By Hannah Richardson, photos provided by Hannah Ferguson
Whether it’s a call from God, a personal journey or just an urge to help those in need, missionaries and the work they set out to find in other countries, usually in impoverished areas, are vastly important. Missionaries can touch, or even save, the lives of those they interact with. One local woman recently came home from a 20 month journey in Cambodia and the memories she made there are unforgettable.
Hannah Ferguson, daughter of Brad and Amelia Ferguson, recently returned from her stay in the country in Southeastern Asia. She is back in Natchitoches for at least the next few months, but is praying about where God wants her in the future. To Ferguson, a missionary trip is any time a person travels with the intention of sharing the love of Christ, whether through words or actions. “Though, I wouldn’t really call what I did a trip. I was living there, and had a completely different life for over a year and a half. Now I am having to adjust to being away from that life. Reverse culture shock is definitely real!” she said.
Ferguson arrived in Cambodia Oct. 1, 2018 and left in May 2020. She travelled there originally for an internship with the Bible school she had been with since Fall 2016. For the first five months of her journey, Ferguson taught speech and English for the first semester and got partway through teaching Biblical Geography before the second semester was interrupted. “After that, I prayed about it and was led by God to stay in Cambodia as an independent missionary, not affiliated with any organization,” she said.
She and a few of her friends rented a house together and stayed there with their dogs. “Originally we thought that we would just be there for a few more months, but I ended up staying over a year longer and my friend Annie is still there today. As an independent missionary, I mostly taught English. I taught a group of ladies who used to do hard labor and pick up trash for a living, but are now working for an organization that has taught them how to sew. I LOVED teaching them. They were mostly in my age group so, despite the language barrier, we were able to become friends. I also taught a group of children at a Cambodian church in the evenings. The church was in a pretty poor neighborhood, so most of those kids couldn’t afford to go to school to learn English. That age group went from 4 years old to 15. They were more wild but they were such a joy and so loving!” Ferguson was disappointed that she couldn’t say good-bye due to COVID-19 halting her stay. “The last person that I taught was a missionary’s daughter that I helped to homeschool. Her name is Erin and she has Down Syndrome so she needed one on one attention. She is a stubborn and spunky little girl who made me laugh and want to pull my hair out at the same time, but I could really see her learning and growing during the months we worked together before her family went back to their home in South Africa.” Ferguson would also help out with other things, like doing a VBS program in a village outside of the city she lived in whenever other missionaries needed help.
“COVID-19 affected the end of my time there pretty significantly. Schools shut down so I had to stop working the last couple months, then my flight to America in April was cancelled, then in May my visa extension request was denied so I had to pack up and leave with less than two weeks notice. Leaving so abruptly was the worst part.”
While there, Ferguson also befriended and adopted a little street puppy named Sookie, who she had to leave behind but is patiently waiting until they can be reunited. “She really helped me when I felt lonely and I love her so much. She’s still in Cambodia and I miss her. I’m anxiously waiting for the reopening of borders and pet shipping services so that I can get her back to me!”
Ferguson said she had an incredible time, and she learned and grew so much during those months, though it could be challenging. “I had to learn how to drive a small motorcycle around a city with no traffic laws, how to shop at an outdoor market, how to speak Khmer, how to eat their foods, really just how to do almost every part of daily life differently. For the first five months that I was living at a Bible school that I was teaching at, I was the only foreigner. It was really alienating at first, but when I stopped working at that school and started living there independently, I moved in with one of my Khmer friends I had made from that school, and she and a couple others from that time are still some of my best friends now. The whole experience was like that, difficult and uncomfortable, but also good and something I would never give up. God taught me so much in that time, and through all the hard and uncertain things I was able to see how faithful He is.”