This is Rev. Chea Vantha, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide administered by the Khmer Rouge. Miraculously, he was able to flee Cambodia and through a treacherous journey eventually found refugee status in the US. While in the US, as a refugee, he was introduced to God and found community and solace amongst his new faith friends. He studied and eventually felt a leading back to his homeland to plant a Church in hopes of being a beacon of light to his people. In 2002, through Gods mercy and grace Rev. Chea Vantha established Peace of the Lord church in the slums of the Mean Chey District. It started as a home church and over the years Rev. Chea Vantha has watched God slowly transform his neighborhood, an area ramped with gang activity, drugs, gambling, sex and murder. He is known as a man with integrity and has taken a role as father figure in his neighborhood, caring 12 children, many who’s young parent have died of HIV. His salary from the church is $20 a month and his wife and oldest daughter work to help support the needs of the family and greater community. Hearing their story was inspiring to say the least.
As he told his story, the underlying theme, through it all; the travesty of an evil regime, the hardships living as a refuge, and his difficult call back home, was Gods faithfulness. Rev Chea Vantha has seen and experienced much pain in his life and yet he sees a God who is faithful and good, just and loving. He has made covenant with the God of all gods because he knows that God knows his deep pain. He knows that covenant with Jesus can not be broken and that covenant comes with a promise of healing, peace and life everlasting. And, this assurance is what gives Rev. Chea Vantha a voice. A voice he uses to speak truth about Gods love for all people.
We’ve been in Cambodia for three days, we have seen the Killing Fields. We have seen the systematic and brutal way young men sensesusly murdered millions of precious human beings. We have seen the “Killing Tree” where babies were taken by the ankles and smashed to death. We have seen the S21 torture prison and have no words. We have wept. We have seen the Palace where a King sits among his people, weak and helpless. We have seen his beautiful gardens and the special Buddha tree that is only allowed to blooms in his yard or in a Pagoda. But we have seen something more, something divine. We have seen a little tender shoot coming out of the ground here in Cambodia. It is inconspicuous, just another vine among vines. And yet, we can see that it’s roots run deep and wide. We can see that it’s roots run through out all of South East Asia and around the globe.
In the ancient text Jesus says “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1) which is the last of seven “I am” declarations of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel. These “I am” proclamations point to His unique divine identity and purpose. Jesus said, “I am the True Vine” only a short time before Judas would betray Him; in fact, Judas had already left to do his infamous deed. He was preparing them for His pending crucifixion, resurrection, and subsequent departure for heaven. He had just told them that He would be leaving them and knowing how disturbed they would feel, Jesus wanted His friends, not only those eleven, but those of all time, to know that He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. His living energy—His spiritual reality—would continue to nourish and sustain them just as the roots and trunk of a grape vine produce the energy that nourishes and sustains its branches while they develop their fruit.
We are encouraged by this vision and believe that this tender shoot, this tree of life, that we see in Cambodia and through out SE Asia is Gods promise that, even though we (collectively) cannot see Him, we are as closely connected to Him as the branches of a vine are connected to its stem. Our hope for our family in this part of the world is that they would be encouraged and energizd as they serve and “abide” in Him. May the branches in Cambodia and through out South East Asia produce much fruit!