Flies buzzed around my leg. My sandal straps rubbed against my swollen insect bite. Sweat dripped off my forehead and ran down my neck as I picked my way down a waste ridden street of Cambodia. The sun created a humid ninety-six degree heat that mixed with the stench of human waste and trash creating an unpleasant smell. But in that moment all I could think of was the word reality.
Reality is a strange word. It is defined as the state of things as they actually exist. It is strange because one person’s reality is different from another’s. My reality back home is vastly different from the reality of the thousands of families that live in the slums in Phnom Penh, which is vastly different from the reality of a prostitute in the red light district in Phuket, and that is vastly different from the reality of a white missionary in Chiang Mai. That’s the hardest part of being a missionary. You are there to change reality, to change eternity, but you will never be able to fully grasp other people’s reality. Because it isn’t your reality.
I tried to come to grips with that as I sat on the cold tile floor of a Cambodian home. Eight of us sat cross legged on the floor as we crammed inside a twelve by twelve home. Inside the home lived a grandmother and her granddaughter. They slept and ate there. The bathroom was a small screened off area within the home. The grandmother made all the food that she sold in the market on the tiny kitchenette that was shoved in the corner. The granddaughter was an orphan and the grandmother was fighting to make enough money to pay the bills. That was their reality. But even in all their great difficulties, their neighbors’ faced even greater ones. Their neighbors didn’t even have a roof over their heads. They lived in a small tent made of four tarps and some bamboo polls.
And that’s the strange thing about reality. It’s different but the same, it’s changing but consistent. You can live right next to someone and have vastly different realities. My reality a year ago is very different from my reality today.
As I walked away from their home I contemplated the three lessons I learned today. First, you should strive to change one person at a time. The most you can ever do is wholeheartedly love the person that God places in front of you. That is how you change the world (and reality).
Secondly, reality is different for different people. I can not understand the reality of what these people are going through but I can walk through it with them. I can pray with them. I can encourage them. I can laugh with them. And maybe, their reality will change just a little bit because of that.
And finally, I realized that this is what it means to be a missionary. It’s not getting cute pictures with smiling orphans. It’s not about stats, or how many people you bring to Christ. A missionary loves and cares for someone so passionately that they, through the Holy Spirit, change that person’s reality. A missionary is willing to cross oceans, sit on dirt floors, eat strange food, bare the bitter cold and the scorching heat. A missionary is willing to walk many miles, sleep on the floor, and even do meaningless tasks if it means reaching one person. Changing one reality.
Story by Rachel on DTS Outreach in Cambodia.
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