Well what an experience! The MATES 2017 experience in Cambodia has come and gone and left heads spinning, hearts racing and lives expanded around Tatachilla Lutheran College!

Mates was an acronym arrived at by the students before ordering their T-shirts for this Service Learning experience. It stands for mission, awareness, transformation, encounter/enlightenment and service. It particularly grasps the notion that at the heart of the trip is the desire to build relationships with the people of Krus Village. The Aussie notion of mateship and solidarity started as an aspiration but became reality for our students.

So what did ‘mission’ come to mean for us?
We were on mission to become aware of the horrific toll on life and society generally under Pol Pot as we quietly walked through the Killing Fields Museum and the S21 detention centre. We were on a mission to encounter and be enlightened by learning from those striving to close orphanages because of abusive practises in them, and then place children back into their own families.

In Krus village we were transformed from tourists to be ‘part of the family’ by playing with the locals, helping children learn English, going on a picnic with the staff and providing the funds to see four modest houses built. Here it was not so much swinging hammers that served but identifying the needs and supporting the dreams and hopes of this little community to make a loving impact on some of the weakest and frail members of the village. It was their vision we served.

We were transformed from individualist, self-sufficient Westerners to humbled, self-aware, limited beings in the presence of a little girl dying from cancer. We served and were ‘on mission’ as we stood there in solidarity expressing love in our own helplessness -some praying for the first time for grace to be at work in that situation. We were on a mission to listen and learn whilst sitting at the feet of Ek Montha, a Khmer Rouge survivor, as she shared with us her tale of courage and second chances. She was transformed from a corpse after being left for dead in a mass grave. Transformation was epitomised in her testimony of placing her faith in a man who, two thousand years earlier, had risen from the dead and loved the lost. This had inspired her to overcome evil and be transformed.

We were on mission to encounter and be enlightened as 13 and 14 year-olds patiently taught us to speak some Khmer at a Transform Learning Centre sponsored by SA’s own Molly Dooker Winery. We were ‘on mission’ when we were buying tickets to Phare circus or buying cup-cakes and drinks in Blooms Café knowing that every cent we spent there went to support the very waitresses serving us who had been rescued out of trafficked sex-slave entrapment! We were also on mission to encounter ancient civilisation and inspiring nature as we rode bikes through the famous Angkor temples. We served by sharing, watching, learning, and by showing solidarity with our new-found brothers and sisters!

Next year’s group is already forming and will meet with Pastor Sophouen from Krus Village in December when she comes back for the Grow Leadership intensive. We pray that the next visit to our mates in Cambodia will continue to build on our relationship and be of ongoing mutual support for all involved.

If your school would like to know more about how they can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission service-learning and ministry partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email erin.kerber@lca.org.au. For more information, go to www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/service-learning/

Read more stories about school partnerships and school service-learning at www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/local-partners/schools/