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Cambodian Baptists regaining generational unity

JONESBORO, Ga. (BP) — Seang Yiv has been part of the Cambodian Southern Baptist Fellowship for nearly 30 years, but he’s never heard a prayer quite like the one shared by Timothy Sieng at the fellowship’s recent meeting.

“He expressed his love for his parents and grandparents — and his desire for people in his generation to be reconciled and to work in partnership with the older generations of Cambodian Baptists,” Yiv said.

“It was the most powerful prayer I’ve ever heard at one of our fellowship meetings. I was in tears as I listened to him.”

The prayer came more than a decade after a division between the fellowship’s first-generation and second-generation split the group and led to most of the younger participants not returning. The fellowship had been trying to rebuild its youth participation since that time. Reconciliation between the older and younger Cambodians was important, Yiv said, because many of the group’s older participants are dying off.

As Cambodian Southern Baptists gathered to fellowship, worship together and learn from one another, they focused on the theme of reconciliation during their June 26-29 meeting at Poston Road Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga.

Sieng, 22, has attended the fellowship’s meetings since he was a child and understands the unique needs of younger and older members to be reconciled. He had seen frustrations on both sides.

“I desire what the Lord desires,” Sieng said. “Since He desires reconciliation, that’s something I prayed for, in general, but in that specific moment for the older Cambodian people and the younger Cambodian people to be reconciled. I was just expressing that to the Lord.”

Caleb Soch, who serves as the director of the next generation for the fellowship, said the message of reconciliation at the fellowship’s meeting was important for first- and second-generation participants.

“If we don’t have unity, we’ll be out of order,” said Soch, who pastors Christ Cornerstone Church in Long Beach, Calif. “It’s important that the first- and the second-generation come to a point where we move forward from our differences and move toward the actual plan and the calling God has for our group.”

As part of the fellowship, attendees participated in a variety of workshops to strengthen churches and help participants grow. For example, Yiv taught a workshop on memorizing the Bible.

“I knew it was important for our people to be anchored in the Word more deeply and take root in the Lord,” Yiv said. “Many Cambodians, the older generation especially, don’t memorize the Bible. The Bible teaches we should hide God’s Word in our hearts in Psalm 119:11. My presentation gave them four or five methods for retaining more verses in the Bible. This way, even when we meet people on the street, we’ll be able to recite those verses as we share the Gospel.”

For Sieng, participating in the fellowship has been an encouragement. Though he enjoys gathering with any group of believers, it’s a unique opportunity to worship and fellowship with other Cambodian Baptists.

“I think it’s something you don’t get anywhere else, just to be around that many Cambodians,” Sieng said. “Just to be immersed in that culture, to be able to eat the food every day, to be able to relate to people in a way that you can’t really relate to your Caucasian or African American or Hispanic friends, is a great experience.”

The Cambodian Southern Baptist Fellowship, now encompassing 35 to 40 churches, began in 1985. Many of the first Cambodian churches in Southern Baptist life started in the 1980s as Cambodians moved to North America after the Khmer Rouge regime was overthrown in 1979 after having killed more than 2 million people since 1975.

“The Cambodian Fellowship is just a tiny group of believers, smaller than most Asian fellowships within the SBC,” Yiv said. “However, she is precious in the eyes of the Lord. Yet, the bonds between us are very strong. Strong because we are all victims of the Killing Fields, going through similar sufferings, hungers, hard labors, and everyone losing a lot of family members.”

The Cambodian Killing Fields represent the large mass graves throughout the country where victims of the Khmer Rouge were buried.

In 2005, Yiv and his wife donated land in Macon, Ga., to the Cambodian Southern Baptist Fellowship to build “The Blessing Field,” a place for the Cambodian Southern Baptist Fellowship to meet and to remind future generations of the suffering experienced by that first generation of Cambodian immigrants.

“I thought it would impact the young people, the next generation especially,” Yiv said. “It would be a place where they could remember the killing fields, for them to remember the suffering of the parents and for the place to really document the past tyranny that occurred in Cambodia. It would also highlight the grace of God, that He kept us alive with our children.”

Yiv said after they donated the land, the fellowship picked the name, “Blessing Field,” because they felt they were blessed that God had given them a second chance in a country of freedom.

“It’s just a name, but it represents something important in our hearts,” he said.

Yiv said The Blessing Field is in need of some repairs to comply with city codes, which is why the fellowship couldn’t meet there this year. He’s praying that God would send some Southern Baptists to help with the repairs. They’d also like to expand the property so that more people can visit The Blessing Field.

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  • Tobin Perry