A Time to Give Thanks

A Time to Give Thanks

Last week, we hosted our 6th Thanksgiving gathering! Thanksgiving is an inherently American holiday, but even more than that it’s a way of life that God calls us too. These words from Catechesis Books, a publishing company, really sum up our heart for hosting and sharing Thanksgiving to those around us here in Cambodia.

“As many of you may know from “We Believe,” the word “Eucharist” simply means “Thanksgiving.” This word has been used for over two thousand years to refer to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. When we celebrate American Thanksgiving, I always think about the Eucharist as well – how very beautiful to be invited to and to participate in a Thanksgiving feast instituted by Christ himself in his final days!

There are some distinctly common elements shared by the two feasts – both are a participation in ordinary graces (our basic food) for the sake of remembering with gratitude what we have been given and for binding us more tightly in relationship (during the Eucharist with Christ, and during Thanksgiving with one another).”

This has been our heart, to host a Thanksgiving that fits into a larger picture of fellowship that God calls us to have with other believers. We gather, reflect on the year, and give praise to God for the wonderful things he has done for us, in us, and around us. 

When we first started this six years ago, we rented large tents and invited everyone from AHIS and had 120 people! We’ve toned it down since then to more of our closer friends who we walk alongside with regularly. This year we prayed about who we will miss the most since next year we will be in the States for Thanksgiving, and it mostly centered around our Cambodian friends. So this year we invited our closest Cambodian friends and our new Norwegian friends (who had never experienced Thanksgiving before!) We are so grateful for these fellow image bears the Lord has placed in our lives. 

 

Confirming the Faith

Confirming the Faith

On October 9th, the Church of Christ Our Peace held a very special confirmation service. One of the things that was so special was that it combined all of the CCOP congregations into one large church service with members of the English, Khmer, and Chinese being able to take part in worshiping the LORD together. CCOP is made up of three separate congregations that each meet separately on Sundays, but before Covid, we used to regularly have these types of combined services four times a year, and it is great that we are able to return back to this combined worship!

For Anna and I this was a really powerful service. For this service, Bishop Titus Chung from the Diocese of Singapore came to lead the confirmation of 23 members of the different CCOP congregations and 27 members of The Church of the Good Shepherd (a sister church of CCOP). This was the first time Anna and I have been able to witness a confirmation ceremony and many of the people confirmed had been baptized earlier this year! In addition to witnessing many people confirm their faith in the LORD, we also got to witness a member of CCOP Khmer be made a deaconess! Lina has been involved with the CCOP since 1996 and has grown in her faith and involvement in sharing the Gospel of Christ all over Cambodia. It was really powerful to witness her faith in Christ being rewarded in this way. We also were able to get a small taste of what it looks like to shift out of education and into church ministry. Anna was asked to take photos of the service and I was able to help. It was really wonderful to be able to use our talents to practically serve a need for our church and it encouraged and invigorated us for the season ahead where we can fully invest in church ministry here in Cambodia.

Would you join us in prayer for the work of the church in Cambodia and also for the future combined services at CCOP. We are looking forward to seeing the LORD call people to faith in him and seeing more people get baptized, confirmed, and choose to follow Christ! Below is a photo gallery of the service.

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Shifting Gears – Same Country, New Ministry

Shifting Gears – Same Country, New Ministry

Our four daughters during Khmer New Year 2022

 

We are the Pelloni’s! We have been living and serving in Cambodia since 2015. In that time, we have worked primarily in education with young children. Since moving to Cambodia, we have had four wonderful daughters, all born in Cambodia, and have learned so much about God’s love for people of all nations. 

Anna and I moved to Cambodia as newlyweds in 2015 with a heart to experience God outside of the cities we grew up in. We got a small taste of working with international students in university and wanted to go out into the world and experience the Great Commission for ourselves to see how we fit into God’s plan for the world. One of the things we realized very quickly was that the way we viewed and worshiped God was very different from how people in different parts of the world see and worship God. Since moving to Cambodia, God has been using our Cambodian brothers and sisters in Christ to show us how to live and worship God in a communal way rather than merely a personal way. One of the biggest things we had to learn to do was be open and vulnerable about every aspect of our life. What does it mean to love God with your home? What does it look like to love God outside of your church? What does it mean to let people into the intimacy of how you spend your days outside of work? For Cambodians, these are all very natural things. It’s perfectly normal for people close to you to know everything about you as if they are extended family members. Here’s a story about how this deep intimacy allowed us to encourage and worship God with one of our best Cambodian friends/family.

One of our first friends we came to know when we moved to Cambodia is S&V (names kept confidential). We have known S&V for many years. Ever since we have known them they have had a deep desire to partner with their church to spread the Gospel in deeper parts of Cambodia and support the training of teachers outside of the major cities. This past year (2022), our friends came to us to share with us that they felt called to a change in their vocation. V has been working with an NGO but felt like God was calling him to go to seminary and plant a church in the province. Not only was he feeling this call, but his church here in Cambodia was also in support of this calling! For us it was very exciting as we were also feeling called to change our ministry from education to church ministry too. They asked us to join them in prayer and also to teach them about support raising, how to do it, and how to share with others about God’s vision for their life. We were so encouraged! Not only was God slowly changing our hearts and minds about ministry, but he was doing the same thing to some of our best friends and bringing us together despite our different nationalities! Over the next several months we met with them monthly to work on how to share about God and ask for people to partner with them as they take the next steps in their life towards full time ministry and seminary study. They are currently support raising and in their first year of seminary study. 

This is just one story of many that we have from living in Cambodia for the last 8 years. Much like S&V we are spending this next year wrapping up our ministry in education and then shifting full time into support raising and working in church ministry, with the goal of going to seminary in the future. We are very excited to join SAMS and be a part of the wider community of Anglicans who have a deep desire to see the Great Commission spread throughout the world and specifically Cambodia. When we come back to Cambodia after support raising in the USA, we will be on a church planting team in Phnom Penh with our church home of the last 6 years, Church of Christ Our Peace. Please join us in prayer as we wrap up the final year with our students and families from the school while also preparing to shift into full time support raising and church planting.

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Cambodia Anglicans Chart a New Path

Cambodia Anglicans Chart a New Path

SAMS Missionaries Gregory and Heidi Whitaker serve in Cambodia where Gregory leads the pastoral team at multi-ethnic Anglican Church of Christ Our Peace (International). Heidi is involved in medical outreach to several communities. In addition, SAMS Missionaries Jesse and Sarah Blaine are focused on church planting, outreach, and discipleship with the Anglican Church of Cambodia. Jesse serves as a priest and Sarah ministers with the youth and is training young women in the faith. The Lord is working in the Anglican Diocese of Singapore and the Deanery of Cambodia where your SAMS Missionaries serve:

Space is tight in the Phnom Penh chapel where Cambodian Anglican Christians have gathered to worship on a Sunday morning.

“If you can’t find a seat, just stand for a few minutes and seats will open up when the children go to their Sunday school,” advises Pastor Jesse Blaine, a Khmer-speaking American who leads the congregation.

Circulation fans whir in the quaint rented space that offers stained glass windows and a central location in the bustling Southeast Asian city, but no air conditioning. The church has posted significant growth in the past year. A missionary outpost of the worldwide Anglican Communion, it is one piece of the growing Christian community in Cambodia, where church attendees weigh the truth claims of Christianity a generation removed from the Khmer Rouge genocide.

A Rapidly Changing City

Blaine preaches on Matthew Chapter 19, his Khmer peppered with recognizable brands: B-M-W, Ferrari, and Lamborghini. The message is about the rich young ruler who is dismayed to learn that he must give up the material things he loves in order to follow Jesus. Members of the congregation nod. Blaine later shares that foreign investment—some of it legitimate, some not—has brought new wealth and materialism to Phnom Penh. The neighborhood in which the Church of Christ Our Peace (CCOP) Khmer ministers bears little resemblance to its appearance just a few short years ago. An upscale gym near the church advertises an $800 annual membership, a price unimaginable to most Cambodians. A new Bentley dealership has also opened.

The Khmer Rouge regime-initiated genocide, which resulted in the deaths of between one-quarter and one-third of the Cambodian population in the late 1970s, left little church presence. Christians, along with any western-educated Cambodians, were targeted by the atheist regime. The church—like the 19th-century French Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral in Phnom Penh, torn down stone by stone—was nearly completely wiped out.

Ten years after the genocide ended, only a few hundred Cambodian Christians survived. Today, that number has increased to approximately 150,000 Christian believers, according to Blaine, making it one of the fastest growing Christian populations in the world. Some estimate that 2-3 percent of Cambodia’s citizens practice Christianity. According to the Pew Research Center approximately 97 percent of Cambodia’s population follows Theravada Buddhism.

Protestant missionary activity in Cambodia dates to at least 1923, but the church grew slowly. Anglican Church activity began in 1993 after the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to the King of Cambodia asking permission to form a worshiping congregation in Phnom Penh. Three Anglican churches now minister in the city, with four mission extensions in the provinces.

“Serving in Cambodia is very challenging for many different reasons,” explains Blaine. “There is a very strong ‘cultural inertia’ towards retaining their culture, their historical background. For many Cambodians, it is difficult for them to consider something beyond what they’ve already known. On the flip side, it is very difficult for many young Cambodians because they want to chart a new path for themselves and the country going forward. As they do that, it’s hard for them to find role models. It’s hard for them to find ideas and pathways that they can pursue.”

Blaine explains that a successful Alpha (introductory Christian beliefs) course this past autumn and a personal finance training course are pushing the church out into the community and forcing them to find ways to creatively bring people into the church.

“Our hopes were to have 8-10 people for each [Alpha] session, and we ended up averaging about 30,” Blaine shared. “It was a pure joy on our parts to welcome several participants into the family of faith and we look forward to baptizing them in February,” Blaine explained that the Alpha course helped the disproportionately young congregation articulate their Christian beliefs. Two more Alpha sessions are planned for 2018.

Blaine is also instructing his flock on the importance of the sacraments. The congregation has increased from having communion only once a year, to twice a year, to now monthly. Later in 2018, the congregation will have communion weekly.

Dania Prak attends the morning prayer service at CCOP. She is an English-speaking Cambodian who once lived in the struggling neighborhood adjacent to the church that is now transformed with western brands and boutique hotels catering to foreign tourists. Prak remembers that as a small child the free biscuits lured her to church. She kept returning—and created mischief during Sunday school. But the Gospel message took hold in her heart, and now she is a key lay leader in the congregation.

The Rev. Steven Seah leads a tour of the future sanctuary of the Anglican Church of Christ Our Peace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Photo: Jeff Walton / IRD)[/caption]

The Khmer congregation has outgrown its small chapel, but there will be more room when the congregation’s new building—shared with the English-speaking international congregation—is completed in mid-2018. The eight-story building replaces the congregation’s original re-purposed villa and is slated to open in June. Classrooms, offices, guest apartments, and a sanctuary seating more than 300 persons will facilitate ministry. A separate large meeting space will permit the Khmer congregation to worship simultaneously with the international congregation.

In Transition

The Rev. Gregory Whitaker, who leads the International Congregation at the Church of Christ Our Peace, says that the congregation has found itself serving a highly transient community of educators, doctors, and non-government organization (NGO) workers.

“The challenge is not to see them as appendages or someone whom ‘oh, you’re only here a short time and it doesn’t matter what we do with you because you’ll be gone.’ If we adopt that mindset, then 70 percent of the church goes unpastored,” Whitaker explained.

On a typical Sunday, between 140-200 internationals and English-speaking Khmer meet in an auditorium for a 90-minute liturgical worship service that also features a praise band and evangelical songs. According to Whitaker, only about five members of the congregation have an Anglican background. Families with kids, Canadians, Nigerians, and Americans are in attendance.

Anglicans are also ministering among the sizeable Khmer-language ethnic Chinese population, nearly 80,000 strong in Phnom Penh, some of whom hail from the Chinese diaspora and others from mainland China.

At Church of the Good Shepherd (COGS) in Phnom Penh, one visiting Chinese pastor is in the process of relocating after police shut down his Bible school in China. Cambodia has relatively few religious restrictions, and enterprising pastors see the growing ethnic Chinese population as receptive to the Gospel.

Congregants sing songs in Khmer at a recent Sunday service, some of which are Taiwanese compositions instead of songs translated from English. A multi-ethnic feel permeates the space; two recently arrived students from Beijing introduce themselves. The pair will learn Khmer and then teach Chinese, with the ambitious goal of leaning the language in four months.

Rokakos Field Visit

Outside of the city, ministry takes place at informal rural preaching stations, including a small tidy building in Rokakos, where young children pile in for games and stories.

Ministry in Rokakos, by necessity, looks different from that in Phnom Penh. According to The Rev. Steven Seah, Associate Dean for Cambodia, the congregation has only three adults but dozens of children—up to 200 came on Christmas Day. The difficulty of ministering to so many children with little adult help has led to the goal of discipling a smaller number of children who, as they grow older, can serve as leaders to educate the younger children.

Children, Seah notes, are far more receptive to the Gospel than their parents, although parents encourage them to attend church ministries because they see value in the structure and moral instruction that the children receive.

Nass Sowannia, a Khmer lay pastor at the site, says they could do a lot here if they had more help.

Church growth has also been facilitated through ministries like Project Khmer Hope (PKH), where vulnerable young people in Kampong Speu Province learn skills and are discipled. Begun as a ministry of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore, PKH has identified ways at-risk children can achieve financial security by preparing for work in Cambodia’s growing hospitality sector.

Susan Gok speaks with hospitality trainees at Project Khmer Hope before their morning departure for internships in Phnom Penh. (Photo: Jeff Walton/IRD)[/caption]

Susan Gok served as cabin crew with Singapore Airlines for 15 years, became a Christian in 2001, and eventually came to Cambodia to serve at PKH. With a background in hotel/hospitality management, she trains the approximately 50 people ages 17-23 who cycle through PKH’s two-year program each year. English is taught the first year. First and second year students can be placed in internships with hotels, including some of the top hotels in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Many of the trainees become Christians—48 were baptized last year—and the program has grown from placing trainees from its first graduating class in 2006 in three hotels to 15 hotels today.

“[Our] ongoing prayer request is that God would raise up leaders, Cambodian leaders, from within the congregation, maybe from within Alpha groups or within the financial peace group,” Seah reports, “people who have a true heart for the Lord and heart for their country.”

By Jeff Walton

By Jeff Walton

Communications Manager for the Institute on Religion & Democracy

The original story can be found here.

Big News!

Big News!

Big news in the Benton household! We are thrilled to announce the arrival of a new one in the coming months. sorry we have not been active on our blog, a few things including this have been occupying our time. But we are BACK!!! more updates to come. meanwhile, please pray for Summer and baby’s health and wellbeing.