I was about 3 years old, when I arrived in Australia, from Cambodia. At the time there was my dad, mum, younger brother and two cousins, who were now faced with trying to start a new life in a country that was very foreign to us. Yet, I love the courage and determination of my dad and mum, who worked really hard to help us have the best possible start.
When I started schooling, my parents were big on making sure that I learnt the English language well. So as I found myself going from, Primary to Secondary to University and then working my first job at Fantastic Furniture, my accent was very much Australian. When I made appointments over the phone to meet clients for the first time, our initial face to face encounter would often be surprising for them. I would often get this type of response:
“I’m sorry, when I spoke to you over the phone you sounded like an Australian, but you are definitely from another country. Where are you originally from? Wow! Your English is very good”.
Those comments never really phased me, because even though I knew I looked different, I knew deep down inside that I was more Australian than I was Cambodian. However, it is interesting as to how I felt once I found myself living in Cambodia, believing God had called our family to be missionaries.
In our early years in Cambodia, we had to sort out how we were going to navigate life in this new country, and most importantly we had to learn the Khmer language. Even though, I could speak some basic Khmer I knew that I still had a ways to go, but the thing I couldn’t seem to shake was my Aussie accent. The comments that I was met with quite regularly when I meet Cambodians for the first time could be translated to this:
“You look Cambodian, but you don’t sound like it. Where are you actually from?”
My general response would translate to, “Yes, I was born in Cambodia but I have been living in Australia for 30 years”.
Then their response would then be, “Aahh, that’s why when you speak Khmer, your accent is different”.
Now after the first few times, it never phased me, because I was sort of prepared for it. But after the 100th or so time, the tick-tock on my emotional bomb was about to explode. Monthly, I would go and pay our water and electricity at this particular shop. I would often be served by this lady, who I kid you not, would see me once a month and we would have this similar dialogue.
(Lady) “You look Cambodian, but you don’t sound like it. Where are you from?”
(Me) “Yes, I was born in Cambodia but I have been living in Australia for 30 years”.
(Lady) “Aahh, that’s why when you speak Khmer, your accent is different”.
And then it finally happened…BOOM! My emotional bomb exploded.
I got on my motorbike and I began riding home. I was angry, deeply sad, hurt, and wanting to give up, all at the same time. Underneath my helmet I shouted out to God, and questioned why? Why would you have me come to a country where all they wanted to do was point out my differences?And then the gentle whisper of Holy Spirit came, “My daughter, you are meant to be different. You are who I want you to be. Your life shouts out, and shines my goodness, and in that there is no language barrier….There will be people that will continue to look at you and judge you by your abilities, but I look at the heart of a person”.
I was reminded instantly, that I am marked by God. And when you are marked by God, your life is meant to be different. My life is a living testimony of God’s hope and grace, and when God calls you, He equips you. It didn’t matter that I spoke Khmer with an Aussie accent, because the Kingdom of God has a unique language of truth, love, hope and grace. This Kingdom language/accent, is what should be standing out, because the Spirit of God touches people in such a beautiful way, that it surpasses any language barrier. Even in my broken humanity, God still moves powerfully through a willing heart.
As I reflect on that moment, I am so thankful that Holy Spirit put things into perspective for me. Now that it’s been almost 5 years serving in Cambodia, I am so glad that I didn’t let little niggling comments stop me.