A group of OBU students and faculty recently traveled to Cambodia on a multi-week cross-cultural ministry experience. The journey was a Global Outreach (GO) Trip, with the purpose of extending the Gospel of Jesus Christ while also giving students a chance to experience a different culture.
Dr. Bruce Carlton served as the faculty sponsor for the team which traveled to Southeast Asia Dec. 18, 2012, to Jan. 7, 2013. Carlton serves as professor of cross-cultural ministry and director of Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach. OBU students who participated in the trip included Caroline Reel, Kaitlyn Jennings, Gabriella Garcia, Andrew Barker and Kasey Chapman.
The team arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Dec. 19 and departed the following morning for an eight-day trip to multiple rural provinces -- Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Kompong Thom and Svay Rieng. The first leg of the trip introduced the team to Cambodian culture and allowed them to experience Christmas celebrations in several local churches.
"This was my first time out of the United States, so I really did not know what to expect," said Kasey Chapman, a senior pastoral ministry major from Elmore City, Okla. "But when we arrived in Cambodia, I felt right at home among the people. They love to smile and laugh, so that made our time even more fun and rewarding."
Cultural exchange is an important part of any OBU GO Trip. Students are able to share their own culture with others, while also experiencing the culture of people outside the United States. While learning about the Cambodian culture, students visited a spirit house at a Buddhist temple where visitors burn incense in an effort to appease spirits.
"We learned a lot about the Cambodians' culture, and they learned a lot about ours," said Caroline Reel, a senior orality studies major from Tishomingo, Okla.
The team taught English at a university in Phnom Penh, leading two classes each morning and one in the afternoon. The classroom setting allowed students to develop relationships with Cambodian students and even share the Gospel. Beginning the first week of January, the team worked with a cross-cultural ministry organization teaching English at Cambodia Mekong University.
"We also spent a lot of time with the students even outside of the classroom setting," reflected Chapman. "Several of them attended weekly worship services at our guest house on Sunday afternoons."
Gabriella Garcia, a sophomore biology major from Duncan, Okla., said the team enjoyed building friendships with the Cambodian students.
"We did fun things with the students, like hair and nails with the girls, and the guys did karaoke," Garcia said. "We spent time with the students when they had free time; many would come to hear more of the Gospel. Amazing friendships were built during these few short weeks."
In Phnom Penh, the team visited two ministries, Mercy Medical Center and the Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry. Mercy Medical Center is a modern medical facility which provides medical services to Cambodia's underprivileged residents. Carlton said the possibility exists for OBU to develop a partnership between Mercy Medical and the OBU College of Nursing, particularly the OBU Graduate School's Global Nursing Program. Possibilities also exist for pre-med students and students studying public health to interact with Mercy Medical Center.
The Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry (CCAM) is an organization whose aim is to utilize Cambodian traditional arts, such as dancing and music, to communicate the truths of the Gospel while, at the same time, ministering to children by bringing them into a home and providing a safe environment for learning and growing.
"A number of Cambodian churches utilize some of their traditional dance forms in worship celebrations," Carlton said. "This [CCAM] may also provide a possible avenue for OBU students in the fine arts to learn about using traditional art forms in Christian ministry and communication of the Gospel."
Through the English-language classes in Cambodian schools and building relationships with students, several OBU students found opportunities to share their personal faith. In Cambodia, idol worship is prominent, a result of the nation being predominantly Buddhist. However, OBU students said they could perceive ways God is at work in Cambodia.
"The most rewarding part of the trip was sharing the Gospel with our students, many of whom had never before heard the story of God's love for them," Chapman said. "After sharing the Gospel with one student, tears filled his eyes and he said, 'That is such a great story! Can you tell me more?'"
Students report GO Trips are a valuable experience because they allow the students to live out their faith in practical relationships while also experiencing new cultures. Opportunities such as teaching English and engaging university students will continue to be available to OBU GO teams in the future.
"I think it's incredibly important for OBU students to take the opportunity to participate in GO Trips," said Chapman. "I knew the trip to Cambodia would have a major impact on my life, but I never dreamed God would do such a work in me."