The small bird was nothing, really nothing in the sky of such vast expanse, yet she flew with determination. Freed from her cage by an old widow who was paid 500 reil to release her for good luck, she did not wait to hear the prayers to unknown spirits sent behind her. She waited for nothing and relished the escape.

The old widow had dozens of these common birds cramped into bamboo cages. Normally she only sold five or six birds a day but today was different. Her usual seat by the water front under the old mango tree was overtaken by a crowd so thick that her birds screeched in fear of the frenzy. But it was a good day for business. There was an air of festivity as the excited people lined the riverfront to watch to traditional Khmer boat races.

This was the annual Water Festival which drew many from the provinces to celebrate ancient old military tactics on the swiftly flowing Mekong River.

If the small bird had cared to look down she would have seen a long line of black cars snaking its way through the people and stopping in front of a prominent Khmer restaurant that boasted of excellent food and private rooms high above the crowds for a great view of the river and coveted security.

As the shiny black cars pulled over, the drivers shot out onto the street in unison and then with quiet respect opened the door of their respective “neak-thom”, important person. Out of the cars came generals, politicians and other high-ranking officials each straitening his crisp shirt and glancing briefly, if not somewhat suspiciously, at the crowd. They made their way upstairs to watch the races, spoke quietly of rising political concerns and kept themselves far above the masses below.

Meanwhile, across the street a crowd was gathering around a small group of young Khmer evangelists who, in the heat of the day, were fulfilling their commitment to bring the gospel to as many of their people as they could those three festive days on the riverfront. From early in the morning to late at night they shared their salvation stories, gave away tracts, and made balloon animals for the children. This late in the morning they were performing a puppet show and then waited as an older distinguished-looking Khmer man preached a sermon to the many who had been watching. He offered hope, love, freedom and new life in Jesus to those who came that day.

A handful accepted his invitation to know Christ and the young Christian evangelists made their way into the crowd to speak with and pray with the new believers. They had spent two weeks with a short term team from Australia who had taught them the basics of evangelism. Practicing skits, puppet shows, and a simple presentation of the gospel message, armed them with tools that were effective and freeing to those they encountered.

Ly and Bothea left our house early every morning and came home late at night. By the end of the three days, they thought that the Lord had done many miracles in the people they encountered and by late that afternoon the crowds were thinning out. But God had one more surprise to give them and the time was now.

One young girl came upon the scene to challenge everything they had come up against before. Dark, wide-eyed with wavy black hair down to her shoulders, she watched the group of evangelists as they maneuvered confidently through the crowd. They saw her glancing at them and made their way to her side. Friendly and warm, they began by showing her their little booklet, asking her questions about her own lifewhere was she from? Was she enjoying the races? She smiled and stared but never responded to a single question. It became apparent quickly that she was both deaf and mute. And then, asking her to write her name for them they also found she could neither read nor write. Her plight drew another couple of evangelists until four or five of them found themselves in quite a quandary. All their techniques and tools were useless in one swift moment of time. Here was a girl they could not reach.

But full of all power from the Spirit of God, they found a new determination to make His Word known to hercome what may. With the booklet they showed her the pictures starting with our sin and separation from God and moving through the gospel story. They invented sign language that they all could understandpointing to heaven, her heart, making a sign of the cross, folded hands to prayanything they could think of they would use until she nodded in eager understanding.

They were reminded that though she could not hear a sermon or read a bible.she would have everything if she could have Jesus. And late at night when she lay on her bed, her folded hands under her head to rest would remind her that God is all she needs.

Knowing that their time with her was short and the shadows around the tall trees were lengthening, they gave her one last image to send her off. With their own hands folded and pressed to the sides of their heads as if they were explaining to her ‘sleep’ they tried to impress God’s rest. But it was more than a word for sleep, they had found it was a word for quiet nighttime prayer.and in that prayer would be her liberation, her communion with God, and her peace.

Like our little imprisoned sparrow who was released from a stifling bamboo cage to fly free and high, so was this young deaf girl released from her still and silent bondage because her simple child-like prayers have the power to soar to the heavens and meet the ear of God.

by Sheryl Roberts  

Sheryl Lynn Roberts. Missionary to Cambodia since 2003 and mother to 10 children who loves words images and the beauty of simple living.

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