Parish Mission Partnership Already Bearing Fruit
A thirteen hour time difference, over 9,000 miles, and the International dateline separate St. Vincent’s Cathedral in Texas from a new church plant in Cambodia’s province of Pursat.
That kind of distance might make a direct partnership between Cambodia and Texas seem nearly inconceivable, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, St. Vincent’s put up half the funds necessary to make the new church plant a reality and has sent teams over to work directly on the project.
The unique relationship between St. Vincent’s in the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Pursat church is one of many that exist within the Anglican Church in North America. Each partnership is a living testament to the Anglican Church’s commitment to mission, to evangelism, to our Anglican brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe, and to planting new, Gospel-centered churches.
Forging a Partnership
Beginning in June of 2010, St. Vincent’s joined with St. Andrew’s Community Chapel in Singapore and developed a working relationship with the Anglican Church in Cambodia, a missionary deanery in the Province of Southeast Asia.
When asked what first drew the church into the partnership with Cambodia, the rector of St. Vincent’s, Dean Ryan Reed, replied without missing a beat, “That’s the great commission; that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”
After Thom Murrell, the senior warden of St. Vincent’s at the time, and his wife, Jan, traveled to the area in the fall of 2008, they returned thinking, “We can do this. The country is void of Christ and needs to experience Him.”
In many ways, it was an answer to prayer for the Texas church, which was determined to engage in world outreach and recover its vision of the Great Commission. The partnership with St. Andrew’s eventually led to the congregations answering the call of the Lord to purchase property in Cambodia.
Planting a New Church
“The desire was to have a community property, a town church and center for the region. We went on a shopping trip and looked at multiple properties,” said Murrell.
The site that the global partners settled on is located in Leach, which has a population of over 9,000. It includes nearly eight acres and already had a building that could easily be used as a regional worship center and a community center. It also has an orchard and a pond for raising fish. “The building was great because it is big enough to hold a large group upstairs and has a patio below where folks could gather,” said Murrell.
St. Vincent’s quickly began fundraising and raised over $15,000 to pay for its share of the costs, while St. Andrew’s paid the other half. Since then, St. Vincent’s has initiated clean water and health improvement projects, including the building of common latrines and the digging of wells for shared use.
“The location, size and ability to adapt for different uses provide many possibilities for the property in the future. After Dean Reed and I visited in June and the purchase was completed, electricity was connected from the provider, lights and fans were installed, and a metal canopy was added on the west exposure, which enhanced afternoon activity,” said Murrell.
Dean Reed explained that the property is located in a market center with several smaller villages surrounding it. While there are Anglicans in the area, most meet in homes. The one church building that does exist is a long distance from the majority of the population. The new plant means there is a church in a geographic and population center of the province.
Praying and Putting Boots on the Ground
Making the project a reality has involved much more than shuffling checks back and forth. Members of St. Vincent’s Cathedral have been in deep prayer for their partners and the people in Southeast Asia and have made four trips to Cambodia. The church plans to send another team in May for the dedication of the property and the blessing of the work that has started. In fact, they hope to send many more church members throughout the years to meet the people and see first-hand what the Lord is doing.
When church members arrive in Phnom Penh Airport, getting around to the villages - even to the new church plant - includes hours of driving, often on unmaintained roads, walking if the roads are washed out during the rainy season, and crossing rivers by foot. Some have even pitched in to help with work in the rice fields. Stops along the way at local food stands and fuel stops - where items from crickets to tarantulas are both alive and ready for consumption - are also just part of the trip.
Building a Gospel-Focused Church
This church plant certainly won’t become focused on providing social services with no connection to Christ, as other American missionary groups in the area have done. The number one purpose of the church is to spread the Gospel. Lives are already being changed as evidenced by the 1,300 people who attended multiple Christmas services that were held at the new property. “The potential for a lot of conversions for Christ is there because all we’ve done is provide resources for them to do ministry with their own people,” said Reed.
As for delivering the message of Christ, St. Vincent’s uses everything it can from music and skits to translators. “The skits that are performed are interpreted by someone who is bilingual. When we talk to the local people, we have an interpreter also. I was able to make a testimony and the priest in Cambodia understands English - even Texan - and could put it into their language,” Murrell said with a laugh.
Planning for the Future, Spreading the Vision
“The ultimate goal is conversion of that whole part of the world: Laos, Nepal, the whole Indochina area. We’re taking a little a piece of that and trying to do our part,” said Dean Reed when asked about the long-term vision.
Murrell added they also plan to “work with Singapore to develop an education center. The people have a great desire to learn English and they want to learn about technology. Putting those two together gives you a means to slide in Christ and teach Christian ideals.”
Reed and Murrell were quick to say how much they’d been blessed by the partnership and encouraged other Anglican Church member parishes to forge similar relationships.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Murrell. “Our parish has been supportive and interested in what’s going on. They take pride in being able to participate by taking the Gospel to a foreign land.”
Dean Reed agreed, saying, “Our previous work happened where people were already Christians. This is more groundbreaking.”
Photo captions from top to bottom: mission team in front of new building, ready to leave Leach; people enjoying the program at Psert Bourei; crossing the river while returning from an outreach visit; feeding the people at Psert Bourei.