Learning a new language at 60- What was I thinking?

Sell everything and move to Cambodia.  No prob.  Say goodbye to family, church and friends.  Not easy!  Take on the issue of sex trafficking in a rural Khmer village the former epicenter of all child trafficking in the world.  Okay, it’s getting harder now.  Learn a completely new
language at 60?  OH.MY.WORD.words photo

When I contemplated the exotic notion of the mission field at 60, dreams of grandeur settled in.  Notions of lengthy, complex theological discussions were my goals with my new Cambodian friends.  I would wax eloquent with perfect intonations and excellent grammar.  Oy.

Honestly, most days my conversations go like this:

Me:  I go work Svay Pak.

Tuk tuk driver:  blank stare

Me:  Money?  much how?

Tuk tuk driver:  blank stare and grin

Me:  Comprendo?  (Oops!  wrong language- Parlez-vous Francais?  The only thing I remember from 4 years of high school French)

Tuk driver driver:   Smile (another dumb farang trying to speak Khmer)

I have noticed in my new brain-stretching endeavor there have been 4 stages:

1.  Denial- when our Khmer tutor (God bless the monk patience of Mon Sinet) gave us our first list of 10 vocab words Pete and I looked at each other and said there is no way, Jose!  What?  How?

2.  Reluctant acceptance- After a few months in, it became crucially apparent I needed to know some Khmer just to exist here:  How much is that?  Where is the toilet?  Have Diet Coke?  Coffee  sweet milk please?   I dug into those vocabs list and practice conversations despite every time I tried them they either had no idea what I was saying (Who is the toilet?  Why is the toilet?  How is the toilet?  Okay, Debbie get it right, Where is the toilet? ) or they couldn’t believe actual Khmer was coming out of an old white lady like me.

3.  I will do this!- And so I began to practice and study with a vengeance.  I tried all my new words and phrases on my precious teachers and they lovingly just smiled and corrected me over and over.  Occasionally I would get it all right and they would applaud.  I even started dropping in words, phrases and sentences I had learned and they answered back!  Sweet success!!

4.  Determination- one of my new teachers in training is a 50 year sweet lady who was born and raised during the reign of terror with the Khmer Rouge.  She painfully remembers no books, no schools, no glasses, no teachers, no pastors, again I say no teachers.  To have or be any of these brought a death sentence.  After coming to Christ, she began to look flower photoearnestly for God’s plan for her life.  Speaking no English and having never taught before, she applied for a teaching training position at our school.  Her heart for Christ and passion for kids won her that job.  But how would she work with a bunch of American white folks who speak English and she spoke none?  She started English classes at 50!  She is a daily inspiration to me!
Every day we BOTH muddle through the limited language of the other, yet God allows us to communicate profoundly by loving nods, hugs,  sign language and tokens of newfound friendship.  Not able to afford real flowers, she spent hours and weeks making me a gift of paper flowers.  The beauty is real, the friendship is profound.

Fourteen months in, on our last language test, our tutor proudly pronounced we were no longer language beginners, but now intermediates! Rejoice, Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, the gift of tongues has returned.  LOL.   I pray for the day I can have a long two-way conversation with my teacher and share the awesome things God has done in both our lives.

Preahyesaouv sraleanh anak!  (Jesus love you)


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