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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

Updated: Friday, Aug. 1 2014 6:20 a.m. MDT

“The man told the boy that’s how you feel when you feel the Spirit,” Myrna Towers said. “ ‘My heart opened and water came out of my eyes.’ What a tender and sweet expression from a child.”

Missionary perspective

Kory Stevens served as a full-time missionary in Cambodia from 2008-2010.

Because of the Pol Pot regime, Cambodia's economy and education systems continue to struggle and most of its people live in poverty. As a result, Stevens said, it's difficult to get people to sacrifice a day of work to attend LDS Church meetings.

"Not working on Sundays can literally mean not having any money to feed your family," Stevens said. "Church attendance requires a lot of faith there."

Another challenge is illiteracy. Many of the older generation never learned to read, so the missionaries have had to find unique ways to help investigators be immersed in the Book of Mormon, Stevens said.

One of the highlights of Stevens' mission came when he and his companion baptized half of the members of a family. The mother was called as the Relief Society president and became a strong leader, which energized the branch. Stevens learned recently that the other members of the family were later baptized, and the entire family was sealed in the Manila Philippines Temple last week.

"My heart was so full, and I felt something I had never felt before. I was overcome with joy for this family," said Stevens, who is now married, attending Brigham Young University and teaching Cambodian at the Provo Missionary Training Center. "That's what it is all about."

Nathan Egan served in the same mission as Stevens from 2009-2011. Once he was able to understand the language and digest the food, he came to love the people and their unique culture.

Egan said the best part about serving in Cambodia was seeing how living the gospel changed lives. He and his companion were able to help a family hurt by abuse become a tight-knit family that walked miles to church each Sunday. He was also deeply moved when a newlywed couple prayed with genuine gratitude for their small shack and the scanty meal they shared.

"They were able to become stronger and happier because they allowed Christ to enter their lives," Egan said. "I knew it was only a matter of time until the faithful members would receive the blessings of having stakes in their country."

Carrying on

For the Towers, one exciting aspect of the two new stakes is that of the six new stake leaders, three served under them as missionaries, including President Ouk. The Towers have also been delighted to learn that several former elders and sisters from their mission have married and started families.

“It’s a very nice feeling for us,” David Towers said. “Maybe we did something right and helped them.”

“It’s so fun to see their little families,” Myrna Towers said.

The Towers were also thrilled recently when their grandson Weston Monson received his mission call to Cambodia.

“I’m looking forward to going there. I’ve seen the photos and heard the stories. I’m looking forward to trying the weird foods, walking in the flooded streets and learning the language,” said Monson, who departs Aug. 6. “It’s an honor to carry on the family legacy.”

Email: ttoone@deseretnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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