Joelma (Brazil) started serving with OM in Cambodia in 2017. She teaches guitar and ukulele classes at Mercy Team International’s (MTI) centre. Most of the students live in nearby slums and sort trash to sustain their families, making .50 – 1 USD per day. The educational opportunities afforded by OM MTI offer students a pathway to a brighter future and give them a chance to learn about and experience the love of God.
Why did you come to Cambodia?
Joelma: I started my ministry at OM Brazil, and there I heard about the ministry in Cambodia. This is a country that is 95 per cent Buddhist, so God started burdening me and talking in my heart about the need for more people to show His light here.
What have you learned while working in Cambodia?
Joelma: I have learned to be patient with myself because learning another language and learning another culture takes time. The culture is totally different than my culture, but there are good things in the culture that we can compare with the Bible. For example, the way they honour their parents here in Cambodia is a good thing. I have learned a lot from the way they respect older people and each other. The people are very hospitable, and they try to help me. They encourage me and help me with Khmer classes, so I can better learn the language.
What ministry opportunities do you have?
Joelma: I started giving guitar classes to help the children understand a little more English. I use a lot of worship songs, and I teach Bible verses in the songs. The children sing, and this message stays in their hearts. I also give craft classes to them, and I teach them more principles from the Bible—not only to show Jesus but also to teach them how to live well with their parents and in their environment.
What cultural differences have you experienced?
Joelma: I’m Brazilian, and Brazilian people like to touch a lot. It’s very common in Brazil for people to touch men and women and children; we always kiss each other and hug each other. Here, people keep their distance and bow to each other. This was a little difficult for me, but I’m already getting used to it. God is very good to me because he gave me the children, and children here like to hug you a lot.
How does Buddhism affect people’s lives?
Joelma: The Buddhist view in Cambodia is very different than the Christian view. Their worldview is not that people go to heaven or hell, but for them, life is only a cycle. The goal of a Buddhist is to live well on earth in order to have good karma. They don’t want to live forever in heaven [with God]; they want to disappear. They think Christianity is a religion for foreigners. They respect different religions, but they don’t want to believe in Christ because they think they will have trouble with their gods.
How would you encourage Latinos to engage the least reached?
Joelma: Latin America is almost all Christian. Today we have about two billion people who don’t know Jesus yet. Here in Cambodia, we have 14,000 villages without a church. I encourage Latin Americans to see the countries unreached by the gospel. Many people who have a calling to missions give up because the church doesn’t support them financially, but God provides. Don’t give up, persist in what God is calling you to do, and go! Just believe and go.
Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International, based in the US. She’s passionate about partnering with believers to communicate the ways God is working across the globe. In her free time, you’ll find her biking, paddle boarding or curling up with coffee and a good book.