Solid Joys God's Mission in Cambodia Sat, 09 Sep 2017 14:00:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 100765268 Visa crisis Sat, 09 Sep 2017 13:51:39 +0000 Please pray for our visa situation. For years missionaries in Cambodia have been able to purchase what is called a Regular Visa (valid for 1 year). But beginning this month, the government will require a document called a work permit that proves valid employment in Cambodia. Because we do not receive a local salary we will be denied a permit and thus denied a visa. The Ministry of Religion understands this problem, and tells us that they’re working on a solution, but it’s unlikely to come in time for us or our teammates to renew our visas (ours expires early February, 2018). Numerous other missionaries from dozens of missions boards across the country are also affected. Please pray for wisdom for us as we research our options, and favor in the eyes of the authorities.

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Summer update Fri, 25 Aug 2017 09:06:49 +0000 Visit from Memaw!

One of our summer highlights was to be a month-long visit from my (Bonnie Ruth) mom. We all excitedly made the 7-hour trip to pick her up in Phnom Penh and returned home a few days later. Four days into her stay, however, she fell down the stairs in our house and landed face down on the tile floor. We heard the commotion and rushed to find her lying unconscious. Seeing the obvious head injury, we immediately called two local friends, one a nurse, one a doctor, who examined her and helped us secure an ambulance. So at 11:30 pm, she and I squeezed into the back of an old Montero Sport for a harrowing night ride through heavy rains and flooded roads, navigating fallen trees as well as countless carts hauling illegal lumber without lights! Next morning at 5:00, we arrived safely in Siem Reap, the closest hospital with the equipment for a CT scan. The initial scan and x-rays revealed, among other things, swelling and hemorrhaging on the brain, and the doctor indicated that she would need surgery as soon as possible to relieve the pressure. For this, we would need to go either to Phnom Penh or possibly Bangkok. So we climbed back into an ambulance (much nicer this time!) for another 5-hour ride to Phnom Penh. In answer to many prayers, the second CT scan revealed that the brain swelling/bleeding had increased only slightly, meaning that surgery was not as urgent. Mom and I spent four nights in ICU and another four in a regular room for observation. Thankfully, subsequent scans showed that the swelling/bleeding was decreasing and no surgery would be needed. While the brain injury was certainly our greatest concern, honorable mention also goes to three broken ribs, a fractured vertebra, fractured wrist, fractured facial bones, and collapsed lung!

After being released, we were hopeful that she might be able to return to our home in Stung Treng, but the pain levels (combined with the bumpy roads) soon ruled this out. So after ten days apart, Jeremy and the kids—including newly-weaned Elisha!—joined us at a guesthouse in Phnom Penh where we made some memories nonetheless. A couple weeks of air-con, some western food, and playing games with Memaw—no one complained! Praise the Lord that though she has had quite an ordeal, she is on track to make a full recovery and was even able to make her return flight earlier this week. We just hope the memories from her visit don’t discourage her from future visits!

Memaw’s visit


While reading the Psalms recently, I noticed how often David begins by rehearsing his many troubles. Enemies, personal sin, setbacks, fleeing for his life, loneliness, exhaustion from constantly running, depression from feeling forgotten (or worse, hated)—all are common expressions in David’s prayers to God. Yet somehow, these same prayers almost always end with praise. How? And why? Did God answer in the affirmative every request David made? Were these negative circumstances removed? No, but David wasn’t finding his hope in smooth circumstances or from somewhere deep within his own heart. His source of hope even amid trouble and discouragement was in his never-changing, always-loving, and supremely sovereign Redeemer. Though our struggles aren’t normally of the magnitude of David’s, circumstances in recent months are forcing us to remember that our Hope, like David’s, is indeed steadfast. Our Hope—through hot days, nearly sleepless nights, discouraging lack of fruit, promising relationships that turn apathetic, lack of love toward the very people we are here to serve—has not changed. We cling to the same promises that the peoples will one day sing his praises. We hope in the same promises of ultimate renewal, both within and without. And we rejoice in the promise that our Hope is ever present with us. And so, brothers and sisters, please pray for us. Jeremy specifically is experiencing an unusual level of discouragement, in part due to prolonged seasons of apparently unanswered prayer, as well as physical and mental fatigue.

Writing to the Corinthians about his extreme adversity, Paul said, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” We are always grateful for your many reminders that you are indeed praying, and our hearts are hopeful that his blessings will be granted to us and the peoples of Cambodia through these prayers.

Reasons to pray

  • Physical stamina throughout the day and good rest during the night
  • Persevering joy
  • Renewed love and compassion for the people around us
  • God’s blessing on both teachers and students as we start a new school year
  • Fruit of conversion among those who have heard the gospel:

Ta and Yay (our 84-year old neighbor and his wife)—Jeremy recently shared the gospel with Ta and surprisingly, he listened without interruption for 15 minutes, quite unusual as Ta enjoys teaching the youngster (Jeremy) about life in Cambodia (and Jeremy enjoys listening to these fascinating life stories too). Sadly, his response was typical: Jesus and Buddha are both great teachers that help us all get along. Pray for light and for further opportunities.

Ming (an elderly lady)—pray for understanding and faith

Napi (Jeremy’s former language tutor)—pray for renewed interest

Moni (a young woman, newly professing faith)—pray for increased understanding and perseverance

Reasons for praise

  • Brooke Illsley is back with us for another school year. She has been invaluable in helping me with the schooling of our children.
  • Though my mom’s visit was not what we had planned, I’m thankful for the quality mother-daughter time during those days and nights in the hospital and also that we were able to address all of her needs here in country.

Spring session of the Ratanakiri Pastors Institute: “Theology for Worship”

Weather report, gospel opportunities, highlights Sun, 23 Apr 2017 01:24:40 +0000 Weather report

I recently read some advice from a veteran Cambodian missionary: never make important decisions in April or May—the hottest, and often most discouraging, months of the year. And while this year’s hot season has been a refreshing breeze by comparison to last year’s record breaker, it’s still hot. So we’ll follow that wise advice and not bolt for cooler climes, but in the meantime, please pray for endurance, both physically and mentally. We are tired. Particularly Bonnie Ruth needs your prayers for strength and wisdom in the use of her resources.

Gospel opportunities

I continue to spend much of my time honing my Khmer and preparing Bible lessons for my former language tutor. Please pray for his continued interest (which seems to be lagging and somewhat distracted, lately) in the gospel, as well as for additional opportunities for me to teach other Christians or people interested in the gospel. When I last wrote, I was praying for wisdom in the use of my time—Khmer vs. Lao. After getting input from my team leader, I am focusing my efforts on Khmer preparation and seeking only to maintain what Lao I’ve gained until next year when I will focus more fully on Lao.

Day-to-day life also provides numerous unplanned opportunities for sharing the gospel. Most are brief, one-time encounters. But a few are developing into longer-term relationships. One such particular instance is with an elderly lady, Sopeap, whom we’ve been able to help with medical care in Phnom Penh. Please pray for Sopeap as she listens to the gospel, that the healing she is receiving in her body would be matched with healing for her soul. Pray also for another young woman we have recently helped. Her medical issues stem both from her 9 abortions and possibly from an STD received from her husband. Please pray for this woman—that the brokenness in her life and body might work itself out in a truly broken spirit before God.

Finally, please pray for increased interaction with our immediate neighbors. I have recently tried to make some adjustments to my daily schedule in order to create more opportunities to spend time with them. Pray that these efforts will bear fruit for the gospel.

3 highlights

JD, Brian, Josh, and Jeremy

Perhaps the best part of life in Cambodia is the teammates God has given us. I couldn’t have handpicked a better group to work with. In February, we spent a day with our co-workers in Ratanakiri, celebrating 10 years of Cambodian ministry for our dearest friends, Brian and Lydia Kane. The Kanes’ testimony of faithfulness through frustrations, discouragements, failures, and now increasing success and usefulness gives me as great a hope and encouragement as some of my favorite missionary biographies. Following their example, I press on in hopes that my 10-year update will be as filled with fruit and gospel opportunities as I see them (finally) enjoying!

Salem and Pastor John

Then, for the past 2 weeks, we enjoyed a visit from one of our pastors, John Wheeler. John and his family of 10 ministered the gospel for 20 years overseas (Turkey), so we had not a few things in common. His wisdom of experience and his pastoral care for us was an immense boon, and we praise God for giving pastors and teachers to his church, even to those members who may be on an extended leave of absence!

Finally, the highlight of our year thus far was a visit from my parents, my favorite and most valuable supporters. By far, their 40 years of constant prayer and faithful modelling of the gospel have been the most influential force directing my path into missions. And certainly no one else has paid the price of “losing” this son for the gospel as they have. (Sometimes the real sacrifice of missions is paid, not by the missionaries, but by the parents who lose their kids and grandkids.) So indeed, our joy was full when Mom and Dad trotted the globe like two twenty-somethings (Jet lag? What jet lag? Stomach bugs? What’s that?) to spend two wonderful weeks with us in February. Again, I was confirmed in my desire and prayer that I (and my kids) will be like them when I grow up.

January update Wed, 01 Feb 2017 02:37:59 +0000 Sharing the old, old Story …

Earlier this month, I had the unexpected (i.e., unplanned and unprepared for!) opportunity to spend a week with 18 young adults, working through the storyline of the entire Bible and discussing basic tips for personal Bible reading and study. I had about 1 day to prepare for the week, so it was a strange mix of stress and joy. An added difficulty was that most of my students were from tribal villages (Kravet and Tampuan) so both student and teacher were working across language barriers. But praise God that in that vast gulf between our birth languages, we did indeed connect, albeit with some occasional linguistic detours. Most of these young people come from fledgling churches where they serve as the de facto leaders, so I rejoice to know that the material we worked through is actually being used in a number of these churches throughout our province! I’m also hopeful that this will lead to further opportunities to minister with this same group.

… with those who’ve never heard

I’ve asked you before to pray for the conversion of my language tutor Pe’own. Unfortunately, Pe’own is no longer my tutor since he has now returned to nursing school (more below on how this affects my Lao study). The good news, though, is that my relationship with Pe’own continues to flourish, and in addition to his random visits to our home, we are now meeting weekly to study the Bible together. I’ve shared the gospel with Pe’own in greater detail than with any other Cambodian thus far, and he continues to show interest, even calling himself a believer! Several points of evident confusion still remain though, so please pray for us: for me, that I would clearly delineate what this good news does and does not promise, and also that I would in no way make the way narrower than Christ himself made it; for Pe’own, that his eyes would be opened to see the glory of Christ alone as the Lord and Savior of man.

ພາສາລາວ vs. ភាសាខ្មែរ

Any update from me wouldn’t be complete without a little complaining about language learning; so here goes: for the past 2-3 months, my Lao study has fallen on hard times. With the loss of my teacher and with some additional teaching opportunities in Khmer, I’ve had very little time to pursue Lao or to search for a new tutor. I’m very glad for these teaching opportunities; it’s one of the two main reasons we came to Cambodia. I need wisdom, though, to discern how Lao study fits into my life and work at present. Please pray with me for this wisdom.


Earlier this month, we had the great pleasure of receiving Steve and Beth Osborne from our partner church in Smyrna, DE. Steve and Beth both have substantial experience living abroad, including in third-world countries, so we had a blast exchanging stories that only people with those experiences can fully appreciate. Their fellowship was a blessing for our entire family.

Answered prayer Thu, 08 Dec 2016 01:13:43 +0000 Thank you, dear friends, for your prayers and notes letting us know of your prayers. The Lord did all that we asked of him, and our interview at the embassy went as smoothly as possible. Elisha’s paperwork is now complete, and we should be receiving his birth certificate and passport soon. Praise the Lord for one more assurance of his help; praise him for partners like you who bear our burdens with us. May this answer to prayer be one more reason for increased faith as we encounter other uncertainties in the future.

A brief update and prayer request Sat, 03 Dec 2016 23:19:33 +0000 Dear partners,

For three weeks now, we’ve been back home (after the birth of Elisha) and have mostly hit the ground running with continued study and ministry.

In mid-November, I joined several missionaries and Cambodian pastors to teach the fifth and final course in the curriculum (Gospel of Matthew, Part III) of the Khmer-language Foundations Bible School. Over the past two years, the four different mother-tongue branches of the Foundations Bible School (Khmer, Krung, Jarai, and Tampuan) have worked diligently to complete the curriculum, with a view toward the launching of the Ratanakiri Pastors School in May, 2017. Students who have completed this core curriculum may be approved and sent by their local churches to join the Pastors School this coming Spring. Praise the Lord for the five Khmer-language students who are eligible, and the many more from among the tribal groups. Please pray for the many remaining hours of preparation for launch of the Pastors School.


Earlier this week, we enjoyed a quick visit from our mission director and his wife, Ken and Joan Jensen. As always, the time with Ken and Joan was a joy. We thank God for their many years of faithful service behind the scenes, making our work and that of many other missionaries possible.

For the past 3 months, I’ve been meeting weekly for prayer and Bible study with a dear Christian brother, Yaa. We are currently working through Romans 6 together. Please pray for Yaa, that he would receive the Word with faith and be rooted firmly in the truth. Pray also for wisdom for me as I seek to teach and encourage Yaa.

The bulk of my time continues to be spent in language study, both Lao and Khmer, and I feel as if I am ready to “blossom” in either pursuit. In Khmer, I am at the point that I could be a somewhat proficient teacher if given the time for preparation; in Lao, I feel that I could begin to grow rapidly in my basic use of the language if I could focus on that full-time. As it is now, I struggle to balance the two and often feel doomed to life-long mediocrity in two languages! Please continue praying for growth and for wisdom in handling this tension.

A final, somewhat urgent, request: on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 2:00 pm (2:00 am EST), we have an appointment at the US Embassy to apply for Elisha’s US citizenship papers and passport. The fact that we have some experience at this (Elisha is our third child born in Cambodia) only adds to my anxiety about the interview: in the past, this interview has led only to more very-difficult-to-obtain paperwork and subsequent interviews. Please pray for success on Tuesday.

Elisha Chesterton Farmer Wed, 09 Nov 2016 10:49:34 +0000 1109161554

Elisha Chesterton Farmer was born October 28 (8 pounds, 21.5 inches). Our little acrobat had wrapped the cord around his neck once and tied a knot in it further up the line, leading to a decreased heart rate and a risk of meconium aspiration. So, after 7 natural deliveries, Bonnie Ruth delivered via C-section for the first time. We praise God for protecting both Bonnie Ruth and Elisha, and that a safe C-section is possible here. Both Bonnie Ruth and Elisha are doing very well, and we just received the green light from Bonnie Ruth’s doctor to return home to Stung Treng. The Lord’s help for Bonnie Ruth has been clearly manifest as she charts this new territory. Thank you for your prayers, both in recent weeks and now as we readjust to our work and life in Stung Treng.

August update Fri, 26 Aug 2016 02:53:41 +0000 Virgin territory?

The two primary reasons we chose our house in Stung Treng were its size (just right for our little family) and location (right in the middle of a “village” of neighbors). One reason we didn’t choose the house was its newness or its beautiful landscape. We knew it would take some work to make it live well, and we were okay with that. So over the past six months, we’ve been chipping away at various projects, big and small. One of the biggest has been making our small yard a safe and somewhat pleasant place for humans. Thankfully, I love yard work, but this was yard work I’d never experienced: working with a piece of land that evidently had been a dumping ground for all kinds of trash—from broken glass, metal, and plastic, to layer upon layer of rock (both natural and added gravel). Again, I really do like this kind of work most of the time, but after a full Saturday at it, I’ve sometimes told Bonnie Ruth that 8 hours of yard work here feels like 16 hours of the same in the US but actually accomplishes only as much as 2 hours! Both my joy and frustration in the work has often reminded me of gospel ministry, particularly in a pioneer setting. To make the land green with grass, trees, and flowers is a sweet pleasure to me; but how I long to do so on truly virgin land—uncultivated land, still untouched by years of human abuse! Is this not the dream of every gospel minister, regardless of location? But is there such a thing as “virgin” territory? Whether it be with the deep-seated assumptions of an animistic/Buddhist culture and worldview as we meet here, or with the increasingly prevalent secularism of the West (or worse than both, the “prosperity” gospel!), the Enemy has been faithfully “sowing” the ground with toxins that prevent life from taking root. Sometimes my personal evangelism consists as much of explaining what the good news isn’t as it does explaining what it is! What we need is patience and endurance to continue proclaiming faithfully.


” … a sign that this death will give way to a birth …”

Despite the great need for such ground clearing, it is always a joy to share the gospel with people I meet while out and about. My focus now is primarily Lao language study, so these opportunities are mostly random, but over the past month they’ve occurred in increasing numbers. Please pray for additional opportunities and for conversions.

Language study

I continue to meet every afternoon with my Lao language tutor, Napi. Napi is 26 years old, very helpful (both with Khmer and Lao) and is a joy to be with each day. He does not know the true God. Please pray for our meetings, that they would be profitable both for my language proficiency and for his soul.

me and Napi

me and Napi

Heat index

Physically, we are all well. Since I last wrote, the weather has cooled down a bit. The days are still warm, but with the increased rain the nights are often quite bearable, which is all we need to be happy. Please pray for those nights when we don’t get the break that we think we need! Yes, please pray for physical stamina and spiritual joy during exhausting days of work.


The unexpected highlight of my month was a visit from my brother Jonathan. He was able to steal away from his work in Indonesia to meet me in Phnom Penh for two days. As always, the time was rich, both in conversation and food. Praise God for this unexpected refreshment.

Jonathan 2

The home front

The school year is off to a solid start (we’re in week 2), and enrollment is up this year: 6 students in 4 grades, with 2.5 teachers (our dear friend Brooke Illsley, Bonnie Ruth, and me), 1 classroom, and 1 toddler to roam to and fro while the big ‘uns are busy studying. The good news, though, is that come October, Henry will have a little brother to roam with him! Bonnie Ruth’s due date is late October, and we constantly thank God for an amazingly smooth pregnancy (considering a record-breaking hot season from March-May). Please pray for continued health and strength, both for Bonnie Ruth and our littlest boy.


Thank you, brothers and sisters, for laboring together with us here.

Brief update and request for prayer Wed, 11 May 2016 12:42:28 +0000 Beating the heat

Shortly after I wrote about our record-breaking heat/drought, we enjoyed 3 consecutive luxurious nights where the temp dropped just enough to give a refreshing night of sleep. A week later, we celebrated our first downpour of the year. These gifts were just one more reason to thank the Maker. Apart from these two blessed reprieves though, the heat and drought continue, so thank you for continued prayers for our stamina. We are all well.


Teaching Matthew’s Gospel

Tomorrow (Thursday, 5/12), I’ll drive over to Ratanakiri province to join several missionaries and Cambodian pastors in team-teaching the book of Matthew for a session of the Khmer-speaking branch of the Foundations Bible School. This is a very exciting opportunity for me, since I have not taught in Khmer in over a year (my first time since returning to Cambodia). Please remember me, the other teachers, and our students (both men and women from the Khmer-speaking church)–that we would understand and teach clearly and fully embrace all the we learn about the person and work of God’s Son in the Gospel of Matthew.

First 3 months in Stung Treng Thu, 28 Apr 2016 04:14:24 +0000 It’s hot. And you know you’re in trouble when your weather app says “99 degrees–cooler temps today.” But we have long since left behind those sub-100’s and are now getting daily heat indexes of 115-125. We had already decided it was the hottest weather we had ever experienced here, even during our years in Phnom Penh. But determined that we would endure with joy and “not even notice” like the natives, we hardly mentioned it (at least we tried). Then the locals began to complain, telling us it was the hottest weather they had known in years. Then we started seeing articles like these pop up, telling us we’re breaking all kinds of personal bests for heat. So we’re grunting it out through the heat, praying for rain (which is not supposed to come until July, rather than May, this year) and cooler temps, praying for joy from the Spirit, and realizing afresh the close connection between body and soul.

We have now been in our new home in Stung Treng province for almost 3 months. In many ways, these months have felt the way that our initial move to Cambodia 5 years ago was supposed to feel. Maybe it’s just one more symptom of being a slow learner, but it seems like all the difficulties of culture shock/stress that new missionaries typically experience have waited until now to hit home. Things like sickness, heat fatigue, and simple frustrations with the way life works (or more accurately, doesn’t work!). In a word, our time thus far has been strenuous, both physically and mentally/emotionally. The biggest temptation to fretting stems not so much from these various stressors per se, but more from the fact that we very often feel (particularly during the past 3-4 weeks) that very little of our time is actually going toward the things you sent us here to do–namely, learn Lao, share the gospel, and teach national Christians. Please pray with us that we would find our joy in knowing and being known by Christ, that we would love our neighbors the way we love ourselves, and that we would know the Spirit’s strength to fulfill these obligations. We’re also praying that as Cambodian farmers think on their need for rain, they would begin to think about the rain Giver whom they have long neglected to thank for His gifts of rain, produce, etc. (Romans 1:20-21). May this lead them to fear His wrath (Romans 1:18) and seek His mercy. Please pray also for rain and relief from the heat.

One recent encouragement was a warm reception from two local authorities in Stung Treng, the minister of religious affairs and the head of immigration. These are important relationships and God is answering our prayers of many years for a friendly relationship.

Language learning

My primary goal for the next few years is to learn the Laotian language, particularly as it’s spoken here in Stung Treng. Apart from the expected difficulty of language learning itself, I’m finding it very difficult to obtain a tutor who is regularly available. For about 2 months I’ve been meeting each afternoon with a young man, but these meetings actually happen less than 50% of the time as he frequently needs to cancel for one reason or another. Please pray for (1) a tutor who can meet with me consistently and (2) who is available to meet in the mornings, rather than in the heat of the day when everyone here is less productive.

Market fire

Two weeks ago, the main market in town where we do all our shopping burned to the ground. We live less than two blocks from the market, so we had a front row seat to all the commotion. Here is a summary of the events of that night if you’re interested.

Thank you, brothers and sisters, for sending and keeping us here. We are exactly where we want to be, doing (or at least trying to) exactly what we want to be doing. Please persevere with us through prayer.