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Cambodia is rich with history and culture, with a friendly and humble native population. The official language of Cambodia is Khmer (which is sometimes referred to as Cambodian). Most Cambodians are part of the Khmer ethnic group, though there are Vietnamese and Chinese minorities. While only about one percent of the population identify themselves as Christian, religion is prominent and Buddhist beliefs and practices greatly influence many aspects of cultural and daily life. Traditional clothing such as the krama (a checkered scarf) and the Sampot (a type of rectangular cloth worn around the lower body) are distinctive to Cambodia. Popular art forms include silk weavings, ceramics and stone carving. Such art forms are seen in the large Buddhist temple, Angkor Wat. Dancing is also quite popular in Cambodia, with a variety of classical, folk, and social dances performed at different events. The Cambodian people enjoy soccer, the martial art forms of bokator, pradal serey, and Khmer traditional wrestling.
In the 1970’s Cambodia was the place for one of the more brutal and lesser known events in history. The Khmer Rouge was a communist revolution group lead by Pol Pot, who committed mass genocide and was the ruling government party in Cambodia from 1975-1979. The Khmer Rouge closed schools, hospitals, and factories while completely isolating themselves from foreign influence. They created a totalitarian society, banning religion and any form of education. The Khmer Rouge fled Cambodia in 1979 after relations with the Vietnamese collapsed. There were many battles but the Khmer Rouge fled and The People’s Republic of Kampuchea was established. Many believe that the acts of the Khmer Rouge are a main contributing factor to Cambodia’s current state as a third world country.
Vietnam currently has three branches: one in Hanoi, two in HCM City and there are currently 14 missionaries serving in these areas. They are all Vietnamese from either Vietnam and the US and cannot wear their name tags or participate in traditional proselyting but the work is flourishing and the branch is growing stronger!
The gospel is spreading quickly throughout Cambodia. The Church is frequently building new meetinghouses to replace rented out old buildings. The amount of tracting required varies area to area, but collaborating with the Branch Presidents to focus on missionary work can bring forth great results.
Because such a high amount of the population identifies with Buddhism, most of the investigators’ concerns will be centered around the worry of shaming their families by converting to Christianity. Most of the Cambodians you will teach are very poor, so paying tithing is another common concern.
There are currently 5 districts and 24 branches in the mission.
Rice is served with all meals in Cambodia, often with freshwater fish, a soup, and seasonal vegetables. A fish paste known as prahok and various spices are also used in many meals. Most meals you will be served include a soup and a type of grilled meat. Some of the cuisine is more adventurous, so you may get to test your palette with dishes such as snake, chicken feet, dog, pig’s head, cockroaches, crickets, tarantulas, and ants.
Many missionaries choose to make stir fry when preparing their own food because it’s simple to prepare and easy to transport.
Missionaries most likely ride bikes or walk. When traveling to a distant town many missionaries will ride in carriages pulled behind a moto (motorcycle/scooter). Depending on the length of travel buses may also be used.
With the recent election, many Cambodians are rioting in the belief the votes were doctored. However, this issue is temporary and missionaries are not involved. Other than that, the traffic can be crazy because drivers tend not to follows the rules of the road. It is recommended to look both ways before crossing any street.
Manners and traditions are held in high regard in Cambodia. Before going into homes, remove your shoes to show respect. When you meet someone for the first time, it is proper to place both of your hands together, especially when meeting a person older than yourself. Cambodians truly revere the elderly, and to show this, they never make themselves taller than older people. If they are sitting down and you walk by them, you are expected to bow out of respect. Custom is even more prominent in the more traditional towns, where the women will not eat until the men have finished.
To accommodate the hot and humid weather, be sure to pack bug spray and a bandana or sweat rag. Also include a rain poncho for the rainy season.
The shoes that you bring should be easy to remove, and many opt for sandals.
Your US money should be in bills no larger than $20.00 to make exchanging money easier.
There are no house addresses in Cambodia, so everybody goes to the local post office to get their mail. Mail travel to and from Cambodia typically takes about two weeks but it can take as long as several months.
PO Box 165
What items were hard to get or not available?
“Most things were available if you went to the right stores in Phnom Penh. Up country, no packaged meats, no jello, no cake mixes, but most things were available.”
What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Octopus legs. Some of our missionaries ate fried tarantulas.”
What was most surprising about the culture?
“The most surprising thing for me was how many things or people could go on one Moto (a small motorcycle) I loved the friendliness of the people. They have beautiful smiles. The traditional skirts of the women at weddings is beautiful and I also loved the everyday traditional skirts that many wore. I also love how the people accept you and love you the way you are. I love their pioneer spirit.”
What advice would you give to someone going to this Mission?
“Accept the people and culture for what they are. Immerse yourself in the mission and remember that Heavenly Father loves all of his children everywhere and you are doing what Christ would do as you minister and love them.”
What do you wish you had known before you served?
“I wish I would have known how much we would love our missionaries, the members, and investigators. Also I wish I would have known how much Heavenly knows His children wherever they are.”
“If learning a language, I would have Faith in the Lord in learning it. I would trust that my Mission President was called of God. Remember that Heavenly Father knows you and loves you.”