April 24, 2024

Mission trip leaves lasting memories, connections

Editor’s note: This is part two of a local group’s mission trip to Cambodia. Part one appeared in the March 21 paper.

During the near-three weeks that Murray Church of Christ pastor Brian McCracken, Osceola First Christian Church pastor Danny McNeal, disciple Cindy Hamer and McCracken’s sons Colin and wife Maria, and Corey and fiancee Emily spent in Cambodia earlier this year, they not only worked with a local missionary and spreading ministry, but helping improve the lives of Cambodians, too.

Life in Cambodia

For those who reside in the rural areas of Cambodia, they live simply with what they need, often with only the necessities. Houses are simply made, often doubling as a store in the front and living area in the back. When McCracken first started going to Cambodia, he said the houses were made out of whatever natural materials could be found, but now more are starting to use metal products. A lot of the houses do not have indoor plumbing, electricity or air conditioning. If they do have electricity, it is used for necessities. The churches tend to be the nicer buildings in the communities.

For most Cambodians, they live on less than $2 a day of income, eating a diet of rice and vegetables with maybe some meat once or twice a week. Many families have a mango tree, and some a cashew tree. Roads in the rural areas are not always completed, and often in need of maintenance, which can be done by locals with tractors. Clean drinking water is not available in every area, leading to disease and death.

What is abundant, however, is cell towers, something that amused the group, who said they could get a better cell signal in the remote areas of Cambodia then they can in their homes in Clarke County.

The people

Despite being what seems like a world apart, McCracken, McNeal and Hamer said the Cambodian people are looking to the future with hope in their eyes.

“They are joyful, they are resilient, they are people that are intelligent, very smart, but are challenged by a lot of things in life that we can’t even begin to figure out,” said McCracken. “They’re meeting those challenges but we want to come alongside that.”

McNeal added that despite language barriers, they could still find way to connect,

“Smiles connect you regardless of language,” he said.

Those smiles could come in simple ways, by being given a soccer or volleyball. For both young and old, craft projects involving paints were a hit, as paint is something not readily available. Jump ropes made by McCracken’s son’s using colorful t-shirts also went over well with the kids.

“Children are the same everywhere - junior high boys there are just like our junior high boys here,” said Hamer.

The group was heartened to hear questions about when they’d come back again.

“That’s pretty cool, when you know that you get to make an impact on people’s lives,” said McCracken.

The seven in the group were each able to take a second carry-on bag, and brought t-shirts, small toys, medicine and other simple items to give to the Cambodians. Bags of rice were shared with families, and Hamer reported that the women went crazy for Vacation Bible study shirts, as they are always in need of clothes. The kids were happy to receive candy, but even more so was bottled water, as they recognized that the clean water was more valuable than the sweets.

Remembering the past

As Cambodia continues to recover from the Khmer Rouge, when communist powers tried to overtake Cambodia by killing over two-million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979, it was important to the group to visit places of significance and reflect on the hardships faced.

They visited and helped at a church at Women’s Island, visited a memorial museum and saw remainders of the country’s dark history. McCracken spoke of a prior trip when he walked on a path through an active mine field, of which there are many around the Cambodian countryside.

They also work with Rapha House, which helps with girls escape from the sex trafficking trade, and are hopeful to see that regular tourism is now the number-one source of income for the country.

The next generation

Another goal of this mission trip was to take a group of younger people, in the hopes that by seeing the work being done in Cambodia, they will continue to return in the future. Hamer said that young people often bring new ideas with them, and have different ways of looking at things that they might not think of. Corey made mention on the trip of wanting to preach in a different area the next time he’s in Cambodia.

“He knew he was coming back, this is part of what he’s going to be doing,” said McNeal.

“For young people, when they go and they see that you can make a simple difference in life when you just take the risk of going and being open to it, you can make some difference in a world scope,” said McCracken.

By going, the four younger adults got to become a bigger part of the story and touch the lives of the Cambodian people they interacted with - Corey also taught and preached, Colin played guitar, Emily was a lover of children and Maria did crafts.

“A microcosm of how God works in his church. Everyone has a part, small, but not insignificant,” said McCracken.

Future trips

As they look to their next mission trip, likely to occur in late 2025, McCracken, McNeal and Hamer are already formulating what their mission goals will be.

They have and will continue to help fund road improvements, which will open up access for teachers and healthcare in rural villages. They will continue to support Cambodian missionary Soeum Dear, as he works to plant churches in rural areas. Those churches, in turn, will bring education and life to the villages they are built in. They continue their work on bringing clean drinking water to rural areas.

And of course, it’s the people who they look forward to returning to see the most.

McCracken said it’s been a beautiful thing to see the collaboration between the Murray Church of Christ and Osceola First Christian Church, both desiring to make a difference in Cambodia, and forging that connection between rural Clarke County and rural Cambodia.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be able to go and see how God can use small-town Murray and Cambodia,” said McNeal.

“[It’s] humbling, when people say, hey we do want you to come back…I think that’s what ultimately makes anything worthwhile, so there’s a personal connection. And a heart connection. All of us have a chunk of our heart in Cambodia at this point in our life,” said McCracken.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.