Can I join or not?

by Leanne Purvis

Early in the morning before it got too hot, I would watch the ladies exercising down by the lake.  Missing my friends and exercise routine from Australia, I wanted to join these Khmer women, but did not even know how to ask.  There didn’t seem to be any money exchange, and people seemed to come and go throughout the morning, so it didn’t appear to cost anything.  They did all seem to know each other though, and all moved in time, though the leader seemed to be amongst them all, rather than the person out the front.  Alone I exercised on the equipment nearby, enjoying the Western exercise music.

As months went by, armed with some phrases from my language and culture teacher, I asked one of them on the side if I could join or not? She didn’t understand, and pointed to someone in the middle of the group who spoke a little English.  Not wanting to interrupt and have such a large audience, I just returned home.  Later I discovered in my broken Khmer I was actually asking them to join me instead! 

Over time I found other ways to exercise, and realised I really needed more Khmer before I expected to have Khmer friends.  I had given up on being part of the exercise group.  One morning I was walking past, actually a little disappointed a group was sitting in front of the exercise equipment, when they asked me to join them! It was a little later than my usual walks, and they were sharing breakfast after their work out.  In broken English and Khmer we were able to make some small talk, and I followed them in how they added various ingredients to their bowl of noodles.  Later we danced a little, much more elegant and to a different beat to what I’m used to, but so much fun!  A few ladies spoke a little English, and kindly offered to help if I ever needed it.  They explained what time the group started and invited me to join.  Their friendship and openness warmed my heart. It can be the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

Their acceptance, despite our apparent differences, encourages me.  In a country where I have ‘expensive skin’ ie inflated foreigner price, it is lovely to see not everyone sees me this way.  In fact just today whilst exercising with them a lady paid for me to have some homemade rice cakes as I had not brought enough cash for this unexpected opportunity.  Another lady selling homemade soy milk didn’t charge me the first day. 

This is a good reminder to me, that just as I don’t like to be judged and labelled, neither do they.  On the surface bringing the hope of the gospel seems impossible, with so many obstacles.  Only Jesus can build His church.  Together we can build a community of believers, where everyone is invited to join.


Leanne and her husband Alan recently moved to Cambodia. Their goal is to encourage the local churches and pastors, assisting with discipleship and church planting. Along with other WEC members, they aim to work particularly in areas that have not had an opportunity to hear the freeing good news of Jesus’ sacrifice, restoring relationships to have life with the Father. For more details and to subscribe to their newsletters, prayer letters or to follow them on facebook please check out their website


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