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 …
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.