A letter from Barry and Shelly Dawson in Thailand (regional liaison for Southeast Asia)
Dear Mission Partners,
A little more than one year ago Chey Thyda (her name has been changed to protect her identity) was brought by a sister to a mobile medical clinic in a small village in Battambang Province, Cambodia. She had been struggling to sleep for days. For weeks she had barely uttered a sound. She was no longer capable of caring for her six children whom she adores. Thyda’s future, indeed her chances of survival, seemed bleak. She was suffering—day and night—from severe emotional / mental health trauma. But, at a mobile medical clinic sponsored by the Eliot Presbyterian Church (EPC) of Lowell, Massachusetts (U.S.A.), Thyda was examined by a doctor and given medication. She also received the added blessing of having Rev. Dr. Thysan Sam, a Cambodian pastor at Eliot Church, take compassionate actions for her continued healing and recovery. Dr. Thysan contacted a Cambodian pastor and encouraged him to reach out to Thyda and her family. As Thyda’s health improved she and her children began to attend worship services at the village church. One year after Thyda’s body seemed as good as dead and her mental state seemed to be beyond hope, she was standing in front of the Khmer-speaking congregation, receiving the gift of baptism—a sign of God’s grace—and was a living testimony that the Spirit of Christ is active and alive in Cambodia.
On Sunday, November 10, we were privileged to be present in the village church in Battambang Province, Cambodia, when Chey Thyda was baptized and began her journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ. For those who knew the details of her story, it was so much more than the celebration of a holy sacrament during a worship service. Thyda’s baptism was a powerful witness to the whole village that this God of the Universe who sent his Son, Jesus, to show human beings how to live and how to love, is a God of Awesome Power, a God of New Life, a God of Resurrection Hope.
During that November week we spent in Cambodia, we were part of the 2013 version of Eliot Presbyterian Church’s medical mission and outreach team. Shelly used her experience as a labor and delivery nurse to hold health education discussions with Cambodian women and also provide hygiene education for the local children. Barry had opportunities in several rural villages to share the good news of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ with attentive Cambodian children who can easily melt your heart with their warm eyes and infectious smiles. There are some reasons for smiles in Cambodia in 2013, but that certainly was not the case in recent decades.
Say the word “Cambodia,” and many people around the world instantly will associate that beleaguered nation with the “killing fields” of the Pol Pot regime and the torture tactics of the Khmer Rouge that erased the promise of an entire generation. According to the website of Yale University’s Cambodian Genocide Project, “The Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979, in which approximately 1.7 million people lost their lives (21 percent of the country’s population), was one of the worst human tragedies of the last century.” While memories of such unmistakable crimes against humanity never will be forgotten, today the resilient people of Cambodia are facing their present realities and daily confronting the daunting challenges of poverty, population growth, environmental degradation, educational deficits, less than stellar health care delivery, and the special obstacles that arise from rural isolation and fast-paced, haphazard, urban development. In the wake of Cambodia’s “lost generation” and with the opportunities to connect with its “now generation,” the Christian Church is uniquely positioned to demonstrate the justice and love of Christ in concrete ways and proclaim a message of hope that will resonate with those who long for the joy of a “new heaven and a new earth.”
While in the capital city of Phnom Penh we were delighted to meet with several pastors of the Khmer Presbyterian Fellowship. They shared transparently about the ministries of their churches and the enormous needs of the communities they serve. A pastor from Kamphong Cham told of his church’s prison visitation ministry that now includes a Bible study. He reported that due to God’s life-changing power more than 100 prisoners have been baptized. A seasoned pastor from Kompong Speu shared about the good news of his “mother church” giving birth to “daughter churches” in the same region. An exuberant young pastor from Battambang exclaimed, “I thank God that God put me here to serve this community.” With limited resources, yet passionate faith, the churches of the Khmer Presbyterian Church are modeling Jesus’ love to the people of Cambodia.
As always, we continue to thank God for you, our mission partners. Your prayers, messages of encouragement, and gifts of financial support sustain us each day. We invite you to continue those tangible signs of ministry partnership in the coming new year, so that together we may make an impact for Christ in the churches, villages, and cities of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
May the extraordinary love of God’s Christmas Gift for the World—Jesus, the Christ—overflow in our hearts and find unexpected expressions of healing transformation in Southeast Asia and throughout the world in the new year of 2014.
In the Joy of Christ,
Barry & Shelly
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 224
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