A Visit from a Legend

An early morning bus ride...

A few weeks ago, Andrew and I traveled with the SP team to Siem Reap to hear Loren Cunningham speak (yup, I'm still playing catch-up with February). Loren is the founder of Youth With A Mission, an international Christian organization that has planted thousands of churches and reached out to countless children and adults all over the world with the Gospel. I grew up reading missionary books written by YWAM authors and reading challenging books authored by Loren, part of which stoked the fires of my desire to work overseas.

We had received an email that Loren Cunningham would be speaking in three different cities in Cambodia, and SP decided to send their entire staff to the meeting in Siem Reap, about two hours away. The meeting started at 7:30 am with registration, and the staff decided we needed to leave at 5:30 am. I don't think I have ever been awake that early. The night before we left, we told our landlords we'd be leaving the house around 4:45 am; we didn't want them to be awakened and alarmed at anything. They waved their hands and said, No worries! We get up at 3 am anyway. (no wonder they take long naps in the afternoon...)

I tried to sleep on the bus as best I could. Everyone else dozed as well, but after we stopped for breakfast a little after 6 am, everyone returned to the bus fully awake and ready to party. Cambodian buses are all equipped with full karaoke equipment - microphone, blaring speakers, DVD system so you can follow the words. The staff started handing the microphone around, different people singing out praise choruses at the top of their lungs. Cambodian Christians never seem to have any shortage of joy, regardless of the early hour!

When we arrived at the meeting location in Siem Reap, I had to laugh at myself. Nearly two years here and I still have American preconceived notions in my head. I had automatically assumed that the meeting place would be indoors, air-conditioned, and comfortable. Surely for someone like Loren Cunningham, they would have that!? But the meeting was at a local church, outdoor under a tent, with plastic chairs crowded together on an uneven dirt floor. Thankfully there was a breeze, and I might have only dozed off in the heat right after lunch for a few [dozen] minutes...

Listening to Loren speak was like listening to someone who had already crossed the mountains that stood looming before you. He had founded YWAM in 1960 out of a desire to see young people used by God in ministry, church planting, and discipleship. He told stories of God's faithfulness, His power to bring people to repentance, and how He guides those who obey him.

YWAM partnered with a national churchplanting movement called Mission Kampuchea 2021 (MK2021). MK2021's mission is to see a church planted in every one of the 15,000 villages in Cambodia by the year 2021. There are currently churches in 2,000-3,000 villages across the country. It is an ambitious but inspired goal that is being carried out by different churchplanting denominations within Cambodia.

Loren spoke all day with a Khmer translator on a variety of topics. The theme of the meeting was "The Power of the Gospel to Transform a Nation", and Loren focused on how God's Word can do just that - change Cambodia into a thriving, educated society that actually sent out missionaries itself.

I think it's inspiring for everyone, but especially for Cambodians, to hear someone challenge them to a higher vision for their country and their churches. It's so easy to become discouraged by the barriers of money, education, and social freedom that many believers face here. Yet Loren pointed out that "your nation will be transformed by the way you follow Jesus", and that Khmer Christians have something unique to share with the world. Jesus has authority over the world (Matthew 28:18), and no barrier is too great for him to empower his followers to overcome. That's a lesson we need a daily reminder of - to keep our gaze away from the discouragements of the seen and fixed on Him who is the author and finisher of our faith!
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