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Joy over continued growth in the Cambodian church

March 19, 2015 No Comment
The newly ordained pastors are presented with shepherds' crooks by ELCC President Vannarith Chhim.

The newly ordained pastors are presented with shepherds’ crooks by ELCC President Vannarith Chhim.

CAMBODIA – Leaders of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) visited Cambodia March 5-8 to strengthen LCC’s relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia (ELCC), rejoicing over the continued growth and maturing of the young church body.

LCC President Robert Bugbee and synodical mission director Leonardo Neitzel arrived at the invitation of the ELCC’s president, Rev. Vannarith Chhim. Also present on behalf of the Canadian church were retired mission director, Dr. Leonard V. Harms, and his wife, Carol. President Bugbee and Dr. Neitzel made the stop in addition to visits earlier in the week to Lutheran leaders in neighbouring Thailand.

“I had not visited these key partners of LCC in over four years,” remarked President Bugbee. “The first day of our visit took us a few hours’ drive southwest of the capital to the Kampot region, where we met leaders and members of a rural congregation near the town of Chhuk, which I had gotten to know in early 2011. That congregation is a good example of the progress made by local churches in various parts of the country. They now maintain a new Christian school near the church building, and I’m impressed by the congregation’s efforts to meet local needs by continuing to operate the well-known ‘rice bank’ and fish-pond projects.”

Two new pastors are ordained for service in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cambodia.

Two new pastors are ordained for service in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia.

The following day President Bugbee preached at Christ Lutheran Church in Phnom Penh at the ordination of two pastors. Though the ELCC has numerous preachers and local leaders conducting worship in far-flung locations, the number of pastors fully trained, certified and ordained is growing gradually. The new ordinands, Revs. Phanna Bun and Sem Sothea, will supervise such leaders in the regions where they serve. President Vannarith presided over the ordinations, assisted by two other Cambodian pastors, along President Bugbee and Dr. Neitzel, who participated in the laying-on of hands.

Following the ordination service, Presidents Vannarith and Bugbee proceeded to the main entrance of the ELCC office building to formally dedicate the opening of Concordia Theological Institute, which will now coordinate the training of future pastors.

President Vannarith and Pastor Naro of Christ Lutheran Church (Phnom Penh) briefed the visiting Canadians in the final hours of the visit on the ELCC’s plans to structure theological education for the future, as well as other ways LCC can assist the church in Cambodia. They were joined in the discussions by Dr. Leonard Harms and Rev. Carl Hanson, Director of Asia regional mission operations for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), based in Hong Kong.

“The ELCC was not started by Lutheran Church–Canada,” President Bugbee observed. “It came about through the influence of LISA (Luther Institute – Southeast Asia), which provided theological lectures in Phnom Penh to leaders of independent local churches in this country.” In early 2009, convinced that the Lutheran confessions set forth the truth of God’s Word, Cambodians themselves established the ELCC and promptly sought registration by their government as a recognized religious group.

“In my view, this shows exceptional courage and leadership,” Bugbee continued, “and this enterprising spirit has marked the ELCC ever since. President Vannarith travels extensively to deepen relationships and hold together their synodical family across the country, and has also worked on key overseas church relations. LCC is honoured to be one of the Cambodian church’s primary partners.”

The efforts of the ELCC are bearing fruit. President Vannarith reports that the ELCC now numbers 32 congregations, in addition to 156 other preaching stations, and that their synod has grown to embrace over 6,000 members.

President Bugbee observed that the closeness between the ELCC and the Canadian church is due in large measure to the influence of Dr. Leonard Harms, former LCC mission executive, who spends much time in southeast Asia and is a trusted friend of the Cambodian church. Dr. Harms’ gifted wife, Carol, a rostered Lutheran teacher, accompanies him on many of his travels. “Watching her interact with deaconesses and local leaders impressed on me how deeply respected both Len and Carol are,” President Bugbee noted. “Our synod is blessed indeed to have servants willing to give so much of themselves even well into their retirement.”

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