The Greatest Textbook

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Do you remember my friend Azim, the man from our September article? He has been teaching me Khmer with the Bible as our textbook. We are reading through Genesis, though we have taken a few detours here and there. We just revisited the stories of the fall of Adam and Eve and the flood. These stories are familiar to the Great River people because the Qur’an refers to them. However, it doesn’t tell the complete stories, and it paints a different picture of God. Azim often asks if God does things because He is angry. For example, he asked if God was angry with Adam and Eve because they ate the forbidden fruit. So we read the Bible’s description of how God came looking for them calmly and provided clothing for them when they were naked and ashamed.

In one of our past detours from Genesis, we read the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, as it pertained to a holiday recently celebrated in our village. We recalled together how God also provided an innocent animal to die in the place of Abraham’s son. I asked Azim, “Why do you think we keep seeing this picture of an innocent animal dying in our place for our sins?”

Azim answered in Khmer, “Nei trong, nei tiep,” which means, “The literal and the symbolic.” We have read other parables before, and he recognized that this could be another symbol in the Bible that points to a greater truth.

Azim and I have been studying Khmer for eight to ten hours every week since April, and it has given us plenty of opportunities to talk about God and build a strong friendship. My Khmer skills and his English skills were poor at the beginning, but as we both improve, our barrier of communication becomes smaller. The Word of God, with Azim’s help and companionship, has been the greatest textbook for learning Khmer. As I struggle less with learning how to read, I focus more on learning new vocabulary and grammar.

During our tutoring sessions, I remind Azim that he is welcome at our Sabbath-afternoon Bible studies. We usually go around inviting people on Sabbath mornings, but lately I have refrained from doing so, as I have been asking God to guide us to those who sincerely desire to worship. I do not want people to come because they are too polite to turn down an invitation, but because they want to drink of the Water of Life. We saw God bring three adults and two teenage girls to worship last week. We read from the story of the Good Samaritan, learning that loving our neighbors and being a servant is true religion in God’s eyes. As we finished, Azim rode up on his motorcycle, and those present were happy to go through our study all over again with him.

As has become our custom, we closed worship with a song most of us know by heart: “I have decided to follow Jesus,” in Khmer. It was Azim who taught me the pronunciation and meaning of the Khmer version of this song during one of our tutoring sessions, and here he was singing it with us in church. After church, he began to whistle the same tune—beautifully, in perfect pitch, and louder than any of our voices could sing. He then paused and said in his best English, “I have good feeling when I sing this song.”

Thank you for keeping Azim in your prayers. We long to see him follow the Holy Spirit into baptism someday soon, and we pray that he will lead the Great River People to see the symbols fulfilled in Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

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