July 13, 2016

A home away from home

Written by  Ryan Umble
University students play games at the Umbles' home. University students play games at the Umbles' home. Photo provided by Ryan Umble.

This article appears in the July/August 2016 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

For those of us whose life journey has included staying in a college or university campus dormitory, we may remember what it was like to set up “home” in a new and unfamiliar setting. For some, dorm life was lonely. For others, it was exciting and invigorating. For all of us, it was an opportunity to grow.

Safe places

In Phnom Penh, EMM extends hospitality by managing a home of sorts for rural university students. EMM’s dormitories are safe places where students can stay during their years of studying at the university, while also learning from the Bible and experiencing Christian community.

The two Cambodian dorm directors, Dady Ezra and Sokleang, play a crucial part in EMM’s expression of hospitality to these students. The directors serve the students much like an older brother or sister looks after younger siblings in this culture. The directors welcome students and create a culture in which students study, worship, and have fun together. The women care for one another when they are sick and by celebrating birthdays together. The men play soccer together on a weekly basis, which has been a good opportunity for them to exercise and connect as peers. Once a month, both male and female students get together for a fellowship time which usually includes singing, games, a short teaching or group activity, and food.

In addition to creating a caring culture, the dorm directors play an important role by providing accountability for students and encouraging them in their life, faith, and studies. A number of students have commented about the significance of having an authority figure who watches over them in the dorm. They have commented that that many of their peers, who live in rented rooms rather than a dorm, do not have such an authority figure. Therefore, many of them give in to negative peer pressure and lack good accountability to help them make the most of their educational opportunity.

Learning from each other

In their families of origin, Cambodian youth speak with the same accent and generally operate with the same understanding as other family members.  One thing many students note about their time in the dorms is the value of meeting and learning from students who are different from themselves. In the dorm context, students represent a variety of personalities, come from various provinces, and study a variety of majors. Their experiences of living together and learning from each other have been great, and many are thankful to have their world expanded.

Most students do not come from Christian families. The opportunity to understand more about Jesus Christ through Bible study and relationships with other Christians is a unique aspect of their dorm experience.

For those of us who’ve ever lived in a dormitory, it’s hard to think back to this experience without remembering what we learned about ourselves, life, and relationships in the context of community. I’m grateful for the part EMM gets to play in giving these university students the opportunity to grow, not just academically, but spiritually and socially as well in their dorm “home.”

Ryan and Bethany Umble and their three children serve in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in leadership development and student and family ministries. Ryan serves as an EMM regional representative.

If you are interested in supporting the Umbles and their work, please contact Barry Freed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This article appears in the July/August 2016 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

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Eastern Mennonite Missions

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