Jim and Elisabeth Elliott were a young couple who did ministry among the indigenous people of Ecuador. They, and several other couples, were instrumental in bringing the gospel to some of the most remote tribes in that part of the world. And while Jim’s ministry was powerful yet short due to his martyrdom at the hands of a tribe that would later become believers, Elisabeth has remained on this earth to tell their story and write numerous books offering spiritual lessons from a woman who knows much about the trials of life.
In her book, Be Still My Soul, Elisabeth gives a brief account of her time spent among the Auca Indians:
When I lived with the Auca Indians for two years, I learned more about servant-hood than I had known from my Christian upbringing. . . . The women would go out into the fields as soon as they had taken care of the babies and fed the small children and had eaten whatever might be left over for them. At the end of the day, an Auca woman would come home carrying her fifty- or sixty-pound basket of manioc and plantains . . . She would walk into her house, stoop down to drop the basket behind her, and set to work stirring up the fire, cooking the food, very calmly and quietly doing the things that needed to be done before the family went to bed. Sometimes far-away Westerners, who had little idea of the actual situation, commended me . . . There were others . . . who condemned me . . . [But] I became reconciled to my situation by watching the Indians, serving each other and me untroubled by the relative value of their work, free of the pressures of competition and comparison.36
We find in this account a willingness to learn, to adjust and conform to the Auca’s daily life – to be teachable. She found in the Auca way of life something valuable and refreshing in comparison to the cultural practices from home. No doubt Elisabeth had much to adapt to and overcome as she transitioned from a Western lifestyle to the seemingly simplistic, but perhaps more laborious one of the Auca Indians. Despite the criticism she received for bringing her children into such an environment, she was nevertheless willing to abandon her customary way of life and trade it in for another for the sake of the gospel. She did not enter the Auca community expecting to transform every aspect society. She may have had much to teach them spiritually, but that would come in time. And there were some things that did not need to change. Superior technological knowledge and ideas about efficiency may very well have been on her side, but whereas other missionaries often come in with blueprints and plans characteristic of their cultures and ways of life, Elisabeth recognized the value of setting all that aside for the sake of meeting people where they are.
Staying and working in Cambodia will be not be as dramatic an experience culturally as Elisabeth encountered in Ecuador. But just as Elisabeth was a student of the Aucas, so too must you become a student of the Cambodians as well as the local staff. She held the keys to the kingdom of God in her hand, but the way to teach those people was not like that of an army storming a city and claiming it de facto and with mere banners.
You have much to say. There is a passion and a desire in your heart to bring heaven to earth, to show the world who God is and what He has done. There is a time and a place for that to happen in Cambodia. But it must also be important to you to learn what you can from the Cambodians, to go before them in humility and listen with open ears and open hearts. This is not just a formality, a way of being culturally sensitive. Rather, it is an avenue for you to better serve those whom you have come to minister to as you learn to operate within their culture and be salt and light to them in a way that they will best understand.
Cambodia comes with its own dirt, decay and underlying community issues that differ from those that you might find in your own area. Customs are different and ways of communicating might be strange. The ebb of history has formed and shaped this country and its people uniquely.
Do not let pride convince you that you are infinite in your knowledge and all powerful in your ability to teach. Omniscience and omnipotence belong to God alone. The rest of us always have much to learn, forever students of the kingdom of God and of one another.
“He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.”37
36 Elliot, Elisabeth. Be Still My Soul (Grand Rapids: Revell, 2006), 100-101.
37 Proverbs 17:27, NKJV