Why Cambodia?

Nathan’s Story:

Early Beginnings:

I was born on November 25th, 1982 into a Christian home and I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior when I was three years old. It was when I was six years old when I was first exposed to cross-cultural missions on a short trip to Mexico that my parents helped lead with Hillside Church’s (now called West Hills Community Church) high-school youth group. I grew up with missions being a normal part of life but I never aspired to be a “real” missionary, I had other things in mind.

Because of the upbringing and the training I received from my parents I was a very good child, but most of the good I did was because it was what people expected from me and not because it was who I was. My mom and dad home-schooled me through high school and so they were able to have more input in my life and give me a solid Biblical education. At church I was always the leader in the things that I participated in, not because I sought out the position but because it always seemed to be placed upon me. I had a great knowledge of Biblical things and was always the first to answer questions that pertained to the Bible and I took great pride in that. Things were easy for me, nothing really took all that much effort and I grew to depend on myself. I started leading worship in my church youth group a few Sundays after I graduated from elementary-school and was placed on the leadership team even though 7th graders were not normally allowed. I was well respected because of my knowledge and my actions and because of my parents who were looked up to by everyone at my church because of their godly example and their godly children.

Overseas Missions and the Lost:

Daren Beck came on staff at my church in 1996 when I was 13 years old. He came on as the associate pastor but took over the youth group for about six months while the church was in transition between youth pastors. As I observed him I saw that he was a very godly man filled with love for people and for God, I saw Christ in him and I grew to respect him greatly. Daren and his wife, Jodi had been missionaries in the Philippines for two years before coming on staff at my church and his heart was still very passionate for world missions. In 1998 Daren approached me and asked if I would like to go on a basketball ministry trip with him and a team (BJ Lopez part of the team here in Cambodia also came on this trip) to the Philippines. I had been to Mexico quite a few times but the Philippines was a whole new ball park. I went home and talked with my parents about the trip and prayed. A few weeks later I told Daren I could go and before I knew it I was on my way to the Philippines for a 15 day trip, to use a sport that I loved as a means to share God’s word with people. Two things happened on that trip that impacted me immensely. One happened during half time of one of our afternoon games at a public school. There were over 6,000 students and Daren looked at me and told me it was my turn. At each half time one of the team members would share his testimony; each of us had prepared it before hand. I spoke, but what came out was not what I had prepared. The words flew easily out of my mouth, a mouth which normally found it hard to speak in public. After I finished, the team leader, a missionary named Tom Randall, took me aside and told me that my testimony was one of the best he had heard. I was humbled for I did not even know what I said. I was awed how God could use me, someone so weak in speech, for His glory. The second thing that left an impression happened right before a game on one of the southern islands in the Philippines. An old man approached me and took me by the hand and said, “We have been praying and waiting for you for 10 years. God bless you.” What he said did not really sink in until later. The place we were ministering had not seen any foreign missionaries for over 10 years because of instability in the region. This was the first time that I came to see personally that there is a lack of workers in the harvest, that there are people waiting to hear the gospel, waiting for a sovereign God to bring them workers.

During the next two years of my life I continued to serve in leadership at my youth group, lead worship and also study in small groups with my youth pastor, Chris Hauge. I also started my own graphic design business on the internet and began to excel in that field.

Coming to See the Mercy of God in My Life:

In 2000 another basketball trip was planned to the Philippines and I went along with Daren, BJ, my older brother, Jason and some other men from our church. The first game we played I became dehydrated. I was unable to play for a few days and had to rest quite a bit. God used my weakness to open my eyes to see the pride that was in my heart. I felt like I could do things by myself, that my own strength was more than enough. But I came to understand that I have no strength except from God; all that I have is a mercy from Him for I do not even deserve my next breath. It brought me to my knees in repentance with a new passion for His glory rather than for my own.

I graduated from high school that June and applied to attend West Valley Community College in Saratoga with the intention to transfer after two years to receive a BA in Graphic Design. That summer I worked full time at Fresh Express with my older brother as a graphic designer/programmer, bought my first car and I felt life was going pretty well. I started subtly shifting my eyes on to the world rather than keeping them on Christ. I continued serving in leadership, leading worship in the youth group and also attending the small college group at my church. Later that year I asked Daren Beck if he would mentor me and he agreed. We met on a weekly basis and he brought me to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Growing in Passion for the Word:

The summer of 2001 was the beginning of a revival in my relationship with Christ. I, Along with two of my very close friends, who also had been raised in the church from childhood, started a small Bible study. The Bible study came into being because all three of us had become so used to church that nothing seemed new, the bread that we were being fed tasted stale. Questions came into our minds that our college group teachers were unable answer in a way that quenched our thirst. We had been taught all our lives things such as that God is good but there was never any argument to the contrary. We did not know why we believed that God was good or why we believed a lot of things that we had believed our whole lives. And so we set out together to wrestle with the deeper things of our faith, moving from the elementary to the mature, seeking answers from God’s Word, which we knew to be true, rather than from men. We thought the best place to start would be in the beginning and so we started in the book of Genesis. The study was fueled by personal study time in the Word, meeting together and discussing from the text things that God had revealed about Himself through His Word. It was during this time that God made my glazed eyes to behold His beauty and the depth of His love and mercy.

That same summer I began teaching in the Jr. High youth group at my church and through meeting with Daren and being under his godly influence I began to learn how to accurately handle the Word of Truth. Through the responsibility of teaching and leading others through the Scriptures I myself was taught and came to have a deeper understanding of the Word and of God.

What Should I Do?

It was during this time in my life that I first started to really struggle with what I should do with my life. I had made commitments before telling God I was willing to go anywhere and do anything if He wanted me to, but never went any farther. Because I had been exposed to missions and ministry from a very young age I had seen people burn out and fail to follow through and fail to be of any value in their ministry. It was because of what I had seen that I came to believe unless I knew without a doubt that God wanted me in full time ministry I would default to secular work. I comforted myself in the fact that God had not been clear to me where he wanted me to be and as I would pray I would put a condition on going into the ministry saying that I would go only if God made it clear to me that it was what He wanted me to do. During this time through talking and sharing with Daren, he counseled me to focus on who I was rather than what I was doing because what I do flows out of who I am. And so I sought to do so.

The Most Pitied:

I continued at school and started working part time at the tire and car mechanic shop of a close friend of mine as a bookkeeper/errand runner. Earlier that year my youth pastor had given the missions director at Hume Lake Christian Camps a worship CD that I had taken part in making along with other musicians from my youth group. After listening to it, the director asked if we would be interested in leading worship for a camp that Hume Lake was putting on in Thailand in March of 2002. Through leading worship in my youth group for over six years I had gained quite a bit of experience and had learned to work through all the difficulties than come with leading others. I had learned to rely on God rather than on my own abilities because I knew that without Him I was nothing and so I was excited to have the opportunity to use the gifts that He had given me to glorify His name overseas. It was also during this time that I looked into going to some sort of year long Bible intensive course such as Capernwray Harbor or the Joshua Institute (run by Hume Lake Christian Camps).

Also that fall, Daren and his family, along with BJ and his wife decided to go and serve in Cambodia as missionaries. The news did not take me by surprise because Daren and BJ were always talking about missions and whether or not God would have them go serve in another country. But when I left for Thailand I was already pretty comfortable with the fact that I felt it was not God’s will for me to be in missions only because of the fact that I felt He had not made it clear to me what His will was. So I thought I would serve Him as a graphic designer but I did not realize until later that my motives were not as pure as I first thought they were. On one of the first nights that we were in Chaing Mai, Thailand the whole team had a traditional dinner at a house of a missionary family who was serving there. After dinner some other missionaries came and shared with us their experiences. One of them was Ronald Morse and he told of how members of his family had served in South East Asia for three generations and began to tell many stories of the work that God had accomplished. While he was speaking I thought to myself, “What am I doing? I should go to Cambodia with Daren and BJ.” I was a little surprised at the thought because it came seemingly out of nowhere. But as I began to think further about the idea it soon seemed more and more the right thing to do. I told only one person, Cliff Carey, the leader of the Thailand trip, that though I had given up the idea of going to the Joshua Institute that coming year, I now was thinking that I would take a year or so off from school and to Cambodia because I felt that God was pulling me in that direction. But when I came home I turned my back to any thought of serving overseas and proceeded to prepare to transfer to a four year college and receive my BA in graphic design. During this time I spent little time in the Word or in prayer and though at that time I did not see it, it was because I was afraid of what I must do being confronted with His call. Any time that I did spend in the Word was in order to prepare to teach the Jr. High youth group at my church. It came about that we came in our study to the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians and before preparing my lesson I met with Daren to talk about the passage. I was reading over that passage and came to verse 19 which says, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” As I read that I thought over the life of the Apostle Paul and how he was beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, whipped and suffered many other things; if Christ was not raised then he was stupid because he had wasted his life. The things he did only made sense if Christ was indeed risen. The world would look at Paul and say, “Poor man, why does he always put himself in the way of suffering?” He was pitiable for the world does not understand the motivation of a follower of Christ. I thought about my own life and how no one was able look at me and call me pitiable because I wasn’t. I was pursuing the same thing that everyone else was – I was looking forward to the salary of a graphic designer, then I could buy a nice car, have a nice house and maybe someday marry a beautiful woman – and for the first time it was revealed to me what was in my heart, that I was rebelling against God, placing this world above Him. It was at this moment that I was convinced of what I must do – I must give up my dreams to attain Christ for He is risen! This world has nothing for me, and I came to see in a deeper way why Paul called everything of this world dung when compared to Christ for there is nothing better than Him. I silently pondered over this as Daren and I continued our meeting. When I got into my car to go to school I began to weep, mourning over my sin and the great cost of following after my Savior, knowing that I must leave everything and yet at the same time rejoicing, knowing that through selling all that I had I would gain Christ whose value is greater than even life itself.

Moving Towards the Field:
After coming home from school that day I went directly to Daren’s office at church and through my tears told him that I knew God wanted me overseas as a missionary. After we had talked for a while he asked me what I was going to do next and I said that I guess I should go to Bible College and get a Bible degree. And so I started pursuing a formal Biblical education looking at the various options available. But I soon began to question the motive behind getting a degree because as I talked with people many counseled me with these words, “You need to have a degree for security because you might not be able to be a missionary your whole life, you might be forced to come home and then what would you do?” I came to believe through the Scriptures that that was not a good enough reason. The more I studied the Word the more I became convinced that as I looked back over my life God had prepared me for what He had called me to. Jesus taught his disciples for less than three years and then sent them out. And though Jesus was not in bodily form teaching me as He was with His disciples, I had been in the faith for over nineteen years and had been given a wealth of teaching through the grace of God. I came to believe that I could not ignore the training that He, the One who calls, had given me.

Moving Towards Cambodia:

During this time I read a book by Randy Alcorn called Safely Home and I was again reminded of how much knowledge I had been given and yet how there were so many who had never even heard of the name of Christ. After much prayer and talking with my parents and with others I decided to ask Daren and BJ what they would think about me joining them in Cambodia for one to two years, not knowing if Cambodia was where God would have me long term. The Beck’s and the Lopez’s were attending MTI (Mission Training International) in Colorado and so I e-mailed and asked them. When the reply came back Daren said that it was funny that I had asked because they had just been talking about short-termers saying that they did not want any short termers during the first year that they were on the field but all of them said if I wanted to go with them I would be an exception. Daren said the best thing would be to apply through Action International Ministries since that was the organization that they were going through and so I called ACTION that afternoon. I spoke with Pearl Kallio at ACTION and said that I would like to take the steps to become a short term missionary and join the Beck’s and Lopez’s in Cambodia that coming February. She asked if Daren knew that I wanted to go and I said yes and she noted that normally new fields do not allow short termers (the Beck’s and the Lopez’s were going to be the first ACTION missionaries in Cambodia) and so she said that she would get back with me and in the mean time would send me an application. The next day she called me back and asked if I could fly up to Washington for orientation that next Monday (it was Friday). As it turned out they were having their bi-yearly initiation that week and that the board would be there to interview and approve candidates. I ended up flying to Portland, after talking with my parents and my pastor and attended the orientation and was then accepted by ACTION on the basis that my church’s elder board would send me with their blessing. As I began to speak with those who God had placed in authority over me about the decision I experienced resistance from the last person I thought I would, my pastor, Mike Burchfield. I had extended conversations with him and he shared with me his experience of being a missionary in the Philippines and being forced to return to the States prematurely and that because he lacked a degree at that time many options were closed to him. I saw wisdom in his words and the words of others and yet I failed to be convinced that I should go to school only for the purpose of creating a sense of security in my life and ignore what God had accomplished in my life, that is, in His sovereignty preparing me beforehand for what He had called me to do. I also saw being with Daren and BJ as a huge opportunity to be closely involved with two godly men and to work along side them in the ministry, continuing to be mentored by Daren not only in words but with the ability to observe his life and learn from his experience. At the same time being young and inexperienced I did not want to pull myself out of the authority that God had placed me under, knowing that if it was His will that I go at that time that He would do so through the church leadership’s blessing. I wrote a letter to the elder board at my church explaining myself to them and then met with them and shared my heart. They gave me their blessing on the basis that while I was in Cambodia I would be considering options for continuing my education as well as evaluating its value for the work in the field. Through all of this my parents were very supportive. I still remember the day that I told them that I knew God wanted me to serve overseas, somewhat expecting a negative reaction but they both looked at me smiled and said that it was wonderful and that they knew God would use me greatly and that they too had seen God’s call on my life for this service. By the time everything was settled for going I only had about five months for deputation and preparation but God again was faithful and provided the funds and support for me to go to Cambodia with the Beck’s on February 8th 2003 with the Lopez’s following one month later.


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