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When I first came to the village, my prayer was that God would show these Khmer brothers and sisters (most of them probably first generation Christians in their families) how precious worship is because worship is where we taste the heaven on this earth. To share God’s love was my personal goal for this mission trip, and I thought doing so was a good way to help them to see the greatness of our God as long as God enables each and every one of us. However, as soon as the Sunday worship started the day after our arrival, my entire perspective of this mission trip changed. Although shy, they were very welcoming and willing to be taught; they loved praising even though all they had were simple Khmer hymns; their eagerness to learn more about God was no less than any other Christians that I know of; and I could see that some of them truly delight in the Lord and enjoy the fellowship as I got to make friends with them. It was a humbling experience for me because I often find myself looking for something “greater” to satisfy what I “think” is the right and sincere kind of worship when all we need to know is the sufficiency of His grace and nothing more. It was myself, perhaps more than these Khmer brothers and sisters, who needed to acquire greater understanding of worship and realize the depths of the love of our Lord.
Now that I am back in the States, people often ask me, “so, did you learn a lot?” when I tell them I just came back from a Cambodia mission trip. To be honest, I have hard time answering such a question because I don’t know how much is “a lot.” Besides, I’m not very good at describing the events that took place either. However, I definitely believe and want to share that God has taught me what I had to learn through this trip.
There was a song that we sang together before the team departed from AKJ. The title of the song is “God is So Good,” and I would say that this song pretty much wraps up everything that I learned in Cambodia. The song goes like this:
God is so good
He answers our prayers
He loves you so
He’s so good to me
Also, one of the brothers named Sophea gave me a note that reads how all of us are going to see each other again though may it not be on earth because we believe in Jesus. How amazing is this? That we worship and praise the same God regardless of our backgrounds and that we will see each other again one day because we possess the citizenship to Heaven through Christ Jesus.
Indeed, God was good to the team, He answered all of our prayers, He showed us how much He loves us, and because of all these things and so much more, He was and is so good to me.
By Daniel, a member of the Christ Central Presbyterian Church short-term team who visited our village for about a week last summer.
The Cambodia missions trip was my first mission trip of my life. I wasn’t too nervous because I knew that this was something that I am called to do. There was no doubt. Also, I thought of it as a duty that I must fulfill and something that I must do on this earth before I die as a believer. I’ve only imagined how missions is from what I have heard from the missionaries I got to talk to. When I got to Cambodia, it was definitely different.
As a team, we met up quite often before departure. We would get together and pray. We also tried to prepare lessons and crafts for different ministries that we were getting involved with. Right from the get go, the first day, we realized that we should revise our plans. We scrapped our weeks of planning. I personally felt like I was robbed, but it was necessary. God humbled our team through this. Because most of us were planners like myself, we liked things to be organized and structured. But God had different plans and different ideas in His mind. As we went through day by day, we would adjust to new settings, new people, and sometimes unexpected surprises like a heavy rain. But during our sharing time at the end of the day, we knew that God was good. Besides, we are simply His instruments.
Unfortunately for me, this humbling part was the easy part. The difficult part was trying to convey to these people that God is good. Being a Christian is a good thing. It is something that you would want to cling onto even if your own life or even if your family’s life is at stake. So whenever I interacted with new believers and unbelievers, I smiled. I tried to be kind. I tried to be generous and thoughtful. Of course, God broke me down once again.
I realized that this fake smile was very exhausting. I realized that I did not have the true joy of salvation. My 3 week trip seemed unexpectedly long by the beginning of week 2, and I wanted to go home. My passion to be involved with enthusiasm died down. I was physically drained. The heat and humidity was getting to me. I wanted the comforts of my own room. I missed my clean and nice clothes. As this desire grew, I was not able to smile anymore. I was unsatisfied doing God’s work. But when I saw my teammates smiling and professing the Gospel, I was encouraged, but also discouraged at the same time: why can’t I be truly joyful?
I knew that I was not fully convinced that being a Christian is necessarily good. Sometimes, you feel even more lonely when you you believe in God. Sometimes, the struggles you face are unfathomable by your friends outside of the Christian community – or even within the community. Sometimes, I would have to give up things that I have grown to love more than God. Sometimes, this struggle is just too real to feel joyful. I felt like I was lying – leading these people into suffering and more heartbreaks.
As God broke me down, God also provided me a way to escape this by the time I got to the village of Ankjeay. Physically, I was very drained. Even though it was hotter and there was no A/C, I didn’t care. I was simply too tired to complain. Fortunately, I taught the guitar the next day to the kids in the village. This was something that I enjoyed doing back at home. And the kids were simply so eager to learn that I couldn’t help but smile. When the kids learned new chords and strums faster than I anticipated, God showed me visions of how some day, these kids may become praise leaders, leading people into worship. That motivated me to stay after hours. A week is a short period of time, but I wanted to teach much as I could. This ministry that I got to work with became almost effortless. Also, by this time, our team got very close and understood each other a lot better. Our team’s considerate encouragements toward one another and the warmth of the family meal by Sokha and Luke definitely kept me going. I was even more excited when Pastor Luke shared his plans with some of these kids. Some will be granted scholarships to get into colleges in the city. And by the grace of God, the selected kids did pass college entrance exams, and are on their way to college. These little miracles and work that God is doing in this village and other ministries of Cambodia, made me want to stay or revisit. I wanted to witness the good work that God is doing here.
Soli Deo Gloria. That’s what I wrote in my journal every night on this mission trip. And God really did do everything to glorify Himself. Even discontent son like me, God used. I don’t think I was ready to go either, but I don’t know where this boldness came from. This trip was about God, but I focused too much on myself. Only after I saw God working in these individuals, I was able to be more honest and be more relaxed. I realized that regardless of what I do or don’t do, salvation does not belong to me, but it is a simple gift of God. I can only pray that God will be gracious to these people as He was gracious to me to taste the glimpse of the joy and the hope that I have through Jesus Christ even during the times of trial. That is my simple prayer that I still cling on to after the trip.
We hope this update finds you content in God’s grace and seeking His kingdom. We are grateful for your support and prayers that allow us to continue to teach the word of God in the village. This week is the Cambodian New Year, so we are in Phnom Penh for a few days before returning to the village towards the end of the week. The rains the past couple of weeks have brought some relief from the hot season. Sokha recently wrote a blog post about this year’s hot season and the struggle for water: http://lifeincambodia.org/2014/04/11/water-wells-heat-and-dust-the-dry-season-2014 .
In spite of the extreme heat, students in our English outreach classes continue to attend classes faithfully on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Several students come early to practice playing the guitar and to sing Christian songs from the Khmer Purple Hymnal. There is only one hymnal in Khmer. The first half of the hymnal has songs translated from English into Khmer, and the second half of the hymnal is songs written by Cambodians set to traditional Cambodian tunes. The tunes are quite familiar to most Cambodians and can be heard at any wedding, funeral or festival.
Song number 138 in the hymnal is one of their favorites. The first verse is: “I have been saved by you. There is no other god who can help me. You are the only one. There is no other god who can free me from my sorrow. Only a gift from heaven. Now I have you as the Lord of my life.” There are many edifying hymns that have been written by Cambodians that we would like to share from time to time. Most of them were written at the end of the Pol Pot era when many Cambodians were coming to Christ in refugee camps.
Last July, a group of young church members started learning how to play guitar with the purpose of using it to glorify God. Sokha has taught them on Saturday afternoons as well as a few short term team members last summer, a MTW intern and a friend that visited. By December, some of them could play a simple Khmer Christmas song during the Christmas church service. Presently ten of them can play guitar well enough to help lead in singing in the first half hour of the English outreach classes as well as in the Sunday worship service with Sokha. We are praying and hoping that soon they can serve the Lord confidently with their new talent and can lead singing without Sokha.
Pisey, Saran, Srey Lin and Navy, the four girls in the discipleship/vocation program have been doing well in their preparation year. Besides, learning English, computer and taking a Bible certificate program from Moore Theological College, they have been passionately involved in helping teach the children in the English outreach class for beginners as well as the Sunday school class. Reaksmey, Sokha’s younger sister, travels from Phnom Penh on the weekends to train them as well as a few other church members to teach the Sunday school children. It is our hope that one day these four girls will soon be able to teach the class by themselves.
In addition to our normal work, we try to make time to work on a few translation projects from time to time. Every month, we translate four or five questions and answers from the Westminster Shorter Catechism and use them in the church worship service. We are about 1/3 of the way through the Shorter Catechism now. Also, we just finished editing/revising a Gospel Coalition Booklet titled the “Gospel and Scripture.” Next, we will start editing/revising another Gospel Coalition Booklet title “What is the Gospel” by Bryan Chapel.
As we feel called to work in this village long term, it is our desire to minister to the students as well as to reach out to the villagers more effectively. Therefore, we need a better place to stay, and larger classrooms. The rats, snakes,centipedes and scorpions that often make their way into our rental house, along with roof leaks and a number of other small problems has made it an exhausting place to stay. One year ago, with the help of some of the students’ parents, we managed to buy five connected rice fields along the village dirt road for a reasonable price. Since then, we filled them up with dirt. It is about half a hectare in size with a beautiful landscape in the background. With permission from the government, we have been able to start building a house. The construction of the house is about half way through with the help of the village construction workers. Along with the construction of the house, we are writing a proposal for a pending classroom project in the coming months.
Your partners in the gospel,
Luke, Sokha, and Hannah
Sokha’s description of the yearly struggle for water and the 2014 dry season:
When we first moved to Angkjeay village, we asked our landlord if he had a well. He told as that he had one. As we looked around and couldn’t see one, we asked if he could show us his well. To our surprise, he took us to a pond at the back of his house. We were still puzzled so we asked again if this was the well he was talking about. Since then, we’ve learned that villagers refer to their ponds as “wells”.
Pond water is not only used for bathing, doing the dishes and laundry, it’s also used for drinking and cooking food once the villagers are out of rain water which is usually collected and stored in a row of cement jars by their houses during the rainy season. The collected rain water is not clean though it is better than pond water. The dirt from dirty roofs and dirty pipes go into cement jars. The collected rain water normally lasts for about two to three months starting from November, the end of the rainy season.
Though leading a simple village life is our desire, being healthy is our priority. We want to last long in the village and at the same time set a good example for the villagers to follow. Using pond water was not our option. We once thought of getting pure drinking water from the city and would use the collected rain water to bathe and to do laundry and would try to get a well dug once we were out of rain water. Providentially, we found a Christian pure drinking water company that could deliver pure drinking water to our place and a company that would help us dig a well. After we got a well dug, we were glad to invite the neighbors to use it but they said they were not used to well water. They preferred using pond water or water from the moats in the Buddhist temple instead. Indeed, well water has a lot of minerals, thus, it cannot be used to drink or cook food, but still it can be used to bathe, to do laundry or for washing the dishes and vegetables.
March, April and May, are famous for their heat. They are the hottest months of the year. Both locals and expatriates complain of its extreme temperature and try to stay in shades as much as possible or even wish to get out of the country. In addition, blackouts which last about four to twelve hours a day are common in Phnom Penh and just as common in the village. I guess it is worse here in the village. Since most ponds and even the larger pond in the Buddhist temple are dried up due to the extreme heat and drought, the villagers are running around in search of pond water to bring home to drink and to cook food. Several hours each day are spent finding water and hauling it a few liters at a time back to one’s house. Most of the remaining pond water is green or yellow in color. Although more wells have been dug by NGOs such as Red Cross and UNICEF, there are villagers whose houses are far from those wells. For instance Orm Sorn and Neakming Saron, two of our church members, are suffering from water shortage as there are no wells in their neighborhood. Searching and getting water to use or bathe would take at least half a day.
This season is not only famous for heat; it is also famous for weddings. There are weddings every day everywhere. Nothing can stop people from getting married…ha. Weddings in the village usually last for two days and two nights with loud music. So far we have been invited to at least ten weddings and there have been several near our house. We cannot reject the invitations because it would be an insult even though we know the kind of water that is used to prepare the wedding feast…ha.
From mid-December until April, 1st, there was no rain in our village. On April, 1st an afternoon rain ended the drought.
A Bit of Background: This December marks two years since our village church plant first began to meet for Sunday worship. Most of our church members are in their teens and started coming to church through our English/Khmer Bible outreach classes. Despite the strong societal and family pressure in the village not to leave Buddhism behind, we have seen God at work to continue to mature our first group of church members who were baptized in July. We are seeking to disciple them and plan ahead so that they can have a reliable vocation in the future to support their families and the church.
Most families in our village are subsistent rice farmers with some supplemental income coming from raising livestock. Most of the students finishing school or dropping out end up working in clothing factories or similar types of work. The hours are long, the work and housing environments are unsafe, and the type of work is unsustainable as one grows older. For instance, one of our students, Kunthea, has an older sister who finished school about a year ago. Not knowing what to do with her life, her parents sent her to the city to work in a roadside television/coffee lounge for $60 per month. These are usually rough places for young women to work. At a minimum they would be
similar to a sketchy bar and often fronts for prostitution. While she was not part of the church plant and did not study with us, her situation is quite common among students finishing school in our village. Often, regardless of a student’s ability, the money and guidance is not available for them to pursue further education or training after high school. They enter into a cycle of dead end jobs bouncing around hopelessly from one place to the next.
As we thought about the students in our church plant who have finished school or will be finishing school soon, we knew that most would find themselves in similar situations without assistance. So we asked: How can we help these students mature in Christ, stand strong in their faith and be witnesses to their families and friends? How can we help these students obtain the skills and education to be able to get jobs so that they can support their families and the church in the future?
We decided to put together a program where students who are faithful members of the village church plant could choose to be part of a discipleship/vocation program. During the first year of this program, they would start a Bible certificate program from Moore Theological College (http://external.moore.edu.au/
The start of the program: We have recently launched the program with four members of Angkjeay church plant, Pisey, Srey Lin, Saran and Navy were baptized and joined the church plant in July. They have faithfully been coming for the past 2 years from the time when we began to meet for worship. These four successfully passed their national high school exam in September 2013. They are currently studying English, basic computer, and an introduction to the Bible course that is part of Moore College Certificate program on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with us. In addition, they are assisting us with the ongoing English/Khmer Bible outreach classes and the Sunday school class for kids. Please pray for the four students in this program. We are excited about the ways that God will use them to bless the church in Cambodia.
Village and Family Life Update: Finally, electricity has made its way to our village. Last Sunday was our first day with electricity after two and a half years of living here. It has indeed made our lives easier. We do not have to put up with the loud noise of the generator when we do laundry or need to get things recharged when we go to the city, and we actually have lights in every room. Frequent blackouts will still be common, but then it is just back to what has been normal life for us. In the midst of everyone’s excitement, the nearby Buddhist temple has started showing movies almost every night. The blasting noise sometimes continues until 11 pm. Another neighbor blasts his new stereo and dish TV all hours of the day. We are hoping that when the first electricity bills need to be paid that things will calm down.
Hannah has grown taller and prettier, and has been walking for about a month. She enjoys life in the village. She is very friendly. She waves hello and goodbye to those passing by. She can say bye in English and let’s go in Khmer now.
Please pray that our marriage would be strengthened and that our parenting of Hannah would be based upon the grace of God and the wisdom of His Word.
Two years in the village: This month marks two years of ministry for Sokha and I as a married couple in Angkjeay village. God has been gracious in sustaining us in spite of the difficulties we have faced both physically and spiritually. About nine months ago, many tall trees were cut down and electricity poles were put up along the red dirt road to Angkjeay village. We smiled as we thought that soon we were going to have electricity. However, nine months and counting the electric lines have yet to be put up. Some days the poles are hopeful reminders that electricity will come to our village, but other days they cause frustration as we wonder why the wait has to be so long. It seems a fitting comparison to our church planting work in village – some days are filled with joy as we see many signs of God’s grace working in people’s lives and some days are filled with frustration and disappointment as it seems like the wait to see a flourishing church plant is just too long. No doubt, church planting requires both patience and perseverance and we are in need of your prayers that God would be merciful in giving us both as we enter our third year of living and church planting in Angkjeay village.
The church plant: This past Sunday was an exciting milestone for our church plant. This was the first time for baptisms in our church plant. Seventeen villagers were baptized and four more plan on being baptized this Sunday. These newly baptized believers need much prayer as they often face much persecution for believing in Christ from their friends and families. This past weekend, one twenty year old girl who had planned on being baptized was forced to the leave the village and go to the city by her mother, so she wouldn’t be baptized. Other villagers are spreading rumors that when you get baptized, evil spirits may possess you, you will be under a spell, you will die or you will forget your parents. But even in midst of all the lies and chaos, we see Christ faithfully building His church.
A snapshot of evangelism in the village: A few days ago we stopped by a student’s home to look at the family’s new house. As we sat talking to them, one of the relatives asked, “Teacher, do you offer any offerings or burn incense sticks to spirits to ask them for their permissions before you build something?” Sokha was thrilled to have the opportunity to answer such a question. It is not common for people to ask questions about our God. Sokha began, “Look, I believe our God is the creator of all. He is also a spirit, but he created the rest of the spirits. He is more powerful than them all. So asking him for protection and help is all I need. Besides, the spirits that you all worship are known as fallen angels. They were led by Satan, one of the angels, who rebelled against God. God, who knows and understands everything, chased them out of heaven and prepared a lake of fire for them. Like Satan, the rest of the angels who have fallen with him want our worship. They are not here to protect us, but to harm us and make our lives more miserable. They want us to end up in hell with them.” She and the rest of her family who were there said, “What you’ve said is reasonable. What freedom you have as a Christian! I have to offer incense to the spirits of my dead ancestors and consult with fortune tellers before I do anything. I actually wanted to buy a truck, but the fortune teller asked me to wait for five years. He said if I bought it now, I would become poor.” This lady’s beliefs are fairly typical of most people in the village. Please pray that we will have continued evangelistic opportunities and that the Holy Spirit would be at work to free many from the bonds of Satan and sin.