Cultivating the “One Talent”

In July 2016, I was sent by the Bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong to serve in Cambodia as a lay missionary. 

In the Beginning…

In my first year, I went to Kampong Cham to work mainly at a parish. As I gradually learned about the local culture, I felt that some conditions in schools needed improvement, including the institutions, teachers’ attitude, and pedagogy. If the problem of education is not solved, it will cause great obstacles to the development of the people. 

The following year, I was invited to join the Xavier Jesuit School, where I taught music in primary and secondary schools, and provided relevant teacher training.

Based on my teaching experience over the past decade, designing a music class is not a difficult task, but students here have never been exposed to standard music training. Without a curriculum and textbooks, let alone the support of electronic teaching aids, I was a bit confused at first. Luckily, I was supported by a class full of expectations and eager students. 

Before I could overcome the language barrier, I tried every trick possible to teach students how to use their voices to sing. When teaching English nursery rhymes, I added movements to make it easier for them to master the rhythm. At the same time, they were also encouraged to use instruments and play the recorders to cultivate their interest in music. Students were generally enthusiastic about the music lesson, and some students requested to learn to play the electronic keyboard in the music room after class. The most gratifying thing was that the students performed the chorus for the first time at a school celebration day just two months after the start of the class which was appreciated by all. One mother excitedly said that she never thought that her son had a talent for singing. 

Another Step…

At that moment, I was figuring out a direction for teaching music, but there was a personnel change in the school, and the school Director asked me to be the Principal of the primary school. This was undoubtedly a big challenge for me: I was about to write a whole music curriculum and teach music lessons for three hours a day, but now must take care of the administrative work of the elementary school. I was worried whether I could cope with it. It was only when I thought of myself as a lay missionary, a servant called by God, that I accepted this mission resolutely.

My previous experience in school administration seems a bit out of place here. Hong Kong schools have a sound staffing and teacher code. The teaching team is efficient and is accustomed to continue working on unfinished work in their spare time.

But the elementary school teachers here are all young and in their twenties. Most have just graduated from high school or have a year or two at most of work experience in fields unrelated to teaching. So, I spent a lot of energy organising various workshops, guiding and helping them to review and improve the quality of teaching by observing their lessons and checking on their lesson plans. At the same time, I am also working to improve the staffing of teachers so that they can gradually be relieved from the heavy burden of teaching six hours a day. 

In the past five years, I am grateful to see these teachers maturing, not only in their daily work attitude and efficiency, but more importantly, in their ability to embrace the school’s values and new experiments, such as conducting distance learning during lockdowns, conducting workshops for teachers from other schools, and helping to organize the Parents-Teacher Association that was just established this year.


A few years have passed, and I sometimes wonder when I should go back to Hong Kong to spend time with my parents. Last July, we discerned about this under the guidance of our spiritual director. In the process of reflection, I was reminded of Jesus’ parable of the talents: “For it is like a master setting out on a long journey, who called his servants and delivered to them his goods… (Mt 25:14-30)

When I was younger, I felt that I had a lot of talents and could have a lot of opportunities to play. As I grew older, I found myself more and more as the servant who held only one talent. All I have is a heart that wants to help students thrive, accompanied by more than a decade of teaching experience. If I leave Cambodia, it’s like burying this talent in the ground and turning a blind eye.

So, I decided to stay and continue to work on training local teachers until their abilities and mind are strong enough to carry on the spirit of Xavier Jesuit School and provide students with a high-quality education.

In the future, when confronted with the returning master, I do not ask him to double his reward, but only hope to be able to return the talent and everything that I have done in Cambodia all these years.

Katherine Cheung
Katherine Cheung

Katherine, a member of Hong Kong Lay Missionary Association, is the principal of primary school department at Xavier Jesuit School. She has been serving the Mission since 2016.