Adding beauty and strength: First two stakes formed in Cambodia
Twenty years ago, Phal Mao helped find a metal smith that could build the first baptismal font for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cambodia. On May 9, 1994, she was baptized in that newly constructed font to become the first native convert in the country. Building and growth have continued in the Church in Cambodia ever since.
On May 25, Cambodia reached a major milestone with the creation of the Phnom Penh Cambodia North Stake and Phnom Penh Cambodia South Stake, the first stakes in the country.
Officiating at the creation of the new stakes were Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the First Quorum of the Seventy and Asia Area President and Elder Randy D. Funk of the Second Quorum of the Seventy and 2nd Counselor in the Asia Area Presidency
This is only the second time in Church history that the first two stakes in a single country have been created on the same day.
Eng Bun Houch, president of the newly created Phnom Penh Cambodia North Stake, shared his strong testimony, saying, “As priesthood keys were received for the Lord’s work in Cambodia, tears came to my eyes. ... I invite all members to hold tight to the stakes of Zion, to stay in the shelter of the stake and find sweet happiness in their family.”
“It is wonderful to see the growth of the Church in this land,” said President Uk Sophal, the new president of the Phnom Penh Cambodia South Stake. “The Lord loves us and is greatly blessing us. I know if we are obedient and have faith He will continue to bless us in Cambodia.”
Cambodia Phnom Penh Mission President David C. Moon said, “The gospel of Jesus Christ brings additional light and truth into the lives of all those who listen to and receive it — blessing not only individuals, but also the communities in which they live.”
Four of the five former Cambodia mission presidents and their wives were also present for this historic occasion.
Meeting in newer meetinghouses designed to accommodate the stakes, both the North and South Stake centers were filled to capacity with a total of 1,237 Saints in attendance.
The growth of the Church in Cambodia can also be seen on an individual level.
One Church member, Sokhon Theary, is motivated by a strong desire to build a better future for her five children. Her goal of being able to read to her children in her native language caused her to work hard and sacrifice much of her meager income for transportation to attend and graduate from a literacy program organized by her branch president, Sam Sopham. “I found that I love to learn,” Sokhon said. She is now pursuing additional training with assistance from the Church’s Perpetual Education Fund. This will enable her to greatly improve her family’s standard of living.
At age seven, Chun Chanthy saw her parents for the last time as they were taken away to work in what was later named “the killing fields.” Although she suffered through many years of struggle, she recently found renewed hope through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. On her wall is a picture of the Manila Philippines Temple. “Although I didn’t have an opportunity to serve my parents while they were on the earth, I am preparing to serve them through the ordinances of the temple so we can all live together in heaven,” Sister Chun shared with tears in her eyes.
The contribution of the Church to community extends well beyond members of the Church. During disastrous flooding late last year, Church leaders worked with the Minister of Religions, H.E. Mr. Min Khin; Governor of Siem Reap, H.E. Mr. Khim Bun Song; and The Vietnamese Association of Cambodia to provide rice, oil, fish sauce, noodles and canned fish to various impacted communities. A large number of non-LDS families received relief in addition to the over 600 member families that received help.
With already more than 12,450 members in this country of 15 million, the presence of the Church is being increasingly felt. Latter-day Saint Charities (LDSC) has sponsored 195 projects since 2000. Projects range from clean water and sanitation to immunizations and wheelchairs. In food production projects, real growth has been achieved with rice crop yields doubling after intervention and training.
Recently, 100 LDS young single adults joined over 1,000 other young Cambodians in Habitat For Humanity’s Smile Village “Youth Build” project near “trash mountain.” Thirty homeless families will now move into new housing months sooner than planned. One of the Church members who participated, Roth Vanna, a returned missionary, stated, “It was so much fun to work with so many different people and to get to know them. I had no trouble sharing with them who I am and what I think is important in life.”
As righteous Saints continue to exercise their faith, and as the additional priesthood keys available in stakes are actively used in the land of Cambodia, the Lord’s promise and command found in the scriptures is being fulfilled: “For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened.” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:14)