Southwestern students learn missionary lessons of ‘flexibility,’ ‘servant heart’ in Cambodia


While serving in Cambodia Sept. 30-Oct. 8 during a mission trip with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity student Haylee Grace* learned “that missions will be more of a sacrifice than I thought it would be.”

Grace, a Fort Worth native who is called to overseas missions, was one of five students who served on the mission team led by Michael Copeland, assistant professor of missions and associate director of the World Missions Center at Southwestern.

For Grace, it was her first mission trip overseas after trying for three years to serve on an international mission trip. She said the trip “showed me that not every situation will be comfortable for me, but I still need to trust God and lean on Him.”

The team of students learned the missionary lessons of “flexibility” and a “servant heart” when their original agenda changed “because the workers faced different kinds of emergencies leaving because one family” could not extend their visa, explained Chris Choi*, a Master of Divinity student from East Asia.

Despite the adjustment in schedule, Copeland said among the team of students he saw “encouragement to local church planters and their missionary partners as we arrived ready to serve their varying ministries.”

Haylee Grace, a Fort Worth, Texas, native and Master of Divinity student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, interacts with a group of girls in Cambodia during a student mission trip. Grace, who is called to serve overseas, said the trip showed her that “not every situation will be comfortable for me, but I still need to trust God and lean on Him.”

Cambodia is a nation “still recovering from drastic depopulation due to events of the last half of the 20th century” that has also seen an increase in children born over the last two decades, Copeland explained. He said due to the economic hardships the country faces, it “means that most youth do not have adequate opportunities for education.” The result is that outside of Phnom Penh, the nation’s capital and most populous city, children “might go to school until grade six and only half days for whatever time they are able to attend,” Copeland said.

“Many church planters and churches try to fill the gap by offering to board and care for the many children who are abandoned by parents who cannot afford to feed them,” Copeland added. “They have done this by opening schools, which fulfill the basic governmental education required and add supplemental education – including teaching English or Chinese – languages often sought after as giving more economic opportunities. These schools add to the education opportunities of children enrolled – whether those needing boarding or those whose families can pay.”

This allows local churches and church planters “opportunities to provide a living for themselves, a way to bless and serve their communities, and opportunities to share Christ,” Copeland explained.

The Southwestern students taught “impromptu lessons, taking the opportunities to share the Gospel through varying biblical stories,” Copeland said. “In doing so, because the lessons were in English, our students were able to aid the schools’ reputations in the communities and engage the children – ages anywhere from 6 to 13 – with the Gospel.”

Choi noted the needs of the schools as the team served.

“We went to several schools which are in big need for good language teachers,” he said. “There are hundreds of kids who need to be reached in the villages. The parents and kids are looking [to learn] languages such as English and Chinese.”

The mission team from Southwestern Seminary played games of duck, duck, goose with children in a shelter in Cambodia as ministry workers made connections with local churches and pastors.

The Southwestern Seminary team was used by God to “support the missionaries who work in Cambodia,” Grace said. She said one of the days the team rode three hours north of the city to work at a children’s shelter. While at the shelter, the mission team played games with the children while the missionaries were able “to make connections with 17 churches and 30 pastors” as the student team helped by keeping “the kids occupied while they talked,” Grace added.

“Cambodia is a current hub area for both missionaries engaging church planting in Southeast Asia and an area where many global mission partners come in order to train for mission work,” Copeland said. “I wanted our students to both engage local and international church planters, as well as see how mission works with those being trained to engage missions from places around the world many Westerners would not expect.”

Grace said through the trip she learned that “God can use us in ways that we weren’t expecting.” She said on one car ride she sat in the back of the car talking with a daughter of one of the missionaries for a long time. While Grace “didn’t think anything about it,” she said the “missionaries told me later that it was a blessing to them and their daughter that I listened to her for so long, since she had just recently lost two close friends due to them moving away.”

The experience reminded Grace that she “must trust God in every circumstance.”

“Missionaries don’t move to third-world countries just for fun,” she said. “They stay because they trust that God’s plan is the best for their life and others’ lives.”

Grace encourages others to join international mission teams “because it opens your eyes to how more of the world lives. It shows you that God is working in more of the world than just the bubble we live in.”

*Names changed for security reasons.