Since you last hear from us …
Covid-19 and Cambodia
For the most part, and in great contrast to many of you, our lives have continued unaltered since the onset of the pandemic. According to some studies we’ve seen, Covid-19 and I are alike in that we cannot handle the heat and humidity. So while I am struggling as always through another hot season, the nation as a whole is healthy, suffering only 124 cases, 122 full recoveries, and no deaths. The primary changes we’ve experienced are …
- No religious gatherings of more than 10 people are permitted. So I leave most of the family at home for our Sunday gatherings in Pum Tmai village.
- Our work in the Lao village of Na Ong has been almost completely set on hold, though we have been allowed to visit twice recently. This is a matter of concern, since several villagers professed Christ just before our return to Cambodia in February. These are the first and only believers in this and the surrounding villages, and they continue with no spiritual care. Please pray that God would keep them during our absence.
- The hot season session of the Ratanakiri Pastors Institute has been cancelled.
So what have we been up to?
- Bonnie Ruth, Brooke, and the kids have continued with their regular schedule of school. Please pray for strength for them all, especially as hot season continues (typically until the rains begin in June).
- Some of us have continued to meet with the four ladies who make up the church in Pum Tmai village. Many of you will remember the story of this seedling church and have prayed faithfully for Yeng, Eng, and Chantii. Thank you. Their faith is strong! Chantii in particular, the newest believer among us, is a great blessing to me as she seems almost surprised that “no one wants to listen” when she tells them of the Creator. Yeng and Eng have been believers long enough now (the only ones in their village for 9 years) to feel a certain cynicism about their neighbors—“they’re never going to believe,” an attitude which is all too tempting for me to succumb to as well. So we have been giving ourselves more fully to praying for the conversion of specific individuals. Please pray with us, that God would add to our numbers. Actually, since our return to Cambodia in February, God has added one new lady, 93-year old Own, who has been the only believer in an adjacent village for many years now (our church is comprised of 4 ladies from 3 separate villages). Though 93 years old and mother of eleven, Own regularly reminds me that she still gardens, carries her own water, and exercises! She also faithfully brings a list of the names of her unbelieving children and grandchildren for us to pray for. On Sundays, we have been reading through the book of Acts together, seeing how the testimony of Christ’s resurrection has indeed reached to this uttermost part of the earth. Please pray for these ladies, specifically that they would be bold, faithful, and gracious in speaking about Christ to their family and neighbors.
- I have continued to study Lao, mostly on my own. Please pray for a breakthrough in my understanding. This continues to be a source of potential discouragement for me.
- For the past three months, I have pursued our many neighbors much more persistently than in the past and have had numerous opportunities to share the gospel in part or whole with several of them. Please pray that I will be diligent with this. I need love and boldness. Pray mostly for my neighbors, young and old, that they would be saved.
- Lastly, please continue praying for clear signs of the Spirit’s fruit in our lives, specifically love and joy.
To inform, amuse, and burden you to pray …
- When the rain on your tin roof is so loud you can’t hear preach, sing, or talk, you pull out your Rubik’s Cube.
- Cambodians often place “scarecrows” in front of their houses to ward off the latest sickness that may be passing through, and Covid-19 has been no exception. Here is a sampling of the handiwork near our home.
- Here are three videos compiled from the week-long funeral of our elderly neighbor last month: Procession 1, Procession 2, Cremation.
Thank you for praying for us and the peoples of Cambodia. We depend heavily on this work that you are doing. May God strengthen you to persevere with us.
As we’ve visited many of your churches these past seven months, we’ve told you three stories from our past term in Stung Treng, Cambodia. All of those stories are as yet unfinished, but one of them in particular, “The Lao of Stung Treng,” is still embryonic.
We told you about our warm reception in the Lao village of Na Ong, particularly from the village head, Mr. Saa-lii, and his wife, and asked you to pray with us as we continue scattering seed in this field.
I’m thrilled to tell you that I just received a message from a friend in Stung Treng saying that Mr. Saa-lii and a few others have confessed Christ.
He sleeps and rises night and day,
and the seed sprouts and grows;
he knows not how
- Mark 4:26-27
Praise God for this miraculous growth! And pray earnestly now, as the inevitable heat of persecution seeks to wither these young shoots and the ever-present cares of the world seek to choke them out. May these indeed be those who bear fruit to eternal life!
As our eight months in the U.S. draws to a close, here are some things to thank God and you for:
Successful visits with nearly all of our gospel partners (and disappointment for those of you we missed). Success for us consists, first, in the many reassurances that you have indeed been praying for us and that you will continue to. Few things encourage us more than hearing that you are praying specifically for us and the people we are serving in the gospel. Second, based on your responses, we’re hopeful that we were able to communicate a bit of what life in that other universe called Stung Treng, Cambodia is like, both some of its joys and challenges. (If you missed it, you can hear a report on our work that I gave at our home church in Nashville, and here are the slides that go with it.) Third, the many cups of coffee, plates of food, and hours of conversation with you have been a great encouragement to our hearts. You have shared so freely with us. Again, thank God and thank you.
A successful semester for our kids. Praise the Lord for his help for our six school-age kids. Their time at Jonathan Edwards Classical Academy was everything we prayed that it would be, and again, we have both God and many of you to thank for this opportunity and its successful completion. Now we pray for a happy transition back to a one-room schoolhouse, and strength for the teachers who manage it!
Some down time. The regularity of the school semester and the opportunity to worship with our sending church for consecutive weeks provided a much-needed reprieve. We feel like we have finally caught our breath and regrouped mentally and physically and are eager to return to Cambodia (Feb. 6).
Family. It’s never enough, be we have had some great time with family here at the end of our U.S. time.
Snow! One of our kids’ biggest prayers for this trip was to see some real snow. Despite the 70 degree, mid-January weekend in Boston(!), our Christmas visit with family in Pennsylvania gave us 3 inches, enough to build a snow dwarf and enjoy a half-day of sledding!
We return to Cambodia three weeks from today (Feb. 6). Here are three ways you can pray:
Miraculous living. As I’ve read Paul’s letters in recent months, I’ve been struck again by just how supernaturally Paul lived. I’m not thinking primarily of the miraculous visions or healings, though these are indeed remarkable and desirable. What stands out is the all-pervasive influence of the Spirit that led Paul to rejoice in the midst of suffering and persecution, to love those who rejected and mistreated Paul. The disparity between Paul’s M.O. and my own has been striking and disheartening. More than ever, I long to see a miracle in my life, specifically, the kind of transformation of character that Paul testifies to and expects all believers to experience. Put another way, we are praying and laboring to see the Spirit produce his fruit of love and joy in us.
Logistics, logistics, logistics. For the past few months, Bonnie Ruth has been buying up four years worth of textbooks and supplies for school and life. Now it’s time to pack it all up, close up the house, sell the van, and catch our flight (Feb. 6). [If you are interested in a Chevy Express 3500 15 pax van, mention this update at checkout and receive a free prayer for godspeed. Seriously, please let us know if you’re interested or know someone who is.]
Re-acclimation. We are asking the Lord for a quick adjustment to Cambodian life, languages, and work. Especially pray that we can quickly renew relationships with those to whom we minister.
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.