Learning of new Mormon Church leaders in Cambodia

By John Enslen

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Sept. 26 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Editor's note: While thousands gather in the Conference Center for general conference, many more tune in around the globe via several types of technology. This week, Mormon Times shares experiences and memories of those who have participated in general conference outside of the United States.

The six-month mark of our senior mission to the Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia was on Oct. 6, 2007. My wife, Dianne, and I had touched down at the Phnom Penh airport on April 6 of that year, the same day that the first box of triple combinations in the Khmer language had arrived to bless the beautiful brown-skinned, black-haired people of that foreign land.

Upon our arrival in that capitol city, our mission president, President Robert W. Winegar, wasted no time in appointing me to serve as branch president of a nonexistent branch that we were to help establish in Siem Reap, the city nearest the famous Angkor Wat ruins of the 11th-13th centuries A.D.

Over the ensuing six months, four young elders, who all “cleared the bar” by at least three feet, labored diligently in Siem Reap to gather a small congregation of native Cambodians, all of whom formerly had been Buddhists. These converts had been reared in a religious tradition and culture that afforded no exposure to congregational meetings, congregational singing or public speaking.

On that special Saturday, Sister Enslen and I had returned to Siem Reap by commercial airline after an exhausting day of missionary training in Phnom Penh. We settled into our apartment to await the general conference broadcast over our Internet hookup. On the clock, Cambodia was 13 hours ahead of Salt Lake City, and we knew that it would be 11 p.m. Cambodian time when general conference commenced.

Sister Enslen and I attentively watched the opening session, anxious to know who would be called into the First Presidency and who would be called into the Quorum of the Twelve. President James E. Faust, the second counselor in the First Presidency, had died in August 2007, bringing to an end the longest-serving First Presidency without a personnel change in the history of the church.

Having had limited personal associations with both, we were thrilled to learn that President Henry B. Eyring would fill the vacancy in the First Presidency and that Elder Quentin L. Cook would join the Quorum of the Twelve. We were blessed with powerful confirmations as the two of us joyfully raised our hands in sustaining support for these two devoted brethren. That single two-hour session of general conference crossed into a second calendar day in Cambodia.

With less than four hours of sleep that night, yet feeling renewed, we had arisen by 6 a.m. and arrived at our branch meetinghouse, a converted home, about 7:45 a.m. As had been our experience since the inception of the branch, when we drove our vehicle into the parking area at the meetinghouse, we were immediately surrounded almost celebrity-like by a throng of enthusiastic members and investigators who had preceded us.

We were warmly received by all in the traditional way, with praying hands and bowed heads. We were greeted with the words “Loak Tah” and “Loak Yie,” which mean in Khmer “grandfather” and “grandmother,” respectively. Our greeters were totally unfamiliar with LDS protocol as it related to the use of priesthood titles. I was a fulltime missionary and a branch president, but never during our mission was I addressed as Elder Enslen or President Enslen by any of the members of the Siem Reap Branch. Instead, I was called “grandfather.”

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