All posts by Luke Smith

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.

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.

CCPC and CCSC Short-term team 2017

From July 18th to 23rd, a joint team from http://christcentralsf.com/ and http://www.christcentralsc.com/ served with us. This was the fifth time that Christ Central Pres. Church sent a team to work with us in the village and the third time that Pastor In led the team.

Ryan, Lydia, Andrew, Sharon, Beka, and Pastor In

Update 1 and 2 below are two updates written by the team while they were in the village.

Update 1: We just finished day 2 in Angk’jeay village with Pastor Luke and Sokka. The ministry out here consists of reaching out to the village kids through teaching them English (beginner, intermediate, advanced), playing games, teaching guitar lessons, and most importantly teaching them about Jesus through praise, sermon, prayer and the love of Christ through building relationships. The kids are precious and every moment is something very special. An update for the entire team, we are all healthy, in hopeful spirits, exhausted but tremendously blessed. Team unity is increasing but I guess that’s what happens when you pack a bunch of people in a car (26 at one point). Check out the picture.

For all the past STM teams, the students remember you and all your stories start to make a little more sense. Can’t wait to share more with y’all when we’re back.

To the church, thank you so much for the prayers and the continuous support. Lord knows we need them. Please keep them coming.

Ps: Cambodia is hot and humid and there are bugs. But not as bad I expected, so there’s that.


Update 2: Today’s Sabbath Rest was a little taste of heaven. It seemed fitting to wrap up our final day at Angk’jeay Village with a worship service together with our spiritual family. After a full week of teaching, basketball, music, crafts and tons laughter, we ended with encouragements, prayers, and a tearful farewell. God is truly Big in this Small Village. Never underestimate, that God can be worshipped in the most unexpected places. On another note, this also concludes our joint CCPC & CCSC team as they fly back to the states tomorrow. We celebrated with a final boat ride with the MTW team and old friends from KCC. It was a perfect bookend to a terrific day. We are exhausted but it was a blessed Sabbath Rest! Lastly, pray for us as we take on another week of urban ministry in Phnom Penh. We might have less man-power, but plenty room for the Spirit! Thank you for your prayers!

Bolong’s Facebook post thank you:

Our student, Bolong’s thank you to the team.

Kunthea’s Facebook post thank you:

Our student, Kunthea’s thanks you to the team.

Bolong’s Testimony

Bolong, Kunthea and Srey Pich are in their senior year of high school now. They have been studying with us since they were in 6th grade. They came to study when Daniel Pak and I first went to live in the village in Jan., 2011. This was before Sokha and I were married. All three of them are members of our church too.

From left to right:
Kunthea, Luke, Bolong, and Srey Pich

The two pictures below are from Feb., 2011.
See red arrows: (left to right) Srey Pich, Bolong and Kunthea.

(See red arrow) Bolong – Feb., 2011

Luke and Bolong – Sept. 2016

A recent visitor asked me for some of the students’ testimonies. I asked Bolong to write his testimony out in English. Below is his unedited testimony in his own words.

‘Teacher Becca, do you have a boyfriend yet?’

Story from Brennan McCafferty and Becca Nyman’s Wedding Website
(their wedding is on May 6th, 2017)
Our Story (from Becca’s perspective)
‘Teacher Becca, do you have a boyfriend yet?’

In 2015, I (Becca) spent 6 months in Cambodia, January to June. I left for Cambodia excited to make an impact on the people in Cambodia, and be a blessing to them- little did I know it would be the people and country that made an incredible impact on me. A time of intense growth, learning, and perspective, a greater understanding of God, others, and myself. Little did I know, Cambodia would also weave itself into the story of how I met the man I am blessed to marry. As I was gearing up to leave Cambodia in June, I found out there would be a couple more MTW interns working in the village I worked in (Angkjeay), and living with the same family I lived with (the Smiths). To be more specific, I learned that there was going to be a male intern, who would stay with the Smiths for one month, and serve in Angkjeay village as a pastoral intern, as part of his RPTS Seminary studies. At the time this didn’t mean too much to me. However, once September came around I started receiving messages from various people in Cambodia- the family I lived with, friends, students I taught- and each one kept mentioning this guy, Teacher Brennan. Cambodian children messaging me asking, “Teacher Becca, have you found a boyfriend yet? Because I think I found someone for you- Teacher Brennan”. Describing him as tall, loves sports, loves God, and loves Cambodia too. I found these messages sweet, amusing, and thoughtful. My friends in Cambodia were still looking out for me even after I had left. Little came of this until late November 2015, when Brennan and I connected on Facebook. This led to many Facebook messages, skype dates, phone calls, and finally a meeting in person. We started dating on January 29, 2016, and on August 13, 2016, I said yes to the man I get to spend the rest of my life with. Our relationship remained long distance until November 2016, when Brennan moved to Minneapolis, MN. God’s timing is perfect, and Brennan and I could never have anticipated our paths would cross, but we are both so thankful they did. We are excited to see where God leads us as we seek to glorify Him.