19 Sep Arising Light Asian Ministries (ALAM)
By: Phil Barkman
It’s barely 10:00 and it’s hot already, as the sun beats down out of a cloudless sky. A gurgling sound can be heard the over the rasp of the generator as water gushes up alongside the pipe that reaches out of the hard-packed earth. The well driller pays no attention as it splashes past his feet and trickles down the rut that was carved out by more swiftly flowing water during the rainy season. He reaches up, adjusts his grip on the T-handle attached to the top of the pipe, and his muscles cord as he gives it another twist.
And so it goes; another turn of the pipe, another inch deeper. The hours pass by, water flows into the pipe, and the slab is poured. The pump is set and the family, along with a few other villagers, gathers around as the owner of the well grasps the handle. He gives a few tentative pumps, and then works the handle vigorously. A breathless moment, and there it comes – the precious water that will bring life to crops and better health to the people drinking it. It’s clean, fresh water, not the cloudy, sediment-laden stuff they had been using, and that only after carrying it from the other side of the village. Happy smiles are all around as children splash in the overflow and the well-drilling crew load up their supplies and head for home. With the deep-down warmth of satisfaction that comes from having made a real difference in the lives of others, the ALAM team members have had another memorable day.
Arising Light Asian Ministries (ALAM) was founded in 2011 and is an Anabaptist mission outreach of Living Waters Fellowship Church in Barrs Mills, Ohio. Administered by five board members, ALAM is the first Anabaptist group to establish a presence in Cambodia. The mission is located close to the city of Siem Reap, in the northwestern part of the country.
The ALAM Purpose Statement says, “We purpose to be a faithful witness of the light and love of Jesus. Our goal is to plant and nurture Biblical churches, and to live and teach the Bible in harmony with conservative Anabaptist theology. We further endeavor to minister to special needs, drill water wells, and teach English and Bible to children.”
The ultimate goal is to establish conservative Anabaptist churches in Cambodia.
“But,” says James Mullet, pastor of Living Waters and ALAM board member, “in order to facilitate that, we do humanitarian projects; we drill water wells for poor families.”
Before a well is dug, ALAM does an assessment of the family’s financial situation, reviewing things such as income level, what type of house the family owns, and what means of transportation they have. Points are attached to each of these markers to determine what contribution the family will be asked to make toward the drilling of the well. Seldom is the family’s price more than five or ten dollars, but contributing even such a small amount helps them to experience the ownership of the well; it’s not just a free handout. ALAM pays the remaining expense of the well, while CAM (Christian Aid Ministries) funds some of the wells through their Water For The World program.
Drilling these wells is not quite as easy as it is in the U.S. Most are dug by hand, using a simple T-handle attached to a 3/4″ pipe with a 1-1/2” jagged drill tip that cuts its way down as the pipe is turned back and forth. A hose is attached to the upper end of the pipe and water is pumped through the inside of it, flushing away dirt and sand from the outside of the pipe. Fortunately, the drillers encounter very few rocks; mud, clay, and sand comprise most of the soil in this area of Cambodia. With this method, wells can be drilled to a depth of 80-90 feet. A small concrete pad is poured, and a pump is installed. Most of these wells can be dug in a day’s time.
Sometimes just getting to the well site is more work than the actual drilling. With muddy, poor quality roads and lots of rain, getting stuck is an occupational hazard, and the truck that ALAM had been using was not 4WD. It was also quite old, and between the rough roads and heavy loads, it was simply starting to fall apart.
Things are looking up, though; the mission has acquired a new truck. Ok, so it’s not quite new – it’s just not as old as the one they were using. After careful consideration and searching, they found a Toyota Land Cruiser pickup with 4WD. It’s a sturdy truck, and plans are to build a new bed for it, one that is better suited to carry the drilling equipment.
Another project that is well received is teaching English as a second language (ESL). At this time, there are three English teachers. Most of the students are children up to the 6th grade. Many Cambodian parents want their children to learn to speak English.
As James points out, “Having the English language gives them a better handle on finding employment when they grow up.”
Teaching ESL in Cambodia can be an uphill struggle, to say the least; the Khmer alphabet is completely different than the English alphabet. English, with its sometimes-conflicting rules of grammar, can be a challenge to those attempting to master it. It also has sounds that the Khmer language doesn’t have, further complicating the issue. The missionaries learning Khmer face their own pitfalls; it has subtly similar sounds that can easily trip up a newcomer to the language.
Doing these types of ministries helps to build relationships and opens doors. The children sing Christian songs and hear stories from the Bible. With the primary religion in Cambodia being Buddhism, many of the children have never heard of Jesus and the Gospel of salvation.
Although most parents welcome the English classes, some of them don’t like their children being taught a different religion. The classes had initially been held at a local public school but, due to a few parents’ objections, are now in a separate building close to the school. Because the success of the ESL program, plans are to begin an advanced class in the future.
The third program that has been initiated is S.A.L.T.: Shared Accountability, Lending, and Teaching. This program was initially started by CAM and is being utilized by ALAM. This consists of small groups forming to learn financial responsibility, save their money, and then lend to each other as needed. This enables them to acquire small loans at a lower interest rate than can normally be obtained. They can then use these loans to start a business, build a house, or buy a much-needed item for the family. There is no foreign money injected into this program; each member of the group saves and contributes as they can.
Weekly meetings are held to teach the managing of finances and Christian business ethics, and the instructors incorporate other Biblical principles into these classes. This is one of the avenues that are being used to teach the truth of the Bible to those who might never darken a church door.
At present, there is a small church consisting of the mission staff, some of the native employees, and a few locals.
Currently, fifteen folks from the U.S. serve with ALAM in Cambodia, along with four native couples. Allen and Melody Helmuth from Cross Hill, S.C., are there with eight of their children. Allen is pastor of the church and oversees the well drilling and the S.A.L.T. project. Two of their sons, Ryan and Austin, help with the drilling, and another son, Luke, teaches English classes and does the on-field accounting.
Michael and Rosina Yoder of Dundee, OH., are there with their three children. Michael teaches English, and Rosina teaches the kindergarteners.
Jody Byler from Idaho is an English teacher. Elton and Laura Yoder from Coshocton, OH., are scheduled to make the move to Cambodia in November with their five children.
“We would like to … be able to get into pastor training, as time progresses and we get our roots in a little deeper … That is something we want to see happening,” says James.
Some translation of books from English into the Khmer language has also been done. The S.A.L.T. manual has been translated and is being taught by Cambodian teachers. “The Torch of Truth,” originally from Costa Rica and then translated into English, is now being translated into Khmer. 25 Favorite Stories From the Bible, largely funded by CAM, has been translated, and more than 30,000 copies have been distributed. This is a book that is eagerly received by children, who love the pictures in it.
When asked how the European roots of Anabaptism transplant into the Asian culture, James responds:
“We use the term Anabaptist because of what they stood for and believed … simply being radical followers of Jesus, and so we want to take that emphasis and bring it into their culture … The question has come back, ‘Well, what are the requirements for church membership?’ and I said, ‘The fruits of repentance and following the truth, following the Bible. We’re not trying to get people to just follow a bunch of rules, but we want them to follow the teachings of the Bible.’ We teach the doctrines in harmony with Anabaptist theology … not necessarily styles of dress, but the simple, basic principle of modesty and honesty, integrity and all that goes with it …”
Delbert Kline, a board member and missionary to various countries, points out,
“If you work with a government like they (Cambodians) have, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Lying is a way of life over there … it’s just a given, you don’t always tell the truth. [They feel] If you can make good come out by saying an untruth, it’s all right.”
Delbert’s first experience in overseas mission work was going to Romania with his family to help build an orphanage. Since then, the Lord has opened more doors, and he and his family have been to numerous other countries, including Haiti, Belize, Guatemala, and of course, Cambodia.
Mission work also seems to be in James’s blood. Ordained as a minister at the age of 23, he was invited to join the board of CAM in 1987, then asked to go to Haiti in 1991. Moving there with his wife, Ruth, and their family, he administered the work of CAM for five years before returning home.
“The way I see it, missions is a way of life. You can minister to your family … to your church folks … to the people in Cambodia. As we have opportunity, let us minister.”
As pastor of the church in Barrs Mills and actively working with the church in Cambodia, James has encountered numerous opportunities for growth, and he is planning on returning to Haiti in the near future to teach at a pastors’ training seminar.
“That experience in Haiti … really broadened our vision for missions. Some of the things that we learned there we would like to incorporate now into the program in Cambodia as well. I think the church should be so that we allow people to shine where God has gifted them …”
Even though serving in other countries and cultures may at times be daunting, it is also very encouraging to see how the Lord moves in the lives of the people there. One such story involves Gouy, a Cambodian who helps to drill wells. Growing up in a Buddhist family, he had no interest in Christianity. One day his father became quite sick, but the doctors had no way of helping him. One of Gouy’s extended family members was a Christian and told them that God could heal their father if they believed. Having no other hope, his parents prayed, and the father was miraculously healed. After seeing the hand of God in this miraculous manner, most of the family believed in Christ, but Gouy still wasn’t convinced.
Time passed, and needing some money, he took out a loan from the bank. As the day grew closer for him to make a payment, he realized that he simply did not have enough money to make that payment. Then the wonderful healing of his father came to mind, and he did the only thing he knew to do; he prayed to the God he had been told about, and asked for help. That day while fishing, he caught two large fish, and when he took them to the market, the price he got for them was just enough to make his payment. God used this answer to his prayer to touch his heart and bring Gouy to Himself.
Cambodia is located in the tropics, lying just 10-14 degrees north of the equator and is bordered by Laos to the northeast, Thailand to the northwest, and Vietnam to the east and southeast. To the southwest lies a 275-mile coastline with the Gulf of Thailand. The capital, Phnom Penh, is located in the south-central part of the country and is on the banks of the Tonle Sap, Mekong, and Bassac rivers.
There are only two distinct seasons in Cambodia–wet and dry. The average temperature is around 80 degrees but can rise to 105 degrees during the summer months. April takes the record for the highest temperatures. The relatively high humidity, averaging around 80%, contributes to the discomfort. During the months of July through September, rain inundates the country and flooding is normal. Temperatures during the monsoon will at times drop as low as 70 degrees. Most houses in the central plain of Cambodia are perched on stilts, and some are only accessible by boat during the rainy season. Some of these houses are as high as 20-30 feet off the ground.
Life is quite difficult for the people in Cambodia; day laborers might get paid $7.00 or $8.00 a day, while schoolteachers can make $300 per month. There are those with enough money to build a nice house and they will do so, but then rent it out, choosing to live in a much smaller house to ease the cost of living. Food bought from street vendors can be reasonably priced, but grocery store prices are close to levels found in the U.S.
Families are fortunate if they can afford a small motorcycle, or ‘moto’, as they are called. These are not only used as a ride for the owner, but are often loaded down with whatever needs to be transported from point A to point B. Most Americans would never imagine the variety and amount of items that are regularly carried on these motos. Crates, boxes, live animals; you name it, and it’s probably been strapped to the back of a moto already.
The country has a very young population, with approximately 50% of the people being under 22 years of age. An important factor in creating this statistic is the country’s grim history. Cambodia was a French protectorate from 1867 to 1953, when it gained independence and became a constitutional monarchy. In 1970, King Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown, and following years of civil war, the Khmer Rouge (the Communist Party of Kampuchea) took power in 1975.
Basing their system of government on that of Mao Zedong of China and Stalin of Russia, the Khmer Rouge attempted to establish a purely agricultural society. Wanting the country to be entirely self-sufficient, they rejected almost any interaction with other nations. Foreigners and anyone having contacts outside of the country were considered enemies of the state and were frequently executed. Modernization was rejected, along with western education. Something as simple as the wearing of glasses could be a death sentence.
Due to the government’s economic policies, food and medicine became extremely scarce, and starvation and disease killed thousands of people. The practice of religion, whether Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity, was considered unacceptable, and untold numbers of people paid the ultimate price for their faith. The populations of entire cities were relocated to the countryside, where they were forced into hard labor or simply killed. Out of a population of 7,000,000 people, it is estimated that the Khmer Rouge killed approximately 2,000,000.
The effect of such horrific events continues to this day. Many people live with the memories of unspeakable trauma, and the destruction of families was widespread. Another highly visible result is the number of amputees, which are estimated to number around 40,000.In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the war being fought in Vietnam spilled over into Cambodia, and the U.S. dropped almost half a million tons of bombs in the effort to destroy the Viet Cong. It is estimated that approximately 10% of these munitions did not explode when dropped, but can still do so if someone disturbs them.
Land mines were also frequently used during the war, and the unexploded ones remained hidden in the forests and fields. In the years since, many people have had the misfortune of detonating these bombs and mines as they clear land or work their fields. While the explosion kills many, those who survive are often seriously injured. For those who are maimed, the prospects of making a living are slim, and they frequently resort to begging. The money they receive while begging helps them for a day or two, but unfortunately, it also creates a dependency that tends to remove initiative and keeps them locked in a cycle of poverty and helplessness. While monetary assistance is at times necessary, the greater need is to help people become productive members of society and improve their situation through employment and good stewardship of their resources.
Cambodia is a beautiful land, but the needs are great. There is not only economic poverty and deprivation but also poverty of spirit, and the emotional wounding is epidemic. Those who bring the light and hope of Christ through the ministry of ALAM are privileged to see the peace and freedom that the Cambodian people can experience through the power of Christ.
If you would like to be added to the ALAM monthly newsletter mailing list, you may send your request to the stateside contact information below.
Stateside Contact Person
James B. Mullet – Board Chairman
phone: (330) 243-0955
Contributions Please Mail to:
P.O. Box 115
Sugarcreek, OH 44681
Arising Light Asian Ministries is directed by the Living Waters Fellowship Church in Sugarcreek, Ohio
Board of Directors
James B. Mullet – Chairman
Delbert Kline – Vice-chairman
Larry Gingerich – Secretary
Matthew Miller – Member
Kevin Schooley – Member
Roman B. Mullet – Treasurer