I could begin this blog by rattling off the highlights of our first Sabbath in Cambodia, but instead I will give you a story. This story begins with a young Khmer Rouge commander whose job it was to burn down entire villages in the Kracheh province. This officer knew the taste of human flesh and regularly encountered death. After years of bringing about turmoil and destruction in Kracheh, at age 40, this man became a Christian. He chose to spread the Gospel to those same villages he had burned down as a commander and was responsible for planting over one hundred churches in the Kracheh province. Six years after becoming a Christian, this man died suddenly in his sleep at only 46 years old. He left not only a wife and children but a host of Cambodians whose lives had been touched by the love of Christ due to his fearless evangelizing.
This morning, we were given the privilege of attending several of the churches started by this former Khmer Rouge officer. Churches in these parts are small and most often meet inside someone’s home, so it was necessary for our team to split up for worship. The first group went to a village about 20 minutes away, the second group went to a more rural village about an hour away, and the third group went by moto to a village about 45 minutes away. Each church had between 6 and 15 adults plus a handful of smiling children. The churches were an intimate and personal way for us to see the beauty of the global church.
After church and some down time, Dan, Heidi, and Elizabeth took us for a swim in the Mekong River. Some of the older boys from the center came along. The swimming experience was much different than anything I’ve seen in the States. We walked across a long dock that spanned the Mekong and stepped onto a series of covered wooden rafts that extended from it. From there, we lowered ourselves into the water and had extremely strong currents pull us down the river until we could grab onto one of the rafts near the dock. While not the most calm swim, it was certainly refreshing and fun on a hot sunny afternoon.
The highlights of the day don’t stop at the swim. Shortly afterwards, we went to the center for a time of worship with the kids. After being welcomed by our usual hugs ands smiles from the children, we went up into the main house to sing worship songs led by some of the high school students at the center. I have rarely worshiped in a place with so much spirit, dancing, and joy. It was evident in the twirling of the little girls and the fervent clapping, singing, and praying of the older kids. After the singing, we were able to provide the lesson with Dan and Heidi as our translators. The story was the Good Samaritan, and the lesson consisted of a skit and a short talk given by HollyAnne. The children seemed very receptive to its theme of love. While we have been bonding with the kids and the workers at the center all week, this time of worship seemed to seal our link as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As I worshiped, I looked forward and saw “Jess,” the son of the former Khmer Rouge commander that Jake talked about, beautifully playing the keyboard. I looked to the left and saw Jess’ sisters singing with the sweetest little smiles on their faces. I looked right and saw his brother jumping up and down in praise. While my heart has been grieving for these children who no longer have their father all week, I realized during this time that the children have a Heavenly Father, a Father who heals and forgives and comforts. It is my prayer that these children would be like their earthly father who fearlessly preached the Gospel to the people of Kracheh and that they would know their Heavenly Father who is holding them in His hand all the way. This is my prayer for them and for all of us, too. May we know Jesus like the many people of strong faith we have interacted with today.