One of the questions I have been asked a lot during my YAGM year is: what do you do? This question is hard to answer for a few reasons. First, what I do changes from day to day and week to week in the same way normal life does. Some weeks are busy, other weeks are slow. The second reason is that we are asked to do ministry here through the accompaniment model. To clarify that, because I had to learn a lot about it before it was clear to me, it means that we are here to walk alongside those in our host communities, and focus a lot more on being than doing. There is a technical definition that includes the words interdependence and mutuality, but at a basic level it means that we do not come here with our own agenda, we come here to do whatever is needed in our community.
That being said, when I am asked what exactly I do is here, I have come to answer that my call is all about “relational ministry.” Back in February we had a group of adults from the Lutheran Church in Australia come to City Church and I had the opportunity to have coffee with them after service and at one point this question came up. As I explained what “relational ministry” was, I found it frustrating that I had to keep defending the fact that my call here was not about placing me in a position of power. One of the quotes toward the end of the conversation was about my interaction with the hostel students. They asked: “so, you are the leader, a teacher for the students, you are like a mentor?” I answered quite quickly saying, “No, I am their peer. They are my friends and I am theirs. All of us are in our early twenties, pursuing or finishing a college degree, and living together. We share stories, we eat meals, we live in community. I am simply another member of that community.”
This conversation, combined with a recent suggestion from a fellow YAGM here, has led me to think about what “relational ministry” means to me. So, I made a little list of what I think of when I say my call here is about relational ministry.
Relational Ministry means…
…hanging out in the common area for hours if only to have a short conversation with someone.
…saying yes when invited to an activity or event, especially when it means leaving right now.
…eating meals with many different people throughout my months here and getting to the point of knowing how the rice tastes depending on who cooked it.
…planning something for myself and moving it until later because someone needs to talk about life or classes.
…drinking tea, eating dessert, and playing games on the roof each Thursday to celebrate another week of classes almost finished.
…practicing English formally and informally with students who want to learn more.
…editing essays or job/internship applications when asked for help.
…cooking dinner for myself on a Tuesday and leaving it in the fridge until Friday because groups of friends repeatedly say to eat with them now, eat the other food later.
…dancing until late into the evening to celebrate the latest holiday or party.
…buying coffee or tea or waffles or pork and rice from different vendors on my street and catching up to hear about their day.
…learning Khmer on my own, even when I get discouraged, so that I can hear more stories.
…sitting in the church office during the day and being part of numerous conversations, but possibly only “doing” one five minute task.
…listening to life stories of my friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
…joining multiple Bible studies just to be with people as they explore their faith, even when I only understand “God,” “Jesus,” “Holy Spirit,” pronouns, and a couple of verbs here and there during conversation.
…growing with and in my community every day.
…living into the opportunities that arise with others here and now.
…being. Sometimes just being.
Some of these may make sense to you, and some of them may not. The longer I am here, I find it much more helpful to define my time through the people I meet than through the things I do. However, I know that the closer I get to returning to the United States, the closer I get to a society that is always focused on “doing.” This is not a critique on either culture, but merely an observation I have come to see during my time here. How I lived before this year is different than how I live here now, and how I live here now will be different than how I live when I return. With any hope, I will continually be able to see how relational ministry happens in everyday life and appreciate the time when it was my call here in Cambodia.