SBC Life Articles

Land Mine Victim Leads Ministry to Other Amputees

Land mines are everywhere in Cambodia, and so are their unsuspecting victims. Stepping on a land mine usually means losing more than a limb. It often means losing job, home, and family as well. It sometimes means losing hope.

"Because they are disabled, they think they are useless with a meaningless life," said Iv Vanna Rith. "They are concerned about their living every day."

Rith, executive secretary of the Khmer Baptist Convention, knows what it is to survive as a land mine victim. A small land mine blew off his left leg just beneath the knee. Unable to support his wife, he lost her. But unlike many land mine victims, Rith did not lose hope.

"I have testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ who died on Calvary on the cross for us, for everybody, and on the third day, Jesus rose," Rith said.

Rith has been taking that testimony to other disabled land mine victims in Phnom Penh, so they, too, might have hope.

One key worker with Cooperative Services International (CSI), the Southern Baptist humanitarian aid agency, prayed that a handicapped Christian like Rith would come forward to impact land mine victims for Jesus Christ.

"Many have lost wives. They have no means of being able to support themselves. They have no house. They have no food," the CSI worker said. "Rith is able to identify with these people and minister to them effectively."

Rith learned the Scriptures while living in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand from 1981-89. There he discovered the importance of prayer.

"I had nothing for food, nothing. When I was in starvation, I started to pray again to God. Two days after my prayer that we would have food, they brought food to the Thai border camp," Rith said.

When Rith returned home to Phnom Penh, he brought nothing but his Thai Bible with him. He eventually began attending Russey Keo Baptist Church. There he received his calling to the ministry and began to pray for God's direction.

In 1995 he accepted a job surveying the handicapped for CSI. "While he was conducting the survey on felt needs, personal biography and other details about their receptivity to the good news of Jesus Christ, there were twenty-nine handicapped who made professions of faith during that three-month period," the CSI worker said.

Because disabled people could access it easily, the base of a Buddhist temple high on a hill was chosen as a worship place for these new believers. Rith preached his first sermon there Nov. 4, 1995, to thirty-one amputees.

Since that first meeting, about 100 people have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior just as Rith, 36, did when he was 28. Rith baptizes the new Christians only after they understand the commitment to Christ that baptism symbolizes. He has baptized eleven physically handicapped Christians and one of their spouses.

"There were limbs. There were crutches, just everything along the river bank. They would take (their prosthetic devices) off and then swim out to be baptized," the CSI worker said. "One man had both legs missing. We just picked him up and kind of set him in the water, and he made his way over to where he was baptized. It was just awesome."

The "church" Rith started at the foot of Wat Phnom now meets in six groups throughout the city. Rith meets with each group about twice a week, once for discipleship training and once for worship. On his own time, the CSI worker trains and assists Rith.

God also has used Rith to impact the life of another handicapped Christian man who has been called by God as an evangelist to others who are disabled.

"The man Rith has been personally discipling went on his own to a district where we have no existing churches and began to do some evangelism," the CSI worker said. "On his first encounter to the area, he had nine professions of faith. Well, in a month, they had about twenty-one decisions. There's a little pocket of believers that's meeting in this location now."

Rith, who also administers a small loan program funded by CSI to help handicapped people get established in small business, sees his ministry as a gift from God. "As Jesus has given us hope, we want to give them hope," he said.

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