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Calgary pastor witnesses God’s grace in Cambodia

September 17, 2010 No Comment

Children from an orphanage will enjoy their new Canadian soccer ball. Back row (l-r) Pastor Laverne Hautz; Deanna Hautz (centre) Missionary Fungchatou Lo (far right).

From July 27 to August 9, Rev. Laverne and Deanna Hautz (Foothills, Calgary) participated in a short-term mission in Cambodia as part of their involvement in the LCMS-based Pastoral Leadership Institute (PLI).

PHNOM PENH – The Lutheran presence in Cambodia, less than 20 years old, includes the recently established Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia (ELCC), headed by president Rev. Vanarith Chhim, and Pastor Fungchatou Lo (a native of Laos) who serves as a full-time missionary from The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s (LCMS). For nine days we travelled around Cambodia with Rev. Lo, his family, Cambodian translator Jesse, and his wife.

In this land riddled with poverty and political strife, Christianity has made a positive impact in recent years. Christian organizations helped Cambodia get back on its feet after Pol Pot’s brutal dictatorship, and the government has welcomed them. In the late 1970s Pol Pot’s military regime ruled and decimated the country, expelling everyone from the capital city of Phnom Penh, separating families and forcing people into rural areas to work in rice fields. The regime systematically imprisoned, tortured and killed government workers, business people and the educated, in what became known as the “killing fields.” Tuslan, a school-turned-prison we visited, now holds an enclosure filled with bones found in this killing field, serving as a stark reminder of the inhumanity of humanity—and a lesson for generations to come not to allow that to happen again.

Today Cambodia is a democratic monarchy, much like Canada, with a king who reigns but does not rule and a prime minister drawn from the Assembly’s ruling party. In this largely Buddhist country, with temples and shrines all over the countryside, Cambodia’s Christian community makes up only two to three per cent of the population.

Only one fully established Lutheran church/school exists here—Trinity (LCMS) in Battambang. But several worshipping communities, not all with church buildings, are also in outlying areas. Though not ordained, the pastors identify themselves as Lutheran and take theological training courses organized by Rev. Lo. Like St. Paul in the first century, Rev. Lo makes periodic visits to these communities to encourage people in their faith, to train pastors and leaders, and to provide for those in need.

At one stop, near Kompong Chanang, we visited with the local pastor, Kimhai, at Jesus the Savior Lutheran Church. He serves 13 preaching stations—in his spare time and on a taxi-driver’s salary. He and his wife have two children and two adopted orphans. We brought greetings and encouragement, prayed with them and sang a couple of songs. We gave them clothes, school supplies, uniforms and bicycles so the children could go to school. From the little they have, the family shared food with us on the floor of the church building.

In the case of a needy family in another town, both parents have AIDS and their baby, Philip, cannot drink his mother’s milk for fear of contracting the disease. Recently the father was forced to pawn his land title to pay for infant formula. A project called Helping Hands paid off the debt, regained him the title, and bought enough formula to last for several weeks. We dropped off a water filter and some clothes, prayed with them, and left with tears in our eyes—both at the need and at being able to supply some help.

Missionary Fungchatou Lo (l) and the local pastor deliver rice, mats and blankets to needy families near Ratanakiri.

Back at Trinity in Battambang, we had a full day of teaching, along with Rev. Randy and Nancy Buecheler (other PLI participants from California): leadership sessions with some 30 adults, and sexual purity/marriage classes with 15 young adults. The young people talked candidly about what their culture says about sex and marriage—and it was surprisingly similar to what we hear in North America. We discussed marriage vows and their meaning in a Christian context. Young Cambodian Christians sometimes face the challenge of an arranged marriage, and when they are expected to marry a non-Christian it can compromise their faith as well as deny them choice in their life partner.

On our last day of ministering we met a group of villagers who had gathered in their church building. Nancy and Deanna spent time with the women and children on the main floor; the pastors did some teaching with the men on the second level. We left Bibles and children’s books at the site.
Along the road we stopped briefly at an orphanage to deliver uniforms (a prerequisite for attending school here). We’d brought along a soccer ball from Canada, so we pumped it up, started kicking it around and left it for those children. It brought some joy into their lives.

Next we drove to a small village of Jarai people: a Cambodian ethnic group and a faithful Christian group. Once again the women and children met with the pastors’ wives, while the pastors taught the men. We prayed with them and moved on.

At our last stop in the country we ministered to a family of two sisters and their seven children. Until recently they all lived under a tree; lately, an NGO (non-government organization) built them a small, simple one-room house. We went into town to purchase mosquito netting, matting (to cushion the wooden floor where they slept), several bags of rice and other supplies, all of which we delivered before dark.

At several places along the way we left clothes for children and families, and at other places we left simple water filters along with instructions on how to use them. It’s sad to see so many people lacking these basic necessities we take for granted.

But there are lessons to be learned. It reminds me of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

When we saw people in their various states of need, we wanted to help them all. We wanted to be their saviour, their rescuer, to use our money to provide food, or clothes, or to adopt an orphan. But we realized we can’t help them all. We can’t rescue them all. We can’t change all of their lives for good.

But there is One who did! Jesus, who in His divine nature was rich, willingly became “poor” and emptied Himself by being born in human nature. He did this in order to sacrifice Himself on the cross, so that we would be forgiven of the moral and spiritual poverty of our sins and be made spiritually rich by God’s amazing grace. Jesus changes all of our lives, for good and for ever!

What we saw in Cambodia was people living a simple life, free from the entrapments of possessions. These people also had a simple yet sincere faith in Christ. That’s all that is necessary—confessing with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. Even though our lives look like polar opposites externally, because we share a common confession of faith we can confidently call one another brothers and sisters in Christ. They believe. They have received forgiveness. They are headed for heaven. What we witnessed above all was God’s grace in Cambodia!

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