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13 December 2022

Christian books in the Khmer language


Wim and Maaike Prins served as CMS missionaries in Cambodia for 19 years. Wim, who worked on the translation of Christian books and resources into Khmer language, reflects with thankfulness on this strategic ministry.

“It’s the written message of the cross that instructs us for salvation”

Words matter. We serve a God who speaks—formerly through the prophets and in these last days through his Son (Hebrews 1:1–2). Calvin said Christ always comes to us dressed in the robes of Scripture. It’s the written message of the cross that instructs us for salvation. This means that the ministry of Bible translation is of paramount importance—so that people all over the world may exclaim in amazement: “God speaks our language!” And it means that books about the Bible and Christian living, as well as literature and literacy work, are vital too.  

Translators at work  

There are several organisations in Cambodia engaged in the translation and publication of Christian books in Khmer. The Bible Society has been working there for many years. One of my early roles involved the translation of course books for an organisation called Theological Education by Extension (TEE) Association of Cambodia. For decades TEE (originally started in Guatemala in the 1960s) has been discipling Christians and training church leaders all over the world, and has been particularly popular in Africa and India. More recently, I worked with Fount of Wisdom, one of the larger Christian book publishers in Cambodia, which has been translating, publishing and selling Christian books for about three decades.  

I was part of the Fount of Wisdom translation team for eight years, until I returned to Australia for final Home Assignment at the end of 2021. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my (Cambodian) translator, Chetra. Though his English is exceptionally good, we found that the translation process is notoriously vulnerable to misunderstandings.

These kinds of mix-ups sometimes raise a smile, but they give a sense of how much work is involved in getting sound translations of foundational Christian titles into the hands of non-English speakers. Is all this effort worthwhile? Absolutely! As English speakers, we’re used to browsing shelves packed with books that help grow our minds and hearts for Christ. We want to see more high-quality Christian literature made available in the Khmer language to help strengthen and encourage our Cambodian brothers and sisters in the faith.  

Growing readers and writers  

Cambodians are not by nature a reading people, a characteristic reinforced during the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s, when Cambodians who wore glasses were considered ‘educated,’ and executed for that reason. It takes extra effort to convince Khmer people that books and reading are important, and that growing Christians are reading Christians. Fount of Wisdom understands this challenge, seeking to serve both the Christian church (across the Protestant denominational spectrum) and Cambodian society at large, through their multi-faceted ministry. The organisation’s vision and mission statements emphasise that literature helps the ‘church grow in faith, love and service’. Although originally founded by a foreigner, Fount of Wisdom now has a Cambodian Director and office staff and has been registered as a local non-government organisation since 2016, a more sustainable status for this ministry in the long-term.  

Monks at the Fount of Wisdom book fair.

Resourcing Khmer Christians  

Fount of Wisdom publishes books in Khmer on a wide range of topics: children, youth, family, discipleship, leadership, Bible study, Bible commentaries, and other reference works, such as the New Bible Dictionary. They also run book distribution centres in various provinces, often managed by pastors who stock, promote and sell resources locally.  

Most of the Khmer resources published by Fount of Wisdom have been translated from English books. Some staff members also write Christian children’s books in Khmer. Hopefully they will produce books on Christian living and other topics in the future. Fount of Wisdom regularly organises workshops for writers or prospective writers to encourage more resources and books to be written in Khmer.  

Serving Cambodian society  

One of the ways that Fount of Wisdom seeks to serve society in general, beyond the Christian community, is their presence at the annual book fair held at the National Library in Phnom Penh. In answer to prayer, God has provided access to this regular event, where Fount of Wisdom sells books on topics such as dating, family issues, financial management, as well as children’s books. We observed that Cambodian Buddhists are interested in books on these subjects, even if they’re written from a Christian perspective. The book fair provides a wonderful opportunity to introduce Christianity and a Christian worldview on ethical and religious topics to Cambodians from both secular and Buddhist backgrounds.  

Wim with a monk.

Supporting the church  

For many Christians at different times in church history, Bibles and Christian books in their own language have been a scarce and precious treasure. Many years ago, I heard of a pastor in Vietnam who didn’t have a Bible. He only had access to one page torn from a hymnbook, and so that’s what he preached from—that was his ‘Bible’. He could preach saying, “It is written…,” but one can only hope it was a biblical song!  

Neighbouring Cambodia has recovered from the book burnings of the Khmer Rouge, but to give Cambodians access to Bibles and quality Christian books in their own language we need the ministries of both translation and literature. We need accurate translations so people can understand the Bible, grow as disciples, train as leaders and evangelise millions who do not yet know Christ. We need literature ministries, so that publications can help reach both Christians and nonChristians, and increasingly, we need Cambodian writers to author Christian books in the Khmer language. Praise the Lord for Fount of Wisdom, and its tireless efforts to support strategic publishing and translation ministries!  

The needs and opportunities in Cambodia are replicated among people groups all over the world. As I reflect on my time serving with CMS and look to the future, it is my hope and prayer that more people will offer to serve in this vital ministry—in Cambodia and elsewhere. 

Go

Do you have the passion and skills to serve in the strategic ministry of translation and literature? Check out cms.org.au/go to find out about opportunities to serve.