Their faces were clean, anticipation shining out. They clustered together, bare feet carrying red dust onto the blue tarp. Branches burst green overhead, separating hot clear blue sky above from blue plastic below. Golden sunshine wriggled through, reflecting off of straight ebony hair and deep slanted brown eyes.
We settled in among them, seven white caps in a beautiful frothing brown ocean.
The Bible school students, native Cambodians matching the brown mass of anticipation, greeted the children. I surveyed the crowd, picking out several children whose parents I had greeted a few hours earlier.
"Tell your name and ask their name," So Cheat, one of the eight Bible school students had said in an Asian accent as thick as his jet-black hair. His eyes shifted toward the group of three mothers. I followed them.
Two were squatting in typical Cambodian style on the waist high bamboo platform, feet flat, backside an inch or two from the ground, and torso pressed forward between their knees for balance. One swung slowly from a hammock tied into the thatch overhead. Three small children were scattered around and underneath them: who belonged to whom?
Packaged crackers, tropical fruit, Cambodian candies, and a few cans of Fanta comprised their makeshift roadside store, unpacked each day from the orange, mud-smudged cooler that had been scooted beneath the platform.
"Knyom chumua Elsie. Ta niak chumu avai?" I remembered to swallow the 'k' and tried to speak fluidly as they did, the strange syllables rolling off their practiced tongues between crooked and slowly blackening teeth. Teeth told more about a person's age than height or faces weathered by merciless sun reflecting off the rice paddies.
Each one answered my faltering question. Then a flurry of Khmer was launched toward So Cheat. I smiled through it. "They say you talk very good Khmer," he translated for me. "Ahkun sharan," I directed toward the women, glad that simple words no longer needed a translator.
Again I stood by smiling as So Cheat volleyed back in Khmer. He invited the women to bring their children to a presentation that they and the American team would put on in the afternoon. They wouldn't mind packing up their mini mini-mart to come.
"Chum reap leer!" Our hands came together in front of our noses and or bodies dipped slightly forward as we backed away in pursuit of the next house. We left them as we had found them.
"Prea Yesu chim cha pi boblo de mul..." the sparkling sea did the hand motions along with us. Yes, Jesus was the owner of all the people in the whole world, and of these brown faces too. Their ears heard His name for the first time, their eyes saw His love.
By divine grace some hearts understood His story.
They mobbed the Bible school students with a flurry of Khmer. "They want us to come back next week," they told us later. The village took an hour to reach.
The students would be back in September.
Hungry hearts will wait patiently for September, but some might starve. Those with the blackest teeth might not hold out.
Why must they wait?
"The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few." -Jesus (Matthew 9:37)
Eight Bible school students. One short-term American team. Hundreds of villages.
The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.
Then pray to the Lord of the harvest, and He will send more labourers! But be warned -
He might send you.
"I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been." -David Livingstone