I love being able to communicate with both friends and strangers in their native tongue. I love being able to explain myself and what I want. I love to be able to show people that I care enough about them that learning their language is important to me. I love being able to have precious moments with people that involve more than just confused glances and hand gestures.
But, I will be honest. I hate studying. I hate homework. I hate feeling overwhelmed with the vast amount of language that I do not know. I hate that I have been studying Khmer for a year and still struggle to have basic conversations most days.
A couple months ago, my "neyeck crew" (teacher) began praying with me before each of my lessons. She would pray for me to be able to speak well, to have good health, to have wisdom, and other things depending on the day. Then, she would ask me if I understood what she prayed. Generally, I would understand some of it but not all. And so, my lesson would begin.
Time out. I will take this moment to share a little about the Khmer language. There are many ways in which Khmer is a simple language. It does not have tones, which many other Southeast Asian languages have in abundance. It has a simple grammatical structure. There is no conjugation of verbs. But, it does have a few different vocabularies. The set of language used with families and friends is completely different than the vocabulary used with monks. And, that is different from the language used to speak to, of, and about the king. The king's language is also the vocabulary used to talk about God. So, understanding "church talk" is really difficult for me because the words are completely different from those that I hear on a normal basis in everyday conversation. Time in.
After a few weeks of my teacher praying for me, she then turned the tables. She taught me proper address, proper "prayer language," and proper prayer ending. The first few days she let me read my prayer from my notebook, but one day she left me with this warning, "Tgnai praya-hoah bong aht ahn ah-tee-tahn" (Thursday you cannot read the prayer). So, when that Thursday came, I fumbled through a prayer with my teacher's promptings. Since then, she has continued to challenge me to pray for new things, to expand my prayers.
Ah-tee-tahn. It seems so simple. But, I cannot tell you what it has done in my heart to pray in Khmer, to be able to pray for my Khmer teacher in her native language. In the past week, I have found myself thanking God in Khmer, agreeing in prayer with my Khmer brothers and sisters in Khmer. The more I learn, the more I connect, the more I fall in love with my God and with Cambodia. Awkun Preah-ong. Thank You, God.