For senior Parker Spielman, two weeks in Cambodia was not only an adventurous vacation but also time enough to be a catalyst of change in a small rural village. He and a group of others from around the country helped build a church in this Cambodian village, doing everything from hiring the workers to mixing the needed cement.
Parker’s uncle, Corky Axelson, is a member of the Cambodian Ministries for Christ, a sub-organization of Mission’s Door, which is in charge of creating trips like these. When his uncle first approached him with the idea of journeying to Cambodia, Parker was not completely sure.
“It sounded interesting, but my parents were against it,” Parker said. “But it was my last summer before college when I don’t have much responsibility like a job. January of junior year they said I could go if I raised money for the trip.”
While the mission itself was sponsored by a church in New Hampshire, Parker needed to raise money for his trip to Cambodia. To get enough funding for the trip, Parker sent out letters to distant relatives and family friends asking for sponsorship.
“I really didn’t know what to do,” Parker said. “So I sent out letters just to let them know what I was doing…and they were really helpful. It makes a difference knowing people are out there supporting you.
When he arrived, Parker noticed that the way of construction and living is very different from the way they are in America.
“Everyone had to work really hard, even the ones that were there on the mission,” Parker said. “We had to mix our own cement and put together our own beams.”
The workers hired to build the church were only 13 to 17 years old. Parker and the other mission group members would eat with them so as to immerse themselves more fully into Cambodia culture.
“I even learned a few phrases,” Parker said. “I learned how to say hello, goodbye and the names of some tools. I also learned how to count to 50 in Khmer, the official language.”
The village and the villagers themselves, as the benefactors of the mission, were not very well-off financially.
“We couldn’t even stay with the villagers because they couldn’t afford to feed us,” Parker said.
According to Parker, to host even one meal for a few of the mission workers would cause the family to fast. He was only invited once to dinner, and he noticed that his hosts themselves were eating only a little while he had a plate full of food. Meat was so valuable, he said, that often times entire animals were cooked with no waste in the form of bone or organs.
“I had this delicacy once,” Parker said. “It was a chick that hadn’t yet hatched. We ate it, beak, bones, feathers and all, right out of the egg. I was picking feathers out of my teeth that night.”
In addition to this dish, Parker also tasted baked frog, dog and an array of fried insects. But the trip to Cambodia was eye-opening in in more than just the Fear Factor way.
“There was this kid in the village where we worked,” Parker said. “He was kind of ostracized by the other kids because his face was deformed and he was a little mentally handicapped. He wouldn’t even tell us his name for a while. But people in my group took the effort to talk to him and play with him until he became more confident and the other kids started to include him. It was a real change.”
The mission Parker went on did not last long enough for him to see the completion of the church, but it was enough to begin the process and inspire the villagers.
“The church will probably be completed by the end of September by the locals who worked on the project alongside us,” Parker said in a letter he wrote to his sponsors and friends after he returned. “It was truly amazing to work with the locals on a project that means so much to them. When we left on the last day, some were even crying with gratitude.”
If given the chance, Parker says he would gladly return.