New laborers for the harvest

For over ten years, you’ve been praying with us for the unreached Lao of NE Cambodia. Often, I’ve asked you to pray for more workers to assists us. It’s long past time for me to introduce you to a direct answer to prayer and key player in this mission: Proihn and Seima, along with their children Hadassah (age 6) and Barnabas (10 months).

Rear: Seima and Proinh. Front: Hadassah and Barnabas

Proinh and Seima are ethnic Bunong, a tribal minority group among whom the church has flourished over the past two decades. The Bunong people live in Mondulkiri province, a 5 hour drive from our home here in Stung Treng. Proinh and Seima both grew up in Christian homes and have a record of faithful service in their home church. Just over a year ago, they arrived in Stung Treng as missionaries to the Lao.

Many of you pray faithfully, both for us and the Lao people. Would you please consider making Proinh and Seima a regular part of your prayers also? How should you pray for a Bunong missionary seeking to reach the Lao? In many of the same ways you pray for us:

  • Cultural adjustment: Proinh and Seima’s first year in Stung Treng has been attended with much of the same cultural adjustments that any missionary might experience in his new home (moving from their home in a Bunong village, first to the Khmer town of Stung Treng, and now to the Lao village of Na Ong). Then there’s the language: they are struggling heroically to master their third language now (Bunong, Khmer, and Lao), but without some of the resources which I, as an English speaker, have profited from. It has not been easy, and they have a long way to go. But their determination in the face of various setbacks has been a joy to watch, not to mention a motivator in my own continued efforts with the Lao language.
  • Material/physical provision: health, safety, etc. Proinh and Seima are now living in Na Ong village (an hour drive from our home) and are preparing to build their own house there.
  • Spiritual nourishment: continued growth in their knowledge of God, particularly as they are the only Christians in their village.
  • Fruitful ministry: Proinh and Seima’s immediate presence in Na Ong (since February) is already proving to be a valuable asset in our mission. They are eagerly building relationships with neighbors and other villagers, and several new faces are now attending our evangelistic meetings as a result of their work.
  • Ministry partnerships: (1) pray for a strong relationship between the national church here and their missionary (Proinh/Seima); (2) pray for me, as I fill the roles of discipler and ministry partner to Proinh/Seima; (3) pray for Proinh/Seima as they continue to learn and embrace our philosophy of outreach and church planting.

Finally, rejoice that the Lord of the harvest is answering our requests for more laborers!

The Death of the Seed

Below is a summary of our various opportunities for sowing gospel seeds. Having just celebrated the dying and rising of Christ, we are full of hope that these seeds too will indeed bear fruit. Please pray with us to that end …

Na Ong Village

Our core group in Na Ong village (Lao language) is understanding and assenting to the life-altering truth we’re giving them week by week. Pray for continued reception on their part. Pray for undeniable conversions.

Ratanakiri Pastors Institute

The Ratanakiri Pastors Institute just held its hot season session (see pic above) where my teammates and I taught Romans 1-5 to about 75 church leaders and Bible translators. Praise God for the testimonies of people who are grasping the reality that only because of Christ’s good works may sinners be united to God. Pray that the gospel will penetrate their lives more and more deeply.

Writing project

I continue to prepare materials for teaching local pastors (here in Stung Treng). Pray for me as I write. Specifically, pray that I will understand both the Scripture that I seek to explain and the audience I am writing for.

The church in Pum Tmai village

Five elderly ladies continue to worship as the church in Pum Tmai village. Pray that their knowledge, faith, and love will abound more and more. Pray for converts within their families and in the village. Pray for a pastor to lead them long term.

Bible reading group

Please pray for my weekly Bible reading group with a few church leaders and future church leaders. Specifically, pray that these men will see the value and necessity of regular Bible reading and study.

Neighborhood Bible time

Our weekly neighborhood Bible time continues to be a success. I shouldn’t be surprised (but I am) when teens and young twenty-somethings listen to Bible stories with interest and attention. Please pray for full understanding and that they will eventually leave all to follow the Christ who calls them.

Family

Our home and family is our constant delight. Our times of Bible reading and song me are a highlight of every day. Pray that our children would love God with all their heart. Pray for us as we discipline and instruct them. Abi and Isa return to the U.S. in July, so they’re in the home stretch. Pray for us all as we navigate this new territory.

____________________________________________

We are in a season of much sowing and planting. And though the harvest is still to come, we have good reason to be hopeful. In each of our gospel endeavors, for months or more at a time people are receiving us and our words. The Seed has fallen into the ground; now we wait for it to spring to life …

Winter news

Brothers and sisters,

Much is happening in and through us right now. Please praise and pray with us:

1. Restoration project

After a prolonged season of spiritual drought and discouragement in ministry, the Lord has granted me deep refreshing through his Word and the fellowship of the saints. Thank you for your prayers, not only for the peoples we seek to serve, but for our own souls also. Truly our Shepherd is restoring mine. Praise him.

2. The Lao village of Na Ong

Please pray earnestly for the 8-10 adults and 15-20 children who gather each week under Von’s house to hear another Bible story. For many reasons—arising from my own limitations and from the utter newness of the concepts—the work is very slow. But we are very encouraged right now. On Sunday, we “arrived” at Mt. Sinai and listened as God revealed his covenant law to Israel who eagerly responded that they would obey all the Lord commanded. I asked my listeners:

              “What do you think? Will Israel keep these good laws?”

              “No, they won’t.”

              “Why not?”

              “Because they’re sons of Adam and Eve!”

This was an unusually heartening exchange among my many other less fruitful attempts to interact with my audience. More commonly, our interactions during the story go something like this:

              “Does everyone understand??”

              “Yes, yes, we understand” (“Really?!?!” I say to myself)

              “Does anyone have a question?”

              “No, no questions.” (“Hmmmmm,” I think)

But at the end of today’s lesson, Von responded, “I have one question: If people cannot get to God via the road of the law, then how can we be saved?” Praise God! Some of our listeners are indeed tracking with us. Pray earnestly for the light of the gospel of Christ to shine ever more brightly in their hearts.

3. A new writing project

I’m currently writing an overview of the Bible. My target is local Khmer (and eventually Lao) church leaders. Pray for wisdom as I write, that I can produce a tool that is accessible and useful for the Cambodian church.

4. Bible reading group

I recently began meeting weekly with a small group of local church leaders for the sole purpose of reading the Bible together for an hour, then praying briefly through what we have read. Pray that these men would become faithful readers of the Bible, first for their own sake, then for the good of the church.

5. Our neighbors

Our yard is the after-school/after-work hang-out for 5-10 neighbor kids (and young adults) every day. Pray for our weekly Bible club, that these kids would hear, understand, and believe the gospel.

6. The church in Pum Tmai

The faith of our five elderly ladies is a miracle that rejoices my heart, each one living in complete isolation from any other Christian contact. Please pray for their continued growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Pray for converts (some fellow-men would be nice). And pray that God would eventually raise up a local Khmer shepherd to care for this flock.

7. The home front

The school year continues apace. Bonnie Ruth and Brooke man the helm with all grace, wisdom, and strength. Pray for them and for their students, that all the learning would lead them to drink deeply from the fount of all wisdom and knowledge. As a family, we are currently focusing our prayers on Paul’s hymn in Philippians 2:5-11—that we would humbly count each other more significant than ourselves.

Successful pastors school session

Thank you, brothers and sisters, for praying for us last week. And praise God for his answers to all of our prayers (so far) regarding this session of the pastors school. Our time together was a complete success, despite the last-minute nature of many of our preparations, Over sixty students showed up to study True Religion and Counterfeit Religion together. Our students appear both to understand the tests the Apostle John provides us, and to commit to the difficult work of protecting their sheep against wolves. Thank you again for praying for us and the churches of NE Cambodia.

Pastors school reconvenes!

True Religion and False Religion. This will be our topic for three days this week (Nov. 18-20) when the Ratanakiri Pastors Institute reconvenes for the first time in over two years! Given the long and disheartening hiatus, and especially given the subject matter before us, we feel a special excitement and sense of urgency as we prepare.

True Religion & False Religion

One of the Apostle John’s primary purposes in writing 1, 2, 3 John was to help the early churches as they encountered false teachers and their teaching. I’ve shared with you before about our own little battle with false teachers who have sought to infiltrate the church in Pum Tmai village, and this is only one of hundreds of other instances throughout the country. So our goal when we meet this week is to work through 1 John together, seeking to understand the tests by which we must evaluate teachers and their teachings. Then we have to do the dirty work of examining the major cults that have invaded Cambodia, exposing them to the light of Christ and the teaching which his original apostles have left us. Will you please pray with us?

1. First praise God that we have received approval to meet as an entire group! This was no small matter.

2. Please pray that this class would be instrumental in fortifying the churches of Ratanakiri province against the onslaught of false teaching. Specifically, I am pleading with God that a generation of churches there would be immunized against the deadly teaching which these cults bring. Pray for these church leaders to understand the issues and to take up the sword in order to defend their sheep against the wolves. It only makes sense that the Evil One is particularly displeased with our attempt to shine the light of Scripture directly onto his schemes. May this session of the pastors school be a gut punch to him and his minions, laying them low for years to come.

3. Please pray for our students as they come in from the villages throughout the province—safety and health (particularly no COVID outbreaks), both for them and their families at home.

4. Pray for Stung Treng province too. Two future church leaders from our province will be coming with me to study. May the church in Stung Treng (particularly the embryonic Lao church) receive some of the blessing we hope to enjoy in Ratanakiri this week.

October news

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel

As we bounced our way down the road back from Na Ong village this past Sunday, I was reflecting on this testimony of Paul and the way it is playing itself out in our own experience here in Stung Treng …

Six months ago, when Covid first really made its presence felt in Cambodia, we mourned the lost opportunities for the gospel in Na Ong village. For several months at that point, we had been meeting with crowds of about 50 villagers (20 adults, 30 children) to tell them the stories of creation, fall, redemption, etc. They were eager, and we were striving to communicate the gospel as clearly as we could. Then came Covid and its restrictions, forcing us out of the village for months at a time. So, we asked you to pray the parable of Mark 4:26-29— that the seeds planted would sprout while we slept. Specifically, we asked that our Lao friends would be diligent to listen to the Bible recordings that we had left them.

We as a team here were also praying about other matters related to the gospel’s progress in Na Ong:

  • That God would open the way for us to preach there more often than just twice each month. In the early days of our outreach, our primary contact in the village, Sali (picture below) had invited us for bi-monthly visits, and we had not felt the freedom to go more often.
  • That God would open the way for us to preach and teach in other homes. To that point, we had only ever gathered in Sali’s home. While Sali and his wife have always received us warmly, we were concerned that the future church might come to be viewed as “Sali’s church,” a place for his family and friends. We would prefer a more “decentralized” view of the church if possible.
  • That God would enable us to manage the inescapable chaos that comes with a crowd of 50 villagers. Holding the attention of such a crowd in the face of frequent distractions can be a tour de force for even the most fluent speaker, but given my own inexperience with the language, it was often overwhelming.

Following several months of lockout, we began making weekly visits in homes of some regular attenders. Crowds of ten or more were prohibited, but visiting a home was fair game. Our first goal was simply to maintain contact, hoping they wouldn’t forget us or, most importantly, the stories we had been teaching them. But rather quickly, almost inexorably, some of these visits turned into ideal opportunities for evangelism. A small group of adults and children would gather, eager to listen to another story from the Bible. By this time, my own Lao had improved a bit, and the smaller group sizes have proven to be just right for my current ability.

And so again, this past Sunday, as soon as we arrived at Von’s house (picture below), he fetched his wife and brother-in-law from the rice paddy, then called two neighbor ladies and their children to come so they could hear from the Bible. Five adults and eight kids—sitting with rapt attention as I told the story of creation/fall/promise. Perhaps most exciting of all was Von’s personal involvement—he repeatedly stepped in to help explain or review some part of the lesson. Von listens regularly to the Bible with his family, and we pray that he might become a pastor in the future church in Na Ong.

God has answered your prayers, brothers and sisters: I am frequently surprised (though I shouldn’t be) to find that many villagers are indeed listening to these Bible recordings. And he’s answering many other prayers, some of which we’ve been praying for twelve years (perhaps another update on that soon). So in spite of Covid—or rather, because of Covid—we feel that the gospel is advancing more deeply, more widely, and more understandably in Na Ong village. Praise God!

I could write much more in this already lengthy update, but two more events deserve notice …

Home

First, we are in our new home! The year-long building project was stressful, just as we knew it would be, but now we are settled and overflowing with gratitude for God’s kindness to us. The house is a perfect fit for our family—complete with a schoolroom for eight students and two teachers, an office, two acres to run and play (and plant!) in, and a passel of energetic neighbor kids to play with. Thank God.

New school year

Second, amid the final finishes on the house and the move, Bonnie Ruth and Brooke have managed to successfully engineer and inaugurate yet another school year for our brood. We often thank God for the resources he has provided us here in the northeast corner of Cambodia!  Please pray for both teacher and student—that the end of all the learning would be a saving knowledge of the God whose world, ways, and word we are studying.

Summer news

During the first year of the pandemic, Cambodia was almost completely spared. Since late February, however, cases have been rising significantly, along with restrictions on public activities. We are currently unable to meet publicly for worship or outreach, leaving us with very limited contact with most of the people we minister to. In light of this, here are some ways you can pray for those people while they wait for a return to normalcy.

The Lao village of Na Ong

For the few months leading up to the new Covid outbreak, we were particularly encouraged, both by our own increasing ability to communicate in Lao and by the increasing interest and apparent understanding of our friends in Na Ong. Naturally, we are very disappointed by what seems to be a most untimely pause in our ministry there. We are praying that just as the seed sprouts and grows while the farmer sleeps — “he knows not how” (Mark 4:26-29) — so also the gospel might bear fruit even in our absence. Pray that our core group of seekers would remember and meditate on the stories of creation, sin, and the promises of future deliverance. Pray that they would listen to the recordings of Scripture and lessons that we have left them. Pray that these seeds would bear fruit leading to life.

The church in Pum Tmai

Pray for the six ladies with whom we worship each week. With no means of transportation or communication, each of them is completely without Christian contact. Pray that they would faithfully listen to the recordings we’ve given them, continue to pray daily, and not lose heart in the absence of Christian communion.

Building project

Praise the Lord that our building project continues more-or-less on target. It has been everything we expected — both the joys and the stresses. God has provided us with reliable labor, safety, and finances. We are exceedingly blessed. We continue to pray that we can complete the project and be in the house in August, but many things have to fall into place first. Thank you for your prayers to this end. Between Covid and the building project, our life and ministry has been very irregular for the past eight months. Like the rest of you, we’re eager to return to some of the normal rhythms of life and work.

Thank you, brothers and sisters, for your faithful prayers for us and for the peoples of Cambodia.

Winter news

Here are six ways you can praise and pray with us regarding life in Stung Treng:

1. A new home

Praise the Lord! He is providing us a home of our own in Stung Treng! Many of you have given so generously and unexpectedly, and we are overwhelmed and humbled by your kindness. Thank you! And God’s provision has not only been financial: for years, we refused to consider building ourselves because we were simply unwilling to invest the time, energy and potential frustration of working across languages and cultures in a project like this. But Kong, our main guy for all the concrete and foundational work, has been brilliant—he listens carefully to all our ideas, explains why they will or won’t work, suggest alternatives, then thinks one step ahead of us to help us execute them. Praise God for leading us to Kong. And also pray for us as we continue working through this project, because it does indeed consume much time and energy.

2. Old Testament overview class

In December, I completed a semester’s worth of teaching to a group of about 15 leaders, teachers and potential leaders from churches in our province. The consistent attendance, attention, and testimonies of these students speaks loudly to the immense need for regular theological training here. Our current hiatus (due both to my other ministry obligations and the house) speaks also to the need for more teachers besides myself. Praise God for a successful course with these men and women, and pray for more laborers to help in this work.  

3. Lao village of Na Ong

Our friends in Na Ong continue to receive us warmly as we slowly teach through foundational biblical stories. Week after week, a core group of 10-15 adults and 20+ children listen attentively as I plod through these stories in my broken Lao. Please keep praying for understanding, faith, and repentance.

4. The church in Pum Tmai village

Many of you may remember the story of the seedling church in Pum Tmai village. We continue to worship weekly with these (now 6) ladies from 3 adjacent villages. Here are two major prayer requests:

  • The Apollo C. Quiboloy cult is still active in our town, but we are cautiously hopeful that their efforts to target two of our members are failing. Please pray for our ladies, that they would be confident in their rejection of this false gospel and willing to take whatever counter-cultural steps are necessary in order to follow the true Christ.
  • Pray for conversions, particularly for men, and for future local leadership for this little flock.

5. Home and school

Please pray also for the many neighbor kids who play in our yard every day and come to our Bible time every other week.

Our school-aged kids continue to progress under the omni-competent tutelage of Bonnie Ruth and Brooke. Abi and Isa (11th grade) are prepping for the SAT and looking into college options. We and they would appreciate your prayers as we navigate this new territory.

6. Spiritual needs

Please pray for a renewed love for the people and place God has called us to serve and for a renewed joy in that work. And while God waits to answer that prayer, pray that we will obey faithfully.

Please praise and pray with us!

When we first moved to Stung Treng five years ago, we breathed a huge sigh of relief, thrilled with the prospect of discontinuing our habit of moving every 1-2 years, and hopefully staying in this house for many years (decades?) to come. 

February, 2016

The house meets our needs in so many wonderful ways, and we have often thanked God for it. Even its countless quirks—from the teeming bat colonies upstairs, to the leaky roof, to the 5’11” doorways that bring me to tears every time I bang my head on them (why can’t I learn!?)—have all attained a place in our affections as we think through our years here.

Night Visitors
May, 2019

But the maxim is universal, transcending all cultures: Location3. And this is what has increasingly become a heavy burden for us. For our first seven years in Cambodia, we eschewed the thought of building our own house, knowing all the mental energy (frustration) inevitably involved in building in a third world country. About a year and a half ago, however, we began considering the possibility that investing that energy and time into building might actually repay itself with greater long-term sustainability. Since then, this inclination to buy/build has risen and fallen several times, for various reasons. But after much prayer and counsel, we are confident that this is the best route for both our family and ministry. Our current location is so crowded with people, animals, and places of business, we feel we have lost nearly all margin. As just one example: in the past eight months, the lots on two different sides of our house (just a few feet from our house) have become the new homes of metal cutting shops and a scrap metal disposal lot (junk yard). From about 6am to 6pm, 7 days/week, the intermittent scream of power hacksaws serenades us through our always-open kitchen, bedroom and schoolroom windows. Our family generates its own share of noise and pollution, but we feel like we’re losing the battle.

Three months ago we began earnestly inquiring about land prices, praying for all the things anyone would want: the right price, location, and neighbors. Based on the ubiquitous “for sale” signs and on what we know about the debt situation among many Cambodians, we assumed that good land was ours for the choosing. But after 75 phone calls and visits to various properties, it became increasingly clear that any one of these qualities was not guaranteed, and that finding all three together was practically impossible. It appears that foreign investors (from Cambodian’s increasingly intimate Asian ally) are quickly gulping up land all over the country, driving prices to exorbitant heights. At several points, we have despaired of finding anything affordable.  And then there’s the location—our current house is a convenient 2-minute walk from the market, which comes in handy when feeding a family of ten. It’s also well situated for our current ministry opportunities. But almost every piece of land that was even remotely affordable would have demanded some significant lifestyle changes and additional challenges to accessing the people we minister to. Finally, the neighbors. For five years, we’ve lived at the center of a mini-village and have had only positive relationships with our many neighbors; our kids spend hours a day playing with their friends, which is how several of them have learned the language). Relationships like these were also looking to become yet another casualty of moving. Most of the places that promised to provide a measure of quiet, did so by cutting us off from all human life; and while my inner Wendell Berry finds that appealing, my inner Holy Spirit keeps calling me to love and serve people.

Two weeks ago, we were able to purchase a beautiful piece of land—reverently dubbed Haaretz—that truly is the best of all possible worlds. The Lord has answered every request we have been praying, and we are reeling with gratitude. The price tag on this 2.5 acres of old cashew grove was one of the very few that were even close to feasible and is by far the lowest of all 75 pieces we looked at. Several of those pieces were 10x as much, for less land. And if we weren’t already asking “Why us?!”— the week after we purchased the land, we learned that the adjacent lot (same size, same seller) had more than doubled in price. The location is perfect—well situated for all our current ministries and a 10 minute moto drive from the market and town. And as for neighbors—it’s amazing that this piece that feels and sounds so secluded is nonetheless alive with friendly neighbors. So far we’ve met 12 neighbor kids who flock to our land every time our kids show up with us. This land has been all gain, no sacrifice. God has been so kind.

So now we’re embarking on something we said we’d never do. We’re clearing land, drilling a well, drawing house plans, digging a cesspool, getting electricity hooked up, and a hundred other tasks we’ve never done before. The learning curve is steep but we’re enjoying it. We’re thankful for a couple of experienced advisors who have already been extremely helpful.

So first, please join us in thanking God for this great kindness to us. To fuel your praise, scroll down for some pics. Second, we would greatly appreciate your prayers as we embark on this project. Of necessity, we’re acting as our own contractors, so we need wisdom as we search for skilled laborers and oversee the work. We also need strength as our normal obligations in and out of the home continue apace (more on those in a forthcoming update). We are praying that we can complete a house by late July, 2021, when our rental contract ends for our current house. Finally, please pray that this new home will be a place of rest that better enables us to accomplish the work we came here to do.

Haaretz

September news

Dear Gospel partners,

Thank you for your continued work with us. Here is how your prayers and gifts are at work in NE Cambodia, and how we need you to further direct your prayers …

Old Testament overview class

Starting Saturday morning, I will begin teaching an Old Testament overview class (meeting twice monthly for the next nine months) to about 15 leaders and potential leaders from several churches throughout the province. Please pray for me as I teach and for my students, that they would grow in their understanding and ability to handle God’s word.  

Our various other ministries continue apace …

Lao village of Na Ong

This past Sunday in Na Ong, I taught on the first sin. “And how do you think the woman responded to the serpent’s lie?” I asked the 9 adults who had gathered under Sali’s house to listen to the lesson. “We don’t know,” several responded honestly. “She said NO!” several others said hopefully. But none of them truly knew the correct answer. And Na Ong is not unique—it is one of many villages all around us full of people who have truly never heard the most foundational stories of Scripture, including the death and resurrection of Christ (and we’ll get there as quickly as my faltering Lao will let us!). Please continue to pray for us and our Lao friends.

Another highlight from Sunday was our learning and then teaching them a Lao hymn with a traditional Lao tune—as far as I know, the first ever song of praise to the Creator in this village! Bonnie Ruth and I were fully prepared for our duet to meet with a combination of bewildered stares and giggles, if not full-blown hysterics. But wow, Na Ong got talent! Almost immediately, a couple literate villagers shared my song sheet and tried to sing along; others began rhythmic clapping, while others added whooping and hollering (sorry, no video recording equipment was permitted in the sanctuary). In short, we were a hit! An unexpected and unsought response, certainly. But a happy motivation to pray—O Lord, may the  village of Na Ong one day sing your praises from hearts full of faith and understanding!

The church in Pum Tmai

The church in Pum Tmai continues to maintain our membership of five sweet Christian ladies along with our family. Our Sunday worship times include a study of the book of Acts. Would you pray first for our faith in the Spirit’s power to turn family and neighbors from darkness to light? Conversion is a miracle that we have not seen often, and I sense a weariness in our prayers. Please pray also for one of our dear ladies who has become the target of a group of false teachers who claim that their leader is “the Appointed Son of God” and “Owner of the Universe,” through whom alone is salvation. Please pray both for this lady’s own soul and that she would have the courage to refuse these teachers entrance into her home (Cambodian hospitality along with family connections to the false teachers are making it extremely difficult for her).

Language helper

Please pray for Can Own, my language helper. In our most recent conversation about the gospel, Can Own told me clearly that his struggle is not Christ vs. Buddha. It is rather Christ vs. his good job that requires him to participate in various religious ceremonies at the village temple. Please pray that God would give him eyes to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, making him eager to sell everything to obtain this treasure.

New school year

The new school year is two weeks old and off to a solid start. We’re very thankful both to God and you for your prayers for us as a family. Indeed, we rely heavily on your labor for us in this way. We didn’t think it was possible, but in recent months, our neighborhood has become even noisier than before! As you pray for us, please ask for stamina, focused minds, and joy.