Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Learning to write in Khmer!

So today was another 'new day'' as I started my first language lesson on how to write in Khmer and hopefully one day I will learn to read. These will be miracles in and of themselves as if any of you have seen the Khmer letters you will know its got a lot of squiggly lines.

So I am blogging about this because I will need a lot of prayers for me to not only decipher this script but to learn to write a sentence that is actually legible not only to me but more importantly to anyone who can read. Its like being a kid all over again in kindergarten learning to write the letters of the alphabet. However, despite the challenge, I am not discouraged. Thanks to many of you who have been praying and the graciousness of the Lord, I have been recently encouraged on a few occasions by the Khmer who have complimented me on my accent and who seem to be quite surprised that I have only been studying the language for 4 months. All I can say is that God is good as I am not one to have any abilities in language but I suppose because I love being here and I am so desperate to learn the language, the Lord is answering in some neat ways so that I am not only able to understand but can translate some basic sentences for non-Khmer speakers.

At any rate, based on advice from missionary friends when I first got here, it was suggested that I learn to speak first and then learn to read and write a few months later. Now with our workload increasing immensely, the challenge is to find the right balance between work, language, study and exercise. It is not easy because so often one may plan to do something one day and then out of the blue some thing else comes up and interrupts your schedule. The other day I met a couple who had been living here for 3 years but have not taken the time to study the language. It was a bit shocking for me personally as if we are choosing to live in Cambodia and we want to bless the Cambodian people, it is so important to make the effort to speak and communicate with them in their language. While I don't know all the reasons why this particular couple has chosen not to learn the language, I can honestly say that one misses out on so much of the cultural dimensions without the language.

So, one area that has been non-negotiable for me in terms of time is to be intentional in learning the language. It is so easy to be caught up in the work but  more and more as time has flown by and my language acquisition is improving, I am beginning to feel more comfortable in conversing in Khmer or at least making the effort to mix Khmer and English. So how does one try to maintain balance between work and study. Well, I am now studying conversational Khmer 4 days a week for 1 hour in the morning (7:30am to 8:30am) and then in the late afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am learning to write in Khmer (4:30pm to 5:30pm). Some of my friends here have encouraged me to give myself some ''margin'' and breathing room given the workload so that I don't burn out so this new schedule allows me to have a day off on Friday from language. its a good thing because now I am getting home work from two different loak crews (male teachers).

My young loak crew Chheut continues to teach me conversational Khmer in the morning and my other loak crew David, teaches me how to write. While I can get a way with doing the bare minimum on the conversational lessons, unfortunately, I will need more discipline when it comes to writing Khmer as I have to practice writing the Khmer script! Yikes!
Loak Crew David
I got connected to loak crew David through my friends at OMF. He has been a language instructor for OMF workers for the past 10 years and came highly recommended. But David is a man of many talents as he also provides cultural orientation and training so in the near future he will come and teach our small Ratanak team about the Khmer culture. David is also good at finding cars for missionaries and so I enlisted him to find the Ratanak car.

Today as I was talking to loak crew David, I discovered how small a world it is. It turns out that his great grand parents became Christians when the first C&MA (Christian and Missionary Alliance) missionaries---The Ellisons were here in 1923. They were the first Protestant workers to enter Cambodia. Loak crew David is a 4th generation Khmer Christian which is almost unheard of in Cambodia since 90% of the church was wiped out when the Khmer Rouge came into power. What was even more fascinating was when I asked if he knew Marie Ens? It turns out that his parents came to know the Lord through Marie and now loak crew David is good friends with Marie's son David Ens. How cool is that? Its so amazing to now have the privilege of being taught Khmer by a Khmer believer whose family was influenced and became believers by the first Protestant missionaries in Cambodia. Loak crew David has asked if I would come and visit his church one day. I am looking forward to doing so especially since Ratanak has been involved in funding a variety of C&MA development projects over the years and as well, since I also attend a C&MA church back in Canada, this will be an interesting link.

Once again, I continue to be amazed at how the Lord connects people. One of the prayers that I have been praying as the New year has began is for the Lord's favor to be over us individually and corporately as an organization and also to establish the works of our hands. God has certainly been providing some amazing Khmer people who can partner with us. Truly, it is so humbling to see how He is sending some of the best people our way to walk with us and to encourage us. As I think of this, it is the verse from Matthew 6:31-33 that comes to mind: 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Truly, this verse has come alive to me in a greater way since I moved to Cambodia. It has been very clear how the Lord is ordering our steps as He has been giving us favor on a variety of levels and in so doing establishing the works of our hands! Indeed as we have been seeking His kingdom, He has been opening doors and providing the right connections at the right time.  He truly is adding everything else that we need.

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