Image for Imitation

“Dear Father God . . .” I began.

“Dear Father God,” the students chorused, repeating the prayer we had been praying each day in our kindergarten class.

I continued: “Thank you for this good day. Please help us do our best today. Thank you for loving us and being our friend.”

The students repeated the prayer, and I finished, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“In Jesus’ name, AMEN!” the students enthusiastically followed.

We all stood up. “Good job!” I commented. “OK…” I paused, searching for my lesson plan.

“Good job! OK!” they repeated.

I hadn’t meant for them to copy that! I chuckled.

“You don’t need to . . .” I tried to help them understand.

“You don’t need to . . .” came the echoed instruction.

They didn’t understand what I was saying. The student’s English vocabulary was limited to cat, dog, grandpa, brother, sister, red, blue, and a few other simple words. And I avoid speaking Khmer, the local language, while I teach English. But even though they cannot understand what I say or do, they are always quick to imitate us because of their fondness and admiration for their teachers.

Since some things that we in the western world do without thinking—such as stepping over someone or gesturing with your hand to get someone’s attention—can be highly offensive in Southeast Asian culture, I have learned to be sensitive to the local culture, especially when teaching, since anything I say or do may be mirrored elsewhere.

While I was thinking about what happened in Kindergarten class that day, it occurred to me that 98 percent of the Cambodian people are Buddhist. The other two percent comprises Christian, Muslim and tribal animist religions, the latter of which is dominant among the Pnong people in our part of the country. I may be the only representation of Jesus that my students ever see.

As a Christian, everything I do, every word I say, is molding their picture of Christianity—their image of God. Even in private, I must be careful. Not only because the children sometimes peek through our windows, but more importantly, because the things I do in private affect my public life and witness.

In the last half of Ephesians 4, Paul discusses what it looks like to live a life dedicated to God. Then in Ephesians 5:1-2, he says, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

My goal is to imitate God just like my students imitate me. Presenting Bible studies and preaching sermons are important parts of mission life, but what the students will notice most is whether what I say correlates with what I do. If they are in harmony—and if who I am leads them to seek Jesus for themselves—I am fulfilling the gospel commission to share God’s message with the world. May the life that I live, that we live, baptize them—immerse them—in that message. It’s a beautiful message. Let it start with us.

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