Cambodia: building bridges to end spiritual poverty

Cambodia (MNN) — Despite economic growth in the last couple of decades, Cambodia continues to be one of the poorest countries in Asia. But, what would it look like to address not only the physical poverty in Cambodia, but the spiritual poverty as well?

Cambodia is a Buddhist dominant nation with nearly 90 percent of the people claiming that religion. Christianity accounts for just over one percent of the population . In this sense, Cambodia is a spiritually dark nation.
Hope: an answer to poverty
Last year, we introduced you to Tom Faunce, a missionary who is passionate about sharing the Gospel in war-torn countries like Cambodia (read some of his backstory here). Faunce is a longtime friend and distributor of World Missionary Press. Over the last several years, Faunce has established contacts on the ground and the Gospel sharing ministry continues to grow. In fact, the pastor he works with in the area has been overwhelmed by the number of young Christians who want to learn more about Jesus.

(Photo courtesy of Tom Faunce)

So, how has that happened? What Faunce has learned over the years is that often times, people aren’t interested in what you have to say if you can’t put action behind it. Simple acts of compassion can open the doors and let people know they are truly loved and cared for.

Faunce says, “We’ve made a tremendous inroad, mainly up in the highlands on the Vietnam border, not only with the Scripture booklets, [but also with] water wells which open up a tremendous amount of villages.”

On his most recent trip, Faunce brought over fifty pairs of shoes for children in the highlands area. He wasn’t sure how the distribution would go, considering that they hadn’t taken measurements of the children. But miraculously, each and every child found a pair of shoes that fit them.

On previous trips, he and his team have installed wells in villages, some of which house several women who became widows during Cambodia’s recent violent history.

(Photo courtesy of Tom Faunce)

Through gifts like these, Buddhist villages that were previously resistant to the Gospel have welcomed Faunce and local Christians into their community. They utilize a variety of Gospel sharing methods including the Jesus Film, child story posters, and audio books from the Bible Alliance to share the Word of God in the villagers’ language. Additionally, in Cambodia and beyond, Faunce has been able to saturate communities with Scripture booklets from World Gospel Mission.

Faunce believes the Gospel will be able to touch and heal some of the scars left over from the war. He says, “These are people that know what it is to suffer. And people respond to love.”

But it’s not just the Buddhist communities who are embracing the Gospel.
Ministering to the boat people
In more recent years, they’ve also been reaching out to a group of Muslim boat people who live on the river. Upon meeting some of the fishermen one early morning, he learned that the people had many needs, and so he gave them what money and Scripture booklets he had with him.

“I started going back and ended up befriending them. We started bringing the tremendous amount of needs they had.”

(Photo courtesy of Tom Faunce)

Many of the families slept under torn tarps, and Faunce helped them get new ones. Others were boiling grass for food, and so Faunce and his co-laborers helped to get them some rice. These acts of compassion have built a bridge between him and the boat people.

“Every trip, I’ve been going back and when I go there, they just come up and just respond. They hug us and just know that we love them. And that’s the Gospel, that you be a testimony to them and serve them.”

But, Faunce says, wherever you go with the Gospel, you will face resistance. In this case, the opposition came in the form of fear. Many of the people Faunce spoke with accepted the Scripture booklets and read them, but would hide them from the rest of the community. The religious leadership was strict, and they could get in trouble for reading the Scripture. But as time went on, the people opened up to hear more about Jesus. And this, Faunce says, is the main thing.

“We can do a lot of good things — wells, feedings, clothing — but if we’re not giving the Word of God, that’s a band-aid on cancer. The answer is Jesus Christ.”

In both the villages in the highlands and the community on the river, Faunce continues to share the Gospel and witness the change it is making in Cambodia. Even so, he says he doesn’t try to count the number of people responding. “God knows,” he says. “The important thing is to reach out, [and] begin to establish a fellowship with them.”

(Photo courtesy of Tom Faunce)

In between trips, a young couple Faunce has made friends with continues the outreach to both the boat people and the villages in the hills.

“And that’s our goal, is to continually show up and love them. And the Bible says some plant, some water, but He alone brings the increase.”

Check back in later to learn about Faunce’s upcoming trip to Africa and how you can be praying. In the meantime, if you’d like to support this work, consider partnering with World Missionary Press. This ministry supplies missionaries like Faunce with free Scripture booklets so they can share the Gospel wherever they go. Click here for more information.

He says, “It is such a tremendous blessing to have ministries such as World Missionary Press that provide the Word.”

And will you pray? Ask God to bless this ministry, to provide the leadership to lead new Christians, and to change Cambodia from a broken country to one transformed by the Gospel.