Situated in the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia, Cambodia draws crowds of tourists enticed by the historical beauty of Angor Wat in Siem Riep and the French-influenced capital, Phnom Penh, once known as the “Pearl of Asia.”
The two significant Cambodian destinations recently attracted four Oklahoma Baptist University representatives, who were drawn by the opportunity to learn about the country's culture and to teach English to university students. The OBU team included students Gabby Garcia, Katherine Gilbert and Danielle Kimbrough, who were led by Gina Kraft, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at OBU, during the May 31-July 1 trip.
Members of the OBU team discovered a great dichotomy that defines much of Cambodia's people: For a people overshadowed by decades of civil war and the resulting unrest, they extend a genuinely warm greeting to visiting tourists. The Cambodians' welcome opened doors for the team to forge new friendships and find opportunities to share both its language and its Christian faith.
“I think the biggest thing you see while in Cambodia is that the people are hurt and are still hurting ... but the people continue smiling,” said Gilbert, a sophomore digital media arts major from Sapulpa. “I feel like it reflects the country's state. There are beautiful places that match the beautiful people, but there are places that need help just like the people need the Gospel.”
The trip was organized through OBU's Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach. Each year, dozens of students, faculty and staff take Global Outreach Trips that enforce OBU's mission to transform lives by equipping students to pursue academic excellence, integrate faith with knowledge, engage a diverse world and live worthy of the high calling of God.
As the team's sponsor, Kraft said she watched the OBU students grow and develop as they learned to interact in a different culture and matured in their interactions with Cambodian university students.
“They went from shy and unsure to confident and excited,” Kraft said. “They grew in confidence as they taught English, they grew in confidence as they worked to build relationships, and each success built on that confidence and increased their excitement.”
A major goal of the trip, Kraft said, was to help generate connections between full-time cross-cultural workers who live in the country and the Cambodian university students. In Cambodia, 95 percent of the population is Buddhist. As the OBU students taught English-language courses, they involved the cross-cultural workers in their lessons, which directly encouraged Cambodian university students to engage and build relationships with the workers. Kraft said the OBU students aided in telling “the Greatest Story Ever” — the story of Jesus — while identifying Cambodian students who were interested in learning more about the Gospel message.
“We were blessed with the opportunity to share the Gospel,” Gilbert said. “Though we are free to share the Gospel in Cambodia, many of the schools will not allow groups like ours to come onto their campus and share. Thankfully, we were able to intertwine the Gospel in the lessons we taught.
“The most rewarding part was being able to experience the culture and create relationships with the students,” Gilbert said. “We were able to learn a lot about Cambodia and where these people have been. This gave me the knowledge on how to pray for this country and the people.
“I think it's extremely important for OBU students to participate in (Global Outreach) trips,” Gilbert said. “God changes you in more ways than you could ever anticipate. Sharing the Gospel with those who really don't know is life-changing, but for me the biggest part was experiencing the culture. It gave me a more passionate desire to share with these students.”