Pilgrimage To Phnom Penh

Nick Toovey, June, 2017

Following a ‘tap on the shoulder’ from Flinders Christian School Executive Principal Cam Pearce, I jumped at the opportunity to do a four- week voluntary teaching stint at Hope International, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had already visited the school very briefly last October with the Samaritan Purse Discovery Trip team.

After a series of emails from the teachers I would be covering and a Skype interview with the School Director and the Principal, I arrived at Phnom Penh airport on Wednesday, May 17th for a few days of orientation before actually teaching the following Monday to begin my four week stint. This also allowed me time to settle into the house I was renting not far from the school and to meet the three dogs that came with the house- ‘Hudson’, ‘Pete’ and ‘Patches’.

To my delight, my teaching load consisted of six classes: year 11 International Baccalaureate English, Grade 6, 7 and 8 ESL, and two grade 7 English language classes. What surprised me was the small sizes of the classes- average 8/9 only. The students were so respectful, responsive and thoroughly pleasant toward me- a stranger in their midst.

Within a few short days, it felt like I had taught them all term. Mercifully, for me, they had already completed their formal assessments, so we did not have to worry about that. The school day began at 7.15am with staff devotions. (It gets light at 5.00am in Cambodia!) This consisted of a 15-minute Bible message, followed by a song and ‘prayer huddle’ of 4/5 teachers. I volunteered one morning and spoke about our Woolaning mission programme, which they seemed to enjoy.

The 270 students from Kinder to Y12 lined up at 8.00am in an outdoor, but covered plaza area for morning assembly, then off to class for six 50 minutes periods. There were no bells, no PA, no uniforms and no mobile phones allowed during the day. The school days finished at 2.30pm, by which time a convoy of middle- sized buses had arrived to ferry the student’s home across Phnom Penh. Others went home on bicycle, on the back of moto’s or in a tuk-tuk.  Some clubs and community outreach programmes were held until about 4.00pm. This was the hottest time of day, so sport was limited.

It would have been impossible to teach without the air-conditioning and fans in each classroom and office, such was the stifling heat and draining humidity at that time of year. I was told that the humidity reduces your capacity to about 60% output. I know what that means. To walk from the classroom to an outside area was like walking through an oven on full blast- quite breathtaking.

It took me a few days to learn the students’ names, and you know what- they are just like Aussie kids in every classroom, except maybe these students are a little more worldly wise and aware of world affairs.  They follow the ISCGE until year 10, then IB for years 11 and 12. This is a very challenging curriculum.

As I got to know the school a little more each day, I grew convinced that it is a small school ‘punching well above its weight’. It is in the top 10 ranking around the world in IB Art, and the music programme is equal to anything I have seen. I was also impressed with what was happening in History, Geography, Science and senior English. And all the technology worked every time!!

The school was set up in 2002 by an Australian lady named Jo Millar for the children of missionaries and people who work for Christian NGO’s in Cambodia so that they could continue to receive a quality education while their parents had answered God’s call on their lives to serve Him in Cambodia.

The staff at Hope International were as ‘multi-cultural’ as the students. They also came from all over, including US, UK, India, Canada, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Korea, NZ as well as Australia. It was truly humbling to work with Christian colleagues who had sacrificed their relatively lucrative teaching careers in their home country to come to Hope on no more than 25% of their ‘home’ teaching salary. The staff were a mutually supportive, close-knit ex-pat community who regard each other as ‘extended family’. I was the honorary grandad I think. I was welcomed from the moment I arrived at the airport into this community.

They took me under their collective wing and made sure I was settling in okay. As the Gospel requires of us all, ‘welcome the stranger in our midst’. They did this in ways that enabled me to feel a sense of belonging and fellowship amongst them. Amongst the ex- pat Australians, we found we had mutual friends all over the place. God brings people together in unexpected ways.

So next time an opportunity comes your way, take it up because you don’t know when you might get another one. And when a stranger comes into your midst, be kind, helpful and caring towards that person because you never know when that stranger might be you in a future setting.

I feel I received so much more in my four weeks up there than I gave them. I just gave them some of my teaching experience, but they gave me so much more in friendship, respect, fellowship and love.

It is in giving that we receive. I can’t wait to return (and maybe take some of you with me.)

Footprints in the Sand

Footprints in the Sand, a beautiful poem!

Incorporated in the service by Alan Eales on Sunday 28th February

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."

He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you."

- by Mary Stevenson

A Quote of GB Shaw

"You see things as they are and ask 'why?' But I dream things that never were and I ask 'why not?'"

"Let Us Remember"

Contributed by Jeanette Barklamb

Let us remember the hardest things for us,
the changes which have been the most challenging,
the deaths of many things we valued,
and the deaths of people along the way.
The struggles for survival,
the confusions and ambiguities,
the failures and mistakes we’ve made,
the traumas and pain for us and in the wider world during our lives.

Let us remember the things that have brought us the greatest joy and delight.
Family and friends who have meant so much to us.
Special moments shared.
Life filled moments of fun and laughter.
Grace filled moments of love and forgiveness, of service and being served.
Seeds of faith growing to maturity. Growth in knowledge and understanding.
The blossoming of God given gifts within us and within those around us.
The satisfaction of knowing we have done our best and achieved things along the way.

Dear God, you have travelled with us through this time.
We place in your loving hands all these memories from our past.
We ask you to heal them, gentle them, grieve with us, feel with us, encourage us.
Let us know that they are indeed set within the context of your eternal presence.
We do this knowing that you are the one who has journeyed with us and will continue to do so.

Amen