This is officially my first blog post, so y'all buckle up and hold on. I used to think blogging was reserved for single, middle-aged men who still live with their parents....guess I'm starting to come around.
I want to share about my recent trip to Cambodia. This is not at all a story of the Americans flying in to save the day. This is the story of what God is doing through the local church in Cambodia. I believe it deserves to be retold for God's glory and the encouragement of the church. I recognize that this story may not have as profound an impact on you as it did me, as we actually had front row seats and were eyewitnesses to the advancement of the church in Cambodia...but I will try my best to do the story justice.
(Monk Sandwich: a rare species)
To give you a very brief background of Cambodia, this is a country that has been ravaged by poverty, disease, corruption, fear, and darkness. From 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge (a communist party) dominated Cambodia. More than 2 million Cambodians were killed (25% of the country) in an attempt to bring Cambodia back to its agrarian roots and rid the country of all things western. Pretty much anyone who was educated (every doctor, lawyer, teacher, politician) or defied the Khmer Rouge was killed. Needless to say, the country has never really recovered and is now wrought with sex trafficking, illegal logging, poverty, and disease. The predominant belief system is Buddhism, and the government has built temples in most villages. The Cambodian people are referred to as the Khmer people, and the country is divided into provinces, districts, and villages.
And here is where our story begins....Our team was composed of 10 people- 5 ER docs, 2 awesome wives, 1 nurse practitioner, 1 ER nurse, 1 medical student. The trip was led through Mission to the World, which is a Presbyterian ministry which has long term missionaries stationed throughout the world. We flew into Cambodia and were greeted by our host, Dale, who is a Pediatrician and has served with his wife in Cambodia for several years. Upon arrival (Saturday May 3), we were taken to a back alley in Phnom Penh (Cambodia's capitol) where we found the local church that we would be serving with throughout the week- Khmer Christian Church (KCC).
(walking into KCC)
KCC is a church that was founded in 2011, and is pastored by a man named Pastor Samath (affectionately referred to as Pastor Sam). Pastor Sam introduced himself, shared his vision for Cambodia, and handed out detailed itineraries for the week that he had created himself. In short, we would be traveling to 3 remote villages and holding 5 days of clinic. There were very specific reasons why we were going to these 3 villages- Khtaes, Preymean, Preythom. I'll take a little detour here to give more background on why we're going here...
I had the privilege of sitting next to Pastor Sam during a few meals throughout the week and made sure I heard his complete story and vision for these 3 villages. Pastor Sam came to trust in Christ after a life of politics, money, and eventually bankruptcy. He went to work for Campus Crusade for 6 years in Cambodia, raising all of his financial support. He led the first Campus Crusade "Church Planting" team. Pastor Sam met his wife through Campus Crusade, married her, and knew God was pulling them in a new direction. So he resigned from Campus Crusade and began praying for God to show them His will. He said he just wants to serve God because he knows the extent of His grace and love. They felt led to start KCC in 2011 in Phnom Penh. But they didn't just want to start a church. They wanted to spread the good news of Jesus' saving grace to those who had never heard it before, and plant other churches.
So Pastor Sam started the Khmer Christian Church, and began praying for guidance in what village to go to. He felt God leading him to the Kampong Speu province, where a former staff at Campus Crusade introduced him to Pastor Leng, another man who had a heart for spreading the gospel to unreached villages. They immediately realized that God had given them the same heart- despite pastoring their own individual churches in different towns. Pastor Sam told Leng he wanted to go to the poorest people, and he wanted to go to people who had not heard the gospel. He knew people in the Aoral mountains were isolated and no one really had access to them...or cared about them. Leng knew of the Khtaes village (a tribal village in the Aoral mountains who worship spirits and ancestors), so they made plans to go. So in 2011, they loaded up in a car and set out to reach the Khtaes village....however there was no road. The rainy season combined with the lack of road made it impossible to get to the Khtaes village at this time. So they turned around and went home, and they continued to pray for the village.
In 2013, a dirt road was built. So Pastors Sam and Leng loaded up once again and drove to the Khtaes village. They met with the village leaders to get their blessing to return back to Khtaes. On the way, they discovered a new village- Preymean. They felt a burden for this village which had been previously unknown to them. So they stopped and shared the gospel with 2 people. A second successful trip was made to Khtaes. On this trip, they stumbled upon another new village- Preythom. They felt a burden for this village. So they pulled over on the side of the road, prayed for them, and then continued on their way to Khtaes. On the way home, they stopped in Preythom and shared the gospel. 15 people gave their lives to Christ and a house church was born.
(the road leading to Khtaes village)
Hopefully this sets the stage for our week. On Sunday May 4, we had the privilege of attending church at Khmer Christian Church. It was a powerful experience to worship with this congregation of 35 Khmer, most of whom are very poor by our standards Although I didn't understand a word of Khmer, I could hear the passion, joy, and conviction in Pastor Sam's voice. Pastor Sam spoke about Jesus feeding the 5,000 and God providing manna for the Israelites in the wilderness. Somehow, I knew that this message resonated with these people, as they literally rely on God for their daily bread. It was a joy to see many impoverished Khmer putting their money into the "missions offering basket," which is going towards building a church in Preythom. I got chills when I heard the Khmer recite the Great Commission in their own language:
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
(church at KCC)
Our first two days were spent in Khtaes village. The village leaders were extremely excited to have us, and even gave up their homes for us to sleep in. In clinic, we saw 160 people. None of my patients had ever seen a doctor before. 160 people heard the gospel for the first time. We all attempted to communicate to our patients that God sent us here to help heal their bodies, but also to tell them about Jesus. We use medicine to help heal the body. However, all of our bodies will eventually die. We all need healing of our souls- which lasts forever. Only Jesus can heal our souls. We asked for permission to pray for our patients (which almost all agreed to), and then we told them that if they would like to know more about Jesus, we'd love for them to talk with our Khmer brothers who were manning the "evangelism tent." Most, if not all patients, found there way to Pastor Sam and our other evangelists.
(clinic at Khtaes village)
In all, 11 people said they prayed to receive Jesus as their Savior. And there were many more people who were interested and wanted to know more. Pastor Sam plans to return to continue sharing the good news in the village, with plans to start a church. The village leader has already promised Pastor Sam land to build a church. When asked about follow-up of those who became Christians or those who expressed interest, Pastor Sam's response was simple. "I'll come back and go to every person's house and talk to them. I have their names." Well, that works! He also plans to find a Christian Khmer family to move into the village to make disciples, help establish the church, and raise leaders in the village. It was at this point that I realized this was not a mission trip that ends on May 10. This is part of an ongoing day-to-day ministry that began with prayer in 2011. Our team felt very humbled and honored that we get to help pave the way for the local church. This is the whole purpose of short-term missions! To support the local church in furthering the Kingdom in a way that is real, authentic, and sustainable. As medical providers, it was a blessing to use medicine to serve the gospel- as this was a big part of the ministry of Jesus.
(our evangelism team at work)
(village boys playing with our dinner)
(we're not in Alabama anymore...)
One patient in particular stands out in my mind during our time in Khtaes. He was a man in his mid-60's who presented with fever, confusion, and vomiting for 10 days. He had a fever of 102 degrees, had a heart rate of 110, and he was altered (did not know his name). For those readers who speak the dialect known as medical jargon, he was septic and delirious with an unknown source of infection. (Given his history of having a black eschar on his chest that fell off, may have been typhus.) It did not look promising for this man. What he needed was an ICU. What we had to offer was antibiotics, water, tylenol, and prayer. So we gave him an antibiotic injection (IM Rocephin), tylenol, nausea medicine (Granisetron), had him pound water bottles, and started him on 2 oral antibiotics (Doxycycline and Augmentin). We were rather honest in telling the patient's sons he may not get better. We gathered around him as a team and prayed for him. We had Pastor Sam pray for him as well. We sent him home, with somewhat heavy hearts, unsure of what would come of him.
The next morning, I made my first house call. A group of us went to check on him at his house. He was lying on a table in the shade. He had normal vital signs, and appeared somewhat better. However, he was still confused. We prayed for him again, and instructed family to continue giving him antibiotics and have him drink plenty of water. On our way out of town that evening, we stopped by one more time to check on him. He was no longer confused and after speaking with Pharoum (a Khmer physician who worked with us), he said he wanted to pray to God and ask Christ to be his Savior! If this was the only good that came of this week, the trip across the globe was well worth it! Had we arrived a few days later, this man probably would have died without ever hearing the gospel. But God, in His Sovereignty, gave him a moment of clarity, revealed Himself to him, and welcomed him into His family for eternity. I don't know what has become of this man in the days to follow, but I know I will see him again one day....
(Khtaes village, in the Aoral Mountains)
The next day was spent at Preymean, where we saw approximately 120 people. The gospel was shared with everyone, and 40 people said they prayed to receive Christ as their Savior and many more were interested. Once again, we felt blessed to communicate to these people that while their physical needs brought them to our clinic, what they need more than medicine is spiritual healing.
(clinic at Preymean)
(evangelism tent at Preymean)
The last two days were spent at Preythom. Preythom is an interesting village, because it was only established in 2011. It is essentially the Cambodian projects, composed of 400 families. The government provided this land, and asked all the province leaders throughout Cambodia to select their poorest families to send here. These people are poor, marginalized, uneducated, and no one else really cares about them. These were obviously the poorest and sickest people that we saw. We saw many malnourished children, which was heartbreaking.
(kids at Preythom)
The clinic was held in the house church, so it was a beautiful thing to have the village drawn to this building. On day 1, we saw 160 adults and many children. The good news of Jesus was shared with all, and 66 become believers with many more interested. Praise God! Looks like the house church of 15 members is going to need a new place to meet!
(clinic/house church at Preythom)
(party of 5)
(obligatory baby pic)
The second day, we lost track of how many patients we saw and decisions made, but we probably saw at least 140 patients and the house church leaders reported much interest in the gospel. Preythom was a particularly cool experience because the house church leaders got to play an active role in evangelizing and sharing their vision for the church.
(the pastor/owner of Preythom house church)
KCC is currently raising money to purchase land and build a church, as well as a pastor's training center to equip pastors from surrounding villages. Pastor Sam has recognized the importance of providing sound biblical teaching as the churches that do exist in Cambodia are very shallow, and he has a passion to not only plant new churches but to strengthen the ones that exist.
This was truly an incredible week. Pastor Sam said that in addition to receiving good medical care, he could tell that the Khmer people were being loved by us. That was ultimately our goal- to love them, provide excellent medical care, and help the local church form relationships with them. Let me be very clear here. Our team did not come to Cambodia as a bunch of heroes. This is the story of a local church who is obeying the Great Commission, as they form relationships with the villages and spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. We were extremely humbled to be able to participate in their ministry and have an eye witness account of what God is doing through them.
Personally, I felt a renewed sense of calling that this is perhaps the greatest reason that I have been called to practice medicine- to serve the local church as they proclaim the good news of Jesus among the unreached people groups of this world.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?"
I'd like to thank all of you for your prayers. Every request was definitely answered. We had extremely smooth and safe travel, good health, and excellent team unity. I ask that you continue to lift up the following requests:
-Praise God for the mighty works he is doing through KCC and Pastor Samath.
-Ask Him to continue to do great things through this church and its leadership.
-Ask for continued growth of the house church at Preythom.
-Ask for the establishment of churches in Khtaes and Preymean.
-Ask that the Holy Spirit would continue to work in the hearts of those who received medical care and heard the good news of Jesus' saving grace.
(the best part about coming home...)