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First two stakes mark milestone as LDS Church continues to grow in Cambodia

Published: Thursday, July 31 2014 9:00 a.m. MDT

Elder Kory Stevens, left, served an LDS mission in Cambodia from 2008-2010. He now teaches Cambodian at the Missionary Training Center in Provo and attends BYU.

Provided by Weston Marsh

More than 1,200 members packed into two stake centers as Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Seventy and Asia Area president, along with Elder Randy D. Funk, second counselor in the Asia Area presidency and also of the Seventy, organized the first two stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cambodia on May 25.

On that historic occasion, Eng Bun Houch was called to be president of the Cambodia Phnom Penh North Stake and Ouk Sophal was called as president of the Cambodia Phnom Penh South Stake.

“It is wonderful to see the growth of the church in this land,” Ouk told the LDS Church News. “The Lord loves us and is greatly blessing us.”

Four of the five former Cambodia mission presidents and their wives were in attendance that day, including David and Myrna Towers, who relished the moment.

“We were excited to get word about those stakes,” said David Towers, who presided over the Cambodia Phnom Penh Mission from 2003-2006. “It was a grand time, a huge celebration of the church being in Cambodia for 20 years.”

The Cambodian government granted legal recognition to the LDS Church on March 4, 1994. Since then, LDS Church membership in Cambodia has ballooned to more than 12,200 members, according to mormonnewsroom.org.

While marveling at the growth of the church in Cambodia, the Towers, former missionaries and others are sharing meaningful stories and experiences of their time in this unique country in Southeastern Asia.

Background

The 1970s were a time of great political unrest and tragedy in Cambodia. Communist dictator Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge soldiers killed close to 2 million Cambodians (more than 21 percent of the population) from 1975 to 1979, according to a NationalGeographic.com article.

During this time, many families were driven from homes and torn apart. Loy Bunseak, who was 9 years old in 1975, was one of millions taken and forced to work in the rice fields. He lost both of his parents and five of his eight siblings. Loy survived by having “hope,” he said in a 2010 church magazines article by Chad E. Phares.

More than 15 years later, Loy’s hope helped him find the LDS Church. He and his family were baptized in 2001. He was eventually called to serve as president of the Siem Reap Branch.

“The missionaries helped me learn from the Book of Mormon, but I received my testimony of its truthfulness from God,” Loy said in the article. “I could see how living the teachings of the Book of Mormon made my family happier.”

Chun Chanthy was 7 years old when her parents were taken to what were later named “the killing fields,” she told Paul Richard Sullivan in an LDS Church News article. She also found healing in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Although I didn’t have an opportunity to serve my parents while they were on the earth, I am preparing to serve them through ordinances of the temple so we can all live together in heaven,” Chun said in the article.

Missionary protection

In the early 1990s, three senior couples with agricultural backgrounds operated a small feed mill and cannery. They also taught English. When asked, they could talk about the gospel, according to a 2004 LDS Church News article by Shaun D. Stahle.

Within a few years, the first proselyting missionaries gained permission to come from Cambodian-speaking missions in the United States. But even as Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy and Area Presidency arrived in 1994 to meet the first four missionaries, he saw Cambodian teenagers with guns and wondered if it were safe, the article said.

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