How the Cardiovascular System Helped Me Find My Purpose

Music played from my laptop next to the couch. I pulled my blanket up to my chin and listened and prayed. A friend came to mind, and I thought about how she was a conduit, a vessel for the Gospel. My mind turned over the word "vessel" and since my friend is also a nurse, wandered to thoughts of blood vessels and the body's vasculature.

All at once, something clicked inside me, and I sat straight up. When I thought of my friend—and myself, and everyone—as blood vessels, something suddenly made sense to me. Bear with me while I give some backstory.

It's been a year since I have moved back to the United States. A year full of struggles, depression, hope, and growth only reentry could bring (it was so crazy I even wrote an ebook on it). One of the things I struggled with during the transition from life overseas to life in Waco, Texas, was finding purpose in my location and vocation Stateside.

While in Cambodia, I learned the missionary lifestyle is not so different from—or more important than—the lifestyle of a believer back home. However, this knowledge didn't prevent guilt from creeping up on me when I moved to the States. I felt guilty for abandoning those I loved in Cambodia, and I questioned whether I was weak for not staying there. The attention and applause the American church gave to missionaries no longer applied to me. Without a clear-cut outline defining my goals and my purpose, I felt lost, out of place, and particularly unimportant

Though the Lord has since provided incredible community, a sense of purpose and contribution, and relentless reminders of His love, in the back of my mind I have still believed that what I am doing here in the United States is less important—less vital—to the Kingdom than what I was doing in Cambodia. We often call missionaries the people on the "front lines," but where does that leave the rest of us?

When I thought of people as blood vessels, as conduits supplying life to other body parts, I realized it didn't matter what my location was. I could be a capillary in the pinky toe all the way in Cambodia, where the vasculature isn't as dense, or I could be part of the aorta at the hub of the heart. I could be a coronary artery, feeding the heart itself and keeping it strong so it could continue sending out blood to the body. I could be a femoral artery, a little farther from the heart but not in the boonies of the fingertips. Regardless of where I was, I was neither less important nor "more" vital than any other vessel. "More" and "less" do not exist as long as I pulse with the heartbeat of the One who gives life.


The goal of the cardiovascular system is to keep the body alive—all parts of the body. The aorta has no purpose if no arteries supply the brain; likewise, capillaries in the brain have nothing to give if the carotid is not functioning. My purpose is the same in both places, though it may look different. It may involve giving more of my financial resources (now that I have a paying job again!) and less time traveling to remote villages that have no blood supply yet. It may look like resting and soaking up the extra access to life-giving friends and community, hearing the Gospel preached in my own language every week, and feeling the pulse of His heartbeat, strong and regular as it reshapes my attitude and habits and life to be more like His.

When I was in Cambodia, I thirsted for community and soaked up every bit I received. I treasured phone calls and found Jesus to be my closest companion as I sought Him on my knees (in front of the oscillating fan, of course). I desperately hungered for the encouragement and prayers sent to me through friends and family and strangers, all the way from the heart of God to mine. I could not have survived without this. I am forever grateful for those who served as vessels at every step of the way: from the aorta to the arcuate artery, allowing hope to flow to me in the pinky toe of Kratie, Cambodia.

Here in the States, I am deeply grateful for community, for the people who draw near to the heart of God and who urge me to do the same. My soul feasts on the abundance of spiritual resources, and I am refreshed and restored. And I hope I too am a conduit. I hope I too am a vessel allowing hope to flow through me straight to the one who needs it, or to trickle from me to another to another to another, eventually reaching a girl on the other side of the world who is on her knees seeking the One who fills our deepest needs. I hope I get to play a part in her experiencing community and purpose and forgiveness. I hope she would know there is One who loves her, and this One who loves her most is there with her, on the floor in front of the fan, ready to refresh her soul.


To those who have been and to those who are conduits and vessels, thank you. What an honor to serve Jesus alongside you.

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Life as a Cambodian Christian: An Interview

Though I’m no longer in Cambodia physically, part of my heart will always remain in Kratie, Cambodia. I wish I could bring everyone to Cambodia to visit the country and meet these people I love so dearly. For now, I’ll introduce you through writing. Here’s an interview with two young Cambodian women about faith, the future, childhood memories and more!

Meet the Interviewees

Srey Neang (left) and Cheata (right)

Srey Neang (left) and Cheata (right)

Srey Neang (pronounced sry [rhymes with “try”] ning) and Cheata (pronounced like “cheetah”) are two advanced English language students and active members of Love of Christ Church. Srey Neang was born in a village quite a distance from Kratie, and she lives with her aunt and uncle in Kratie so she can attend school in town. Cheata lives with her parents and siblings down the road from the church. I’ll let them do the rest of their introductions!

(I’ve edited some for grammar, but most of the interview I’ve left as-is because I love the way Srey Neang and Cheata talk and tell stories. That’s part of what makes talking with them so fun!)

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Srey Neang: My name is Srey Neang. I am 17 years old. I’m in the 10th grade, and I am the youngest of seven siblings.

Cheata: I am Cheata. I am 16 years old, in 10th grade, and I have three siblings. I am the second [oldest].

How did you become a Christian?

Srey Neang: Punlork [cousin] invited me to go to the church three years ago. I studied English there, but I not study Bible. I wasn’t interested in Jesus, but one time I was studying with Mommy [Kathy Manoto, missionary], and we study about the job of our parents. And I don’t know the job of my father, and after that I [was] upset. 

After we study, Mommy asked, “What happened to you?”

I said nothing. And I said, “I not have father.”

She said, “Even [though] you don’t have a good father on the earth, you have the best Father in heaven. You also have Daddy [Archie Manoto, missionary] as your father.” And after that I try to learn Bible. Then I study at life group and come worship on Sunday. At life group Teacher Aileen [missionary] asked me if I believed Jesus is the only One, and I say yes, and after that I believed.

Cheata: I saw Srey Neang at school and she invited me to study English. I said, “No, I don’t like to study with the people who believe in Jesus. The people who believe in Jesus, they crazy.” [I thought they were strange because] even when they eat rice, they thank Jesus. They pray. Why [are they] like that? My mom is the one who gives me rice, not Jesus!

A few weeks later, I stopped in front of the church to call Srey Neang to go to rincoo [tutoring], and the [missionary] teachers are friendly and smiling at me. I said I would study there. I go, but I not understand what they are saying because I not know English yet. I told Neang I don’t want to study there because I don’t know [English], but she said she was like that before. So I stayed. When I saw Teacher Aileen talking with other friends…I would listen and get some words and write them down in my book, like “why” and “broken” and translate in Khmer. I got Teacher Aileen’s phone number, and I would talk with Teacher Aileen and practice with her. Then Teacher Aileen invited me to life group. And I started going to life group and knew Jesus.

When I could talk in English a lot before, Pastor had e-camp [annual English camp], and Srey Neang invited me to go, but I was shy, but I also want to go. It was so happy because [there were] a lot of games. After e-camp, some [of my] friends get baptized, but I not yet decide to get baptized (this was 2013). Daddy [Pastor Archie] also ask [me], but I just think about it first. In 2014, I decide to get baptized with Srey Neang and other friends, too.

What did your family think when you first became a Christian?

Srey Neang: The first time when they know [I am a Christian], they all reject [me]. They don’t want me to believe in Him. Even my grandfather. After that, my aunt told me, “If you believe in Jesus, you cannot live in my house anymore.” But I thank God that my aunt’s friend believes in Jesus, and she told my aunt about Jesus, and she [my aunt] still allow me to go to church and [she] not say anything bad anymore.

When I went home [to my hometown], I told to my sister and my family the Good News. My brother and sister listen to me, but my mother was angry with me one time and said, “If you believe in Jesus, don’t call me ‘Mother’ anymore.”

I want[ed] to give up, but when I want[ed] to give up, I talk with someone, and the topic is “Don’t give up on God because God never give up on you.”

After that, I start to share the Good News again and again to my family, and [I told] my mother about the reason I not go to pagoda [Buddhist temple] and worship, and she listen to me. And my family, they also know about it [the Gospel], and my aunt in another province get so angry because she not want me to believe in Jesus because it’s so crazy and not our culture. But I still believe in Jesus because I know He is the One who saves me.

The first time is difficult, but after that God solved the problem, and now it’s okay.

Cheata: My family—they [were] happy when I started to study there [at the church], and they so happy to see I can speak English well. When they know I believe in Jesus, they not stop me from going to the church. One time I share the Gospel to my sister, and I told her about how God created the world and the man and the woman—and the people who don’t believe in Jesus, where will they go? And she was laughing at me. I told her the people who don’t believe in Jesus will go to hell; they won’t be able to go to heaven. She was laughing at me, saying, “So many people don’t believe in Jesus and will go to hell, and the hell will get full! Cannot fit any more people!” I told her it’s just in the Bible, and she still not believe. But I thank God I can share with her. 

My cousin and my aunt and uncle, they call me, “Yesu! Yesu! [Jesus! Jesus!]” Now I have new name in my house also: it’s "Jesus." But I remember that verse—it says if the people say bad things about you in My name, you will be blessed.

My mom—now she always wants me to change my mind. She always calls me to worship, and I say no to her, and she a little bit sad and angry. Like she don’t think I really believe in Jesus. But I’m still praying that my mom and dad and yeah, my family, that they will believe in Jesus one day. Because my mom—she hear the Gospel three times already. So I hope she will accept Jesus one day. I’m scared that they will not know Jesus. But I trust in the Lord, that He will save my family.

What are difficulties you face as a Christian in Cambodia?

Srey Neang: The most difficult is my mother. Because sometimes she tell me, “Don’t call her 'Mother,'” like that. And my relatives don’t want me to believe in Jesus.

Cheata: I was thinking that now my mom not know I really believe in Jesus. Maybe she just think I go and learn [English] and not really believe in Jesus. I’m scared that one day, she will really get angry [when] she really know that I really believe in Jesus. And she will stop me from go [to church]. So I’m praying now that even she stop [me from going] I still continue.

If you could tell Christians around the world one thing, what would it be?

Srey Neang: I will tell others, “Don’t give up because all the things you do are not useless. You will receive the things from God when you meet Him. Because we on the earth sometimes want to give up because we face the problem.”

Cheata: I will tell them about my life and I will tell them about the things I thought were impossible. But I keep on doing that and it’s become possible. I will encourage them, especially the people who think something is impossible for them to do…I will just tell them that if you not give up on that thing, if you keep on going, it will be possible.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Srey Neang: Since I was young, I want to be a doctor. But I don’t know the plan of God. I want to be a doctor because my mom [is] always sick. And when she sick, she has to pay a lot of money. And my relatives, also sick and they must pay a lot of money. So I want to be a doctor to help my family. But now I want many things: teacher, police man, tour guide and also the ladies on the plane [flight attendant]. But [what I want] the most is doctor. Also your daddy (who is a doctor) write me [a note] that he will pray for me [and said] “Don’t give up.” I [was] really encouraged. Also Pastor asked about what we want to do the future. He also encourage me, “Don’t give up because of the money. God will provide [for] you.” I think about how my family is poor. And I so discouraged. Because the Khmer (Cambodian) doctor must study for 8 years. I think it is impossible. Because I know my family cannot find money for me.

Cheata: Doctor. Because I can help the people around me, especially my family if they get sick. If other doctor cannot help her [my mom], I will help her what I can. I will do what I can. Yeah. Help the poor people. [But] I think I cannot be doctor because I’m not a good student. I want to have just simple work so I can help my family. Even tik tik, ban [translation: even a little bit is good]. And I really want to go to another country to serve Jesus. Like you. Yeah, that’s what I am thinking.

Tell me one story from your childhood.

Srey Neang: When I was young, people in my hometown have wedding, and I go with my aunt [by bicycle]. That time the bicycle is not updated like now, and doesn’t have something to cover the [top of] the tire. [I sat on the back of the bike] and I just see the tire moving, and I think, “What’s that? What will happen if I put my leg there?” And then… *laughter…and more laughter*

Me: What happened with the bicycle?

Srey Neang: The bicycle?! It’s my leg hurt, not the bicycle. Why you ask about the bicycle and not my leg?!

Me: But the bicycle didn’t fall?

Srey Neang: No, just hurt my leg. *Shows me scar* Because I’m small and I didn’t know…*more laughter*

Cheata: One night I slept outside with my dad and my younger sister, and we slept on the hammock. One up [on top] and one down [below the other]. And my dad, he sleep on the side to protect us. The first night, I sleep up and she sleep under me. The next night, I sleep under her. And that time, she pee on me. Yeah, I woke up, and my dad saw me wake up, and he asked why, and I told him “Have rain.” But she pee on me!! I tell them I will never let her sleep above me because she will pee on me again!

What is your favorite thing to do when you have free time?

Cheata: Singing Christian song. [Cheata has a great voice and is in our Sunday worship team.]

Srey Neang: Sleep. *laughter* The thing I like to do most is listen to music. The kind of sound that’s soft and slow. Sometimes the rap song. Khmer or English. [My favorite] Christian song is “Sing.”

Why should people come to Cambodia?

Cheata: To see what Cambodia looks like…

Srey Neang: They want to see me! Because I’m beautiful! …I’m just kidding.

If you have one superpower, what would it be?

Cheata: I would like, if I want to go somewhere, just one second, I will be there. You know that? Just one second only and then I am there.

Srey Neang: Just a funny one: I want just hide myself, like no one can see me. Because sometimes I want to play seek and hide, and I can hide anywhere. And no one can see me! I [will] always win! No one can find me!

How can other Christians pray for you?

Cheata: Pray for my study. And especially my faith. You know, sometimes—especially when I’m sad—I feel I don’t want to share the Gospel. I don’t know why. In my mind, [sometimes I also don’t want to keep] coming to the church, but I keep on coming so, yeah. Something like that.

Srey Neang: Pray I can stand strong in my faith with God, and pray my family and my friends will believe in Jesus and follow Him. Yeah, only this. Because if I fail [in my faith], my family will not trust me anymore. For example, if in the future, my family believe in Jesus, but I stop following Him, they also will stop because I am the first one who followed Him. So just pray I will have strong faith in God.


I hope you enjoyed our conversation as much as I did! Hearing the hearts of these two young women humbles, encourages, and challenges me in my walk with Christ. The Lord is doing great things in Cambodia. Please keep Srey Neang, Cheata, and the other members of Love of Christ Church in your prayers.



*To know how you can pray for the church more specifically, please send me an email or a text!

**The English camp Cheata mentioned will be in August this year. To make the camp affordable, participants are only charged a fraction of the true cost. If the Lord leads, please consider sponsoring a student to go to e-camp and grow in/begin their walk with Christ! This year students’ parents are also invited, which is a huge opportunity for the prayers of Srey Neang, Cheata, and others to be answered for their parents to hear the Gospel again and respond. Sponsorships are $35/camper. Contact me for more info.

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Same Same But Different: Confessions of a Returning Short Termer

It's hard to believe time has gone by so quickly. It has, though. Tonight I'll board a plane to America after six months away. It's not what people may think returning to one's passport country is like. It's certainly not what I wish it were like.

This is confession number one: It's actually really hard to leave.

The pastor I work with says it's hard to leave your home to go to the mission field, but it's even harder to leave the field. He's right. The reasons are uncountable. Literally uncountable. Though I can verbally list some of the reasons leaving is hard (I'll miss people, places, classrooms, ministries, language, and more), many more tiny details of daily living in Cambodia are now subconsciously etched into my mind and my heart. I can't count them because I'm not even aware of some of them. Like Easter eggs hidden too well and not found till months later, parts of me which have changed - ranging from mannerisms to worldview - will remain hidden until revealed by experiences in the States. Because of this, the season of re-entry won't when jet lag does; in fact, I have no idea when it will end.


This leads me to confession number two: I am terrified.

Mostly I'm terrified because I have this tendency to, you know, want to be in control. To know what's going to happen in the future. To have a five year plan or a one year plan or okay, I'd even go with a one month plan at this point!! I handed over the keys to my room in Cambodia, and I have no permanent address in the U.S. I'm thankful I can stay with my parents, but it's not my home. I'm not sure where home will be next. This is a season of trust, and though in my better moments I can fully rest in trusting God, much of the time I'm terrified.

Those are pretty expected things to be terrified of, but perhaps confession number four isn't as obvious: I'm scared I'm not going to know how to relate to those back in America.

The Cambodians have a saying: "same same, but different." It means something like "similar but not the same" or as one of my friends used to say, "It's exactly the same as that...except not!" I'm still Allison. I'm the same daughter, friend, sister, and nurse who left six months ago...except not. I am same same, but different. I've been gone a long time. Six months may not seem long, but people back home have been growing in their ways, and I've been growing in my way, and for the most part those ways haven't intersected. I'm scared my friendships aren't going to be the same as I remember them. Or maybe I'm afraid they will be the same. I know I've changed in the past few months, but I'm not sure how yet. I'm not sure who I am in the context of America, which means I'm not sure anymore how I relate to Americans. I may need some time before I'm ready to talk about Cambodia so I can sort my thoughts out.

I'm still excited to meet up with old friends, yet right now even this is overwhelming because confession number five is: I don't know how to respond when others want to help me through this season. I'm not sure how others can help me process my experiences, and to some extent I'm not sure I want others to try to help me. Discussing half a year's life experiences over a cup of coffee seems diminutive, like trying to force a grown woman into a toddler's onesie. There's just too much there. It'll be an experimental time as I find what activities and conversations do and don't help with the transition.

It's humbling I don't know what I'm doing in this season of life and I'm not even sure how others can help. I do know a few things I'll need, though. I'll need people to be patient with me as I figure out how to do life in America again. I'll need time and space to grieve what I've left behind. As much as coffee and lunch dates intimidate me, I'll still need community. I'll need people to walk through this re-entry process with me. And I'll for sure need prayer. I'll need to walk with Jesus. Like Penny for Desmond in LOST, He's my constant in times of chaos, confusion, and changes in culture, time zones, jobs, homes, languages, and pretty much everything else.

These are some of my confessions. I am same same, but different. I know others probably are, too. A lot of life has passed for everyone. If you're in the States, maybe we can get lunch, coffee, maybe a snow cone - and let's throw Chickfila in there too - and slowly, over time, together process who we are now. Both same same, but both different.

And let's make sure to get extra Chickfila sauce in case I end up overseas again any time soon. Because I'm counting on its deliciousness being exactly same same, not different!


Further resources for understanding reentry:



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Questions to Ask Returning Short Termers

Several months ago, I had a conversation with my sister about returning from and processing short term mission trips. She had just returned from a summer internship in Papua New Guinea, and her team did an exercise which involved writing down questions they wanted others to ask them when they arrived home.

What a valuable tool! So often returning short termers struggle to express to others what their time overseas was like—and so often friends and family on the welcoming committee struggle to know how to relate to the returner. (I speak from experience on both ends.) Yet a solid conversation with someone fresh off a short term trip can be invaluable. It helps the missionary process experiences, and it gives the listener insight into what God is doing around the world and in the heart of their friend/family member.

In light of a recent short term medical mission team’s visit and with the knowledge that countless short term teams will depart and return this summer, I put together a list of questions for people returning short term trips (I’ve included the list my sister & her team created last year).

The questions are geared toward trips spanning one to six weeks. I’ve divided the questions based on topic, though some topics are more appropriate for those whose terms were longer. Without further ado, here is the list:


  • Can I see your pictures and hear about them?
  • What was one unexpected aspect of your trip?
  • What were some of your expectations going into the trip? How were they met?
  • What was learning another language like? What kind of difficulties did it present?
  • What was a typical day like?
  • What exceeded your expectations?
  • What is something you didn’t expect to learn while you were overseas?
  • Did you learn any new skills?
  • How were you stretched in ways you didn’t expect?
  • What was a challenging part of your trip?
  • Tell me about the food you ate.
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • What was a rewarding or fulfilling part of your trip?
  • Tell me about any fears you faced.


  • What verse really stuck with you or was significant and why?
  • How has your time in _____ shaped your perception of God?
  • What has changed in your future goals, values, and desires as a result of what has happened/what God has said to you while in _____?
  • What did you learn about God and His character?
  • Did you experience a greater awareness of spiritual warfare?
  • What is one major thing God taught you?
  • How did you see God as Provider?


  • Tell me about one person you met who caused you to think differently about something.
  • What was your team dynamic like?
  • What were your relationships with the nationals like?
  • What was one rewarding/challenging aspect of working with the missionaries?
  • What was one rewarding/challenging aspect of working with the locals?
  • Tell me about someone you will or want to keep in touch with in _____.


  • What is something about the culture in ____ that rubbed you the wrong way and why?
  • What kind of healthy ways did you learn to deal with anxiety and culture shock?
  • What is the quickest thing you got used to that is different from the States?
  • What’s something you really like about ____ culture?
  • What did you learn about _____ culture?
  • Did you break any cultural norms?
  • What was surprising about the culture?


  • How are you adjusting to being back in the States in light of all you experienced?
  • How can I help alleviate some of the reverse culture shock?
  • What emotions are you experiencing as you return? 
  • What do you miss about _____?
  • How can I best support you during this transition?
  • What’s difficult about being back in the U.S.?
  • Who has been most helpful in the re-entry process? What have they done that's been helpful? 
  • Are there things about U.S. culture that rub you the wrong way after being away?
  • How do you want your experiences to change your everyday life? What are practical ways we can work to ensure those changes last?

That’s all I've got. Go find a returning short termer, share a meal or get a hot cup of coffee, and find a good spot to talk. Happy conversations!!

Feel free to add to this list in the comments:
What is the best question someone's asked you after a short term trip?
What do you wish someone had asked you?

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