Yesterday I walked the familiar route to language school for the last time, at least in this season. Past the little street-side cafes, the aunts selling coconuts, endless buildings under construction. I smiled a little at the familiar creak of the gate to the school and greeted the teachers who were planning lessons and chatting together as they waited for students to arrive.
The very first day of language school was 21 months ago and I could barely say, “My name is Sarah” in Khmer. I remember meeting our teacher for the first time that day, wondering if she would be patient with my lack of giftedness in learning language, if I would be able to keep up. Yesterday we chatted about what’s next, current news events, and pondered God’s heart displayed in the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel.
The teachers are always eager for picture-taking opportunities, and as we linked arms and smiled for the camera, I marveled at the ways that they patiently listened to my bad Khmer, laughed at my mistakes, gently corrected, and when we began telling Bible stories how they listened so diligently and asked the hard questions.
I remembered the days I went home and cried in my room because I couldn’t understand, I had struggled with correct pronunciation or couldn’t think of the right words. There were days when I felt like the mountain of language learning was too strenuous of a climb and I wanted to give in to defeat. I thought of the excitement of getting asked to help with translating, realizing I was farther along than I thought. There were days of victory, when I told a tough story and remembered all the important parts, and received a little bit of praise.
There were so many fun moments too- on field trips with other students to learn about Khmer New Year, or getting our feet muddy as we helped with rice harvest, or watching the boat competitions during the water festival.
There were hard days and good days and sometimes I still can’t understand everything that is being said and sometimes I can think of just the right word or phrase and sometimes I can’t. This language learning journey has been one of the hardest and most humbling experiences of my life, stripping me of any pride in my ability and drawing me closer to the Creator of my brain and tongue. Any ability to speak is for His glory and for His purposes so that His praise can be declared in Khmer in this nation.