Ministry Lessons . . . from a French Catholic Priest and a Khmer Worship Service

A scene from the Alsace region

Earlier this week we invited one of Jonathan’s language school friends to our house for dinner. He is a newly ordained French Catholic priest who has been assigned to Cambodia for life. He hails from the Alsace region of France. When Jonathan asked him about the most beautiful place he’s ever been, he answered that it was his own region. His home in Alsace, the place of his roots.

He told us he believes that if you cannot love the place you come from, you cannot love the place you go to. So I dropped out of the dinner conversation for a few minutes to contain my emotion. What a beautiful thing to say. He loves his home, but he has sacrificed living there because of love for his God, and his heart is open to love this place and its people as well.

I am not sure whether it is the French-English language difference, or simply because he comes from a different faith tradition than me, but his words were filled with grace and meaning for me. Tears welled up in my eyes. Yes, I love my home. Yes, I love the people who live there. Yes, I love my God, and yes, I love this place. I fully intend to love the people of this place. I want my heart to be open to love.

Then this Sunday I experienced my first non-English church service. Jonathan had attended non-English services before — in Cambodia and also in Russia and Germany — but I had not. I had not expected it to impact me quite so much (not because I thought I was immune to such things, but because I had not taken the time to think about it, silly me, mother of 4 young children, too busy getting ready for church to stop and think).

John 1:1-5

I could reliably understand only a few words: “thank God,” “Jesus,” “love,” and “hallelujah.” I could not read the Cambodian song books; I did not recognize the melodies. But I worshipped all the same. It was at this service that I finally understood, at my very core, that Jesus does not speak only English. His offer of salvation is for all nations. Oh, of course I “knew” that before, but there, in that small gathering of Cambodian believers, I truly realized that God speaks all languages with the same perfect skill. He understands each Christian across the globe, no matter their language. He does not understand me better than He understands a Khmer Christian — even if I do not understand that same Khmer Christian.

What I said to my kids later was, “Isn’t it neat that everyone can talk to Jesus? Isn’t it neat that Jesus can understand everybody?” I hope they can grow up strongly convicted of what I am just now learning.

I haven’t blogged for a while. I tend to wait until something significant happens, something that really affects me. I had two of those events this week and wanted to share them with you. As always, thank you for praying for our family and for the people whose language we are trying to learn. We want to communicate the Gospel to them in their own words. We want to communicate the Gospel to them with much love. And this week God sent me those two little reminders, much-needed missionary lessons.