Hot season news
Stung Treng Bible school
On April 1, the Stung Treng Bible school completed its fourth one-day session, with more than fifty students in attendance. For me, the most exciting part is that about 80% of them are completing the Bible reading/listening assignments each month. The assignment consists simply of reading approximately ten chapters of the Bible twice (an average of just five chapters per week). But for many of our students, this is no mean accomplishment when you consider Cambodia’s recent history and the challenges facing the education system here. To find someone who is a reader (of any kind of material) is rare, and new Christians naturally bring these habits (or lack thereof) into the church. Add the now-omnipresent magic screen to the mix, and the challenge is formidable. So we spend a fair amount of our energy exhorting and encouraging our students to put down their phones, pick up their Bibles, and just read (or listen, as a number of our students are not yet literate).
Please pray for these brother and sisters.
- Pray for strength to persevere in forming this fundamental habit.
- Pray that they would see much fruit for their labors of reading.
- Pray that our sessions together in which we teach through the assigned passages would itself be a satisfying reward for their labor.
Ratanakiri Pastors Institute
Next week (April 9-12), I will travel two hours east to join my Ratanakiri teammates in teaching Romans 9-11 to seventy church leaders from around the province. Pray for these students also, as they have been fulfilling their own reading requirements (through a very difficult passage of Scripture, at that). Pray that the Lord would meet with both students and teachers, and that these truths regarding the ways and means of God would do for us all, just what they did for Paul, namely, rouse us to reverent worship of our God. Finally, pray for stamina for everyone. Hot season is upon us, so we are slogging our way through some sultry afternoons.
Genuine faith in Na Ong village
Last week, at the urging of a teammate, I finally began reading Methods of Mission Work, by John Nevius, who served in nineteenth-century China for over thirty years. Writing on the consequences of foreign funds in missions, Nevius says,
The general opinion of the Chinese concerning the motive of one of his countrymen who is preaching a “foreign religion,” is that it is a mercenary motive. When he learns that the national preacher is in fact paid by foreigners, he is confirmed in his judgment. What the motive is which compels the FOREIGN MISSIONARY, (a motive so strong that he is willing to waste life and money in what seems a fruitless enterprise) the Chinese is left to imagine. The most common explanation … is that it is a covert scheme for buying adherents with a view to political movements opposed to the state. Of course it is assumed that no loyal national would have anything to do with such a movement. If the Chinese is told that this enterprise is prompted by disinterested motives, and intended for the good of his people, he is incredulous. Simple professions and protestations have little weight with him, in comparison with his own interpretation of facts. Observing that in some of our stations only those who are employed and paid, remain firm in their adherence to the foreigner, while not a few of the others fall back, his opinion is still further confirmed.
The day after reading this, I learned, unsolicited, of the following conversation between Von, the man who hosts our weekly evangelistic meetings at his home, and a Buddhist (we’ll call him Don) he met in a nearby village:
Von: I believe in the God of the Bible.
Don: (interestedly): Oh. So what do you get for believing?
Von: We don’t get anything.
Don: (incredulously): I’ve known other people who believed too. One of them got rice; one got money; another got a job. So, what do you get? What do they give you at your meetings?
Von: (contentedly): Just the Bible. That’s our only reason for meeting each week.
After three years together, our small group (6-10 adults plus lots of kids) has come to realize (happily so) that all we really have to offer them is the Bible. My heart is overflowing with joy. Pray that God would give us more like Von, and pray for the many like Don, that they would think seriously on Von’s simple testimony: “all we get is the Bible.”
While I’m making book recommendations …
In March, Bonnie Ruth and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary with three nights in a small hotel in the next province south. Together we read By Searching, the spiritual autobiography of Isobel Kuhn. Three weighty takeaways for us:
1. This book is for young people, particularly college students. It chronicles events beginning in the 1920’s, but it often has the relevance you’d expect from an contemporary apologetics blog helping students maintain their faith in a hostile university environment.
2. This book is for parents, particularly parents whose children are fighting to keep—or in Kuhn’s case, losing—their faith. Basically, Isobel Kuhn had a praying father, who also enlisted all his friends to pray for and encourage her. And God answered.
3. This book is for Christians who want encouragement and guidance in their personal disciplines of Bible reading and prayer.
Stung Treng Bible school begins + Na Ong update
The Stung Treng Bible school is off to a wonderful beginning, with the January and February sessions now behind us. My colleagues and I forecasted an initial burst of students—around 30—that would eventually taper off to a steady 15 who would be with us through the entire two-year program. So we were somewhat surprised by the 50 who showed up in January, then 60 for the February session! So whenever this tapering begins, we have a nice cushion to work with!
More importantly, the initial feedback from our students has been positive, and it seems that our efforts are meeting a strongly felt need here. That high turnout also reflects something of an ad hoc adjustment of our goals for the program. Our original ideal was a program to equip pastors to better serve their churches. But given the fine line between clergy and laity—in not a few cases, a village church consists of an extended family in which the de facto pastor is whoever came to Christ last year, rather than last week—as well as the currently unmet need for those “lay” Christians to know the Bible, we’ve opened the program for anyone who is committed to putting in the work.
Thus far, we’ve overviewed the entire Bible via the lives of six key characters (can you guess which ones?), introduced basic Bible study (including how to use a dictionary and recognize a command sentence), and introduced the first six questions of the New City Catechism.
A particular joy for me has been to have Gloria and Eden join us as students. In the afternoon sessions, Gloria has also been teaching literacy to our students who cannot yet read.
Thank you for your prayers. Please continue. For the students: pray that they will be faithful in developing daily habits of Bible reading and prayer; pray that they will understand our lessons. For us as teachers: pray for strength and time to be prepared each month, and for wisdom to present the material in a way that is accessible for our students. Ultimately, pray for churches that are grounded firmly and deeply in the Bible as their ultimate source of authority and direction and as their daily sustenance.
Update on Na Ong
The church plant in Na Ong continues. Here are some ways to pray:
- Pray for Proin and Si-ma, our missionary partners in Na Ong. Pray for their spiritual sustenance. Apart from my weekly visits with them, opportunities for Christian fellowship and spiritual nourishment are rare. We’re thrilled that they are studying in the Bible school. Pray for their continued language acquisition. Pray for their children Hadassah and Barnabas.
- Pray for those who listen faithfully, that the Word would bear fruit leading to eternal life.
- Pray that others in this village will hear, both through us and through the mouths of those who are attending regularly.
- Pray for more laborers. Specifically pray that God will stir the hearts of the few Lao-speaking Christians we know to give themselves to the task of reaching the Lao with the gospel.
A Bible study program for church leaders in Stung Treng Province!
One of our primary goals in moving to Stung Treng in 2016 was to teach the Bible to church leaders in this province. For the past year and half, I’ve been working closely with two fellow missionaries to develop a program suitable for our Cambodian audience. This Saturday, January 7 is the inaugural session. Over the next two years, our goal is to meet once each month to (1) summarize the entire Bible, (2) introduce basic theology, and (3) introduce basic Bible reading and study skills.
This program is an answer to many years of prayer and labor. So join us in praising God for what he is doing. Second, please continue praying with us. For me and my fellow teachers, pray that we would communicate clearly to our students. For our students, pray that they will grow in their love for God and his word, in their commitment to Scripture as their guide for faith and practice, and in their ability to minister the word in the churches that they serve.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 …
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.”
“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.
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.