“Cambodia— a Land of Developing Peace,” Liahona, July 2006, 32–35
Since the Cambodian government officially recognized the Church in 1994, stories of faith, courage, and conversion have become a part of Cambodia’s pioneer legacy. Lives are changed daily as Saints and missionaries continue to work side by side in this tropical Asian land.
In 1994 Elder Donald and Sister Scharlene Dobson were transferred from their labors in India to serve as Cambodia’s first missionaries. On March 27 of that year the first Church meeting in Cambodia was held at a hotel, with a total of six members and nine investigators in attendance. On May 9, 1994, Sister Pahl Mao became the first member baptized in Cambodia. Two years later, in May 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited and dedicated Cambodia for the preaching of the gospel while he stood on a hill overlooking the Mekong River. The work had officially begun!
In 1993 Larry R. White was serving as president of the Thailand Bangkok Mission when he heard a favorable report about religious progress in Cambodia. He, along with Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy and Brother Vichit Ith, a member living in Bangkok, traveled to Cambodia to ask government representatives about the possibility of beginning missionary work and humanitarian aid projects. The request to begin humanitarian aid projects was granted.
Since that time many humanitarian missionaries have served here. Recently, Elder Robert and Sister Virginia Scholes served as country directors for Latter-day Saint Charities, a humanitarian organization sponsored by the Church that often teams up with local government or civic organizations to bring relief to the needy people in countries throughout the world. They understand that the power of charitable service can break barriers, bridge political rifts, and bring credibility to the name of the Church.
When Elder and Sister Scholes heard that more than 500 innocent Cambodian citizens are maimed, injured, or killed every year by undetected land mines, they decided to do something to help the victims. They teamed up with the Wheelchair Foundation and the Cambodian Red Cross to participate in a project they dubbed “Triple Combination,” which presented many victims of land mines—as well as others with physical limitations—with new wheelchairs.
In a culture of traditional ancestor worship, it is no wonder that the people of Cambodia would be intrigued by the genealogical work of the Church. Senior missionaries Elder Michael and Sister Donna Frame organized and taught family history seminars in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Over the past few years hundreds of men and women have attended these seminars, sponsored by Latter-day Saint Charities and taught by humanitarian aid missionaries.
“There are many surviving Cambodians who went through the Pol Pot era, when so many records were destroyed,” says Sister Frame. “We want to help families write down their histories so their children and grandchildren can read them. We want to show how easy it is to record a pedigree.”
Interested people have come from all over Phnom Penh to attend the family history classes and have been rewarded with information on recording family histories, interviewing parents and grandparents, and collecting important and interesting information about their ancestors. After witnessing years of political turmoil, many are understandably interested in preserving current family information for future generations.
Thanks to the efforts of humanitarian missionaries and the proselytizing elders and sisters, thousands of Cambodians have accepted the gospel.
On a preparation day in the Cambodia Phnom Penh Mission, Elder Trent Nielson of Mesa, Arizona, watched as his fellow missionaries began a game of soccer. The field was adjacent to a school, and the activity of the missionaries attracted some of the local teenagers who approached Elder Nielson and asked why so many Americans were playing soccer in Cambodia. He explained that they were all missionary teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The young men wanted to know how much these teachers were paid. When they learned that the missionaries paid their own way, they were dumbfounded. Why would anybody do such a thing?
Soon the curiosity of the teens led to probing spiritual questions, and they became engrossed in the missionary’s message. Before long Elder Nielson was teaching 10 young men on the grass of a soccer field about the Restoration of the gospel.
The member of the group who was the most antagonistic in the beginning became the most interested in the end. He and others asked for copies of the Book of Mormon. Elder Nielson realized that he did not have enough to give one to each of the inquisitive young men, so he hurriedly searched through the bags of the missionaries on the field for additional copies. Before the group left, Elder Nielson told them how they could get more information about the Church.
The arrival of the first sister missionaries was celebrated in Phnom Penh as a sign of the tremendous expansion of work in that area. Sisters Meagan Jones, Kirsten Downing, and Rachel Pace arrived in the capital city on August 21, 2003. On their first day, these sisters went proselytizing in Central Market, the busiest open market in the city. They were a bit nervous, but their companions—the first Cambodian sister missionaries, Sisters Sokhom Suon, Molis Chan Soun, and Sodalys Sean—were comfortable on the familiar turf.
Geographic familiarity is just one example of how native missionaries are a tremendous asset to the mission. Native missionaries also seem to cherish the opportunity to serve in their homeland, and they bring a contagious spirit of enthusiasm with them wherever they go.
“I want to tell all the members of the Church that I loved my mission very much,” said Cambodian member Eng Bun Huoch, who was baptized on October 25, 1998. He served a mission in Phnom Penh two years later. “Serving a mission is not easy, but it is worth it. I can’t describe how important and profitable it was to my life. My two-year mission instilled in me leadership skills and teaching skills and showed me how to be a better friend, son, and member.”
After returning home on July 17, 2002, Elder Huoch was able to find a job that improved his quality of life. His testimony had been strengthened, and he felt better prepared to deal with the challenges of life.
“I thank the Lord that He brought the gospel to Cambodia before I was too old to serve a mission,” he says. “I would be very sad if I missed the opportunity to do this marvelous work.”
Thanks to missionaries—sisters and elders, native and foreign—the work is rolling forth every day.
The power of the priesthood is a sustaining influence in the lives of new Cambodian members as they mature in the gospel. Many people, such as Sam Nang, have experienced medical miracles that continue to strengthen their faith.
Early one morning as Sam rode to work on the back of a motorbike, a large truck ran into her, throwing her violently onto the pavement. No one wanted to move her until she could be identified, and being only semiconscious, she was unable to answer the bystanders’ questions. She lay in the street unattended for almost two hours.
At the hospital a doctor examined her injuries and said the bones in her right leg were “smashed to fragments.” His immediate plan was to amputate the leg just above the knee or, at best, try to pin the bones back together. Sam’s family was distraught, and they called branch president Un Son and senior missionary couple Elder LaVon and Sister Marianne Day. These leaders told the doctor to do nothing until they arrived.
After arriving at the hospital, President Son and Elder Day gave her a blessing. Despite earlier protests the doctor agreed to delay the surgery briefly, while he reviewed the recent X-rays and saw something that he couldn’t quite believe: the leg showed no fracture or sign of trauma! The only real damage was a torn muscle and large laceration, which he stitched closed. The doctor seemed to have no explanation for the abrupt change in Sam’s condition.
With some additional surgery and skin grafting, Sam will have the complete use of her leg again.
Cambodia is a small country, but a great spirit is found within its people. As missionaries and Cambodian Saints strive to nurture peace in this once war-torn area, they pave the way for future generations to prosper in the gospel.
“The Church has grown across the world until our membership outside of North America exceeds that in North America. We have become a great international family scattered through 160 nations. …
“Our hope concerning the future is great and our faith is strong. …
“I now repeat what I said 10 years ago, let us ‘stand a little taller, … lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of the grand millennial mission of this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Opening Remarks,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2005, 4–6.