We’ve been in the U.S. for 3 months now, traveling hither and yon’, reporting to you our partners on the progress of the mission in NE Cambodia. Thank you for the love and kindness you have lavished on us. We truly could not have handpicked a better group of fellow workers in our mission. The lines have fallen to us in pleasant places.
We’re now set up in Nashville where our kids have the opportunity to attend school while we continue meeting with partner churches. As much as ever, we are feeling our need for rest, physically and spiritually. Please pray with us that God would restore us and prepare us in every way for our return to Cambodia.
Back in Cambodia, a friend has been able to visit occasionally with the 3 Christian ladies in Pum Tmai village. Please pray for Yeng, Eng, and Chan-tii, that God would preserve and encourage them during our absence.
Pray also for the conversion of Can Own and his wife. Can Own is my language helper who has heard and understands the gospel. Pray that he would see the beauty of Christ and desire his approval above that of his family and neighbors.
Thank you for your work of faith and labor of love in Christ.
This week (May 13-17), my teammates and I will be teaching basic hermeneutics to our students in the Ratanakiri Pastors School. One of the major obstacles facing the church in Cambodia (as well as society at large) is the low level of education. Here’s how my teammate described our student body:
… most of our students are self-educated. Because of the remoteness of this province, and the attitude of the majority population toward the minority—not to mention the upheaval of the Khmer Rouge period when nearly all the teachers were killed—most of our students have received, at most, a third grade education. (A handful have graduated from high school and two from college.)
So imagine teaching a course in interpretation of Ancient Near Eastern literature (in this case, the Bible) to third graders! Praise God, however, that the Author of this ancient Text actually lives inside each of our students (as has been evident in past courses in the pastors school), and we have invited Him to take the lead in the teaching. For these reasons, we are full of hope that this will be yet another success. Please pray with us to that end.
Following pastors school, we will continue our mad rush to close up shop here in Cambodia and begin our home assignment in June. I will update you soon after that.
Hello brothers and sisters. The following is a brief update on one facet of the work here in Stung Treng.
I’ve often asked you to pray for Yeng and Eng, a mother and daughter who have miraculously continued faithful to Christ for 8 years as the only Christians in their village (hopefully I can elaborate later on the truly miraculous nature of this fact). For the past year, we have been worshiping each week with Yeng and Eng in their home (in Pum Tmai village, about 15 minutes from us).
In February, Chan-tii heard the gospel for the first time at a medical clinic and expressed interest. Since then, she hasn’t missed a Sunday as we’ve carefully explained the gospel to her. Recently, Chan-tii told Yeng that she believes “with all her heart, with all her liver.” Praise God. On Easter Sunday, I rejoiced to lead the first-ever Easter worship in Pum Tmai village, baptize Chan-tii, and join in her first Lord’s Supper. Chan-tii lives in the neighboring village and is now the only Christian there.
Another completely unrelated (until recently) facet of our work has been our relationship with Sopiap (pictured below; you’ve prayed for her too). Sopiap lives in town near us, and through a now-humorous mix-up (none too few in our life here!), she ended up joining us for worship out in the village two weeks ago. For various reasons, having Sopiap join us for worship was not a high priority for me right now, but it appears the Lord’s priorities may be somewhat different from mine. Sopiap and her grandson attended for the second time on Easter as we baptized Chan-tii and celebrated the resurrection of Christ.
In response …
Praise God both for his saving work in Chan-tii and for this boon to my spirit. We’re in the midst of the hottest hot season we’ve experienced, and we have been very weary this past month, both in body and mind. Easter Sunday was an unexpected refreshment to my soul—how appropriate!
Please pray for these dear ladies, particularly as we return to the U.S. for 8 months, beginning in June. Ultimately, pray for laborers (both foreign and Cambodian) who can fill these and many other similar needs; until then, pray for the continued miracle of preservation in the absence of spiritual oversight and care.
Pray for Sopiap, who continues to be open to the gospel but has not yet publicly confessed Christ.
In his book, Prayer, Tim Keller outlines twelve touchstones of prayer, the first of which is work: prayer is a duty and a discipline. This reality has never pressed more heavily upon me than in recent months; but so has also the corresponding fact that this is not a fruitless labor, but rather one that will yield a harvest to eternal life. Please read below some of the major requests we are laboring with before God; please join us in this labor, and let us wait for much fruit.
In late November, we held the fall session of the Ratanakiri Pastors Institute where we worked through message of Samuel and Kings together with our students. Again, thank you for praying, and please praise God for answering our prayers. Our men are indeed growing in their love for the Bible—all of it—and in their ability to read it humbly, prayerfully, and intelligently. We are now preparing and praying for the upcoming May session when we will cover basic hermeneutics and Bible study. Please pray for my teammate J.D. as he finishes up the material for this course.
Can Own and his family
About sixty percent of my time now is occupied with language study. My language helper, Can On, continues to be a blessing. Please pray for his conversion. For three weeks in a row now, Can On has welcomed me into his home to share the gospel with him and his wife. Each time, they have listened with increasing attention as I explain what the Bible is, who the God of the Bible is, and the origin of all things. This week, we’ll learn why the world is now the way it is. Please pray that that the evil one will not steal these newly-planted seeds.
Mr. Saa-lii and Naa-Ong village
Please pray for Saa-lii, the village head of Naa-Ong, about an hour north of us (just south of the Laos border). Naa-Ong is a Lao-speaking village (though many also speak Khmer). In recent months Joyce (a fellow missionary) and I have made several trips to share the gospel with Saa-lii and some of his family and neighbors. Each time, they have been unusually attentive and asked good questions. They have welcomed us to continue our visits. Please pray for Saa-lii and his village. Joyce and I plan to continue teaching there at least monthly.
Related, pray for Lao-speaking laborers. God continues to encourage and motivate us to pray for the unreached Lao as he brings more and more people across our path who have been praying for the Lao population for many years. But nearly every time of prayer and conversation ends in the same place: we need Lao-speaking evangelists. Pray for me, as I seek to become one; pray for other Lao speakers, that the Lord would direct their steps to Stung Treng province.
The (proto-)church in New Village
Perhaps the greatest joy of the past 8 months of ministry here has been our Sunday morning worship with Yeng and Eng, the only two Christians in their village (Pum Tmey, trans. “New Village”). I’ve asked you to pray for Yeng and Eng before as I taught the Bible to them each Tuesday afternoon for the past year. About 8 months ago, our family began joining them every Sunday for worship. Praise God for the miracle of preservation in the lives of these two ladies who have remained faithful for 8 years with only minimal spiritual care. Pray for our weekly worship, that God would indeed meet with us and that he would soon increase our numbers. Pray that God would raise up a shepherd who can care for these sisters later this year when we return to the US for home assignment.
A brief update: three reasons for much praise and prayer …
Next week (Nov. 19-23) about 70 Cambodian church leaders from 5 ethnic groups will meet for the fall session of the Ratanakiri Pastors School. We’ll continue working through our new Biblical Theology curriculum, focusing this time on the books of Samuel and Kings. Please pray, both for teachers and students. All of us need stamina during these long, warm days, but especially our teachers. For our students, pray that each one will read the Bible with increasing regularity, delight, skill, faith and obedience; then that they would lead their churches to do the same.
Please thank God with me for providing yet another needle in the haystack. Can On (pronounced like it’s written) is my new Lao language helper and meets every qualification I’ve been asking for. Thank you, brothers and sisters, for praying him my way. Now, please pray (1) for profitable language sessions together and (2) for On’s conversion.
In October, our dearest friends, the Boomershines (some of them, at least) spent 10 days with us here in Stung Treng, feeding both our souls and bodies. Such joy.
Dear gospel partners,
In a most delightful departure from the norm here, the past couple months have been a wonderful, steady balance of (1) study and (2) ministry. Below are some ways you can pray for these spheres of our life here.
Are you ready for this? I’m encouraged about my progress with Lao study thus far! No, I haven’t been hacked, but God is helping me chart a course of study that’s right for me, and I have reason to hope that it’s an effective one. However, I still do not have a regular language helper. Please do pray that I could find someone willing and available to meet with me daily. Finding a reliable helper here in the province has been anything but easy and source of real frustration as certain traits of Cambodian culture appear to conspire against me. Pray for wisdom and success.
If the search is not productive soon, I’ll spend another week studying in Laos later this month. While this is indeed helpful, it’s less than ideal as the language spoken here in Stung Treng has some major vocabulary differences from the language spoken in the country of Laos.
Each week, I’m teaching an introductory Bible study to three different groups of people, all of whom you’ve met before in our updates. Here is how you can pray for each one.
Bible study #1
- Pray for Pi-set’s conversion. He is very attentive and asks some good questions. He says he is waiting for God to show him a miracle before he commits to Christ.
- Pray for Moni, Rhit, and Tuu to grow in the their grasp of the gospel and in their commitment to the church, daily Bible reading, and prayer.
Bible study #2
Yeng and her daughter Eng are a delight, particularly in recent weeks as they’ve been greeting me with a kilo of one of my all-time favorite foods, fresh okra from their garden. Even more delightful is their hunger for the Word. A few months ago, I gave Yeng a simple MP3 player loaded with an audio Bible (Yeng’s eyesight makes reading difficult). In about a month, she had listened to Genesis—Song of Songs and the entire NT! I just love it when I’m teaching and Yeng pipes up with some minor detail of the story! Recently, as we were surveying the OT, I commented that when we get to some passages like Leviticus with its lengthy, detailed descriptions of various ceremonies, it can be kind of tedious. Yeng quickly shot back—No, it’s not! Praise God for this hunger, and pray for Yeng’s village, that God would save her neighbors and raise up a church there.
Bible study #3
Though not yet believers, Sopiap and her daughter Aym (mid-20’s) are also a joy. They too will sometimes receive me with whatever delicacy happens to be on their menu for the day. Recently, Sopiap’s husband Kun, piled high a bowl full of Pia, a dish consisting primarily of unpurged cow intestines, and set it before me with a knowing smile. Unlike the Apostle John, I found the food bitter to my tongue, but thankfully, no problem for my stomach.
Pray that Sopiap and Aym would understand the gospel and embrace Christ. Pray also for the handful of grandkids and other relatives who come and go each week while I’m teaching, many of them stopping to listen.
In addition to these scheduled ministry opportunities, pray for the many other unscheduled chances for sowing seeds: in the lives of neighbors, our landlord, and others who come seeking aid.
The home front
After an all-too-brief summer break, the new school year kicked off on July 31. Our one-room school house is hosting 4 grades, 6 students, and 2 teachers this year. The first two weeks have given us enough time to work out the kinks and we’re finding a good rhythm now. Thank you for praying for our kids—as they study God’s world (science, math, logic, etc.), may they do so with reverence and awe; as they study God’s deeds in the world and man’s responses to those deeds (history, literature, art, etc.), may they ever side with God over against every other competitor for their allegiance and affection. Pray also for Bonnie Ruth and Brooke as they manage their teaching loads along with all their many other responsibilities.
Imagine driving through Manhattan at 200 MPH and being asked to report on what you saw. That’s how our last month has felt, but I’ll do my best to share some of the pics we got, even if they are a bit blurry.
May Pastors School
First, the Ratanakiri Pastors School (May 13-18) was the most exciting week of my Cambodian life. God answered all of your and our prayers for me, my fellow teachers, and our students. My greatest desire was that our men would grow in both their commitment and ability to read Scripture, and we’re confident this happened. My teammates, JD, Brian, and Josh, as well as several other missionaries and local pastors, made major contributions. JD’s role was particularly important. I’ve never known a teacher more capable of making big truths accessible to people with little or no theological training; JD took my material and made it fit our guys perfectly. I thank God often for the opportunity to be mentored by a teacher with this kind of gift.
Our session began in Genesis, with God’s glorious plan to administer his good creation through the lordship of man. We ended in Judges, with Israel a second Sodom facing annihilation both from within and without. In the next session (November), we’ll see how David and his offspring both succeed and fail in resolving this horrible situation. You can start praying for that session now.
Lao church planting initiative
Immediately after Bible school, a team of gospel workers—both SE Asian and American—met for three days in our home to pray and strategize about reaching the Lao population of Stung Treng province. I could easily fill this and several more updates with life stories—from the amazing to the amusing—that I heard that week. But again, these are a few snapshots taken at 200 MPH:
- Many of these brothers and sisters were refugees during the Khmer Rouge era, spending time in the camps in Thailand before being relocated to the US.
- Joe (Khmer) and Kay (Lao) met in the 1970’s as refugees in Oregon. A widower and father of five young children, Joe proposed to Kay via English (second language for both) the day after they met, and Kay became a mother of five overnight. Kay would later learn Khmer at age 65(!) when she and Joe returned to serve full-time in Cambodia. As the only one in our meeting who knew both Khmer and Lao, Kay was a most important player. Oh for half the energy of this 75-year old lady!
- Aachaan (from a neighboring SE Asian country) taught himself to read by studying the Bible. After his conversion, he and twenty-one other Christians spent two years in prison for their faith.
- Bounoeuy is a long-time partner with us in the Pastors School. The day before our meeting, he had used his slingshot to kill a King Cobra that was poised to strike. I realized this week that such stories are the tip of Bounoeuy’s iceberg, actually.
But the best part of these stories was hearing one testimony after another that went something like this: “I began praying for the Lao population of Stung Treng X years ago, when no one else was doing anything about it.” And that’s one thing that our comparatively monotonous life story has in common with these giants. When JD visited us in our home in Wisconsin in 2008, he told us that somebody needed to target the Lao of northeast Cambodia. We began praying and asking you to pray—10 years ago. And we also thought we were the only ones doing so! But God has been stirring up pray-ers from all over and largely unbeknownst to one another. Does this not give you hope that God is indeed intent on answering these prayers? Press on, brothers and sisters. We are confident that your and our labors of prayer are not in vain.
So where do we go from here? For now, we keep praying. Specifically, we need laborers who can preach the gospel in Lao. The five Lao speakers in our meeting hope to return to Stung Treng every two to three months for a few days to continue making contact with a village near the border. But their work obligations at home prevent them from more frequent visits. Living here in Stung Treng gives me much easier access to the Lao population here, but I don’t yet speak (much) Lao. So as I pray, I must keep studying …
Immediately after our meetings, I crossed the border to spend a week studying language. Thank you for praying for this. I accomplished both of my goals: (1) I quickly regained the reading/writing that I had lost from two years ago and (2) confirmed that my understanding of Lao tones is correct. Please continue praying for my language study. This week I’ll begin looking again for a Lao speaker who can meet with me daily.
Visit from Mom and Dad
Finally, and speaking of giants, this unusually busy month ended in the most satisfying way imaginable, with a visit from my youthful, globetrotting parents. It’s no overstatement to say that I can trace nearly every blessing of my daily experience to their decades of prayer and godly example. So we were thrilled to share with them another week of our lives and the many good things God is doing here.
Thank you, brothers and sisters, for your labors with us. Because Christ lives, they are not in vain.
Here’s a big-picture view of our next month—things we’re praying for and anticipating.
Making God big and the Bible “small”
For the past year, I’ve been devoting nearly all of my time to preparing the curriculum for this year’s two sessions of the Ratanakiri Pastors School. The dry-season session is next week, May 13-18. I’ll be joining my teammates and about 70 church leaders in Ratanakiri province to work through Genesis – Judges together. Our goal is that these courses would make the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, less formidable and more accessible for our students. One of my long-standing requests to God is that he would raise up a generation of Bible readers–Christians who spend their free time just reading the Bible! But this won’t happen as long as such large sections of Scripture continue to intimidate and bewilder them. Please pray for our students, most of whom do indeed have a high commitment to Scripture, that God would reward that commitment by revealing himself to them more deeply, beginning next week. Pray for their churches and families also, that they too would benefit from pastors and fathers who are saturated with God’s words. Pray for me and my teammates as we teach next week. The days grow long and hot this time of year, so we need physical, spiritual, and mental stamina. Finally, please pray also for Bonnie Ruth and the kids as they hold the fort while I’m away.
The unreached Lao of Stung Treng
The week after Bible school (May 22-24), several Cambodian and Laotian pastors will be traveling to Stung Treng for several days of prayer and strategizing about how to reach the 50,000+ unreached Laotians who live here. When we arrived in Stung Treng two years ago, we were unaware of any efforts to target the Lao-speaking population here. This meeting next week is just one of multiple new Loatian-targeting initiatives that have popped up in the past two years. This gives us hope that God is indeed hearing our prayers and is indeed working to gather the Lao, even when we are occupied with other tasks. Praise God for this encouragement and that he doesn’t depend on us! Please also pray that this meeting would be profitable for all of us.
Language again! (Lao)
The week after that, I’ll be heading across the border for a week of focused language study, in an effort to jump-start the little bit of Lao that I had picked up in our first months in Stung Treng. Please pray for a quick re-acquisition of all I’ve forgotten and for much progress beyond that also. Again, remember Bonnie Ruth and the kids.
Finally, the week after that, my globe-trotting parents will be making their second Southeast Asian tour in as many years. We can hardly believe they’re getting to come again, and the halls are already bedecked with paper chains counting down the days.
Have I shown you my new pocket knife?!
Those of you who have followed us since we arrived in Cambodia almost 7 years ago will know that of the various adjustments and difficulties we’ve experienced as strangers in a strange land, nothing has compared to the difficulty of acquiring the Khmer language; for me in particular, the language has been the source of much frustration and, at times, even despair. All the growth spurts everyone else talks about—never happened. And so for these many years now, you’ve read our updates, no doubt eager to hear and pray about new opportunities for gospel ministry … but instead, it’s Jeremy again, complaining about how hard the language is. But these past six months, the Lord has finally been answering your and our prayers in uncommonly encouraging ways. Various tasks that not too long ago were either impossible or demanded inordinate amounts of time and effort, are now reasonable opportunities for building relationships and ministering the gospel.
I feel like a little boy who just got his first pocket knife. It’s in his pocket right now, but he’s ever aware of it as he roams about, just waiting for an opportunity to whip it out and put it to good use. Just look at all the stuff I can do now! For the first time as a missionary, I’m having to choose what ministry opportunities to pursue and what to pass by—because I can do so many things with my knew knife! What a blessed dilemma. Thank you, brothers and sisters, for persevering with me in this. And please thank the Lord for this new competency with the language.
So, by God’s continuing grace, I’m hopeful that these updates going forward will not have that much to say about language learning (at least Khmer language learning; stay tuned till next month when we get to do it all over again with Lao!).
What I can’t promise is that these updates will have nothing more to say about the weather. While a fair number of you are still shoveling your sidewalks, we’re realizing yet again that the snow is indeed whiter on the other side (of the world). Hot season is upon us, so please pray for physical stamina and the ability to focus mentally as we go about our tasks.
Pastors School next month
Thanks in part to the herculean efforts of my co-workers JD and Rhit, the curriculum for the Pastors School next month is ready: 144 pages surveying the message of Genesis–Judges. Please pray for both the teachers (me and my teammates) and students (about 70 pastors from 5 different language groups) as we work through this material next month (May 13-18). Pray also for favor with the authorities—specifically that their concerns about unrest in the months preceding the July elections would not lead them to prohibit us from meeting.
Please join me, dear friends, in praising the Lord and in asking him for additional help and blessing.
Answers to your prayers …
I just returned from Phnom Penh with ten 1-year visas in hand, as well as an agreement with a sister organization that is helping us obtain these for the next few years. Praise the Lord for this answer to your prayers.
Several months ago, you also began praying for additional teaching opportunities for me here in Stung Treng. For about a month now, I’ve been meeting weekly with two small groups to teach an introductory overview of the Bible. The first group is an elderly lady and her daughter, the only Christians in their village (about 20 minutes from our town). We meet every Tuesday evening. The second group is four young adults, three of whom are new believers and one an interested non-Christian. Praise the Lord for these opportunities and pray for fruit in the lives of these dear people.
And please keep praying
I continue to spend most of my work hours preparing the curriculum for this year’s Pastors School sessions in Ratanakiri. Please pray for me, that I would understand the text of Scripture and be able to communicate its message to my students. My teammate JD who is working with me in this project expressed our goal like this: “to make God big, and the Bible small.” While that first part is transparent enough, perhaps you’re not so sure about making the Bible small. What we mean is that due to its size, age, and cultural distance from us, the Bible can be an overwhelming and intimidating book, particularly the Old Testament. And if we in the highly literate, highly educated West feel this way, how much more our brothers and sisters with limited literacy and formal education. Our prayer is that this material would be a tool by which our students can increasingly access the whole Bible and thereby know the God who reveals himself there.
I am thoroughly enjoying the work of preparing this material … when I can get to it. In recent months, I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time dealing with other necessities such as passports/visas/driver licenses/etc. This, combined with unexpected visits, constant noise, and an earlier-than-last-year hot season, make progress painfully slow. Pray that I will make the best use of the time I have and that I will receive every “interruption” joyfully as from God’s hand.
Pray for peace in Cambodia. As this summer’s national election approaches, the ruling party continues to muscle its way forward by any means necessary. Additionally, US-Cambodian relations are strained at present. Pray for both the population generally, and for us as foreigners residing here, particularly American foreigners. We believe there is yet much work to do before the Cambodian church as a whole can thrive without the assistance of missionaries.
A few anecdotes to inform, amuse, and burden …
The whole neighborhood turned out earlier this month to watch the Super Blue Blood Moon. The neighbors refer to an eclipse as “Rahu [a legendary monster] catches/swallows the moon.” Traditionally, when the eclipse begins, Cambodians bang on their fruit trees and shout, “Help the moon! Help the moon!” The subsequent harvest depends on whether Rahu swallows the moon completely, spits it back out, or perhaps expels the moon sideways! One neighbor said that a pregnant woman must not look at the eclipse or her child will have defects. Another neighbor assured me that these are mere superstitions that Cambodians perpetuate in good fun.
A few months ago, Judson and Salem were the junior attendants (Khmer “angel children”) in our neighbor’s wedding. Then last month, Judson and Eden participated in the wedding of our friends, Pi-set and Srey Non, both committed Christians. I had several opportunities to talk with Pi-set and his mother about differences and similarities between his wedding (as a Christian) and a traditional Buddhist wedding in Cambodia (like our neighbor’s). For the uninitiated westerner, both weddings would appear equally strange. But there were important differences. Most fundamentally, Pi-set and Srey Non had no priests chanting blessings, nor did they make any offerings to ancestors and other spirits, both a staple at any Khmer wedding. While I would consider this the most important difference, it is certainly not what caught the attention of nearly any Cambodian attending the wedding, including the bride and groom. From the guests’ perspective, a wedding in Cambodia is first and foremost an opportunity to get drunk. It’s no secret that Cambodians love cheap beer and lots of it. A “Khme-nglish” proverb here says, “Why to drink if not to drunk?!” In other words, the typical Cambodian simply does not have a category for “social drinking.” So when a Christian decides that his wedding will not include idolatrous offerings or the blessings of pagan priests, no one seems to care. I asked Pi-set and his mom about this multiple times—their many non-Christian relatives didn’t mind at all. But to have a wedding with no beer? That was indeed scandalous and a cause for real persecution toward Pi-set and his mother.
While I’m thinking about alcohol in Cambodia … This recent article describes the sad lives of waitresses in Cambodia’s thousands of Karaoke clubs. One of the girls interviewed in this piece (named Thyda) first describes the rampant sexual abuse the waitresses endure. Then she says,
I had to drink every day to keep my clients happy, because my duty was to make my clients happy, even though on some days I was sick. I still had to smile and drink …. I was always drunk and I sometimes woke up still drunk, then I’d go to work and have to continue drinking….
Thyda reports having to drink 6-12 cans of beer per day—just to keep her customers happy.
The sexual abuse is indeed tragic and horrifying. But it’s not surprising. Nor is it surprising that customers drink to get drunk. But what I’m still trying to comprehend is the urgency that you join me in my drunkenness; otherwise, I won’t be happy, and it’s your fault! And you must join me in my drunkenness—a beer or two for you is not enough! After 6.5 years in Cambodia and attending many different celebrations (from weddings, to birthday parties, to holiday events), I assure you that I’m not misrepresenting the common mindset. When we drink we must get drunk, and when we get drunk, you must join us—only then are we all happy! Perhaps this impulse stems in part from the strong sense of community for which Asian cultures are well known. Regardless, it does make me appreciative toward the total abstinence of most Cambodian Christians that I know.