Where do I begin? I want to tell you everything in as much detail as possible but that would take a book that maybe I’ll actually write some day. For this trip, over the next several weeks, I’ll share some of my journal memories, highlights, Instagram moments, dreams, and clarity God gave me as he usually does when he takes me to this “Kingdom of Wonder” to be His Kingdom worker.
Someone once asked me to look at each day on a trip like this one to Cambodia and try and capture memories in your head that represent something much bigger. My third time to this country and there were little things that stuck out to me the most. These photographs etched into my minds eye are ones of joy and what I want to share first.
- Double Dutching at Rapha House. It’s exactly as it sounds, we brought two large ropes to teach the girls at the safe house how to double Dutch. I watched a YouTube video before I left, and remembered the time in high School weight training where we tried to get into the ropes and I hoped for the best, and never succeeded. The day of our trip when we bring out the ropes, one of our team leaders, Bri, mentions how she use to Double Dutch as a kid and could teach us. I didn’t believe it but I was excited to see her show us what was up. I grabbed one end of the rope, another leader grabbed another and we started swinging right over left with one rope and left over right with the other. The Cambodian girls formed a circle to see what we were up to with this modified version of jump rope. Cambodian kids love any game that involves jumping. Bri counted to rotations, standing in the middle, the rope coming over the top was the first mark. She counted carefully, 1…2…3. After the third rope came toward her and hit the ground she leapt into the middle while jumping over the rope coming underneath her. Her footwork began as she double timed her jumps to match the speed of two ropes swinging at her from both directions. She had the added challenge of wearing a long skirt that she held tied between her legs as she hopped back and forth for a good solid two minutes. I saw nothing but bliss as she showed the team and the Khmer girls this crazy sport. It was a moment of joy that brought a roar of enthusiasm from everyone around us.
Next was my turn, Bri had already coached a few other people to time it and not a few had made it into the double ropes of danger. All I heard her tell me was, “Matt Jo, just count the top rope that comes toward you and after three, jump in with high knees and just keep jumping.” So I counted, 1…2…3, and my 18 year dream since High School, something that was on my bucket list, suddenly came to fruition. I took a jump of faith and just kept jumping. I was laughing so hard I didn’t know how long I could keep it up. I heard Bri screaming that I was doing it and other girls cheering me on. I think I had it for 30 seconds before I lost my breath, but I did it. I officially Double Dutched my way to awesomeness. Mission Accomplished.
Why was this so important? I learned years ago that if I expect teenagers to respect me and follow me, I have to challenge myself. I can’t stay on the sidelines and expect them to do all the work. As one of our missions principles taught us, we must do things with people and not for people. Teenagers are a mission field, and I am a firm believer in doing things with them and not for them.
- The next challenge was that same evening with the girls at Rapha House,l. There was a trampoline off to the side that looked a little tattered and torn. Mainly the fence was falling apart, but there was just enough room in the middle to do some tricks. A few of the girls I had befriended giggled with excitement at what I might do. I had them hold my glasses and hearing aides and random things in my pocket that might come flying out. I got on the trampoline and started testing the flexibility of the springs. It was solid, all I had to do was avoid the fallen over netting wires. I did my main trick, a front flip, landed it after the third attempt. My adrenaline was still pumping from the amazing jump rope accomplishment several moments before. I then did a back drop into rotating backward onto my feet. I ended with a knee drop front flip. Then one of my students, MoMo, got on and said, “Diaz, watch this.” I held the fallen over net to give her room as she showed me up with a back hand spring. All the girls that had surrounded us at that point cheered, we had an audience. The pressure was on. I told my team randomly in a conversation earlier that week that I don’t do back flips anymore because I injured myself back in college. I did a back flip and landed right in between the springs and the metal ring holding it all together and just about cracked my tailbone in half. It was time to face my fear as I asked MoMo if I should try a back flip. I think she said something along the lines of go for it but I was too hyped. It was dark, I didn’t have my glasses and I was flying blind. I remember watching a Tik Tok video the week before about tucking to land the back flip. It came in handy in this moment. I had Momo for support, holding the net and a crowd cheering me on. I jumped comfortably high and after a few bounces I just threw myself back and tucked. It was a little bit of an awkward twist and my partner in crime admitted it wasn’t a true back flip. Finally on my third attempt I landed right on my feet with a perfectly executed back flip. I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t believe I had concurred two athletic feats that night. Of course MoMo had to show me up with a much more graceful backflip, but that is to be expected, I am twice her age and size.
If I can step out of my comfort zone and make these girls who have had more suffering than I could imagine, laugh and smile for an evening and show them that there are men who can interact with them without needing or taking anything else from them, then I have done what God has asked of me. The payoff is that I experienced more joy and love by being in their presence for the short time that I was. I got to see the students and leaders I brought join in this kingdom work that is difficult to explain. We don’t speak their language, though we try to count to three and pronounce their names. Laughter is a universal language and a smile clearly reflects some semblance of joy or happiness, if only for a moment.
This is just one hour out of the ten day journey I took with 15 other people, and I have many more stories to share. I think the Double Dutch and Back flip is enough for now. The lesson is this, it isn’t enough to step out of your comfort zone and go to another country, you have to be willing to look foolish, let people laugh at you and not take yourself too seriously. Learn what they like to do and join them in that fun.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
When you go to a place that has experienced the most tragic of evils, a little light, a little laughter and few smiles goes a long way. Speak about Jesus when given the chance. Speak words of life, ask the missionaries already working what the people need to hear. Pray and be open to God changing you.
The next time you travel to work with kids or teenagers, take a couple of jump ropes, a tub of bubble gum and have fun. God is already working and will continue to work long after you leave.
In Truth & Love,
Matthew J. Diaz
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One thought on “#LoveCambodia Instagram Moments”
“That era has passed. Nothing that belonged to it exists anymore.” With that title card, coming near the film’s conclusion, Wong fast-forwards from principal action in 1963 Hong Kong to 1966 Cambodia, where shots of ancient ruins imply that the society we had been watching for most of the film was already as ancient. Perhaps, but the sentiment really has less to do with objective moments in history than with vanishing points in life. Memories, especially of love, grow mythic over time—achieving a quality that’s both vague and precise, diffuse and saturated, ineffable and fetishistic—just as Wong’s conception of the early Sixties era of his parents is mythic. But as with Mad Men, another early Sixties time capsule, the flower-printed past still resembles a reality we live in, weighted by perennials of loneliness and regret.