Equipping Cambodian church leaders

Our mission in NE Cambodia is two-fold: (1) to plant churches among the unreached Lao population, and (2) to provide theological education for Cambodian church leaders (of various language groups). My time is split, often unevenly, between these two major tasks. In this brief update, I want to share four prayer requests related to that second major task of our mission.

Bible reading group

First, some months ago, I asked you to pray for a weekly Bible reading group for church leaders at our house. Our main goal is simply to model and inculcate a love for Scripture in the minds and hearts of these brothers and sisters. In answer to our prayers, this goal is becoming a glorious reality. O the joy of hearing spontaneous, unrehearsed testimonies of the fruit that regular, repeated readings of entire chapters and books of the Bible is bearing in their own lives and among those whom they serve! Our group has been meeting since January and has already spawned another reading group lead by two of the brothers pictured here. Praise God and pray for continued fruit.

Stung Treng pastors school

Second, you’ve also been praying for me and several fellow missionaries as we create a theology study program for these and other church leaders in Stung Treng Province. Praise God for the remarkable unity and clear sense of direction he is giving us. Our goal is to begin in January, 2023, meeting every month for two years in order to survey the entire Bible, basic theology, and basic Bible study. Please pray for continued blessing.

Bible overview

We have also prayed that I could complete a Bible overview for these students by year’s end. Due to many unexpected opportunities for teaching and evangelism, this goal appears increasingly unlikely. However, please continue to pray for time and strength to complete it in God’s timing.

Ratanakiri Pastors Institute

In two days (Nov. 6-9), I’ll travel two hours east to help teach Romans 6-8 in the cool season session of the Ratanakiri Pastors Institute. Several brothers from Stung Treng will accompany me. Please pray for us all—both teachers and students. Can you think of any other passage of Scripture more glorious than these three chapters?! Pray that we all would grow in our understanding and full embrace of these realities, and that this growth would bear fruit in the churches of NE Cambodia (both Ratanakiri and Stung Treng).

Summer news

Can God spread a table in the wilderness!?”

Thus asked faithless Israel after their deliverance from Egypt (Psalm 78:12-20). Thus also has faithless Jeremy asked (worded a bit more piously, mind you), wondering if or how God could provide for an alien family living in a remote corner of Cambodia. But the answer for both Jeremy and Israel has been a resounding Yes! For every need, his provisions have been abundant, but one particular sphere is much on our minds right now. In this Cambodian context, we’ve wondered, how can eight American children receive the academic, social, and spiritual nurture necessary to equip them to thrive as Christians in this world? But for the past eleven years, God has continually supplied us with resources—material and human—to make this a reality. In June, our two oldest, Abi and Isa, officially graduated from high school in a ceremony to honor their accomplishment. The guest list was itself a testimony to God’s provision: dear friends, old and young, literally from around the world (including my forever young parents), who have prayed, encouraged, and nurtured our children along the way, gathered for a time celebration and thanksgiving.

Many of you, though not with us in person, have faithfully prayed for our children. We owe you a debt of deepest gratitude. Now, please join us in praising God for the feast he has furnished thus far (Psalm 78:5).

Abi and Isa began their freshman year at Bob Jones University this week. And in two weeks, their younger siblings will begin a new school year here in Cambodia. We covet your continued prayers.

Class of ’22

The wilderness of Na Ong

Now that I think of it, Israel’s question (Psalm 78:19) is particularly appropriate for nearly any pioneer endeavor. And praise God: in Na Ong village, God is dividing the sea, splitting the rock, turning the desert into a garden …. For the past year and half, our core group of about eight adults and ten children have been working slowly through foundational Old Testament stories. Again and again, we’ve seen Israel’s need (as well as our own) for redemption, and we’ve also heard repeated promises of a coming King who will indeed deliver them, both from their enemies and their sins. Last week, we finally arrived at Matthew’s begats! We’ve been waiting to meet this King for two years! I told them, but Israel had waited over one thousand! A sense of excitement and expectation is evident in several of our seekers.

Again, praise God for what he is doing—your many prayers are bearing fruit. And please pray on. These next few months of preaching and teaching are critical. Pray for saving faith. Pray for baptisms. Pray for our first Lord’s Supper.

Also please continue praying for Proin and Si-ma. They are doing well, but language learning is proving to be a significant hurdle.

Pan (left) is one of our most faithful and interested listeners in Na Ong. Please pray for his salvation.

Pastors school

One final prayer request in this update. I am working to complete the first draft of a biblical overview for our pastor students, both here in Stung Treng and in Ratanakiri. My goal date is the end of this calendar year. Please pray that I can make the time to concentrate on this project, that the Spirit would give me understanding of my material (Psalms and Wisdom books right now), and that my writing would be accessible for our target readers.

Thank you, dear brothers and sisters, for your faithful prayers for us and the peoples we are serving. May the Lord richly bless you.

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: Proin and Si-ma, along with their children Hadassah (age 6) and Barnabas (10 months).

Rear: Seima and Proinh. Front: Hadassah and Barnabas

Proin and Si-ma 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. Proin and Si-ma 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 Proin and Si-ma 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: Proin and Si-ma’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. Proin and Si-ma 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: Proin and Si-ma’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 (Proin/Si-ma); (2) pray for me, as I fill the roles of discipler and ministry partner to Proin/Si-ma; (3) pray for Proin/Si-ma 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.

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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.