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This week I'm sharing an excerpt from a recent newsletter by Tom Post, Team Leader for World Renew's work in Asia. I love stories like this because it provides a beautiful example of what we in North America can learn from the churches we support in developing countries.

Five young Christian congregations in Cambodia are partnering with World Renew to carry out participatory, self-reliant community development in their immediate communities and three to seven nearby villages. All five churches were started after the government granted permission for Christian churches to organize in about 1993.

Just how are they blessings in their communities? Here are some inspiring gems of learning and wisdom that we gathered from these churches and communities last week about the blessing they are to each other. If I could summarize it in my own words, it’s something like this:

It’s about being a blessing in your congregation’s neighborhood by giving the blessing of growing in interdependent self-reliance. It’s one thing to do things for people, or give things to people (and there is a place for that sometimes), but it’s a tremendously people-building thing to work with people to build self-reliance!

Getting organized
Each church has a development committee that supervises one or two community organizers who then work to implement coordinating committees in their own and neighboring villages.

Realizing they need each other 
Here’s one church’s definition of community as they work together: “Five years ago there was no group work, no working together. Before we lived in the same area, but we were not a community because we were not working together!” 

Reaching out with courage
“The church has to reach out to the community, it has to take initiative... While doing community development we are learning from helping each other. While God was on the earth he did a kind of outreach work. So, we are doing what God has done. We should do as Jesus did: go to the people, meet with the people... Sinners think only of themselves, but Christians think of each other.” 

Mutual appreciation with Buddhist neighbors:
Because of the church we have developed our human resources! One village chief says, “Because of the church’s preschool, our children are now ready to go to school at age five instead of at age eight or nine.” Another village chief says, “I appreciate the way the community organizer and the community development committee work with families in a way that I cannot do.”

Rescuing their children when they escape gangs 
When a gang member wanted to meet the pretty daughter of Montrap, a pastor’s wife, she did not reject him. She saw him as a human resource that could contribute to the community. Through her efforts, several former gang members who were robbing and terrorizing the community have come to Christ. (I don’t know how things turned out between Montrap’s daughter and the “gangster” boy.) 

Freedom from debt through savings groups 
The community organizer teaches how to set rules for saving $1 or $2 per person per week, and for charging a loan interest rate according to the group agreement. Participants have to save for five months before they can borrow. The savings groups set their own interest rates, usually 2-4% per month, which seems high, but is reasonable in their context. The impact is that people no longer become slaves to debt after a medical emergency. “We no longer need to fear what will happen when our children get sick.” In the most successful church effort, seven village saving groups have saved over $17,000 and the loans are generating small businesses in their communities. 

Learning to know God, the Creator
“Before I became a Christian I thought Buddha created the world. Some of my neighbors still say: ‘Oh Buddha!’ whenever they see lightning. Some say we just came from our grandparents. But, now I know that the true God created the world and that he made us—rich and poor—the same. If people come to my house, I share my food with them. At the start people don’t know how to pray to God, so we have to teach them how to communicate with God.” 

Better Health
“Through $10 clay-pot waterfilters (that are coated inside with a silver compound), and by building latrines, we have seen our health improve!” 

More food by the system of rice intensification 
"We are so grateful to World Renew for bringing this idea to us! In one community 80 out of 120 families now use this system. It has multiplied our harvest, and we save money by using only 30% of the seed we used before and by using much more compost and much less chemical fertilizer.”

Being blessed
What is the blessing these five churches have received from their communities? Every one of them stated something like this, “Before the community did not trust us. They thought that all we cared about was trying to make them Christians, and they discriminated against us. Now we enjoy good relationships with our neighbors and with the local authorities who appreciate the way that we are helping to build up our communities.

Thank you for the role you play in blessing these congregations and communities!

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