I stick out like a sore thumb. Yes, I am an oddity in Cambodia. I am big and tall; I am light-skinned, and my arms are hairy; I smile and say “Hello” to people, a lot. The other day, I was walking along the street and I greeted a man with the traditional Khmer greeting—hands pressed together just below the chin. He greeted me back. As I walked by he reached out and felt the hair on my arm. I did not skip a beat, I kept walking but inside I was laughing. Most Cambodians have smooth skin. Once, on an earlier trip, a hotel worker stood next to me and rubbed the hair on my arm and laughed. Yesterday as Chantha and I walked along a street not frequented by foreigners, a mother with young children sitting next to her pointed at me for her children to see the strange man.
Cambodian people respond to a smile or a kind gesture. I have watched foreigners, many who are non-conversant and often rude to the locals. Or, on the other extreme foreigners fawn over local religious practices. I am respectful of religious practices, but am not afraid to comment on the hopelessness of ancestor worship or animism. Being a Buddhist country, it is everywhere.
There is a brand new coffee shop near my hotel. This month they are offering a 30% discount in honor of their grand opening. The coffee is good and priced right. The Khmer owner is a nice man, speaks English well, and gave me great service the few times I patronized his shop. Two days ago, during some kind of Chinese religious observance (I asked around, but no one seemed to know what the day was about), I walked into the shop and right in front of the cash register was a religious shrine, complete with two cooked chickens, burning incense, flowers and several stacks of fake money. The incense overpowered the aroma of the coffee.
To top it off, the bakery case was empty. Ignoring the shrine for a moment (Which was difficult), I maneuvered around it to ask the employee “Where are the baked goods?” He said, “It is late, and they are gone.” It was 7:30 AM. I pointed to the sign on the door smiling and said, “You have only been open for 30 minutes!” He looked at me, shrugged and smiled back. I said, in a respectful but firm tone, albeit choked by the incense, “And this altar? Putting it in your store is not a good thing. It is in the way of customers, and If you believe it will bring good luck, you are wrong. It has just brought you bad luck because I will buy nothing today.” Okay, I could have gone a little easier. I could have, or should have been more holy, but I needed a pastry and incense gags me. I am not sure he understood me, anyway.
The language barrier is difficult since many do not speak English and I know only a few words in Khmer such as, “Turn left”, “Turn right”, “Thank you”, “Check please!” “Yes” and “No”. Yesterday, my Khmer/American friends, Mout and Chantha were with me. They speak the language well. I told them I wanted to find a Christian bookstore to see if they have any Christian tracts in Khmer. We found a small hole-in-the-wall store, they had tracts.
The young woman working in the store may have been scared by three big guys walking through the door. I pointed to Chantha and said to her, “Watch him, he steals things.” I do not think she understood, but we all laughed. She was friendly and had the joy of the Lord.
I found a tract which looked good by its cover. It showed Jesus speaking to a woman by a Well. The picture gave away the message inside, but I needed to know what the tract said, since the text was in Khmer. I asked Mout if he would ask the shopgirl to read the tract to him and he could translate for me. That worked well. I liked the message of the tract. It was clear about who is Jesus and that by believing in Him one can have Living Water, everlasting life.
I asked the bookstore girl, “How much are these tracts?” She said “These are free, they are give-aways.” I said, “Oh nice, I will take the entire stack.” She looked shocked and said, “Only one per customer.” I said, “But I want to give them to people, if I only take one, then only one person will hear the gospel.” She replied in a sweet tone yet remaining obedient to what her manager must have told her, “Sorry, only one per customer.” We continued to make a plea for her to give us at least 25 of them. She said she could not because it was only one per customer. Mout said, “She’s a tough one!”
Now the battle was on. Determined to get through to her we needed those tracts, I reached for the ultimate weapon, my wallet and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. “Here, I will give you ten dollars for them.” She didn’t know what to do. She shook her head no. I said, “You can take the money and give it to the people who brought these tracts to your store, as a donation. They will be happy.” This continued for a while.
Poor girl, she was only trying to follow the rules. I told her, “God will forgive you!” She relented and said, “You can have them, but I will not take the money.” Fair enough; this girl has integrity and, thanks to us, tremendous guilt! “Do you have tracts for sale?” She showed me others, and I bought them so the store would have a sale.
This morning I gave my first hard-won tract away. Lyna is a young girl who works in the restaurant of my hotel. She rides her bicycle to work, 30-minutes each way. She lives at home with her mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, and three younger siblings. They are poor. When I checked in to the hotel last week, she remembered me from my trip in April and was happy to see me and I her. She knows I am a pastor, but I am not sure she knows what a pastor does. I think she likes the fact I give her a $2 tip every morning at the buffet breakfast!
Yesterday she told me her grandmother was in the hospital, and she would not be at work tomorrow because she had to go visit her. I asked her, “How old is your grandmother?” She said “Seventy and five.” I told Lyna, “I will pray for your grandmother. I will pray to the True God (I pointed up) that she will get well.” She looked at me surprised, but happy and said, “Thank you.”
Later that day, after I had prayed for her grandmother twice, I came back to the hotel and Lyna saw me walk through the door. She came over and said, “My grandmother came home from the hospital this afternoon!” I know God answers prayer, but it surprised me. That was a quick answer. I told her “God has heard the prayers.”
This morning I asked how her grandmother is doing. She said she is recovering at home and her mother is helping her. I brought one tract to breakfast to give to Lyna and I blessed her with $20. “Lyna, this $20 is to help your family take care of your grandmother, and you can read this paper to your grandmother when you get home.” She teared up at seeing the $20, and she held the tract with reverence and care and said, “I will gather all my family and we will read this. Thank you, Mr. Roger.”
I don’t mind standing out in the crowd so long as I am showing the love of Jesus. There are many ways to show Christ’s love, through words, a prayer, and gifts. In this land of Karma or doing good works to gain a positive rebirth, the gospel message is unique and refreshing, like Living Water, in that no works are necessary. Jesus is the Living Water, one only needs to drink.
Salvation is a gift.
My prayer is for many to receive Christ’s love (believe in Him) and like the tracts, His love is free.