them was over.
I will miss them a lot. But God’s not done. They’re still struggling, but He’s got them. Let’s continue to pray for them, and I can’t wait to introduce you to them soon. ❤️