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New Place, Same Gospel


The Dunbar Family have been living in the capital city, Phnom Penh, of Cambodia since late 2018. In this article they share on what life is like adjusting to a new country and what they have learned about the Gospel since they've moved there.

What’s New?

Our family has been in Cambodia for just over a year now and in that time, we’ve had to adjust to many new things. The instant we stepped off the plane we were suddenly surrounded by “newness”. New language, new smells, new faces, new food and new approaches to safety. Even the dogs and cats looked different from what we were used to!

As the weeks turned into months, we were continually learning things about our new country and about ourselves. We’ve had to learn how to cope with regular power cuts and water shortages when it’s 35+ degrees outside. We’ve learnt how to break into a locked room using a credit card (thank you YouTube!).We’ve learnt that what may look like chaotic traffic conditions can actually have a zen-like order to it, while at other times, it actually is chaotic and nobody knows how to move!

Surprises of Another Country

Of course, it’s fairly obvious that there would be new things for us in a new country. Before we came here, we read books, talked with people with experience and spent five months in Melbourne at the CMS Australia cross-cultural mission training facility. We knew about and were well-prepared for many of the challenges we would be facing in Cambodia. But, despite all of this, there were still things we didn’t expect.

We didn’t expect phone apps that make it so easy to get around town using the local transport, effectively eliminating the need to talk to the drivers (but not very helpful for language learning).

We didn’t know how easy it would be to get access to many of the things we thought we’d never see until we returned to New Zealand. Yes, you can get Vegemite here! We didn’t realise the extent of the energy drain and tiredness that language learning can bring.

And we definitely didn’t anticipate how helpless and distant it would feel living here on the other side of the world and finding that the people of our hometown had endured yet another traumatic event – the mass shooting at the mosques in Christchurch.

There has been so much change and so much newness in such a relatively brief time. We’re so thankful to God that we’ve remained in good health and that our children have made friends close by to where we live.

There has been so much change and so much newness in such a relatively brief time. We’re so thankful to God that we’ve remained in good health and that our children have made friends close by to where we live.

The New “Old” Message

One thing that we knew we’d find here, are people who are hurting and broken and in as much need of a saviour as anyone else around the world.

Cambodia is a predominantly Buddhist country. It’s obvious as you travel around that people’s world view and the way they live their lives is shaped by this. Buddhism around the world comes in many forms and is heavily influenced by previous religions, which produces complex layers of beliefs that vary from culture to culture. In Cambodia, Buddhism is underpinned by Hinduism and held under the various animistic beliefs that saturate that belief system. The Khmer people (Cambodians) exist on a constant treadmill of making merit, seeking prosperity and trying to appease spirits to keep themselves from harm. On top of this, the nation is still recovering from the extreme trauma inflicted by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s. We still have much to learn about how all this forms the Khmer world view and how the Gospel and the Good News of Jesus Christ can break through.

It is no surprise then that, though the culture is new for us and the Gospel message is new and still unheard of to most Cambodians, the message itself hasn’t changed. It is this Gospel that brings hope and salvation to the world and it is this Gospel that we pray will be spread throughout this land, bringing real transformation and a hope for a future in Christ.

We hope to be here for a long time. Pray for us that we will learn more and more about how the Khmer people see the world so that we can learn to communicate the Good News in a way that they can understand. Pray for the nation of Cambodia, that many people will have the opportunity to hear the Good News and that new churches will be planted and new disciples made.