Visiting the Cambodian Church

Last week I wrote about some of the work Tearfund does to support churches looking to get involved in their communities. Some of my team, who work on church and community mobilisation recently took a trip to Cambodia to meet churches there to learn what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and what we can learn from the things happening there. 

One of the team is Jané Mackenzie: it was her first trip with Tearfund and to Cambodia, and I was really interested in how she found the experience and what reflections she’s brought back into her own church and community.

Jané grew up in a remote highland village has been moving further south since studying Art in Edinburgh then Theology and Development in Hertfordshire with a few stops in Asia along the way.  She now lives in London working for Tearfund’s Integral Mission team.  She enjoys Asian food, being creative, reading and asking questions.

Why did you go to Cambodia?
There’re various different Christian organisations with IM at the core, doing various CCM projects in different ways – so we were just visiting different communities and organisations. Umoja, which is one of Tearfund’s approaches, is one of many in the country, so it was a valuable time for us to learn from what others are doing. Along with this there was a Umoja conference involving those from all over Asia who are already implementing Umoja or thinking about how Umoja might work in their context.

What were you expecting Cambodian churches to be like, before you went?
I had some experience of the church in South-East Asia: it’s probably the church I know the best outside the Presbyterian church I belong to!  But then, I found I was surprised by the church and how it was – it thought I had a good idea of what to expect, and it turned out I didn’t.

So, I thought they’d probably meet on a Sunday, have a leader, they might meet mid-week to pray or study or worship – but actually they were all very different: and some were just very small, I guess what we’d call cell churches – a few people meeting in their communities.  But that was actually one of the things that really impressed me, how concerned they were to be in their communities, and how much one external organisation wanted them to stay in their communities. For instance – they’d never recommend they join with a larger congregation or established church in neighbouring communities; it was about being church where you were.  And then there were things that they just took for granted – things that we’ve maybe lost over centuries of Christian history – like, they just take for granted that they should be generous and look after each other, and we spend all this time getting our heads around integral mission, and encouraging churches to be involved in their communities.  In Cambodia, they just are.

So, what kind of projects did you see in the community? What inspired you?
We saw all kinds of different things – one of the most striking things for me was seeing the small saving groups set.  A small group comes together to contribute and challenge each other – and it all just happens in the middle of the rest of their lives. Like, they’re sitting in the same space where they’d sit to talk about anything else, and the kids are playing around them, but they’re also really invested in supporting themselves and each other, and moving their community forward as a community.   And that was really challenging – they collectively decide how to save money, who to lend to too, what to invest in, each holding roles in the group, making sacrifices in order to save and work together. I can’t even save money on the coffee I drink, because you know I need that, let alone someone else suggesting to me that I should save that money or put it towards something else.   I can’t imagine being in that kind of financial connection or accountability with my friends, or even my church – it was really inspiring to see how they save and learn from each other how to save more, and use their resources in different ways.

I love this video – it really shows how these groups work.

What happens next?
At the Umoja conference people came all over Asia to learn from the Cambodian Church on Umoja. One of the main speakers was from Tanzania, the lady next to me from India and the guy I had lunch with from Nepal. I find that exciting, that we can learn from each other and by seeking partnerships and networks really work together as the Church both globally and locally.

You can find out more about the kind of difference that the church is making in Cambodia and how Tearfund is involved through See For Yourself.
It’s also possible to visit and work in Cambodia with our Global Volunteering Team.