Because creation matters to God, it should matter to us, authors write
Christians often are reluctant to talk about climate change, even…
“Dr. Ouch. Probably wouldn’t get many patients, right?” he jokes. Nearby, fellow Christians from across Southeast Asia lay a giant tarp on the ground for children to sit on in this humble Cambodian village near Siem Reap, home of the majestic Angkor Wat temples. The Christians, participants in a weeklong mission named Angkor of Faith, bring the children steaming plates of rice, chicken and green beans.
In Cambodia, Ouch is a common surname, he explains.
RELATED: Read Erik Tryggestad’s story “In Asia, ‘a fellowship of difference,'” his Road Notes “Of lice and men: Can a week of ‘voluntourism’ make a difference?” and see more stories from Churches of Christ in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific in our series, From the East.
And his life could have been much like that of the impoverished kids he serves here. He was born in 1981 in a Thailand refugee camp. His parents remarried after losing their first spouses to the Khmer Rouge, the communist regime that murdered 1.5 million Cambodians in locations including the infamous “Killing Fields.”
The family got refugee status from the United Nations and moved to Austin, Texas. He grew up American, attending high school and pursuing a career in finance. He played basketball with friends. Thoughts of returning to his parents’ homeland — or becoming a Christian — rarely crossed his mind.
That changed when he saw “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson’s 2004 film portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion. The graphic scenes of Christ’s death left him asking, “What happened after that?”
A coworker suggested, “Why not read the Bible?”
He did, and he started visiting churches. At the Southwest Church of Christ in Austin, he found believers who could open their Bibles and help him find answers.
In 2005 he was baptized. He enrolled in Southwest School of Bible Studies, overseen by the church’s elders.
Two years later, Ouch was a missionary to a homeland he never knew. He began working with the Siem Reap Church of Christ alongside minister Chann Lork. The two men also teach in the International Bible Institute of Siem Reap, an extension school of Denver-based Bear Valley Bible Institute International.
In Siem Reap, Ouch met and married his wife, Chakriya. They have a 6-year-old daughter, Katesana, and a 3-year-old son, Javan. Ouch also plays on Cambodia’s national basketball team in the Southeast Asian Games, held every two years.
In 2010 Ouch helped launch Hannah’s Hope Children’s Home in conjunction with members of the Woodland Oaks Church of Christ in The Woodlands, Texas. A couple from the church adopted two Cambodian girls and wanted to do something to help other children in the Siem Reap area. The home serves 45 children with 12-full-time staff.
Phanat Ouch with Katherine Gould and Chann Lork at Angkor of Faith 10 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)
Katherine Gould, a missionary who has served in China and Southeast Asia, visited the Siem Reap Church of Christ in 2011 after attending her first Angkor of Faith conference, organized by Christians from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.
At the Siem Reap church, “I quickly felt right at home when I surprisingly met a Cambodian minister who grew up in my home state of Texas,” Gould says. “We quickly bonded over our mutual love for Dr. Pepper.”
In the village of Kvean, Cambodia, a girl admires the haircut she received from members of the Angkor of Faith mission team. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)
After that meeting, the Siem Reap church’s members and ministry school students began attending the annual Angkor of Faith, with Ouch serving as the event’s keynoter in 2014. Now the Siem Reap Christians help organize trips to serve in rural villages during the conference.
This year, Angkor of Faith’s organizers handed oversight duties to Ouch and his Cambodian brethren for future outreach projects.
“His heart for Cambodia keeps him there,” Gould says of Ouch.
Reaching lost souls in his re-adopted homeland is a challenge, Ouch says. The Khmer Rouge nearly wiped out an entire generation of leaders and intellectuals. The result, some researchers theorize, is a moral vacuum. Now the average age here is 24, and the country is a hub for human trafficking and sexual slavery.
“If you want to change the country you have to change individually — by the Gospel,” Ouch says. “And I think that’s how people change from not wanting a lot of stuff to being content, not being corrupted or greedy or anything like that.
“So it starts with learning who God is — they don’t even know what the Bible is over here, most of them. A lot of Christian evidence is needed and a lot of just showing that there is a true God and he can change your life. He can make a difference.”
Children in the village of Kvean, Cambodia, say thanks to the Christians who visited, fed and played games with them. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.