On Friday we drove down to Phnom Penh from Battambang in Cambodia and flew to Thailand, arriving in Bangkok in the late evening to be met by Rev Chor Kee Tan who is an Anglican priest from Malaysia working as a missionary, church planting here in Bangkok.
Thailand is a completely different experience from Cambodia. Mass traffic and very built up. Yesterday we had a busy but great day. In the morning we took a children’s ‘Sunday School’ class with Vietnamese refugees.
In the afternoon we took a 2-3 hour drive to a Pakistani church. The church had a very interesting story. Below you will see Ken preaching and being interpreted by Pastor Lazarus. He, together with Pastor Sam (in the next picture, middle back) ran a very busy church in Karachi, Pakistan. They had a very successful ministry and the church had over 500 members and was full of life.
Sadly, this brought them to the attention of the Taliban, and they were attacked on numerous occasions. The Taliban specifically targeted the Church leaders, and eventually their congregation persuaded them to flee before they were killed. This they did 2 years ago and came to Thailand seeking refuge.
It has not been easy. Sam’s second child was born here, and they don’t know if they are going to be deported or arrested any day. But they run a small church for their fellowship and strength. We were invited to speak at it on Saturday afternoon. Seeing their faith and what they’d lost for the sake of the faith was a truly humbling and inspiring afternoon. I am sure I learned far more from them than they did from me, but their warmth and love was an inspiration.
On Sunday we went to visit Chor Kee’s church. He came to Bangkok 2 years ago and planted a small Anglican Church near the university in Rangsit. We had a great time with the congregation this morning.
Church growth is slow in Thailand, and difficult. But the vibrant faith of these young people was wonderful to be amongst.
We’ve spent the week teaching at a Bible school (situated in the same building as the TEFL school). We had ten students from the remote villages who are all training for some kind of ministry – mostly assistant pastors.
They didn’t speak english so we had a wonderful young translator – whose grasp of both languages was amazing (she is only 21). Classes started at 7.30am and went on till 4.00pm and we were teaching a course on mission and evangelism. Temperatures were hot – reaching 40-45 oC in the afternoon with a couple of small ceiling fans to cool us down. We just melted, drank gallons of water, and tried to keep them awake!
The teaching was interspersed with times of worship and fellowship and refreshments!
They were a lovely group of people who were very enthusiastic (mostly) and very tolerant of these strange English men trying to teach them how to do evangelism in their country to their own people!
Numbers swelled from time to time with others joining us, and on one day we had a group of pastors join us as they’d come in for a meeting.
The pastor from the church I’d been at on Sunday came in. It was really nice to see him again, and on this occasion I learnt about why he was so badly scarred. The picture below may not show it well, but all of his visible skin showed signs of extensive scarring from burns – and his hands were deformed almost beyond recognition, most digits were missing and his hands were badly twisted and scarred.
I thought he’d been in an accident. Then I heard the story. He’d was a baby when the Khmer Rouge had attacked his village in the late 1970s. Some of the young soldiers used his house to sit in and eat in. Being a hungry baby he started to cry. This annoyed the soldiers and they screamed at him to be quiet which only made him cry louder. So they took burning sticks from the fire and set him alight and crushed his hands and tortured him. It was horrific to hear and amazing that he survived at all. And yet Pastor Chun is an amazingly confident, happy, positive and fervent evangelist. He took part in a role play I did with them to ‘evangelise’ us as western heathens, he was so passionate and confident. An amazing man.
So we have had a great time in Cambodia. This is our last night here and tomorrow we take a taxi down through the country back to Phnom Penh and fly to Bangkok in the evening. More to follow…
Sunday was a great opportunity to see a small picture of the church here in Battambang and the surrounding villages. Ken and I were told that we would be in separate village churches a good drive out of Battambang city and that we would be picked up at 7am because they were quite a long journey away.
True enough our transport arrived at 7am (ish). The back of a motorbike was to be our transport. Ken had a 1hr journey to his church, I had a 1 1/2 journey. Only half the journey was on road – the rest was on dirt tracks through the countryside. It was quite an interesting trip!
The churches were very similar. Remote villages with about 20 families – some people came 20km or more to be in the church on Sunday morning. Most of the men were in Thailand or other countries finding work to send money home to their families as it hasn’t rained in the villages here since November and they are farmers so there are no crops and the livestock are nearly dying.
It was very moving in the service because they went around the congregation and everyone gave something they were grateful for. More than one person said ‘although we are very poor and have no money we are grateful to God for his great love for us and that we still have enough food each day to eat.’
The congregation were mainly women and children – about 25 in total. I had a lovely time with them – and although they couldn’t speak any English and I couldn’t speak Cambodian – with the help of an interpreter we had a good time… and when they sang ‘How great thou art’ I could at least sing a few of the verses that I could remember in English!
After another 1 1/2 hr journey back we had a brief lunch and then went to another church in the afternoon in Battambang city. This is led by Pastor Sophin (on the guitar in the picture below), and is all young people under the age of 35. It was full, and there were a lot who weren’t there. They are looking for new premises so that they can grow. It was a great and encouraging time.
After the service – they did a birthday celebration and then they bought out a bowl of these… any guesses what they are…?
Following our visit to CHO we took a ride out to a village about 10 miles out of Poipet town. This is a typical small village, with about 50 families. They are mainly farmers who grow crops such as Casava and Sugar Beat. However, this the hot, dry season of the year so not much was growing!
We went to meet a Pastor who is trying to plant a church in this village. He meets with a few families at the moment to do a Bible Study, and he has two trainee pastors who will be on the Bible School course next week which Ken and I are helping to teach.
A school was started in the village a few years ago so we went to see the school and meet some of the children who study there. The man in the picture below who’s wearing the baseball cap is the Pastor who is planting the church here.
As well as building the school they also want to build a church at the site below. So, they asked us to bless and pray for the site where they were going to build the church (if faith) in years to come.
We went to visit the Cambodia Hope Project (CHO), and some churches in rural villages in the Poipet area of Cambodia. CHO is a project that my Church at home, St Chad’s Handforth, have supported through Tear Fund for a number of years. The project is on the border of Thailand and is in a very poor region of Cambodia and therefore vulnerable to traffickers who come to villages and offer false hopes. You can see a short Tear Fund video in this link Trafficking and CHO where a British dad and his two sons visit CHO and see what difference they are making.
The director of the project is a remarkable man. His name is Chumno In.
His story is also quite amazing. Fifteen years ago he was in a good job, had a house and a young family. He became a Christian and started to read the Bible and took what it said seriously. He wanted to live his life in the way the Bible told him to. So, he made the decision to start CHO. He had no support and no-one to work with him. So, again, he read his Bible and aimed to do what it said. The result was that he sold his house and used the money to start the project and employ someone to work alongside him. It was very hard. His wife nearly left him and they had very little money and weren’t sure what was going to happen next. But he knew they had to trust God.
He read his Bible and aimed to do what it said
About a year later, he started to find support through Tear Fund and other Charities who could see the benefit of what they were doing.
One of the first projects they opened was a ‘Haven’ for girls who were being trafficked for the sex-trade in Thailand. They housed them, educated them and looked after them. The school still exists and is run for the benefit of local children now, and not specifically for children being trafficked. They tackle that problem in new ways.
They realised that although it was a good thing to rescue children being trafficked, they really needed to get to the root of the problem which led to families allowing their children to be duped into going to ‘work’ overseas. Part of the solution was educating the families on the way the Traffickers tricked them, so they wouldn’t let their children go. But the major aim was to provide work and help small businesses grow so that there was sustainable income and a livelihood for young people in the villages. This is what CHO seek to do. You can see a description of their work in the video on this link. General Video About CHO.
We went on a day when all the workers were back in the headquarters for training for the work they were doing in the villages.
Chumno In explained that they have a number of workers who, as well as helping the projects getting going in the villages, are also Church planting and sharing the gospel. He was very adamant that everything they do is to show and share the gospel because Jesus is the real answer to the problems people have. So, everything they have they label as a ‘Gift from Jesus’, including the chairs in their office!
As well as the workers who go out into the projects they also have teams who come from the UK, either directly managed by CHO or through Tear Fund. There were a team of 5 British girls there on the day we visited. All of them on gap years before going to University, and all of them loving the work they were involved with.
The work they do has grown over the years and is remarkable in it’s scope and depth. But, as Chumno In repeatedly said, we rely on what God tells us to do. We pray. We read the Bible. And we obey.
After we left CHO we went with Sam (A Philippine missionary who runs the Bible School we will teach at next week) and Sophin to visit their church planting projects in one of the remote villages near Poipet, but that’ll be the subject of the next blog… I’ll leave you with an interesting picture of what people carry on their mopeds in this country.
Before we left to visit a few people on Tuesday I met a missionary pastor from the Philippines called Roman. He has been church planting in Battambang for 12 years and it was really interesting to talk to him about what it is like. He said it’s easy to get big numbers and to get decisions for Christ… but the problem is it doesn’t go deep. He said they still marry non-Christians and drift far away from the faith, and if anything about church upsets them they just leave. To get deeper discipleship is proving really hard.
The same message came from the second pastor we met. Aaron, a man with an amazing testimony who has been the pastor of an AOG church since 2001. He said that people come to church to get something from God, and they stay as long as nothing upsets them. But should the pastor or anyone upset them they drift away from church. He said that his church has shrunk from 150 to 120 people over the past couple of years.
His story is quite remarkable though. He is 65 and grew up as the son of a government minister who worked in the fisheries department. He got married and had 3 children. His wife and all his children were murdered by the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s. After the war had ended he became very worldly. Taking on a high profile job in the government and coming to Battambang to build a big house and live in luxury.
A few years after he’d built the house he rented it out to a visiting American missionary family. The missionary was Kelly Robinet (in the centre of the picture below) and he shared the gospel with Aaron and he became a Christian. But Aaron described how he still continued to live a very sinful life until the day he was baptized. As he came up out of the water he heard God saying to him he must get rid of his sinful habits and lead a new life. Which he did. He now leads a clean life and is well known in the city – and people are amazed at the change. In fact, a lot of people who know him say they don’t want to become a Christian because they don’t want to give up their habits like Aaron has!
From there we went to visit a large Christian School which caters for children from 5-18 and is managed by Kelly, and Soy Sophal (next to Ken in the picture below). Soy Sophal is also the director of CHO which St Chads Handforth support through Tear Fund. He was able to arrange for us to go and visit CHO on Thursday this week which we are really looking forward to. You can read about it on their blog Cambodian Hope Organisation
Today Ken and I have been teaching English to Cambodian Students (this was the smallest class) and we’ve had great fun.
There are lots of ways of getting around in Battambang – this is one of the most common!
Battambang is a province of Cambodia in the North West of the country and bordering Thailand. It’s named after the legend of a man and a stick. It literally means ‘loss of stick.’ But the statue below is of the man who found it again and is guardian of the stick (staff). It is a deity which many come and worship at in this very Buddhist/Hindi city. It’s also known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Cambodia as this is where most of the rice is grown – but not at this time of year as it’s far too hot – 38-42 C this week. More importantly, this is also the birthplace of the modern church in Cambodia (in the 1920s) – so it is a significant city!
We are here for nearly two weeks to visit a Bible School and help out with the work here. Below is a picture of the School which is also linked to a primary school in the outskirts of Battambang city.
The primary school is the Legacy of Hope International and is situated down a small dirt track near the guest house where we’re staying (behind the van in the picture below). It has an interesting history. The building which the school is situated in was previously a brothel – 11 years ago. Then it was bought (redeemed) by the Christian community and turned into a primary school and bible school. The Legacy of Hope International. However, the street outside is still the place where prostitutes gather after dark and the building on the corner of the dirt track in the picture below is where we saw young men soliciting for prostitutes at 9pm last night!
However, the city is a lovely bustling mix of people. Our hosts Sophin & Ria Smith (a trainee pastor and his wife) took us out to a restaurant for a lovely meal. It was great fun especially as the electricity went off 3 times during the meal plunging us into darkness. Not sure if it has anything to do with the wiring out in the street?!
We’ve had a fascinating day today – with some interesting developments – more about that in my next post.
Arrived on Friday after traveling for about 24 hours and moving from being 11 hours behind GMT to 6 hours in front.
Great to be in the Far East again.
On the way across here I’ve been reading Killing Fields; Living Fields by Don Cormack. It tells the history of the Church in Cambodia since 1920 and particularly through the Killing Fields of the 1970s and the Khmer Rouge. It’s a devastating read and to be here now it’s wonderful to see how the church has risen out of intense persecution (90% 0f Christians were killed in those years) and it’s amazing. So often the way that the church grows strongest in the most difficult places.
We had a restful day yesterday and today Ken & I were preaching at the Assemblies of God church here in Phnom Penh. Transport there was by TukTuk. Ken was happy because the driver was a Liverpool supporter!
The last 4 days have been the Khmer New Year celebrations so people have been away to their families in the villages. So, the church was quite low in numbers but full of life in people 🙂 It was a joy to sing familiar songs in bilingual praise and to join with brothers and sisters half way across the world.
The congregation was quite a mix of nationalities, a big majority there today were from the Philippines and were there as ‘Tentmaker’ missionaries working as teachers and trying to reach areas of Phnom Penh which were still unreached for the gospel.
The main Pastor of the church was away so we were hosted by this young couple below. The service was great fun and the people were so very friendly.
We had a lovely lunch with Kim Han and his young wife Therea Han. They are both orphans and grew up together in a Christian orphanage, and were married last year. Both of them were orphaned in the Pol Pot era (if you don’t know much about that – read the opening part of this wiki Pol Pot).
Tomorrow morning we take a 5 hour bus ride to the North West region of Cambodia to Battambang where we will be for the next couple of weeks.
It’s fascinating being here and I’m really looking forward to the next two weeks.
Had a great day today. I was preaching at the Northern Campus of Kauai Christian Fellowship (photo’s below).
This church fellowship joined with the main Kauai Christian Fellowship in the south of the Island from January this year. They’re starting with the congregation that already exists and are introducing some of their innovative youth work and music ministry to expand the work in this congregation on the North coast of the Island.
It’s about an hour’s drive from South to North on this small island. Population about 70,000 so it’s a close community!
Lots of visitors and holiday makers at the service, but lots of locals too. The service was very simple – 20-25mins of music/worship followed by a 30 minute sermon. That’s it.
One visitor to the church who spoke to me afterwards was very worried when they heard an ‘episcopalian’ was preaching. But were quite complimentary afterwards!
Really friendly church – they have a meal together for the whole church family after every Sunday service – so got to have lots of good conversations!
One of the things they’ve introduced are sofas and comfy chairs at the front – and it works! People sit at the front of church! Voluntarily!
It’s been a great couple of days. I’ve been reading my way through Rick’s books, which are very funny and inspirational. Their ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking is refreshing and to actually see the things they do here is fascinating.
So, as well as the gym ministry, they also have an amazing music ministry. The music director/worship leader employed by the church had this idea to set up a music school in a nearby town for kids to learn instruments, sound engineering and singing etc. They opened it last October and it’s called Bandwagon.
Based on a monthly subscription the kids come after school for up to 3 hours every day (so it doubles as an after school club). Some do a bit of homework along the way but all of them come to play around at music and get some lessons from professional musicians.
Here are some pictures of them at work:
The kids were clearly loving it and it was a very professional set-up.
As time has gone on they’ve combined their strong youth work at the church and overlapped it with this music ministry. They’ve started feeding a lot of young people into their church music groups at a very high standard. Their church music group is really young and bursting with talent.
Today I went up to have lunch with the pastor of their new campus on the North side of the Island. About 3 months ago Kauai Christian Fellowship merged with a church at the opposite side of the Island to form a new Church campus. I’ll be preaching there on Sunday so went up to visit the Pastor and have lunch with him. He told me to drive along the coast and see some of the beautiful northern beaches. I felt I had to oblige – and found a nice one to sit on to read a book for the afternoon 🙂