The summer months of the year are usually the time when students enjoy their longest extended break from lectures, studying and exams. Many take the opportunity to go on short-term mission trips to experience another culture, get a flavour for overseas mission and serve the local church.
Tricia, a social work student of FES Singapore, was one of six students who went for a mission exposure trip with SONOKO Cambodia last year. The team spent a month meeting with local missionaries, praying together, helping with outreach events and teaching English to local children. Tricia shared her reflections of the trip:
The reality of cross-cultural missions
While we were in Cambodia, we spent time with local missionaries. It gave me the opportunity to see the struggles and joys of the mission field first-hand. It was no longer about simply ‘knowing’, but actually seeing and experiencing it for myself.
I saw what loneliness on the mission field looked like. For foreign missionaries, even after many years of language study and partnering with the locals, the challenge of assimilating into a community remains. Much time and effort are needed to understand a culture deeply in order to contextualize the gospel and to share it. I saw how daily strivings are not always matched with instant returns. I was overwhelmed by the many things that you have to consider, to give up, and to invest, in order to win people for Christ.
I also witnessed the beauty of community. When the Lord’s workers came together there was real joy, tight embraces and happy chatter. Even though ministry is often lonely, the Lord blesses with community.
As I reflect on their sacrifice, I keep coming back to these questions:
How much do I desire for people to come to know Christ? And with careful calculation of the cost, how much of my life am I willing to put into sharing the Gospel?
Some of my favourite experiences were the prayer walks that the SONOKO team led us in around the universities. Prayer walking was new to many of us in the team. At first, without knowledge of the culture and context, we did not know what to pray for. However, as we walked, we learned how to pray. We prayed for God to move in the hearts of the students. We prayed that they would come to know Him as their personal Saviour during their time on campus. And we also took the opportunity to invite them to the outreach events coming up at the weekend.
One image that remains fresh in my mind till this day was of one of the staff-workers during our prayer walk. It was in the middle of day. The streets were noisy and busy. We were all walking in single file on the pavement. As I walked behind her, I saw her running her hands along the campus walls, her mouth moving silently in prayer. That left a big impression on me. It conveyed the quiet trust and powerful confidence she had that God is moving in the campuses.
Student ministry in Cambodia
While we were there we learned about the history of the movement in Cambodia, SONOKO, and some of the challenges it faces today.
They have a saying: ‘To be Khmer (Cambodian), is to be Buddhist’. Unsurprisingly then, it’s difficult and rare for someone to profess their Christian faith publicly. National identity and religious allegiance are intrinsically linked in Cambodia. So if you take Buddhism out of a Khmer, will that person still be considered Khmer? When a Khmer becomes a Christian, how do we address their sudden identity crisis and their exclusion from mainstream society? These are some of the challenges that SONOKO must grapple with.
Hearing from the staff of the movement was a moving experience. I was touched to see their emotion when they were praying for their students. I was humbled when they asked us about our student fellowship in Singapore, wanting to learn from us.
It opened my eyes to the bigger picture of worldwide student ministry. It’s way bigger than just my fellowship group, meeting on a Thursday on our campus!
And it changed my perspective. Back in Singapore, we have air-conditioned seminar rooms and lecture theatres to hold our gatherings. We have workshops that help us to develop an eternal perspective on issues like mental health, broken families, and social mobility. We have plenty of resources — just look at the FES library! Yet how often do I appreciate and give thanks for my fellowship?
Being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable
I would say to any other students considering going on a mission exposure trip: Go for it! Let’s strive to be curious, to ask questions, and to be teachable. Let’s try to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. All to know a greater love, all to love with a deeper love.
Tricia is just one IFES student who was changed through a short-term mission trip. Read more stories of students using their holidays to serve outside their comfort zone and share the gospel with people in different cities, regions and countries.
For further reflections on using holiday time to explore God’s world and catch His heart for the nations, read this article.