We finish our dinner of chicken broth, rice and kimchi, inside a patio that is dimly lit by a flickering fluorescent light that you would find in an office. I start to get up, my shirt sticking to my sweaty back. Even the nights in Cambodia remain in the 90’s. I start to gather my empty plates to take to the wash bin.
I bring my hand from my stinging neck- just a mosquito. After dropping off my plates, I walk towards the hammock that is off to the edge of Missionary Esther’s learning center. The chit-chat and laughing from my teammates and new Khmer brothers gradually become quieter, while the crunching of the pebbles from beneath my feat become louder. I reach the hammock, and by then, all I can hear is my breath and the whispers of the palm leaves. I scratch my neck. I can just barely make out the hammock, thanks to the moon, and I slide in the cradle. I let out a long sigh, close my eyes and lie down. I open my eyes. All of a sudden, I am hit in the chest. I am overwhelmingly greeted by the Milky Way floating above me, the stars - thousands upon thousands - winking playfully, and the crescent moon mischievously grinning down down at me. I can almost hear them worship their Maker, the one from whom they receive their majestic brilliance. I take a moment to release another sigh.
“Hey Joe, what are you doing here by yourself?”, Sothea asks in his nearly perfect English.
I tell him that I’m simply enjoying the view. I tell him that it’s rare for me to see the sky so clearly. He asks if I prefer the city of Phnom Penh or the village.
“I love them both, but you can never see something like this in the city.”
He nods in agreement and sits in a chair next to me. We begin to talk of our pasts, our families, our relationship with our Father, and of the missions trip - all the while I am rocking rhythmically in the hammock. I go on to tell him about California, the weather, the culture and the food. He tells me about his goals and passions.
That was my first personal conversation with a Khmer brother.
After some time, we hear more crunches getting closer. Some of the others come to share the view that God graciously paints for us every night. They start to talk with Sothea, but by then, I become aware of the gentle rocking and the heaviness of my eye lids. I burrow deeper into the hammock that has become a cocoon. My friends’ words become unintelligible. I imagine the Father’s arms wrapping me in security and peace, and drift slowly to sleep.