by Dr. Edward Kettner
On Friday afternoon, January 8, the group flew from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is the site of the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. The earliest of these temples were built in the 12th century, during the time Hinduism was the chief religion of Cambodia. The temples reflect the stories in the Hindu writing known as the Ramayana. We spent Saturday touring the various temple sites, going from one to another by tuktuk, looking at the unusual buildings and carvings. This tour helped us to increase our understanding of the religious background of the region, though the current predominant religion in Cambodia is Buddhism.
On Sunday we went by bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, a journey of about six hours. On Sunday evening we attending worship at a local congregation, with the service being led by an LCMS missionary stationed in Cambodia, and with Dr. Harms preaching the sermon. On Monday morning we took a van to a village about 80 kilometers outside of Phom Penh, where we met members of the congregation, particularly the children of the congregation, along with the pastor and deaconess who serve them. The children of the community greeted us with a short play, acting out the story of the Good Samaritan for us. We were told that because Christianity has come to this village the incidence of alcoholism and domestic violence is far less than it is in other villages. Though there is a strict male-female hierarchy in the society, it is the women who are strongest in their gospel proclamation. The deaconesses bring the faith to the women in the villages, and by their influence their husbands also come to know Christ. In this particular village the pastor has moved to a Lutheran understanding of the faith because of the work of the deaconesses. Pictures attached show the students in dialogue with the people of the village, and the Pastor, his wife, his daughter, and others.
Seminary classes began Monday afternoon, taking place at a guest house near the Phnom Penh airport. The class contains both pastors and deaconesses, who are all eager learners. Once again, the Edmonton students each took part in leading one of the class sessions. They find in a challenge to work through a translator and to make sure that what they teach can be understood by those coming from a Cambodian culture. When the class as part of their devotions one day sang “Jesus Loves Me” in the Khmer language, it really brought home the fact that the good news of Jesus is meant for people of all nations. Attached pictures show some of the deaconesses in classes, students teaching the class, and the entire class along with the Edmonton students.
During the week, the students also had the opportunity to to visit the infamous “Killing Fields,” where many people had been put to death by the followers of Pol Pot, who had attempted to reinstate a completely rural agrarian society in Cambodia through the “re-education” and murder of anyone deemed to be an “intellectual.” This sobering experience showed them the depths of human corruption that Christ came to redeem us from. They also visited the church at the city dump, again seeing how people in terrible poverty are nevertheless able to worship God with dignity.