Alan and Leanne Purvis are serving in Cambodia with WEC International

Do you remember as a child, being told by your parents, “Stop talking with your mouth full”? I never really understood why I couldn’t say what I needed to say, even if my mouth was full. I mean, someone just asked me a question; why can’t I answer it? It’s not my fault they asked me a question while I was eating my dinner!!!

Anyway, as an adult, I now understand why I couldn’t do it. Aside from being rude to the people around you, that you might somehow show them some half-chewed food in your mouth, the other reason was that nobody could understand you.

In 2017, my wife and I found ourselves flying to Cambodia for our first short-term missions’ trip. We went there, intending to share about Jesus to non-believers and preach in some small churches. We were so struck to the heart by this trip that we returned in 2018 and 2019. But at the end of 2019, we could no longer justify the comfortable life we lived in Australia and decided to commit ourselves fully to the call of Jesus to “go and make disciples…” Not just once a year but every day for the rest of our lives.

Alan and Leanne Purvis at Oudong Mountain
Alan and Leanne Purvis at Oudong Mountain

We have now been living in Cambodia, for 14 months, preparing to be long-term missionaries. During this time, we’ve been attempting to learn to live in this foreign land, understand our organisation’s ministries, comprehend the endless list of cultural no-nos, and, most importantly, learn the Khmer language.

Honestly, with everything combined, learning to speak Khmer feels like we’re trying to speak with our mouths full. Not only can nobody understand us, but neither can we understand them. In addition, we never know if we are somehow offending them by saying something inappropriate. In many ways, we feel like we’re treading on eggshells every time we open our mouths. Nonetheless, we plod along, hoping that someday, everything will click into place and that, somehow, we might begin to feel like we fit in.

Just a few weeks ago, we attempted to go to a cinema which we’d never been to before. We knew we needed to get to the top floor of the mall but didn’t know where to go from there.

We noticed a cleaner nearby and figured we knew the right words, so we asked for directions. Looking a little confused, she pointed us towards the bathrooms. Hesitantly, we walked that way, wondering if we would magically find the cinema. But alas, there was no such cinema. We know that we said the words correctly… we even confirm with our language teacher. So, why did we end up at the bathrooms?

To be honest, we still don’t have an answer… But the common problem we face here is that people often assume we’re speaking English, so they don’t even realise we’re trying to speak their language, let alone understand us.

This also happens in reverse. Occasionally, during our language classes, I think the teacher is speaking to me in Khmer, but he’s actually speaking in English. I get confused and don’t understand, but then we all laugh as I realise he’s speaking English, and everything suddenly makes sense.

Alan and Leanne Purvis walking through a maze of food.
Walking through a maze of strange food with even stranger names.

It’s a bit like somebody telling you to taste something sweet. You’re expecting a sweet flavour, but they trick you by putting something savoury in your mouth. Your brain immediately does somersaults and you think it’s disgusting. But then you try it again, this time expecting the correct flavour, and you wonder why you didn’t like it the first time.

Learning a language like Khmer is an experience not that dissimilar to riding a bicycle through the mountains. You constantly feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle, but eventually, you do experience those mountain-top moments, followed by the easy ride back down. But those moments are over quickly, and then you face yet another long and arduous climb to the top of the next mountain.

But we do feel like the hard climbs to the top are getting shorter, and the easy rides to the bottom are lasting longer. It just takes patience and perseverance. All of which, after almost one-and-a-half years, can only come from God. We’ve definitely run out of our own supply of patience, and most certainly, there’s little perseverance left in the tank. But in our weakest moments, we can see a powerful God, determined to achieve his purpose in us, his slaves.

Yes, that’s right, we are indeed his slaves… Slaves for Christ. We were purchased for a price, and we belong to him who purchased us. Praise God, we have a good and faithful Master who has good things stored up for his slaves. He has, for some strange reason, chosen to keep his treasure stored in ordinary, fragile jars of clay, from which he will pour out his amazing treasure at the right time onto those he seeks to save. And when that time comes, it won’t matter if we’re still speaking with our mouths full.

For his word goes out like a double-edged sword, dividing soul and spirit, and joints and marrow… He will achieve his purpose and our weaknesses cannot possibly stop him. If God can work through the weaknesses of people like Moses, and the apostles, then he can most certainly work through us as well.


“This story was first published by Eternity news and is republished with permission”

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