A former student took me deep into rural Cambodia to show me what God was up to.

I don’t like surprises much.

So, while I was very excited to visit a former student, part of me was dreading it; he had promised me a surprise.

Sochea Yem graduated two years ago from the Phnom Penh Bible School in Cambodia, where I am a teacher. Sochea had taken several of my classes during his four years at our school, and now I had the opportunity to take a small group of students to visit Sochea at the church where he serves as assistant pastor in the Kampong Chhnang province.

Sochea first mentioned the surprise when we were planning the visit. I repeatedly tried to find out what he had in mind, but he just kept saying, “You have to wait until you get here.”

Finally, the day came. The students and I arrived at the church. It was a great time of reunion and of getting to know Sochea’s family and the ministry there. We weren’t there long before I just had to ask him about the surprise, but Sochea put me off again. “Not yet, in two days.”

The students and I served together at the church with Sochea, and eventually the two days passed. Then Sochea rode up on his small motorbike and handed me a helmet. It was time for the surprise, he said! I hopped on the back of the motorbike, and we took off.

A few bumpy, dusty kilometers later, we were out in the “boondocks,” and I was as clueless as ever. I asked again, “What’s the surprise?” Still, Sochea was evasive and began instead to talk about one of the subjects that we studied together, mission across cultures. Did I remember when he took the course? I did. Did I also remember the big assignment that I gave to the students that year? I did. I was starting to get nervous.

“Well,” Sochea said as he continued to drive further and further into the countryside, “I also remember that assignment. It gave me such a headache and took so much time to complete!” Then he was quiet. And still, we drove on. Part of me began to wonder if the surprise was some sort of revenge for all the hard work and headaches. Was he going to drop me off in the wilderness and drive away?

But, as we neared a small village, Sochea spoke again about the assignment. “Well, if you remember, I wrote about sharing the gospel in a place where they had never heard the name of Jesus. This has been my dream for many years, and the course and assignment really helped!

“After praying and discussing with my wife and praying with the pastor and praying more, God led me to this village. After beginning to build up a relationship with some of the people here, I began to share about the work of God in my life. It was the first time anyone ever heard about Jesus here.

“You see, Teacher Mark, the surprise for you is that my homework assignment, which I spent so much time on, and all that we studied together—God has turned it into real life! Now there are two families who have started to follow Jesus and to read the Bible.”

Indeed, what a surprise it was! And what an encouraging gift from God to hear of God’s faithfulness not only to pastor Sochea, not only to this first little band of believers miles away from any church, but also to the vision that God has given our family of supporting this next generation of young Cambodian Christian leaders who together with the Cambodia church will take the gospel to every corner of the country.

God has turned it into real life, indeed.

These past few years have not been easy, as I have faced a chronic illness and chronic pain. However, God in his faithfulness has more than supplied all our needs, and, more than that, God has let us see the first fruits of our labors through opportunities to meet with and hear many incredible stories of Phnom Penh Bible School alumni serving around Cambodia. I am looking forward to more surprises!

Mark Wilson is a missionary in Cambodia with his wife, Deb. They work in partnership with the Phnom Penh Bible School, the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia, and the Theological Education by Extension Association of Cambodia.



The Christian church in Cambodia was nearly wiped out in the late 1970s under the Khmer Rouge. Since the return of peace in the mid-1990s, the church has been steadily growing. Its leaders need nurturing and a strong biblical and theological foundation.

Support the work of Mark and Deb Wilson in Cambodia as they help equip young Cambodian leaders. Visit www.rca.org/mark-deb-wilson to donate.