Days before the coronavirus influenced border closures around the world, I went on my first overseas trip to Cambodia. I couldn’t have picked a worse time to go overseas, yet I don’t regret it for a second.
Although the trip was a short one-week arrangement I learned a lot about the culture, people, religion and area. When I stepped outside the airport, a very strong and unpleasant smell greeted me and didn’t leave until I flew out again. I was shocked to see my “taxi” driver blindly walk across four lanes of traffic (which in Cambodia translates to about 12 lanes. I’m not kidding.) and somehow make it out alive! I was surprised to see enormous amounts of trash, rubbish, food scraps and goodness knows what else thrown on the side of the roads. everywhere. My heart broke to hear the stories of the people who were oppressed by an evil government who killed close to 3 million of their innocent only 45 years ago.
The whole trip I soaked in the culture, doing my best to learn how they work, eat, travel and live. I learned that a lot of Khmer (Cambodians) make less than $1 per day. I saw young children playing in rubbish. Most children work when not in school. Yet somehow those children were happy. They were content to play in trash, and they didn’t mind the smell.
After seeing these things, I realised just how important my attitude is. I choose to be happy or upset. I can have fun playing in rubbish, or I can live in Australia with luxuries most Khmer only dream about and think of 101 things I don’t have. Getting back to Australia, I realised just how wealthy I am. I had a different appreciation for things that I didn’t before. I’m aware that I can still be a sour grape at times 😉 but I am trying to be more thankful for what I have.
I have realised the vanity and yes, even stupidity that lies in wanting more things and not being content. A discontent man will never be happy, but Godliness with contentment is great gain.
1 Timothy 6:6-11 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
Desiring money seems good at first, but it always leads to harmful desires. I think I need a reality check every so-often because the whole Australian culture revolves around where you work and what you do on weekends. Do you work for a big company? Do you have a university degree? How much money do you make? How nice is your car? These questions don’t ask a more important question: who are you? For real, who are you deep down? If you had no job, education, money, or possessions, who would you be? Would anyone want to be around you?
While I was away I had a lot of time to think about these kinds of questions. Almost all tourist sites were shut down due to the virus, so there was plenty of time for deep thinking. I started to realise how selfish I am. I want a good education, job, and above all I really want to be seen as “successful”. I think my perspective is starting to change. I don’t need any of those things to be happy. I realised that when you don’t have possessions, the only reason people stay around you is because the love you for who you are. That is worth more than any amount of money or success. However, even more important than relationship with people, is my relationship with God. Am I close to our Father in heaven? Am I actively listening to the Holy Spirit?
Now that I’ve seen another side of life, I want to go back there and help. Unfortunately, many Khmer pursue greed and desire to be rich like westerners. They don’t realise the trap it leads to and that they can have everything they need without money. All they need is Jesus. All I need is Jesus. With him I have everything, and without him I have nothing. To me this is clearer than ever, and I pray that by reading my story you see this just a little clearer too.