Reading with Azim

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It’s rare to find English speakers out in rural villages where many houses don’t have electricity, and illiteracy is common. But, against the odds, I found such a man on my very first visit to the village we now call home. Azim (Ah-ZEEM), who actually speaks four languages, is a young Muslim man who is respected in his community and passionate about literacy. He fixes old bicycles for a living and has recently begun teaching Khmer and English to young Great River children, as they don’t learn the national Khmer language until they begin school. They pay him about 12.5 cents per hour, and he doesn’t charge the poorest kids who can’t afford it, though he struggles to make ends meet. Our neighbors often praise him with comments like, “Azim is honest,” and, “He has a good heart.”

I quickly became friends with Azim, and now he teaches me Khmer eight hours a week. He is the perfect tutor because he can read, write and speak fairly good English, which is helpful to me as a beginner. We start our tutoring sessions with a workbook of conversational Khmer and vocabulary. For the second hour, I practice my Khmer reading skills by reading through Genesis. Since I read without comprehending the words, Azim practices his English by explaining what I just read. It is as if he is giving me the Bible study!

During these readings, we’ve had beautiful moments where Azim wonders, ponders and rejoices about the loving God of the Bible. These moments are often followed by questions that lead to deeper studies of God’s Word. His questions have included, “Who is Jesus?” and “Why do Christians pray to Him?” As God promised, He brings passages to my remembrance. Together, Azim and I read that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh to live among us, and that Christ is the sinless Lamb who died so we can be forgiven. Since beginning these readings, Azim has commented twice that he believes God came to earth as Jesus. Both times, I could hardly believe my ears. I would never have expected him to accept that claim after just a couple of weeks of reading the Bible together.

Though Azim still considers himself a Muslim, he loves reading the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is working, and I am just trying to keep up. Please pray that God’s Spirit will continue to lead in our language lessons and that Azim will become an apostle of Christ to the Great River People.

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