I have just returned from a ten-day trip to Cambodia, visiting with Newlife’s Acts 1:8 mission partners in the cities of Battambang and Poipet. It was a rich and rewarding time in a nation I have grown to love over my three journeys there.
Typical of much of South- East Asia, Cambodia is an experience in sensory overload – the colours, sounds, smells, sights, tastes. It’s a young nation – with more than 50% of the population aged 24 years or younger. The majority of the population still live in rural areas, surviving primarily as subsistence farmers. The average annual income in Cambodia is US$950 per year, and while infant mortality is improving, out of every 1000 births – 50 babies do not survive. By all measures, it is a ‘developing’ nation – with a myriad of health, social, economic – as well as spiritual challenges to address. The Christian population of Cambodia is around 2%.
The primary purpose of my visit was to teach at the Discipleship Training School (DTS) at the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) base in Battambang – Cambodia’s second largest city located in the north of the country. Our Acts 1:8 partners, Stu and Jo Herschel-Adair have been serving here for more than ten years – right through their 20’s. Stu and Jo met on base, got married and now have two beautiful boys – Azaria and Malachi. They are giving their lives to the people of Cambodia – seeing the nation transformed from the killing fields of Pol Pot to the harvest fields of the kingdom of God.
Stu coordinates the various schools hosted at the YWAM base, including DTS. DTS is a six-month immersive experience that helps participants grow in their knowledge, experience and service of God. I was speaking in just the second week of this DTS cohort, which included 16 Cambodians and 1 German student – all in their late teens or early twenties. My topic was ‘The character and nature of God’. Each day for five days I would speak, through a Khmer translator, for 3-5 hours. It was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. I have limited experience speaking through a translator, or even cross culturally – so it was a fantastic learning experience. I was deeply humbled by the student’s gracious attitude and hunger to learn. The YWAM base in Battambang was pioneered by a team of 6, including Stu, more than 10 years ago. It has just moved on to a new 10-acre site and now includes 70 staff, the majority Cambodian – many of them recent converts. Praise God!
While in Battambang I also had the opportunity to see and experience Jo’s ministry with Mother’s Journey, a pre and post-natal care ministry for mums at risk. Jo, a trained and experienced midwife, and a team of other health care professionals serve mums holistically for three months before and after birth, as well as assisting in the birth experience. I visited with Jo in two of the impoverished communities where she serves, sitting down and sharing with parents. One community is deeply impacted by drug addiction, the other by HIV-AIDS. This is mission real and raw, with no ‘quick fix’ solutions but with long term goal of seeing lives changed and communities transformed through a holistic presentation of the gospel. Thinking about Jo, her team and their work, moves me to tears.
In a separate post I will share about my time in Poipet with our Acts 1:8 mission partners there – Pastors Perlito and Rose – an amazing couple doing incredible work. For now, I want to simply thank God that Newlife gets to partner with Stu and Jo in Battambang. This is all privilege. Stu and Jo – let me appropriate the words of Paul’s words for the Philippians as our words for you – ‘We thank our God every time we remember you. In all our prayers for you, we always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-5)