Reaching Students, Growing Leaders

By Susan Fikse, May 25, 2015

In Cambodia buckets crackle with fire in front of people’s homes filled with "spirit money" burnt as an offering to ancestors. The fire holds a family’s hope that the dead will be appeased and bring good fortune to their living relatives.

But Kosal’s mom was not experiencing good fortune—she was sick. And she was convinced that Kosal’s evangelistic visit to the village had angered the spirits.

Corey Young, MTW missionary in Phnom Penh, said Kosal takes enthusiasm for his Christian faith to extraordinary heights. Kosal came from his rural village to the city to attend university and moved into dorms hosted by Gospel Commission Fellowship (GCF), one of the first churches MTW missionaries partnered with in Phnom Penh. Shortly thereafter Kosal became a Christian, bursting with eagerness to share his faith.

"On his own initiative, Kosal organized a small group to go to his Buddhist village and share the gospel," said Young. For the trip, Kosal prepared special food and songs and enlisted a national believer to share the gospel.

His mom was sick during the visit, and afterward her health worsened. Kosal’s family blamed him. They said he had angered the spirits with his belief in Jesus. When Kosal’s mom came to Phnom Penh for medical treatment, the church and MTW team provided financial assistance for a Christian medical clinic and a room in the church where she could stay. Her health improved, and before she returned to her village Young was able to pray with her. The support Kosal received from the body of Christ encouraged his growing faith. And the church community was encouraged by Kosal’s report a month later: "My family is not angry at me and my mom is praying on her own."

Preparing the next generation

With 50 percent of Cambodia’s population under age 25, students—the majority of whom are Buddhist—move to Phnom Penh in vast numbers each year to attend university. Since universities don’t provide housing, students arriving from the countryside often face deplorable living conditions. Churches seized this opportunity by opening dorms to welcome students, provide safe places to live, and minister to the next generation of Cambodian leaders.

"You feel like you are at a crossroads with the future," said Young. Because the Khmer Rouge decimated the population of Cambodia in the 1970s, Young explained that calling these students the leaders of the future is not just a cliché, it’s a reality. "We have a great opportunity to be part of what God is doing in pushing back the darkness and bringing more light—in the workplace, in the government sector, and in people’s homes."

A native Cambodian, nicknamed "Jimmy," who moved to Phnom Penh four years ago for university, is one of those future leaders in the Cambodian Church. Right now Jimmy serves in the men’s dorm operated by GCF. Located above the church’s worship space and housed in a former brothel, the dorm hosts over 60 men. "Most of the students here do not believe in Jesus yet …," said Jimmy. "I heard the gospel because someone told me. It is my pleasure to have the students here and show them who Jesus is and why we believe in Him."

Jimmy’s heart for students arose out of his own story of coming to faith. "I was a person who was very selfish, had hatred inside my heart, jealous … [I was] so bad. No love," Jimmy confessed. "When I first came to the church … I was loved by them even though they were not my relatives or my friends …," he said. "It changed me day by day. Two years after that I got baptized. I realized God is real and He is true …."

Ministering in the dorm, Jimmy said he can relate to the students because he has been right where they are. He shares words of encouragement from the Scriptures during the dorm’s weekly Bible study and fellowship gatherings. "I was touched by the words of God and I know that many people will be touched by the words through the Holy Spirit."

The eagerness of new believers to share their faith and get involved with the local church amazed Emily Whitley, another MTW missionary who works at the GCF women’s dorm. "College is a time when you may give yourself a ‘free pass’ to not be involved with the local church. [These students] feel the opposite. They make such an effort," she said. Going to nearby slums, traveling to villages, and working with short-term teams, the students continually impress Whitley with their maturity. "They want to discover their gifts and use them for the church," she said.

Although they may have never imagined it, these future leaders are already being used by God to take the gospel message to their families and people across Cambodia. "I never [thought] that one day I would become a pastor. But I just devote myself to God," Jimmy said. "And what God’s will is, I will follow."

Watch the full interview with Jimmy on Vimeo.

Update 06/01/15: We just received word that Kosal’s mom passed away. Though she will have an outwardly Buddhist funeral, she did become a Christian prior to her death so there is reason to rejoice. Please pray for Kosal and the family.

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