Cambodian Connection

March 06, 2012

More than four months of construction, three years of planning and $40,000 of fundraising culminated Oct. 2 in the dedication of the new Samreth Methodist Church in Cambodia, as congregants from churches throughout Kampong Thom Province gathered to celebrate with their supporters and partners in ministry from First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge.

Nine members of the Baton Rouge United Methodist Church traveled to Cambodia to witness the dedication as emissaries from their home congregation, which donated $35,000 to construct the new church. Team leaders Judy Foust and Cooky Coffy helped cut the ribbon to mark the official church opening.
 
The day was full of excitement as 300 Methodist church members from across the province gathered to sing hymns, watch traditional Khmer dances, eat a fellowship meal together, and most importantly, pray for the future of the new building and its congregants.
 
The new building sits on land donated by GBGM missionaries Marilyn and Joseph Chan as well as U.S. supporter Barbara Aitken.
The building measures over 1,700 square feet, including space for a pastor’s office and a music room. The sanctuary itself takes up the bulk of the three-room church and can hold upwards of 300 people.
 
The new sanctuary was filled to capacity for its first official service on Oct. 2, as the crowd of members from Samreth and other area churches, along with curious spectators, clapped and sang to the rhythm of favorite Khmer hymns played on traditional Cambodian instruments — the roneath, khum, and trouh. The sounds of plucking and strumming, drumming and clapping resonated off the tile floors and walls as the congregation’s musicians used their gifts to consecrate the building.
 
The children and youth of the church contributed their talents to the dedication ceremony, with children singing a special song and the youth performing several traditional Khmer dances, complete with ornate costumes befitting such an occasion. Many of the youth participating in the dances stand to benefit from the church’s newest ministry, which its partners are facilitating in conjunction with the new church building.
 
In addition to financing the church and parsonage, First UMC in Baton Rouge also raised funds to support the construction of a youth dormitory that will allow students studying at the high school next door to the church — the only school around for kilometers — to lodge at the school during the week.
 
The scheme facilitates’ the youths’ education by giving them a way around the long and arduous daily journey home by foot or bicycle, an undertaking that would prevent many of them from going to school in the first place.
 
In fact, the delegation from Baton Rouge pitched in on the construction site during the week they spent at the church prior to the dedication. Team members sweated alongside local youth, hauling dirt, mixing cement and laying bricks. By week’s end, the foundation and two walls were standing tall at the dormitory site directly behind the church. The building was completed shortly after their departure.
 
Others from the Louisiana team spent their week putting on a Vacation Bible School program for 40 of the church’s children. Laughter filled the sanctuary of the church each day as the kids partook the traditional VBS activity genre — arts and crafts, group games, and singing and dancing — providing their own consecration of the new building. The children capped off their week by learning a special dual language English-Khmer version of “I Love My Jesus Deep Down in My Heart,” which they had the chance to perform at the official dedication service on Sunday.
 
Also during the dedication ceremony, Pastor Roth Oung made it clear to church members and guests that the new building will open to the public for the service of the community. It’s a promise the congregation has already made good on, opening its doors to host a government-funded mosquito net distribution program not long after the dedication, and serving as a conference hall for a meeting of World Vision representatives recently as well as a distribution center for flood victims in this community, which has been devastated by this year’s flooding.