Two years ago, I eagerly embarked on my journey to the “kingdom of wonder.” I had just graduated high school and was ready to see the world. Like most of my journeys, I went into it super optimistic and excited, but soon realized I would face difficulties.
The start of the trip held back no punches. During my first two days, we visited S-21 and the Killing Fields – two memorials for the victims of the Khmer Rouge. It was heartbreaking to see that this was the reason my family left Cambodia, and if they didn’t leave, they could have ended up in those places. While walking through the prison, I saw pictures of all the prisoners and wondered if I was related to any of them. It’s a terrifying and tragic feeling.
The next challenge I faced was on the second leg of the trip in Battambang. I became severely dehydrated and wound up sick, on and off, for five days. It was so difficult to come all that way and spend all that money to be sick in a hotel room. While the other team members were visiting cool sights and playing with the girls in the safe houses, my friend, who was also sick, and I had to stay behind. But times like that make me realize that no matter how much I plan, God’s plan will prevail. That is a lesson I have to re-learn often.
There was one day in Battambang where I wasn’t sick and it was my favorite day. Our team leader knew that my great-grandfather’s stupa (a Buddhist burial site) was in the area, so we paid it a visit. My grandfather gave me money to give the caretaker of the stupa. When I handed her the money, she asked if I wanted to meet my family. It turns out my grandfather’s cousin still lives there, and I got to meet and pray with her! It was one of the most amazing feelings to share my faith with my family; something I’m too shy to do back home.
The thing about Cambodia that makes me long to go back are the people. The kids in Kid’s Club, the girls at the safe houses, and the salon girls are the most joyful people I’ve ever met. They have such a strong faith, they love deeply and they dream big. Despite their circumstances, they continue to press on and work for a better life. They are truly inspiring!
My time in Cambodia was one of the most rewarding in my life. I learned so much about God’s faithfulness and saw His beauty in new ways. It was great to finally see my roots, which gave me a deeper appreciation for all the hard work my parents have gone through to give me the life I have. Despite the struggles, I loved being there and cannot wait to go back.