Here is some information written by a former teammate a while back about Eternal Life in Christ Church’s pastoral intern, Samuth, and his wife, Kunthea. They are part of what we call the Village Sustainability Project:
I’d like to share just one more story about a young man named Samuth. Here he is pictured with his wife Kunthea. Like most, he was raised in one of Cambodia’s 14,000 villages, and like 96% of Cambodians, he was raised a folk Buddhist, his worldview dominated by the pursuit of good fortune, a fear of spirits, and ancestor veneration. In fact, when Samuth and Kunthea got married, most of their families did not attend the wedding where their ancestors would not be worshipped, but I’m skipping ahead.
Now one characteristic of Cambodia that is still as true now as it was nine years ago when this story begins, is that if you can speak English, your life can be radically different. There is just a world of opportunities that becomes available for you. And so in the second semester of tenth grade, Samuth began to study English with a missionary who had moved relatively nearby. I say “nearby” because not many missionaries come to live in the village; but I say “relatively” because it was still an hour away by bicycle. And so in order to study English, Monday through Friday, he began to stay at the nearby Buddhist temple during the week.
The following year, in some way perhaps foreshadowing what was to come, he left the Buddhist wat and moved into the student center the missionary had organized. And it was now English on weekdays, Bible study on weekends. He grew in his understanding of the gospel and grace, and the next year, he was baptized into the faith.
So if I may now skip ahead several years, Samuth has now completed Bible school and is currently serving under the mentorship of MTW missionaries Luke and Sokha Smith at Angk’jeay church plant, where some 30-35 of our brothers and sisters gather for worship every Sunday; and where they have baptized twenty-eight students over the past three years.
Every Sunday, Samuth now preaches or presides over worship in rotation with Luke. On Monday afternoons, he visits and reviews the sermon with two elderly adult church members and again to kick-off an evening outreach class. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, he now teaches English to about fifty grade school students; they’ve come to learn English just as Samuth had nine years ago. And once the English lesson is complete, he teaches from Scripture.
Once monthly, he travels to Phnom Penh to attend Presbytery meetings as well as review sessions to prepare for his upcoming ordination exam. And he hopes one day to plant a church in another village, perhaps one of the 12,000 villages in Cambodia that is still without a local, worshipping community of faith. It has been a privilege to see him grow in his faith and in the exercise of his ministry gifts, all through personal tragedies and trials that have faced both Kunthea and him.
Well, one of the most vexing questions we and others around the world face, is: “How we can more wisely and thoughtfully steward those resources God has given us to give?” And in particular, in contexts of extreme poverty, how can we do this in a manner that does not breed dependence, but rather promotes the long-term health of the local church?
Last spring, we were awarded an Ambassadors grant for a Village
Sustainability Project, which provided Samuth seed money to purchase cows. The income he generates raising cattle would provide for his family, while honoring both his past experience, and his local context, where he is eminently more relatable raising cattle – as others in his village are apt to do – than solely ministering while receiving foreign funds.
Through this grant, Samuth has a way to pursue his call to pastoral ministry and provide for his family, in a way that a community of young students and subsistence rice farmers never could. Because of the support of donors, we have the ability to implement a creative, contextually-appropriate solution to that vexing and urgent question: this has been a way to share our resources, generously and sacrificially, in a manner that dignifies rather than patronizes; that fosters healthy interdependence, rather than perpetual dependence.
We are still in year one of this project and it will be another year before the first calves will be sold, but Samuth is thrilled about its prospects and sincerely grateful for this partnership.