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As you drive down the dusty, narrow street you feel boxed in by the wall on the left. It seems to go on forever. On each section is the name of a family that donated money to build it. Inside those walls is a Buddhist Temple and cemetery, one of many in and around the agricultural suburbs of Takhmao, Cambodia. The investment that even the poorest of the poor have put into building high places in the country is tremendous. Gold- leafed “wats”, as they are called, rise up over the idyllic landscape of an agricultural community. One small, unassuming sign on the temple wall, though, catches the Christian by surprise.
It’s a small placard on a bamboo stick. In the center is a red cross. An arrow points to a driveway on the right- “Sdekprey Church”. We drove down the driveway into a little compound. On the left is a wood stilt home. Straight ahead is a modest poured concrete crème colored building with a cross at the door. My friend Man and I came to minister in word and music at the children’s service. It looked like a little church if you measure it by the size of the building, but inside there were 90 children sitting on the floor in neat rows listening intently to their Bible lesson.
The lesson of the day was taught by a young lady I knew since she was just a little girl. Her name is Sansi. I was astounded by her giftedness. The children would interrupt her from time to time with shouts of “Amen!” and “Hallelujah.” The other adults there smiled at us, some of them whispering to each other, “Goan Pak Samol.” They knew my mother-in-law, Pak Samol. Though not quite a Christian, they know her for her works of mercy and love for the poor and elderly. We were welcomed as dear family.
From time to time, the children would clap quietly and in an interesting way. They took the index finger of each hand and clapped them together in the sign of the cross. Any pastor who has been into the mission field likely knows the temptation of covetousness that rises up. I was prepared for it, but still it is always hard not to marvel at the seriousness with which these young
children, many in the only dress or pair of pants they own, take to their Bible studies. My, the enthusiasm for their Lord! They “shush” each other for making too much noise from time to time because they want to be able to hear what the teacher is saying and to learn the scriptures. Even the youngest ones, 5 years old, take pride in memorizing Bible verses. “Oh how I wish our young people in America hunger and thirst after righteousness like this,” I could catch myself saying.
I took a quick mental survey of the sanctuary. The walls were bare. There were a few hymnals in a case, but other than that they had nothing. They sang acapella. I made a list in my mind of what we could maybe do to enrich their worship life. A keyboard. A sound board and sound system. Some drums. An electric guitar and bass maybe.
In mid-sentence, Sansi was drowned out by a sound blaring into the church. It was a megaphone. I learned that every Sunday morning, the temple sent a layperson on a motorcycle to the end of the driveway. He has a huge megaphone plugged into a CD player. He was blaring the Buddhist lessons of the day, drowning out the prayer and praise going on in the church. The worship went on, albeit disrupted and disturbed by monks who want to make sure the children in the church know the superiority of Buddhism.
The monks know Sansi very well. Her father was one of the 3 most renowned Shamans in Cambodia. People would come 100’s of kilometers to have him cast a spell or perform a blessing or talk to the dead. Sansi, though, saw the movie “The Passion of the Christ” when she was a young girl. It threw her into a long period of searching and questioning.
When I asked her why she became a Christian she said, “I cried when I saw the suffering that Jesus went through for me. Buddha didn’t suffer for others. Buddhists don’t take care of the poor and love the least among us. You have to pay them money to get a blessing, but Jesus died on the cross for us so we could go to heaven for free.”
Sansi fell in love with the Gospel. As a teenager she committed her life to the Lord and this caused a problem for her in her family. She begged her parents, “Please, if you love me, please let me be a Christian. If you love me, you will become a Christian too.” Her father did not become a Christian. He made his living by selling spells and “voodoo” remedies. Her mother, however, became a faithful follower of Christ.
After her father died, people continued to come to the door of her house for magic potions. You see, as the oldest child, the Cambodian people believe that the magic and power her father was thought to have automatically transferred to her. She could have made a very good living casting spells, but turned every person down by telling them she was a disciple of Jesus Christ. She would share the gospel story, pray for them in the name of Jesus, and refuse any pay. Many people were very angry at her for not carrying on her father’s work. Even her husbands parents began to pull and tug apart her marriage. They were angry when she named her son “Timothy.”
People began coming to faith though. Her message was clear, “The grace of God is free.” Sansi continues to minister among her people literally in the heart of the beast. Now you can see throughout town, on houses and on storefronts, the same red cross that is on that little sign pointing the way to the house of God.
Music is so important to the Cambodian people, especially in the countryside where singing and playing instruments is the number one way to pass the time. I committed to Sansi and to the Sdekprey Church to help them establish a music ministry. I want the children to learn how to play various instruments and how to use music to praise God. I plan to go to Cambodia for this purpose in late January or early February. I need your help to raise at least $6,000 USD for the equipment and instruments I’ll need to purchase in Cambodia to outfit the music ministry there. The church also needs a powerful laptop computer. Ideally I should be raising a total of 10k for this project to also help cover travel expenses for myself and the other missionaries from Deeper Still. I’m hoping to bring a couple of the guys from Deeper Still to Cambodia with me to set everything up and share an evening of praise and worship music with the Christians there. I pray that you can help support this project with financial gifts, but most importantly with your fervent prayers.