“Cham Nap,” New Era, May 1986, 38
Although it often took an hour to make it through one chapter of the Book of Mormon, Cham Nap Kong didn’t get discouraged. Every Tuesday the 14-year-old Cambodian boy would struggle through a chapter of the first English book he ever tried to read outside of school.
He had received a Book of Mormon for Christmas. When summer arrived and the pressures of school were gone, he asked soft-spoken Delaures Harkness, a sister in his ward, to help him read it. When she met Cham Nap, Sister Harkness “just took a liking to him. He really wanted to study the scriptures,” she says.
“I wanted to know about Jesus and the Mormon church. I wanted to understand it,” explains shy Cham Nap in a suddenly decisive tone.
Progress was slow. It took all summer to make it through 1 Nephi.
Cham Nap’s schooling, before he came to the United States four years ago, was very limited. As a child he attended kindergarten, but political unrest in Cambodia prevented him from attending any more school. In 1979, he went to Thailand with his aunt, uncle, and cousin to escape the war. There they lived in a refugee camp. Cham Nap has not seen or heard from his mother or brothers and sisters since then.
“In Thailand I went to school for about one month and learned to read and write a little Cambodian,” he explains. That’s also where his friends first told him about Jesus Christ and the LDS church.
Before coming to America, he and his relatives were sent to Indonesia for seven months to learn English. “I just learned the first words—‘hello,’ ‘how are you,’ and a few to use in the home.”
They arrived in the United States in 1981 and settled down in Salt Lake City. Cham Nap attended school with many other Southeast Asians at South High School. He had an LDS school teacher who invited him to go to church, and then she sent the missionaries to his home.
His friends in Thailand had told him the LDS church was a good church. “I heard that Mormons didn’t drink, and they went without food and water the first Sunday every month,” he says. “The missionaries taught me about the gospel. It made me excited because it’s so good. I wanted to clean my sins and be a good person.”
He had attended other churches, but he felt strongly that what the LDS missionaries taught him was true. He was baptized on October 23, 1982, in Salt Lake City. About that time he became friends with Delaures and Harold Harkness. Brother Harkness was a counselor in the presidency of the Cambodian Branch of the Salt Lake Park Stake. Cham Nap occasionally ate dinner with them, and they often gave him a ride to church.
During the summer, he would go to their home every Tuesday, and for half an hour to an hour he would struggle to read one chapter in the Book of Mormon. “We didn’t read a lot every time because it just seemed awfully hard for him,” Sister Harkness says. “I tried to explain what the words meant as we went along. Then we’d talk about what we read. It was hard for him to grasp at times.”
When Cham Nap first started going to church, he didn’t understand anything except for sacrament meeting, which was translated into Cambodian. But he kept on going because it made him happy. “Even though I didn’t understand in the classes, I felt the Spirit and I liked to go. Afterward I’d go to Sister Harkness and ask her questions and she would teach me.”
Cham Nap now lives with a foster family in Farr West, Utah. He is an eager eighth grader who wants to perfect his English, so he takes two English classes. It is still difficult for him to read, but he studies the scriptures regularly, usually for an hour on Sundays and frequently after school. “The words I don’t understand I look up in the dictionary,” he notes.
He has three church books in Cambodian, including Book of Mormon Selections, which he studies along with the scriptures in English.
Cham Nap says he likes to study and learn more about the gospel. “I want to be a missionary and teach people and make them happy. I want to share what I have learned.” Just like Ammon, the Book of Mormon prophet he’s reading about right now.