Prior to this was a post about a ‘little’ church in Battambang. It was a little church the last time we visited it. But today it is nearing 2016 and it has changed ~ a lot. Read on ~~~
It all began one day in Battambang at Trinity Lutheran Church. We were in the last semester of our time in Indonesia due to visa complications between the government and the university for many who were living and working on campus. We knew our last semester of teaching would be at the end of 2010 and then we would be returning to the US. Already many others had departed before us, to Vietnam, to Macau, to Papua. We were joining those ranks in our own exit. Even the president of the university was outbound at some point in the future. He and his family were heading back to the west coast of the US.
We had no idea where God wanted us to go. We visited friends in Bangkok, a family in Macau, and some former students in Taiwan. Each would have welcomed us we were sure, but it had to be where He wanted us to land next.
So then there was Cambodia, snuggled up next to Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. At a request of someone we had met in Indonesia who had been sent to Banda Aceh and then to Cambodia. We headed that way over a week’s break at school and were given a very whirlwind tour of the country. Honestly, we had no intent of returning to this ‘unknown’ in our minds. But God had other plans for us.
Fast forward and it is now at the end of 2015. We have been in the country for 7 weeks now. And today, Sunday the 20th, we are celebrating Christmas in Battambang at Trinity Lutheran Church where it all began back in 2015. Pastor Kosal is still the pastor of this church. I think we could consider it somewhat a church in the jungle as its by far not near the center of Battambang. It takes a few lefts and rights to get near the church and then because of the short narrow roads at the end, we must hike the rest of the way on foot.
This has not changed. Neither has the appearance of the church compound as we enter. I look around and it is just as I remember it. The buildings are solid, the yard is cleaned up, the exterior of the buildings aren’t worn out, and the same courtyard of that long ago is still is being used and is congested with young guys playing soccer of some sort.
There is a manger scene under a makeshift creche outside the church and outside the door on the platform is a decorated Christmas tree. Around the yard are paper decorations, sort of a cut out stencil sort of thing, plus a million balloons. I hope more than one person did all of those balloons.
The school has not changed either. There are still three classrooms and had it not been for the meals that were being served last night and today the desks would have still been inside those three rooms. The porch outside the school is till intact and very welcoming to the yellow walls of the exterior of the building.
This time I found the toilets and while they are of the usual squatty type, there is an adequate number of them to serve the community.
The community. It is congested with men, women, and children all over the area between the school and church. For your first time readers, the complex is a defined square, with the church on the horizontal part of an L, with the school on a vertical section from that. The gate and the play area have not moved. Everything here is enclosed by fencing and a bolted gate. Additionally, I am escorted to Kosal’s home and find that there is a path between the church and his home that has evidence of travel of many times. Their is also a good white van in the drive with the church name and logo on it. That sure gets some good use I’m sure.
Enough said about the physical features of this compound, which, if I have dialogued correctly, you will believe does not have many changes from 2010 and 2015.
What impacted us on this visit though was the growth of the church, or maybe it was the spirit of this congregation that I should phrase it. This wasn’t an ‘old’ church or a ‘young’ church, but it was an ‘everyone church.’ I was impressed and encouraged how this flock now has leadership, a solid foundation of people who are standing up and are involved in this church. This includes both men and women. Additionally, we see teens and early 20’s people hanging out, investing their time and their lives into this place. I pulled back my files to that time five years ago and I can imagine that some of those kids who were just young kids then were now the very ones I was looking at.
Mind you, the Christmas program and service lasted a tad over three hours Sunday morning. No fans, no AC, just the breeze thru the grated windows to keep us cool. I didn’t notice much in the way of anything uncomfortable and from the actions of the locals in the audience of over 200 (at least) no one was in and out of their chairs for fear that they would miss any of the service. I could easily see why.
There is now a praise and worship band in this church. Loud, drummy, full of life. It reminded me of a long time ago with our VISA church in Saginaw, MI. That band was really loud too.
There is now an active youth group who performed many times over during the morning, both in dance, and in song. Hands up, eyes focused upward, strong voices, and a definite stand to share their faith.
The adult choir sang out their hearts of joy.
The kids performed dance and did movements to American songs that you and I would know, but that they had borrowed to share their Jesus as well.
Pastor Kosal did the sermon. He used no notes, engaged his congregation with his movements and his eyes and smile. His gestures signaled in his feeling during the presentation of his words of praise, encouragement, and lessons. Great inflection.
Four points of his sermon are: (translated to us by Pastor Singe) from the book of John
1- All men live in sin. We love God but we are in sin.
2-We are burdened. We deserve our burden because we live in sin.
3-We can’t solve the problem because it becomes so far down. With no hope or if hopeless this is of all men.
4-We worship too many gods, but we have only ONE God. Because we are sinners, we will have burdens, sickness, and it will all come to us.
At the close of the service a special gift was given to a special someone. His mom, who is 87 years young as I write this. She is obviously frail, but stands strong next to her son Kosal this day and time, and has done so from the beginning. He hands her a decorated box which she accepts graciously.
Yes, she is a Jesus believer. I don’t know for how long, but as I looked at her today, I was reminded of grandparents of all of us, wherever they had grown up or come from in their lives, and what they had seen and struggled thru to get to this point, for her son. And His Son.
She has one wish, and one wish only for him. She echoes that she still wants him to be married. Everyone knows that and has known that for a very long time. He just smiles, as always.
As a post note to our visit, Kosal had no idea we were back in Cambodia. So as I walked toward him, the look on his face was priceless. A mix of emotions and respect rank high on that point. It was obvious to me that he didn’t know what to do first, but then after the traditional khmer address, he wrapped his arms around me and with a huge sigh said “Welcome back; I had no idea. This is a wonderful surprise to me. Thank you.” As I stepped back to look at him, he struggled with tears in his eyes that he had to blink back into himself.
And Pastor Kosal, we see a wonderful surprise today as well. A church in the jungle, a growing church, an active church. A church that is obviously sharing Jesus outside the fence. Thank you for your faithful service to our Father.