Last week 39 Cathedral members and friends of Project Khmer H.O.P.E. (PKH) travelled by vans to the PKH Centre in Trang, nestled among several villages in the western part of Kampong Speu Province in Cambodia. For a part of our journey, we travelled through a scenic plantation area.
However, our vans stopped short of our destination when we were about 10 minutes away from the village. As it was the rainy season, our vans could not be driven on the dirt tracks without sinking into the soft mud. We had to cross that stretch on our feet and then rely on 2 four-wheel drive trucks to take us into the village. It was an adventurous journey. Perhaps, a parable of the journey PKH has taken in this frontier missions work.
When you walk into one of the poorest villages in a Third World country, what will you do? Assuming you have the language, you may go around and try to share the Gospel. If not, the translator can help you. The people may nod and smile. Some may even nod in agreement when you ask them if they want to say the “sinner’s prayer.” Whether it was a case of lost in translation, with that, you would think, “job done.”
Thankfully, that wasn’t the approach of PKH. They first visited the area in 2008. There, what they thought was “poverty”, was redefined. The national statistics of Cambodia indicate that in rural places like this commune, 90 percent of the people are illiterate; they have not had the chance for education. Many of these villagers are exposed to shame, poverty and exploitation. PKH was committed to rooting their help on a permanent basis. Short-term visits won’t do.
After much prayer, reflection and interaction with the locals, PKH started the PKH (Anglican) Centre in Trang on 23 October 2014 to serve the tribal peoples of Suoy origin. This centre provides English tuition and before/after school care daily for over 300 children. Bible lessons and values are taught. The children are also fed and for most, this is their only meal for the day. Most of these children attend a nearby government school. PKH also helped to bridge the involvement of students from polytechnic schools in Singapore. They helped to complete various projects including the building of a new community hall.
When housing facilities were needed for our permanent staff and visiting mission teams, PKH embarked on a project to build a Mission House on the premises of the Centre. With the help of Andrew Tan (Mandarin Congregation) and his team, the construction of the Mission House was completed earlier this year, and it was our privilege to dedicate it to the glory of God, during the trip.
We also distributed food packs to 200 villagers. Some had travelled overnight across rivers and hilly terrain. With a coupon in hand, they collected a pack of a 15kg sack of rice, cans of sardine and soap. Balancing the packs of rice on their heads, they headed back to their homes. Members of our team also visited the homes of the students.
Over the years, some have gone beyond paying the occasional visit to PKH. Lim Wei Inn, on the staff of the Cathedral, is known for her ministry at our Welcome Centre and Cafe. In February, this year, she joined the PKH work at another Centre in Chbarmon which is currently helmed by Susan Goh and team. Wei Inn is very happy and fulfilled serving there.
We also witnessed the baptism of over 50 PKH staff and trainees. The annual Alumni dinner was also inspiring as we heard about the progress which some students have made. Officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation were all there, signalling the encouraging support by the authorities.
It is hard to understand the PKH work unless you pay a visit to Cambodia. Reading this is like reading Lonely Planet; unless you experience that place personally, you can only imagine.
My prayer is that more Cathedral members will get to visit this flagship work.