Journal Excerpts from Our First Month in Cambodia

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:4


I almost didn’t publish the following journal entries, which I recorded during our first weeks in Cambodia. When I read them for the first time after a year, I was surprised by the intensity of my original feelings (although I’m nothing if not intense). I remembered that time as being bad, but not this bad. I’m sharing some of my journal here because I want 1) to give people hope, 2) to proclaim, along with Samuel, “thus far has the Lord helped us,” and 3) never to lose my compassion for those currently in the “depths of despair.” (Anne Shirley addicts unite! She still relates to all of life.)

I’m happy here now, and I’m no longer plagued by any of these yucks. We worked to correct some of them, while I simply became accustomed to others. The yays, however, persist – my dependence on worship, laughter, and a wonderful husband, haven’t changed at all.

Arrival Date: January 16th, 2012.

Friday January 20th. And there is absolutely nothing about this place that I don’t hate. Can’t think of any earthly reason why we shouldn’t just pack up and go back. So I pretty much don’t know how I’m ever going to survive here, let alone be happy again.

Theme #1: My Overreactor is dialed ALL the way up. You’ll see this repeated quite often.

Sunday January 22st. ICA was so good for my soul. “My life is in you, Lord, My strength is in You, Lord, My hope is in You, Lord, in You, It’s in You.” In worship today I just declared this to God, that He is my strength, my life, that I’m depending on Him to sustain me and only He can do it. We sang about going whatever the cost and up the highest mountain and through the darkest valley. God reminded me that I’m here to stay. Not just in Cambodia, but in relationship with Him. I’m not leaving Him. I’m stubborn on this point.


Struggling to find God on our first Sunday

So tired. Can barely stay awake after 5 pm every day. Up 6 times last night with Hannah. There is so much dust here that has to be swept and mopped every day, and that gets old. It feels so futile. Just get up the next day to clean it all again. Everything here is so stinkin’ dangerous. Sharp corners on walls, slippery floors. So much more danger in general.

Theme #2: My Hope is dialed all the way down. (Again, oft-repeated.)

Theme #3: Worship music was my lifeline. You’ll see this one again too.

Monday January 23nd. Bought the wrong size diapers. Again. I can’t get this kilogram thing figured out! But I am doing better in general. So is Jonathan. Can’t wait to go back to ICA.

And good grief the mosquito bites. New ones each morning. So itchy. Jonathan had to fix some electrical wiring today. Plugs are never enough or in a convenient place. Can’t flush in the morning. Showers don’t drain well. The heat saps your energy. Driving saps energy — there seem to be no rules. The nationals and their police know the rules but we don’t. Street signs don’t exist and the roads aren’t N-S-E-W. Dirt is everywhere and has to be cleaned. Laundry must be hung and dishes washed by hand. (Did I mention I can’t wait to get a house helper??) The language barrier is huge and everything is in kg.

Tuesday January 24th. I’m not particularly happy. I’m not particularly unhappy. I am particularly exhausted. Everything is so hard here but I keep plugging away. “Whatever.” That’s how I feel much of the time. I can laugh, however. We laugh all the time. Mostly at the stupidity of living here.

Everything is so stinkin dusty. Floors, furniture, stair railings. Even clean clothes smell like wood fire and spices. Annoying. Hannah slept all night with the aid of Benadryl. Benadryl to Isaac for his hundred mosquito bites. They were super bad in the house yesterday. Feet hurt excruciatingly badly. I need house shoes with arch support because I can barely walk. It’s so humid here, even in air con, that my hair doesn’t dry at night.

Theme #4: I can’t survive without laughter. (Experts claim that the beginning of laughter signals the slow ascent out of the Abyss of Culture Shock.)

Thursday January 26th. Another day. Ugg. Why do I have to live here? I don’t want to live here. I don’t want to want to live here. And I don’t want to keep living. Life is easier back home and I want it. Everything bothers me. Why does it have to be so hard? Nothing comes ready-made. You have to do it yourself, and even then the electrical wiring comes apart. I hate mornings. Reminds me how unhappy I am. At least at night I can look forward to sleep.

I suppose one of these days these pages will be happier. But I have never been unhappier. It seems so hopeless. I want to go home. I want to go home so bad that I don’t even care that it would look bad, that my life story wouldn’t mean anything, that it would go against everything we’ve ever said, that it would disappoint people, that we would have wasted people’s money, that it might be hard to find a ministry job. But this life is so terrible. I can’t stand it. I can’t find meaning. I can’t find pleasure. I can’t find comfort. I can’t find ease. I can’t find understanding. I can’t even find food I actually want to eat. And every morning I awaken to more needs from the girls. That is so endlessly draining. Can’t clean or cook or do anything b/c Faith needs me to hold her. I’m off to more house work now. Dirty, stinky, unending housework. Bartering is so hard, and you do it in 2 different currencies, 2 different languages, and never know if it’s a good price.

So much to fix. I can’t see the end, it goes on forever. This morning I wanted to die. I told Jonathan I wouldn’t kill myself b/c I don’t like pain, but all I wanted to do was to get on a plane alone and run away. Coming here really did seem like a good idea at the time. Not anymore. Plus Faith is sick with a fever, poor cranky baby.

Repeat of Themes 1 and 2 (High on Overreactivity and Low on Hope)

Sunday afternoon January 29th. Been sick for 2 days. Pain, chills, fever (flu-like) along with abdominal pain and diarrhea. Could barely move last 2 days. I missed church and hated to miss it. When will my heart take up residence in this place? I worry about never accomplishing anything. Never making a difference. To make a difference I’ll have to learn this language (too hard).

Themes 1 and 2 strike again (Overreactivity and Hopelessness).

Somehow I want to make peace with living here as Jonathan has. Being here makes me love my husband more than ever. He is so sweet to me, taking care of me when I’m sick, being patient with my depressed moods and angry outbursts. Seeing him in this setting reminds me how special he is, much more loving than most men.

Theme #5 surfaces: I need my husband.

Wednesday February 1st. I was so sick. 3 days of diarrhea and pain, then went to Dr Modich at Mercy Clinic. (I thought I was going to die I was in so much pain.) I needed Cipro. Still not back to normal plus I have a terrible head cold on top of that.

Finding Him is no longer fun and exciting. It’s drudgery, fearfulness, pain, sadness. But I am determined to find Him in this dark place. He is the light of the world and those who seek Him will find Him when they seek Him with their whole hearts. I will find Him. Yes.


Out to dinner with Jonathan’s sister before she left the country,

but still recovering from illness.

Thursday February 2nd. One thing that’s hard about living here (only one!) is that people like to touch my kids, and they don’t like it. How to stop it politely? I don’t know. In a moment of frustration today I started singing Magnificat. I knew I had to praise, and sure enough, I felt better.

Theme 3 (Worship) to the rescue again
Saturday February 4th. “This world may pass, and with it common trifles, but God and I will go unendingly.” These are the common trifles . . . mosquito bites that itch, heat and humidity, laundry that smells like fire (if window open) or mildew rotting (if closed).

Sunday February 26th. Church – great worship. Your Grace is Enough. How Deep the Father’s Love. A Zoe Group song I listened to while pregnant with Faith and during her labor. I cried during You are My Strength. Great a cappella song. Felt so good to sing. Made me homesick for heaven when we’ll all be together again singing praises to our King.

There I am, relying on Theme 3 again (worship).

March 27th. A few weeks into Cambodia I realized it would be more difficult to pack up and leave for home than to stay.

And then, inexplicably, I stopped journaling. Apparently I didn’t feel the need to journal my unhappiness anymore. So to anyone considering following God in a “big” way, no matter what that is, please do not give up Hope that life will improve, that Transition will pass. Do not believe that the rest of your life will be as dreadful as it feels right now. Hold on to Hope.


We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  Romans 5:3-5

4 thoughts on “Journal Excerpts from Our First Month in Cambodia

  1. WOW Elizabeth! You have come a long way! GOD IS GREAT! Your faith, hope, trust, and perseverance are inspirational! Thank you for courageously sharing your early journal entries and being open about your fears.(we all can relate to fear) You have revealed God’s power through your weakness. I think of this scripture where Paul shares his fear: “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1st Cor. 2:3,4 Thank you for helping us to come closer to knowing and believing: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13 May God continue to bless you and give you strength!!!

  2. Thank you for posting the reality of life overseas. My husband and I, along with our 4 teenage kids, are raising support to move to India for a year and then to Cambodia. So I’ve read several of your posts. Many of them remind me of when we first went to Uganda, East Africa as missionaries with our 2 young kids. Everyone wanted to touch them too. And the mosquito bites! And the being sick, mostly from malaria. And braving that slow transition into community and knowing you must absolutely leave your house if you’re ever going to figure things out. I look forward to reading more posts, and perhaps even meeting you and your family in Phnom Penh.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.