The Young Adults in Global Mission program in Cambodia began when the ELCA received an invitation from our two companions, the Lutheran Church in Cambodia (LCC) and Life With Dignity (LWD), to start the program in 2015.
The history of Cambodia is not widely known around the world but is directly connected to the work done by both LCC and LWD. Cambodia’s history is long and rich, though parts are very painful. Recent history of Cambodia is marred with a genocide that lasted from April 1975 until January 1979, and estimates say 1 million to 3 million people were killed during this time. The actual number killed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge is not known and may never be known. Borders were closed to the rest of the world, people were forcibly relocated, food rations were strictly enforced in small amounts, and forced labor and the dissolution of families were the norm at the time. In January 1979 the Khmer Rouge was defeated by a group of dissenters and military force from Vietnam, however, this led to a civil war that lasted until 1997. The effects and trauma of these events are still felt by the Cambodian people.
Despite the very painful recent history, the hearts of the Cambodian people are open, and there is a strong desire to rebuild and renew the country. Passion for development and thirst for faith is prevalent among the young people of the country. YAGM have the opportunity to accompany these young leaders as they pursue efforts of reconciliation and faith ministry.
Under the Khmer Rouge, religion was banned. The formation of LCC came as a response of hope after years of turmoil and as an initiative of the Lutheran World Federation. In 2010, the Lutheran Church in Singapore was invited to plant a church in Cambodia. This mission start led to what is now the first time YAGM are hosted by a church born out of a global companion of the ELCA where that global companion was a mission start of the ELCA. Since 2010, the LCC has grown and currently has congregations in Krus village, Kampong Chhnang province (2010), Phnom Penh (2011), Tang Krang, Kampong Cham province (2016), and Kandal, Kandal province (2017). Long-term goals are to have at least one congregation in each of the 20 provinces of Cambodia.
The ministries at each congregation differ slightly depending on the community. Ministries of LCC include weekly worship services in Khmer, social and humanitarian services, English classes, and classes teaching basic computer skills. Working with a young and growing church offers a unique opportunity and chance for personal spiritual growth and understanding. YAGM are present to learn from the church and members as they discern what it means to be Lutheran in a predominantly Buddhist country where almost every tradition and celebration has roots in Buddhism, Hinduism, or animism but are uniquely Cambodian. Visit the LCC Facebook page to see and learn more about the ministries and work of the LCC.
Life With Dignity started in 1979 after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. From 1979 until 2010, LWD was a program outreach of the Lutheran World Federation. When the borders of Cambodia were once again opened, aid groups from around the world rushed in to help the people and country begin to recover. Some of the first work done by this particular group was removing landmines. Since then, the work has changed based on what the most vulnerable people indicate as needs. LWD works in target areas of Cambodia identified as some of the poorest parts of the country. The population LWD partners with includes farmers, female-headed households, people with disabilities, and disadvantaged rural children. In January 2011, LWD localized, meaning the NGO is completely run under local leadership. Foreign volunteers are invited to accompany LWD, but all staff are Cambodian.
Project implementation examples include alternative farming and energy options, such as hydroponic gardening, solar-powered water pumps, and various bio-gas programs. Human migration is a phenomenon affecting Cambodia, similar to many places in the world. LWD is working to educate people on how to migrate safely and legally. This is to help protect people’s safety and welfare and to prevent people from becoming part of the human trafficking trade. Working with established community agricultural cooperatives to study, evaluate, and develop local village markets for farmers to sell their produce is another project supported by LWD.
Cambodia is located in the southwestern part of the Indochina Peninsula, a little more than 10 degrees north of the equator, giving the country a tropical climate. Twenty provinces comprise the country. International borders are shared with Thailand to the west and north, Lao People’s Democratic Republic also to the north, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the east and south, and the Gulf of Thailand is to the southwest. YAGM site placements are spread between Phnom Penh and provinces to the west and northwest. Placements are located in the provinces of Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu, Phnom Penh, and Pursat. Aside from Phnom Penh, the placements are in rural settings.
Examples of service opportunities include:
Language: Khmer is the official language in Cambodia. YAGM receive introductory courses in Khmer with opportunities for further study throughout the year. Some English and Chinese may be spoken by young adults and children.
Religion: Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia and is practiced by more than 90 percent of the population. The state religion was reestablished in 1993; there was a gap of almost 20 years from 1975 to 1993. Service as a YAGM in this country will provide the opportunity to discover what it means to live as a religious minority in a place where Christianity is not widely practiced. The program will challenge volunteers to develop thoughtful and respectful cross-cultural and interreligious relationships. Religions represented in Cambodia include Buddhism, Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant), Islam, and traditional religions. YAGM volunteers serving in Cambodia will also experience a deepened understanding of lived Christian faith in the context of religious pluralism.