In prior trips to Cambodia the GBGM missions staff encouraged me to focus on teaching Methodist History (John Wesley), Wesleyan Theology (Grace), a short term planning process, and Servant
Upon my arrival I was briefed by Andrew Lee (Country Director) and the mission’s staff regarding the
work they were doing. In Cambodia the UMC is leading in several areas.
There is a strong woman’s ministry that is empowering women to continue their educations, practice
safe hygiene and basic health care (including nutrition) for themselves and their families, and warns
young women of the dangers of sexual trafficking. While prostitution is illegal in Cambodia there are
brothels found throughout the nation and within the recent past it was notorious for prostituting
children to pedophiles. A new danger is young women being purchased from their families for resale
in China where young women are in short supply. They are told that they will be matched and married
to a prosperous Chinese businessman. But while some do seek a legitimate wife – she is a virtual
slave who is restricted to the home, does not speak the language, and can be sold if she does not
produce children or displeases her husband. This form of trafficking claims to be a “match-making
service but those entering into agreements have no idea the potential for disaster they are sending
their daughters of into.
Poverty robs people of choices. GBGM Missionary Ken Cruz gave me an orientation to the efforts
made at economic empowerment for young families. Chicken rearing is one of the best ways to
bring some egg and meat income into a remote village. Rice banking is another tool that stabilizes the
boom & bust nature of rice farming. And church directed “investment clubs” bring together 40
investors who contribute $1.25 per month. This creates a monthly pool of $60.00 which is then
available to lend to investors at a very low interest rate. People have borrowed to purchase tools, raw
products for resale, agricultural equipment, and livestock.
The Cambodian Genocide of 1975-79 is well known. But one of the continuing after effects of the
murder of all educated leaders, professionals, and teachers in the nation is the absence of leaders,
educated and skilled workers, and terribly inadequate educational programs. Many Cambodians had
their education cease in 1975 if they were alive at that time. Syvany was 13 and never received any
formal education after that time – most Cambodians did not. In the years after the Khmer Rouge were
driven out (and they remained in power in remote area for several decades after the official fall) the
nation was in economic crisis and children were most valuable in bringing food to the table. In more
recent years – the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen – has boosted about free education for all.
But the reality is children attend school for half a day. They must come in uniforms and have supplies.
And if the teacher hands out any materials in class, any homework assignments, and any review
material – the teacher may charge a “printing fee” that makes educating your children a constant
financial drain. Hence, many families cannot send their children to school and many adults are
illiterate and relatively uneducated.
What this means for the Christian Church is that many pastors are poorly educated in terms of their
general education and many also have a local pastor’s license. Only a small fraction are ordained
elders – who have received their seminary education in Singapore or Korea. Sam Om – Education
Director – shared that virtually ANY education would be valuable for the pastors. They lack
skills in preaching and worship; evangelism; discipleship; Bible; leadership; and pastoral care. To this
end, the next North Coast District mission team will be a teaching mission of Clergy teaching Clergy.
When my time in Cambodia came to conclusion we were able to add up some numbers:
We welcomed to our teaching efforts 718 individuals of all ages, genders, and faith experiences. We
know this exact number because when the people came to our all day seminars we fed them lunch
and I paid $2.00 per lunch – so good records were kept by our hosts.
I engaged in preaching on 5 Sunday mornings. These ranged from the largest UM congregation to a
tiny isolated church in the middle of nowhere. Preaching through a translator is not easy but Sam and
I made a pretty compatible team. (The 6 th Sunday I was out of the country in Vietnam while the
national elections were held. Hun Sen was re-elected as he had jailed or driven out of the country
anyone who could actually compete with him.)
We drove 1,580 miles in Sam’s Toyota. We saw both the Thai Border in the west and the
Vietnamese border in the east. We went places that Sam and Syvany had never been to before. We
saw rice fields, gem mines, the large cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. We saw water buffalo
plowing in the fields, garment and electronics factories, museums to their troubled past, ancient and
beautiful Buddhist temples, and hundreds of hopeful students crammed into hot classrooms.
We were able to visit 15 different congregations and utilized them as teaching centers. I was in 5 of
their 10 Districts and made friends with 5 of their district superintendents. I was able to attend the
graduation services at the Methodist Bible School in July – having taught a class with Sam a few
Within two weeks of my return the Methodist Church in Cambodia was chartered and elected their
first “President” Pastor Lun Sophy. (A President is the equivalent to our Bishop in that structure.)
He is someone I have met on all of my prior trips. I have preached at this church on all three prior
trips. He is a much loved friend and I look forward to working with him and the indigenous church
leaders as they embrace their new responsibilities.
Over the course of my trip I have added over 500 Cambodian Face Book friends. Many of them
keep in touch with me while I think others just value knowing a pastor and perhaps still others want a
glimpse into life in the USA.
As of this writing a next trip in taking shape. It is intended to be composed of 12-13 clergy leaders.
Dates are June 26-July 8. While we will journey together for cultural acclimation and some shared
work we are designing it so that the group can split into three teaching teams of 4 members each.
This will allow the maximum outreach to the Cambodian pastors and enable us to work for a couple of
days in multiple locations.
It is my great hope that the North Coast clergy and laity will embrace Cambodia as a place where our
prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness will make a significant difference. The church is just
emerging and there is tremendous potential and possibility to help lay strong foundations for future
work. It truly was an honor and blessing to live among the people that God has placed upon my heart.