Can You Hear Me Now?
A man I encountered in a rural area of Cambodia may have been the defining image of this interesting part of Asia.
I saw him coming before he saw me: he was a rather large man for the Khmer race. What really caught my eye was his attire.
All he was wearing was a loose short skirt called a sarong.
He was barefooted and bare-chested. Just walking along.
I thought to myself, “It’s as if we’re back in the 19th century here.” I quickly wondered if he’d ever seen a television, felt the coolness of air conditioning, or knew how electricity worked.
He did have one modern thing with him. He was smoking a cigarette and blowing the smoke up into the air as he walked along.
He was still a ways from me when I heard a strange noise. It was at the same time familiar as well as unfamiliar. The Cambodian man stopped and reached into his skirt. I quickly saw what it was as he placed it to his ear. He’d just got a call on his cell phone.
He stood there smoking, smiling, and talking as I stared in amazement.
Here was “Mr. 19th century” doing something I can’t even do in my hometown- talking on a cell phone! In Dry Creek, Louisiana you’re lucky to get two bars showing on your phone. I always tell guests at our camp that they’ve arrived in the cell phone dead zone. Others call our community the “Bermuda Triangle” of cell phones.
I’ve told many people of seeing campers at Dry Creek walking the grounds holding their cell phone high in the air, vainly trying to get reception. Once I even saw a man placing his cell phone against our flagpole hoping he’d found a makeshift antenna to connect him to the outside world. (I shouldn’t make too much fun because later I went and tried it myself just to see if it made a difference. I can attest it did not.)
Yet here I am 12,000 miles from home.
In the middle of a country, Cambodia, where thirty years of civil war and unrest have left a terrible mark and here is a guy using a cell phone. His traditional dress and his embrace of modern technology is an apt description of Southeast Asia, especially Cambodia. A land where the past, present, and future seem to collide together.
Most of all, in Cambodia I saw the open doors of sharing the gospel. The country is a land of young people. Most of the leaders and professionals age fifty and above were killed by the communist Khmer Rouge or escaped the country. There is a great void of leadership and openness to new ideas. Many of the younger generation are disillusioned with the old ways and the traditional Buddhist religion. They are searching and whether they know it or not, the good news of Jesus Christ is what their heart is yearning for.
This is a nation seeking its future and identity. The harvest is ripening. It is worth whatever it takes to be a part of sharing Jesus.
Then I’m reminded of a young American couple I met in Cambodia. They are probably in their late twenties. Both had great careers back in the states. He was a pilot for Delta Airlines. She flew planes for the Air Force.
Their future looked bright and limitless.
Their journey to Cambodia started when they came here to adopt a child. Due to widespread disease and violence, there are many many orphans. They did something that so many westerners do when they visit this unusual country – they fell in love with its people. They later returned to adopt another child.
Then they left their secure careers and came to Cambodia. The day I met them, this ex-Delta pilot was helping dig a water well at a village school. He looked happy – just serving the Lord and being part of the harvest.
Over and over I saw examples of talented young people who’d left behind what we call success to serve where the work is hard and the problems are numerous.
Working next to them were retired couples who’d refused to buy in to the great American dream of retiring to a condo in South Florida. Instead here they were, signed up for a three year term of serving God half a world away from their children and grandchildren.
I was once again reminded of why missionaries have always been my heroes. Ordinary men and women, with normal problems and faults, who are used by God in an extraordinary way. They’ve decided to seek the best, while forsaking earthly rewards, while laying up treasures in heaven. It’s just a matter of doing whatever it takes to make a difference.
Jim Elliott served as a missionary in Ecuador during the 1950’s. His heart was to minister to the unreached Indians of a jungle tribe. After making contact with this tribe and seeming to be making progress, he and his fellow workers were killed by the very people they came to help. Before his death, Elliott made a statement that continues to touch lives today:
“No man is a fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”
The Cambodian encounter with the cell phone reminds me that technology is a way to reach these seemingly “unreachable” areas. While many types of electronic items have been misused, the spread of the gospel through the internet, DVD’s, satellite phones, solar-powered CD players, and computers has been useful in reaching the entire world.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus told His followers, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Going to the “ends of the earth” means getting the gospel out to places that are difficult to reach. Doing whatever it takes, and taking full advantage of every area of modern technology should be part of our strategy to reaching the world.
This week is a special week for missions. It’s the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for foreign missions. The missionaries I’m mentioned above are supported by this yearly offering. You can learn more and give at www.imb.org.