Six months into our new life in Cambodia, my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our first child! We were thrilled and excited, but that joy in my heart was later coupled with fear and concern.
I remember eight months later sitting in one of our language school classrooms being assessed on my speaking and listening abilities in Khmer (the language of Cambodia). My teacher "Bopha" asked me in Khmer how I was feeling about soon giving birth. As clearly as I could in his language, I confessed my fears and worries about having a baby outside my home culture. I feared I wouldn't want to leave the house anymore with a new full-time job of keeping a little one alive and healthy. I assumed my friendly personality might change and the friendships I had worked so hard at cultivating in a new culture would dry up because my social energy would evaporate.
Bopha, my teacher and brother in Christ, listened compassionately to my worries and gave me my grade for the language test. Before leaving the room, he put a hand on my shoulder, smiled kindly, and said, "God bless you." I still tear up thinking of that interaction and the deep encouragement and assurance I felt from the Lord through that simple sentence. I felt cared for and not forgotten and that the little life growing in me was important to God just like she was to me.
A month later, "Rita" was born! My husband and I beamed with joy and updated family group chats with her birth details and pictures. To our surprise, Khmer friends popped in to visit us in the hospital, eager to celebrate with us in person.
After three long days and nights, the doctor finally discharged us from the hospital, and we were ready to begin our life as a family of three! Toting our duffle bag of necessities, our beloved newborn daughter wrapped in a pink blanket, and a large bouquet of flowers and gift basket gifted to us by the nurses, we squeezed into a waiting tuk-tuk (also known as an auto-rickshaw) and headed homeward.
As I gazed out the door of the tuk-tuk at the passing city scenes, I felt a sudden panic cloud the journey. Endless litter on the streets, congested traffic of motorcycles bunched together without clear lanes, brown concrete with no trees, or beautiful nature in sight. What had we done?! How could we raise a baby here? What on earth were we thinking?
Thankfully, God soon laid my fears to rest. We survived the foggy newborn phase of late-night feedings and sleep deprivation, and when Rita was about two months old, we returned to our local church. During the welcome part of the service, ladies and teenagers bee-lined to us and Rita. They took her from our arms and passed her around excitedly. How loved and accepted we as a family felt! We later noticed a collage of pictures hanging in the back of the sanctuary featuring various church members. Our family's photo was of us three in the hospital with me in my pink hospital gown. We had to laugh and feel thankful to be included at all.
Now at three years of age, Rita has greatly enriched our lives on the field. I felt initial concern about being an effective minister of the gospel while balancing motherhood responsibilities, but those two roles are not mutually exclusive. As predicted by veteran missionaries, having a child actually opened many doors for us in our city! Strangers would smile at us and want to meet the "gohn tokada" (doll baby) with "sea-colored eyes." When Rita and another child play together on a public playground, I enjoy befriending the other child's mom and exchanging contact information for future playdates. When I go alone to visit friends, the first question I'm often asked is, "Where's Rita?" They love and prefer when I bring her along. When we hosted a small, Sunday morning worship gathering in our living room during many months of COVID restrictions, Rita sat with us in the circle to sing along to worship songs and sit in our friends' laps contentedly, much to the delight of our friends. When we host missional communities in our home, Rita cozies up to her Khmer "aunties" and desperately wants to contribute in the Bible reading time. (Hopefully, she'll learn to read soon.) As we close our gathering with "world prayer" (prayers prayed aloud at the same time), Rita's cute voice lifts up prayers for her stuffed animals, recent boo-boos, and grandparents whom she misses.
Several other young families live on our peaceful, dead-end street. Little girls ages one to thirteen play together in the cool evenings. Rita sometimes joins them on her tricycle, and it's afforded wonderful opportunities for me and my husband to get to know and share good news with our neighbors! Recently, the local kids were eating dinner outside on plastic chairs. Rita ran home to get her leftover "bye psych druke" (grilled pork rice) breakfast food so she could join them on their spontaneous picnic.
To see our American daughter embraced and welcomed into this Cambodian community warms our hearts as an answer to prayer. Right now, our calling is also Rita's calling, and we are so thankful for the little ministry partner God has given us.