Christian group strives to improve the lives of rural Cambodians

Christian group strives to improve the lives of rural Cambodians
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SIEM REAP, Cambodia — Last month, a group from Methodist churches in the United States traveled to Cambodia as part of an outreach program targeting females, mainly in the countryside. Their main goals were to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to provide additional  education that is otherwise mostly out of the reach of rural Cambodians. The group was assisted in their project by a local translator.

One of the members of the delegation, Nancy Yarbourgh from Virginia, had previously been to Cambodia in 2013 along with three other members. “The group is the Virginia Conference United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. The goal of this team was to gather women together for fellowship and training,” explained Yarbourgh.

Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, Nancy and her group stayed for two days in the capital. After that, they went to the southern city and province of Sihanoukville. “We arrived [in Sihanoukville] on Monday and left on Saturday. Then we went to Siem Reap for two days and [then went] back to Phnom Penh.” During their trip, they stayed mainly in countryside villages outside of these cities.

Nancy went on to say that there are many more churches in this predominantly Buddhist country than may be expected. “The United Methodist church currently has 154 churches in Cambodia. I know there are Baptist and non-denominational churches as well. All of the Methodist churches are in rural villages. We are also building dormitories for the children to stay in so they can get an education. We have many Methodist schools in Cambodia, and we are also building a women’s center.”

Nancy stated that although Cambodia is 95 percent Buddhist, the people in the country have been very receptive to the message of the Gospel. “It has not been that difficult to bring Cambodians to Christ. They are very excited about this loving, living God we share with them. The people of Cambodia are very open and anxious to hear the gospel and share it with others.”

Although the primary focus of the group was to share their faith with the villagers, they also concentrated on educating people in many different areas that are especially relevant to this part of the world. “We trained in areas of leadership, human trafficking, roles of the women in church, community and society. … We also had classes on the environment and green initiatives.”

Nancy said that human empathy and mutual understanding helped the most while they were working in the countryside. “Our greatest success was teaching the women and letting them know that we are just like them. We [also] have problems, illness and heartache.”

She also said that although the time they had in Cambodia was short, they got a lot accomplished, and she was optimistic that in the future the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission would continue to make a positive impact on rural Cambodians. “We wanted to do so much more but most of our time was spent teaching the women, which was the focus of our group. I think [that with] time and the continued support of the many Conferences in the United States, [we] will make a difference in the lives of the people of Cambodia. That is my prayer; to end poverty and get the children educated.”

By Brett Scott

Cambodian villagers slowly edge closer to regaining homes – update

Cambodia villagers slowly edge closer to regaining homes - update
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SIEM REAP, Cambodia — Additional details have emerged regarding the ongoing military takeover of a rural Cambodian village that started over a month ago. The 562 families involved hope a court will allow them to return to their own land soon. In addition, one of the imprisoned villagers may be released in a matter of days.

The village of Phnom Tebang Bantay Srey, north of Siem Reap, has been undergoing a gradual military takeover due to a supposed lack of land deeds. Those documents have since reappeared and the villagers hope that this will be what they need to re-acquire their land.

According to the village’s primary spokesperson Solina, previously they would have been content with each of the families having 5 hectares of land returned to them. However, they would now be satisfied with 1 hectare each, as the villagers primary source of food is their own crops. In this case, “They’ve backed off and are remaining patient as they await further developments from the courts.”

Read more: Villagers in Cambodia kicked off land as military moves in

Solina says that she’s being sought by the police, primarily because she speaks English and can thus increase awareness of the villagers’ situation. However, she is not overly concerned for her individual safety. “They may threaten us with their guns, but they won’t shoot us. Here in Siem Reap they’re afraid of hurting us because of all the tourists.  They’d lose out on lots of business [if word of any violence were to get out].”

However, other villagers are more wary of the police presence and want to take things one step at a time. Not helping things, however, is that what news has gotten out has been negative. According to village leader Chirn, ”The radio station [Asia Free Radio] is saying that we were abusing our own land [having roadblocks set up and burning forest land]. Why would we do that?”

He also said that the government considers the land to be valuable and has slowly been edging the villagers off their land for years. “Starting around 2011, they [the military] have been taking our land, an acre at a time. They do it slowly so we don’t get too alarmed too quickly.”

Another reporter who has been involved in researching the situation and who spoke to The Speaker on condition of anonymity said that he was disappointed with the reaction of a human rights NGO in Phnom Penh. “After I didn’t get much of a response from LICADHO [the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights], I decided to go it alone and help as much as I could independently.” He continues to hope that gradually additional food and water will be able to get to the villagers, who at this time are cautious to return to their land.

On a positive note, one of the imprisoned villagers may be released within a few days, possibly as early as Jan. 28, as the courts review her case. “We just have to be patient,” says Solina. “One day we will get our land back and not have to worry anymore.”

By Brett Scott