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Faith sprouts in floating Cambodian village

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support more than 5,600 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the Gospel overseas. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. The 2009 Lottie Moon offering theme is “Who’s Missing, Whose Mission?” It focuses on overcoming barriers to hearing and accepting the Gospel in various parts of the world and the mission that the Great Commission gives all Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations.” The 2009 Week of Prayer for International Missions is Nov. 29-Dec. 6. To find resources about the offering, go to imb.org/offering.

KBAL TAOL, Cambodia (BP)–David* never imagined he’d use ghosts as a way to share the Gospel.

A Christian worker in Cambodia, David was surveying floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and was in need of a boat and driver. Andrew,* whom David had led to Christ 18 months earlier, agreed to take the job.

It was on one of these survey trips to the village of Kbal Taol that David met Tim*. The two began to talk of spiritual things, and David gave Tim a Bible. After several more visits, Tim invited David and Andrew to dinner in his home. Before they arrived, Andrew gave David some advice.

“The way you talk about God is good, but it would be better to start differently,” Andrew said.

“How should I start?” David asked.

“You need to talk about ghosts,” he replied.

“Ghosts? Why ghosts?”

“Because the people here are afraid of ghosts,” Andrew said. “They need to know that this Creator God is more powerful than ghosts.”

The close-knit community of Kbal Taol is home to approximately 350 Vietnamese families and 450 Khmer (Cambodian) families. It is two hours by boat from the nearest town — Siem Reap in northern Cambodia. Although some residents may claim Buddhism, the predominant religion, most live in fear of spirits they believe can cause harm.

It is difficult for Vietnamese to get land rights in Cambodia, so most choose to live on the water. Since the majority of the men are fishermen, living on the water means they are closer to their work. They go out at night to drop their nets and collect them early the next morning. The women spend their days harvesting fish from the nets. The fish then are taken to Siem Reap to sell.

“The Vietnamese who live on the water are different from those who live on the land,” David said. “They are more community and family oriented. If a mother dies in childbirth, the entire community will take care of the baby. They will share their food with each other when food is scarce.”

The children attend school, which Tim teaches, or help with fishing during peak season. Instead of riding their bicycle to visit a neighborhood friend, children as young as 6 or 7 hop in a boat and paddle next door or down the “street” to see their friends.

Until 2008, no one in this village had ever heard the story of Jesus.

But that changed the night David and Andrew arrived at Tim’s house for dinner.

Tim had invited a few neighbors to join them, including Andrew’s father, who lived next door. After dinner, the talk turned to spiritual things. Tim had begun reading the Bible David gave him and had many questions.

“Tim and I had been talking for about three hours, and the other men were falling asleep,” David said. “Then about 9 o’clock Andrew pulled me aside.”

“Now is the time to talk about ghosts,” Andrew told him.

So David began a discussion about ghosts by sharing the story of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16. He explained that ghosts are not spirits of the dead but rather fallen angels and evil spirits sent out from Satan.

“The men woke up,” David laughed. “[Now] they were paying close attention.”

At midnight, however, the visitors left to get some sleep before their early morning fishing trip. But Tim still had questions.

Finally, Tim asked David, “Now, tell me how someone can become a child of God.”

David explained the Gospel, and Tim prayed to receive Christ. It was 3 a.m.

“That is the longest visitation I’ve ever had,” David said with a smile.

Tim says life is better since he trusted in Christ.

“I [still] teach children … [but now] every day I pray and ask God to help me….”
*Names changed. Tess Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board.

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  • Tess Rivers