For over two years, we’ve been teaching systematically through the key stories of the Bible in Na Ong village, laboring to build completely new categories of thought for these dear friends. Attendance and attentiveness have ebbed and flowed during this time, but this core group (pictured above) has become faithful, joyful attenders. They’ve learned how to sit more-or-less quietly through the lessons (most of our folks have never been to school). They eagerly express their assent to the foundational concepts of the Faith. They enjoy singing the Scripture songs we’ve taught them. They’re even learning to pray via the Lord’s Prayer. These are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.
A critical stage
We are in a critical stage now. The church of Na Ong is in the birth canal, as it were, and we need your prayers. Specifically, our folks are facing Christ’s call to repent and the demand that he makes upon their lives. So for the past two Sundays, we’ve considered Luke’s juxtaposed stories of two rich men—the young ruler (Luke 18) and Zaccheaus (Luke 19). Ironically, none of our attenders can be accused of being rich, but they are certainly beset with equally powerful allegiances and affections that will prevent their entrance into the Kingdom. Here are four illustrations of the issues our friends are dealing with:
One of our most faithful and understanding listeners, Sali, is a highly-respected “master of ceremonies” at nearly all weddings and funerals in the village. This entails leading the guests in various pagan and Buddhist rituals. Sali knows that this places him at odds with what he has learned and affirmed from the Bible. On the other hand, his services are financially profitable for him (not to mention the honor given to such functionaries).
Von is owner of a small book by which he knows the “good days” and “bad days” for various activities. People seek Von out for direction regarding all of life’s important undertakings—what day to plant, harvest, begin a building project, marry, have a funeral, etc. If you’re thinking “that just sounds like a horoscope,” you’re right, but our friends here really believe them and thus order their lives accordingly. Besides the personal assurance that this horoscope gives Von, it is also financially profitable for him.
Many of our group still wear “spirit strings” around their wrists and necks. These red or white yarn bracelets are talismans that protect people from evil spirits who might steal one of their souls, afflict them with sicknesses, or cause accidents to them and their families. To cut your spirit string is a bold act by which you throw yourself fully on Christ as your only Protector and Provider. Similarly, to remove the god shelf from your home exposes you to a host of dangers and cuts you off from potential blessings.
And coming in last, but certainly not least, it is difficult to find a man in our village, including in our group, who is not frequently drunk.
I share this “vice list” with you, first, as a window into Cambodian culture (both Khmer and Lao), but most importantly, that you may pray specifically.
[On a side note … do you find it difficult to believe that someone would really choose to hold on to any of these sins rather than receive eternal life? As a Westerner, I do. But how foolish must our own Western sins (perhaps a lot closer in appearance to the two rich men in Luke 18-19) appear before a holy God!]
Meet your newest brother and sister in Christ!
Finally, a story to elicit your praise and inspire you to more urgent prayer …
The lesson last Sunday seemed to me to be the most important one I had ever taught in Na Ong—the young ruler who came seeking eternal life but went away sad because he refused to follow Christ. In it, I carefully addressed the various sins mentioned above, making the most specific application I had ever dared. Afterward, we praised God for a good delivery and reception. Our only disappointment was the absence of one key family, Vong and Noy, along with their three children.
That evening, Vong came over to Proin’s house (Proin and his wife are our local partners in Na Ong) and declared, unprompted, that he wanted to follow Christ completely, throwing out his religious paraphernalia. Proin, suspecting that Vong was drunk, told him to come back in the morning! We are now calling Proin “Eli”! (In Proin’s defense, such a sudden announcement from a man and woman who had been absent from that day’s lesson and who have been painfully reticent in their communication with us, did seem to come from nowhere. And we need not mention the frequent drunkenness again.)
The next morning, Vong and his wife Noy, unabashed, returned to affirm their determination to follow Christ!
The power of the Word. The power of the Holy Spirit to apply that Word, even when they missed my most eloquent lesson! So, brothers and sisters, praise God that he is begetting new brothers and sisters for you. And pray earnestly for these dear folks and others like them. The Evil One would hold them fast, and his cords are strong. Pray that these people would not go away sad in their unbelief (Luke 18), but like Zaccheus, would joyfully come down to receive Christ.
A Na Ong “church directory”
I usually try not to bombard you with strange names that you can’t pronounce or remember, but perhaps God will impress you to pray for some of these folks specifically, if not by name, at least by face:
Von and his wife Tun host our Sunday meetings. They both strongly affirm their faith in Christ alone. Pray that nothing will hinder them from following through. Their son Lon (13 years old, far right) is perhaps the best listener in our entire group.
Sali was our first contact in Na Ong five years ago. He faithfully rides his bike in to our meetings every week. Pray that he will find Christ more valuable than the honor and wealth of the world. Pray also for his wife who has heard the gospel but does not attend our meetings.
Pai has faithfully attended our meetings from the beginning. Pray that she will understand the gospel and that she will have the courage to follow Christ in the face of much misunderstanding on the part of her children and grandchildren.
Seum’s husband Pan was our most diligent and understanding listener. Two months ago, he was forced to return to Laos due to a conflict with neighbors. Pray that he might find the gospel in his new location and that he may eventually return to us. Pray that Seum will understand the gospel and embrace Christ. Sit is a good listener. Pray for his conversion.
Vi and her three little boys have been attending faithfully for about three months. Pray that she will understand and that her husband will come also.
Leh and his wife Hien have been attending faithfully with their five children for about three months. Pray for understanding and for the courage to follow Christ wholly.
Our weekly game of Pack-a-Hyundai: we just set a new record of 31 people in our 10-seater!