There are shrieks coming from behind Naeda’s door. Shrieks and peels of laughter. And music. Suddenly, eight teenagers come running out with phones and cameras to film each other performing the latest dare. “Mr. Doug, I’m so sorry! Naeda is getting me back!” the giant man-child says as he gives Doug a bear hug and mumbles, “I love you.” They all scream in laughter and run back into Naeda’s room, as Doug shouts, “I love you, too!” (They squeal and shriek with more laughter.)
Naeda is celebrating the upcoming end of middle school with some of her school friends. In some ways, it has been so typical for what we would expect from a middle school end of year party at home in Texas:
- However much pizza you buy, the teenagers could have eaten more.
- They love chips, Coke, pizza and chocolate chip cookies. OK, they’ll drink some water if you make them.
- They squeal and play “Marco Polo” and “Truth or Dare.”
- They are cute and fun and very, very loud.
In some ways, it has been very different. I should expect these things by now, but I don’t. So these are little flashes of joy and reminders of God’s love when I see them:
- The kids all take off their shoes and leave them at the door – without even thinking about it. Because that is what you do in Cambodia.
- You have your party in the late morning while it is sunny, because the monsoon season rains usually start for the day by 3:00 p.m.
- Jello is a special party treat.
- 8 kids – 8 nationalities – Nepal, China, South Korea, Philippines, Cambodia, Russia, USA, Germany (Doug and I have to ask these things. The kids don’t seem to notice, or care.)
I know we said when we left Austin in January that this year would be life-changing for our children. I know we said they would have blessings from attending an international Christian school. I know we told them that God was calling them to Cambodia too, that they had a reason to be here. I know I believed these things. But there are the things you believe to be true, and the things you really come to know. I think my beliefs about how this would impact my children were mostly academic – they’ll learn about poverty, they’ll see how people in a developing country live, maybe they’ll learn to appreciate what they have, maybe they’ll be kinder, more open-minded people when they grow up.
I didn’t know, but should have known, that they would so quickly learn to love and embrace other people. I have loved the people in this country from my desk. My kids love them in school busses and swimming pools, volleyball courts and Octa-ball pits. Naeda loved the people of Cambodia today playing games on the floor of her bedroom. And she doesn’t just love the people of Cambodia, she loves people from all over the world. She does it with laughter, and American pop music, a precious bag of Doritos, and sharing her lucky find of a box of Jello.
Doug just reminded me of that very popular song (“from the 1900s,” Naeda would say), “We Are the World.” Remember that? Doug and I sang it in high school. Our kids are living it. Congratulations on finishing 8th grade, Naeda. You are teaching us all.