Orchard Project for Pastor Sophearak

Pastor Sophearak

How can we help churches be sustainable? How can we help Khmer pastors earn a living when most of their congregation is made up of members who are subsistence rice farmers? These are questions that are not easy to address, but we have been trying. Below is an introduction to Pastor Sophearak and a sustainability project for a fruit tree orchard that is underway.

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I have know Sophearak for about 2 1/2 years now. After graduating from Bible school, he wanted to pursue ordination and partnering with Mission to the World, because of our shared reformed theological convictions. After coming under the care of the Cambodian Presbyterian Association, he completed a six month internship with me, Luke, in our village. His pastoral heart and ability to faithfully teach the Scriptures was evident and a joy to see. He is a diligent learner and able to clearly and warmly articulate the reformed faith. For the past few, years he has been been pastoring the church Damnak Preah (House of God) in his home village. The church was started in 2000 as a house church with his mom being the first believer in his family and the one who led several family members to Christ. Sophearak had been going down from Phnom Penh 2-4 days to serve in this church. In October, 2018, he moved back to his home village to live there and be more able to minister to the community. The vision for his church is: to build a community of people who desire to worship God through knowing the gospel and living out the gospel in the local community. Sophearak is working for the government junior high school, which is a big help in him knowing the community and having English outreach classes with the local youth.

A picture taken after Sunday morning worship
View behind the church. This is one of the most scenic places in Kampot

This sustainability orchard project is designed to help him have the financial means to faithfully serve his local church, help other church plants, and provide for his family (he bears a lot of responsibility in helping his parents and siblings financially). As a team, we have found a declining scale salary for pastors church planting or paying an ongoing salary is very difficult to sustain over the long run. Most congregations in Cambodia, especially in the village, are not able to support their own pastor. This orchard project comes from Sophearak’s own initiative and seems like a project that he is invested in and will be able to manage while freeing his financial burdens so he can more faithfully serve the church. MTW’s Ambassador’s program has awarded a 2:1 matching grant for this project.

Root ball method for starting new seedlings from a branch
Preaching on a recent visit to his church

Letter from One Intern to the Next – Chris Tak

Sovann, Chris and Sophea planting rice

If you are like me three months ago, you’ve recently become interested in being an intern with Luke and Sokha Smith in the village of Angk’jeay. Perhaps you’ve already sent in your application and now you’re reading through this blog in an effort to understand what Angk’jeay is like. Well, I wrote this letter in an effort to encourage you, while hoping and praying that you would be the next intern.

Let’s start by looking at an ancient city in Greece.

If we look at a timeline of human history and focus in on the city of Corinth during Paul’s time, we’ll see that the new believers there were constantly surrounded by evil. The city was characterized by drunken debaucheries and the temple prostitutes of Aphrodite. These constancies in the environment of the Corinthian believers, mixed with immature faith and wrong beliefs, caused some within the church to be known for their sin rather than for godliness. In response, Paul, like a father, admonished the Corinthians and yearned for their spiritual well-being. In place of constant moral darkness Paul wanted the Corinthians to have a living example of Christ-likeness, so he sent them Timothy.

“Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.”

1 Corinthians 4:16-17

Paul knew that Timothy would be a true representation of his life and teachings; both of which in turn, accurately represented Christ. This is what Paul longed for above all else, that the Corinthians would know Christ. To that end, Paul was willing endure the painful sacrifice of sending Timothy to them. We know that this was a heartbreaking loss for Paul since Timothy was not just anybody, he was Paul’s ​beloved ​child. Clearly, Paul loved Timothy, but what we really see here is a deep love for the Corinthians.

To the next intern, let this be a moment of reflection for you. What motivates your desire to minister to Cambodians? Is it this type of love?

Before I turned in my application for the summer internship in Angk’jeay, I found it hard to have love for those I’d be ministering to. Mainly because I’d never met them before! However, as I learned more about the Cambodian church in general, my heart was filled with a deep and growing affection for them.

Returning from an overnight stay at Orchea’s house.

Similar to the church in Corinth, the Cambodian church is also spiritually young. In order to understand why, we must begin by looking at its wider historical context. From 1975-1979, only 43 years ago, the Pol Pot regime caused the deaths of approximately 2 million Cambodians. Since most of these victims were adults, the Khmer Rouge suddenly made Cambodia demographically young. Yet the genocide was also a major cause of the Cambodian church’s spiritual youth. You see, there were actually missionaries in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge. National believers were being raised up and the church was beginning to form. But when Pol Pot violently targeted religious groups in Cambodia, the Christian missionaries were among them. It was not until the early 1990’s that the Cambodian church began to recuperate as a result of God’s work through more missionaries. That process is ongoing and the Cambodian church is both small and young.

The reality of the Cambodian church sharply contrasted the church I’m familiar with. In my community I have an abundance of older brothers and sisters who consistently show me Christ in their own lives. Further, so many of these older believers around me are faithful f​ ollowers of Christ. As a spiritually young person, this matters. I have not experienced enough of life to go through many trials. Yet I know plenty of people in my church whose faiths have endured suffering. They’ve experienced miscarriages, unemployment, deaths in their families, and a faith that’s been through it all. When I look at how their faiths have endured trials I am encouraged! I see that despite their suffering, Christ is still their treasure and their loyalty remains with Him. In this way, they’ve been to me as Paul was to Timothy, an exemplary spiritual father to a son. Now, this is just within my local church.

In my area there’s seven churches within a five mile radius of where I live. In Cambodia, only 1.59% of the total population are believers. When I first heard about this internship, those two realities hit me. Though I had not yet met the people I’d be ministering to, I began to long for my Cambodian brothers and sisters to have the encouragement and support that comes from a mature church.

We’ve seen that Paul’s love for Timothy translated into a love for the Corinthians. The brothers and sisters in my community have stirred within me a love for those in Cambodian communities. Look at the people in your life. Identify the spiritual fathers and mothers who’ve poured their lives out for your spiritual well-being. Let their love be the soil in which your love thrives.

Looking back to 1 Corinthians 4:16-17, we should recognize that Paul used two words to describe Timothy: beloved and ​faithful​. Now, it would ​not ​have been an act of love for Paul to send the Corinthians some disinterested and unreliable guy named Timothy. Faithfulness is a necessary attribute of those who love others.

Here’s a definition. Faithfulness describes someone who is reliable and trustworthy. Scripture tells us that only God is perfectly faithful (Psalm 89:5-8). Furthermore, if we turn to Proverbs we’ll read that humans are unfaithful by nature (Proverbs 20:6). Yet somehow Timothy, and many other believers that are mentioned in the epistles, were said to be faithful (2 Tim. 2:2, Col. 1:2, 1 Pet. 5:12). How did Timothy and the other early believers become faithful?

How do you and I become faithful?

The last day that I was in the village of Angk’jeay was an incredible mix of sorrow and joy. Almost three months had gone by. There were times during those months when I was uncertain that I would persevere to the end. I’m not saying that I was uncertain whether or not I would complete the internship and still be alive, there were people who made sure that would happen. But from the moment I first sent in the application to the moment I stepped off the return flight, my mind faced these heavy questions: “Will you persevere to the end, ​in love?​ Will you make it to the end, as a​ witness of Christ​? Christopher, will you be ​faithful t​ o your ministry?”

I woke up at 6:00am on that last day in the village.

I packed my suitcases and brought them outside next to the van. By 7:00am students were already gathered outside. Once the suitcases were loaded into the van we all grabbed some chairs and sat in a large circle. One by one students stood up and spoke parting words to me. I did not expect to hear what they said. The students thanked me for my patience. They thanked me for my care. The students did not know it, but their words immediately spurred me to pray to God in astonishment at what they were saying: “Father! You know how impatient I’ve been. You know how often I’ve been frustrated. You know my heart and how unaffectionate I’ve been at times. But they’re thanking me. Father, they’re thanking me for ​your grace​. They’re thanking me for ​your faithfulness to me​.” I couldn’t believe it. Despite all of my sins and failures that only God and I knew about, God caused me to be a faithful servant and witness of Christ.

Group picture before leaving the village

 To the next intern, how are you going to be faithful to your ministry? Realize that you can be faithful by believing that God is faithful to keep His word. Every time I became impatient, frustrated or unloving, I turned to God in prayer with a confidence that,

“If we confess our sins, He is ​faithful ​and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9

On the Sundays that I became exhausted at the mere thought of the work that was in the coming week I turned to God’s unchanging word and read,

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. . .”

2 Corinthians 9:8

In every moment that I lacked the love, humility, and joy to care for students I recalled these words to mind,

“‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’’’

Isaiah 41:10

After seeing my sinful heart, mind, and attitude come to life far too many times, I fought discouragement with the reality that God sanctifies His children,

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”

1 Thessalonians 5:24

Dear brother or sister in Christ, do not let the length of the internship or the perceived difficulties of it cause you to turn away from this precious opportunity. Cultivate a love for the Cambodian church. Then hold onto the promises of God when that love stumbles. Become a faithful servant by believing that God is faithful to keep the promises He’s given to you in Christ Jesus.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

2 Peter 1:3-4

With Love and Prayers,

Christopher Tak

P.S. Luke and Sokha are loving and caring people. They’ve treated me as a brother in Christ, not simply as their intern. It’s been my joy to be with them, I hope that same joy will be yours too.

Caitlin Washburn’s Summer!

                 My adventure in Cambodia began on June 8th, when I landed at the Phnom Penh airport. After a whirlwind weekend in the capital, I made the journey to Angk’jeay village, where I would stay for the next seven weeks with the Smiths. Angk’jeay is small, but picturesque, with the rolling mountains and sparkling green rice paddies providing a beautiful backdrop. My days in the village were spent teaching English at the Smith’s home in the afternoon and evening, as well as in the 6th grade class at the local public school. I also helped to lead an arts class two days a week, where the students learned dance and singing. This class was particularly fun, as I taught ballet to the students. Despite minimal exposure to dance, many of the kids surprised me with how fast they picked up the challenging technique.

A trip to the rice fields

            Some of my favorite parts of the summer internship were spending time with the students outside of class. We would walk to their homes, ride bicycles, trek through fields, and once we even attempted to climb a mountain. The students in the village were so eager both to learn and to get know the interns. We spent hours playing games of tag, Uno, charades, and Mafia – they especially loved this game of mystery and betrayal! These are some of my most fond memories, playing with the students, and slowly getting to know them personally. It felt so rewarding when they started to confide in me and trust me enough to include me in their conversations. Learning their names was challenging at first, because there are so many new sounds in the Khmer language, but I picked them up eventually.

Our trip to the mountain!

Girls’ night that we hosted for the students

            Living with the Smiths enriched my Cambodian experience, because both Luke and Sokha were terrific resources for me, and readily answered all of my questions about the culture, food, people, and language. Getting to know them and their children was a pleasure, and I was so grateful for their hospitality. It is quite clear that they have made an impact on the village of Angk’jeay. Spending the summer in the village also opened my eyes to the daily challenges of missionary life. I had never been on a mission trip like this before, and it was definitely a learning experience. Long-term missionary work is a full-time job, and it touches every area of your life. It is a difficult work, and while it doesn’t always pan out the way you expect, it is comforting to remember that God is always in control and can use sinful, broken people to accomplish His work. I learned a lot about myself through this trip. This experience highlighted both my strengths and weaknesses, and I think that it has helped me to know myself better. I also learned ways that I can continue to serve God in my own community. There are people that I can be humbly serving everywhere, and I think that this internship has equipped me with some of the knowledge and skills necessary to continue serving from a different part of the world than Cambodia. I will always remember my summer spent in Angk’jeay, and I am so thankful that God called me to be here.  

Reaksar and Srey Mao

 

 

John Lee’s Spring

                This past year I had the wonderful opportunity to serve with the MTW team in Cambodia! It was my third time coming back to serve with this beautiful team. I came here for 2 weeks in the summer of 2014, then another 2 weeks in the summer of 2015, and because I didn’t get enough, I decided to spend a year here. Actually, I still didn’t get enough, so I am planning to come back to serve as a long-term missionary!

Bolong (college student) and Chandara (current student @Angjeay) teaching the younger students a Bible story.

                I had the unique opportunity to serve at almost all of MTW’s ministry sites in Cambodia: from living in Phnom Penh in 2 different church dormitories and staying a few nights at a third to living at our 2 village ministry sites (one of which is Angjeay, where Pastor Luke lives). Because I spent time at all the different sites, I could see how God is working through all our different church plants.

These youngest students in Angjeay learning English from Sokha. Pray for God to work in the hearts of these children and that they may know the love of Christ!

                Something that encouraged and inspired me is seeing the fruit after many faithful years of discipleship. Pastor Luke and Sokha Smith have been ministering to and discipling the children of Angjeay for over 7 years. Everyday, the Smiths model Christ-likeness to their students through the way they love their students and love their own family. On the weekdays they meet the needs of the students by teaching them English which will help them to find better jobs when they grow up, however during each class, they make sure there are opportunities for God to be glorified through praying, singing hymns, and reading God’s Word together. On the weekends, there are English Bible studies, guitar lessons, new believer classes, membership classes, and Sunday worship. They also teach the students to take responsibility for their own faith by having them take on roles to lead songs before classes, pray for their classes, and even teach younger students the Bible stories that they have already learned.

Sreylin (college student) teaching children a Bible story to children at the village church plant.

                   These were all things I got to experience during my stay in Angjeay village and got to see the fruits of when I lived in the dorms in Phnom Penh. Because the Smiths have been ministering to their community for some time, their oldest former students are finishing up college and I got to live with some of them. I can see that they love Jesus in the ways that they serve their churches in the city. For example, at Khmer Christian Church, there are 3 students who came out of Angjeay who faithfully attend church and serve a church plant in a village 2 hours away. Almost every Sunday they start their day at 6am cleaning up the church and setting up chairs before worship, sing for the praise team during service, and then right after service get in a van for a 2-3 hour ride, lead children’s worship and spend time with the students at the village church plant then finally get back home around 8-9pm. They use what they learned in Angjeay to disciple children in a different village from their home village and I have never heard them grumble or complain about this trip. They give up their free time to love, serve, and share the gospel with others. I praise God and am so joyful to see the gospel being lived out and passed from missionaries to the Khmer people and then from the Khmer to other Khmers. This is the vision of our team to equip, disciple, and train the Khmer so they can also pass these things on to their neighbors which is how we seek to live out the Great Commission that Christ calls us to. Cambodia is still around 95% Buddhist so for most people, things we see everyday and take for granted such as praying, singing praises, and reading the Bible are foreign for most people. Sometimes it is easy to be tempted to believe that what we need are new hospitals, schools, or some other programs or activities (these are all important) but what we really need is to obey God in discipling God’s people to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded us.”

Realizing What It is All About

The following blog post was written by Sharon Jung who was part of the January 2018 Sojourner Church short-term team. Sojourner Church is the sending church of our teammates Paul and Susan Lee.

I didn’t have a lot of expectations for this trip. Isaac, my husband, encouraged me to go and his experience was almost vacation-like last year. So, I thought I would see some ministry work, hang out with the Lee’s and get a break from my ordinary life.

Our first full day was jam-packed. We worshiped with KCC (Khmer Christian Church), the Lee’s local church in Cambodia. I couldn’t understand a word but I still got all choked up realizing we are all part of the same body of Christ. Paul and Susan, Caleb and Nate are so much a part of the community there. Watching them interact with their church members, speaking in Khmer, it was very cool … I understood why Cambodia is “home” for them now.

So that same day we went to Prey Thom with KCC. And there we had several “stations” going on at the same time. A dental clinic, VBS and I gave a talk on nutrition and handed out vitamins. I honestly know nothing about nutrition and some of the kids ate a week’s worth of vitamins all at once even when we told them not to. We also saw a little boy, maybe 3 years old, who had been in an accident with a large farming machine and had a huge gaping wound on about a third of his face and I had nothing to help clean or disinfect it. The children clearly came from poor families and most of them had no shoes and were wearing tattered hand me down clothes. We saw this huge need there but I felt unprepared, inadequate and unhelpful. But at the same time, I was so encouraged. The members of KCC were so happy to be there, playing with the kids, tending to their needs while Pastor Thet was leading worship with the adults. I can’t imagine going there every Sunday, 3 hours each way, but they do … preparing lunch and eating together on the way and with praise songs literally blasting in the van on the ride there and back.

The next day at Precious Women I gave a training on basic self-care and other health topics. There was some miscommunication and they were expecting an actual doctor to be there to examine the women. While I thought my training went well a part of me knew I wasn’t meeting their expectations. Many of the questions were about their ailments and wanting a diagnosis and treatment, something I can’t do. I talked and fielded questions all day. By the next day the physical and mental toil took over my body and I literally cried all day. I couldn’t stop crying, the tears just kept flowing.

Then we left for Angk’jeay. When we got to Luke’s house, it was like walking into the equivalent of a governor’s estate. He had built a playground, a basketball court and several open areas for ministry and teaching. Again, we had a dental clinic, VBS, we also taught English and I gave my self-care training. The same thing was happening, a line of women wanting to know what was wrong with them, how to be cured, wanting medication. But this time I turned to Sokha, Luke’s wife and my translator, and said “We live in a fallen world, there will always be sickness and pain, I don’t know what to say to these women.” And she goes, “then we pray for them.” And then we started praying for them.

That’s when I realized this is what it’s all about. We can certainly help with physical needs and temporary “band-aids” but God wants all of us to ultimately go to Him, for comfort, for strength, for healing, for answers to the meaning of our lives. Short-termers can only do so much and even “lifers,” what we call missionaries like Paul and Susan, are at the mercy of God’s plans.

And we were lucky enough to see some of the fruits of those plans. I mentioned I talked about nutrition in Prey Thom that first day, my translator was a girl named Pisey, a university student from KCC who grew up in Angk’jeay, the village Luke and Sokha live in. Pisey learned English and the gospel from them and eventually went to the city on a scholarship through MTW. And now she ministers to her own people in Prey Thom with KCC and returns to Angk’jeay once a month to teach Sunday school.

I can’t fully describe how it feels to witness such fruit. To see the poverty, the corruption, the lack of opportunities for most of the population in Cambodia and then to see God revealing Himself and making opportunities and showing His people that He loves them, you just have to go and see for yourself.

2017 Year in Review: January and February

A few highlights from January and February 2017:

Sokha translating for Joel Kim who is now the president of Westminster Seminary CA at the Khmer Pastors’ Retreat, Jan. 5th-7th in Kep, Cambodia.

My mom and Hannah. My mom visited from Jan. 9th to Jan. 20th, 2017. It was the first time for her to visit Cambodia since our wedding.

DeAnn Harris visited us along with my mom. She was a missionary in Cambodia for two years leaving two weeks before the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh in 1975. It was her first visit back since she left. She has an amazing story of how God has cared and provided for her. You can listen to part of her story here: http://www.riveroakstulsa.com/mediaPlayer/#episodeaudio/44

Valentine’s Day party with our students. You can read about the dangers of Valentine’s Day in Cambodia here:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/02/12/the-country-where-valentines-day-is-the-most-dangerous-day-of-the-year/?utm_term=.dea4dd9a1e58

Asa’s baptism. Our team came down for Asa’s baptism on Feb. 26th.

Report from Rachel Sugg – Summer Intern

This summer I served as an intern in Angk’jeay Village, Cambodia alongside Luke and Sokha Smith for nine weeks. I taught intermediate and advanced English classes to kids of all ages and seventh grade English at the local public school. I also taught guitar lessons and a writing class, studied some Khmer, and spent time with Hannah and Asa, the Smiths’ children.

I was drawn to this internship because my mother was born in Cambodia and spent her childhood there before she was forced to leave during the time of the Khmer Rouge. Her family lived in a province not too far from Angk’jeay. It was surreal to picture her there and experience a bit of what her early life was like.

Naturally, I feel a connection to the people of Cambodia, and seeing their world only cemented that. Like all groups, they have a rich history that has powerful effects, and theirs is a difficult one. Poverty and corruption still beset them, and life is not easy
for many Cambodians.

What Luke and Sokha do in Angk’jeay then is so important and valuable. Being able to speak and read in English opens the door to higher education and better futures. More than that, they are role models, friends, and bearers of Good News to the Angk’jeay community. I was encouraged and challenged by their passion, commitment, and work ethic.

I also had the pleasure of spending time with the rest of the MTW Cambodia team. I was always reminded of God’s love for me when I was embraced by their families and allowed into their hearts and lives.

Nine weeks doesn’t sound like a lot, but there were days that left me tired and discouraged and anxious about the rest of my time. Experiencing the faithfulness of the Lord in sustaining me and giving me enough peace and encouragement for each day was a beautiful, gentle lesson that I hope I will hold on to forever.