Making readers out of Christians in Cambodia
Posted on: 7th August 2017
Wim and Maaike Prins live in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they support the Cambodian Church through various ministries, including Fount of Wisdom Publishing House (FOW). Wim writes about the work that FOW does and why the development of Christian resources in Khmer is so important for local believers and Buddhists alike.
The Work of FOW
Fount of Wisdom Publishing House Organization is the fifth largest book publisher in Cambodia. I have been partnering with them for about five years, checking the translation of Christian books. Some might ask: why bother with books at all in a country like Cambodia?
It’s true that, in general, Cambodians are not readers and many are not even functionally literate. In addition, many people who could read were murdered in the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s. Even people who wore spectacles were exterminated because it was assumed they were educated! Lots of people still remember this, which can dissuade them from reading or learning to read.
Another obstacle is that most books published by FOW were originally written in English and have been translated into the Cambodian language, Khmer. Increasingly, however, FOW staff are writing books in Khmer, or publishing other Khmer books. Consequently, these books are written in a Cambodian way: in a more circular and concrete style, rather than being linear and abstract, which is common in the west. Another advantage of writing Khmer books is that writers are able to better deal with Cambodian issues and use local examples. This provides more incentive for Cambodians to pick up a book.
FOW is active not only in publishing but also in distributing books. This goes hand in hand with encouraging people to read, showing them the vital importance of reading, and training people in how to use resources for Christian ministry. In May 2017, FOW Director, Chim Titmakara, and Michael Collie (Director of SparkLit) did a ‘distribution tour’ like this in several provinces in the northwest of Cambodia.
Why should Christians be readers?
Some Christians in Cambodia learn to read because they want to be able to read the Bible or the church songbook. Others, particularly the younger generation, read on social media or the Internet. They should be encouraged to read printed books to edify themselves and be equipped for ministry.
Pastor Nyorn, who oversees 70 congregations, says, “I can tell who is reading and who is not reading. The faith of Christians who read is real and active. Reading Christians are growing Christians.”
Similarly, reading pastors are growing pastors. Even if a rural pastor only had access to a study Bible, then he would have a great tool to help him grow in his faith and prepare sermons and Bible lessons. I once heard a preacher saying that David had red hair and therefore we may dye our hair too. It would be good if pastors could avoid ‘red hairings’ by reading a study Bible or a commentary. This is one of the reasons FOW has taken on a big project: translating the New Bible Dictionary into Khmer. CMS missionary David Painter has done a lot of work already and I am taking over the baton. A dictionary of this calibre available in Khmer will be an invaluable resource for church leaders and theological students!
An evangelical ministry
Fount of Wisdom is not just targeting Christians, though. In December 2016, FOW joined the Cambodia Book Fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh. Despite fear and trepidation on our part, it was a roaring success. Thankfully, the Lord sometimes overrides our fears to accomplish his purposes (cf. King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:3, 15). Quite a few books were sold and even Buddhist monks frequented the stall! With their emphasis on moral teaching, Buddhists are naturally drawn to edifying books. These may be children’s books, for example: FOW is publishing a series of 12 booklets in which a character only becomes a Christian towards the end of the series. This provides a non-threatening opportunity to show Buddhists how life completely changes once someone receives Christ.
Books designed for adults also open up doors to reach Buddhists with the gospel: books on managing money, the Christian family, and marriage offer the Buddhist reader insight into how redeemed lives are informed by the Bible and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The last thing Buddhists want is to be born again (they want to reach nirvana instead), but at the same time they are drawn to the lives of people who are born again. I vividly remember when my language tutor came to faith. The one thing that struck him about our family is how much time I, as a father, spent with our baby, Esther. You just never know what ‘normal’ thing for us might stump Buddhists!
So, though many Cambodians are not readers, others are. Church leaders in particular should be encouraged to read resources that equip them for ministry. It is a privilege to partner with FOW in order to help strengthen the church and reach out to Buddhists in Cambodia!
Consider giving financially to support the work of CMS missionaries like Wim and Maaike Prins. It is because of the generous donations from CMS supporters that they are able to continue their work in developing Khmer resources that help Cambodians to discover Jesus and grow in their faith.