Calvary Chapel in Cambodia
Calvary Chapel in Cambodia

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Calvary Chapel in Cambodia

Story by Sean Labar and Skylar Bonfils
Photos by Skylar Bonfils

In the rural province of Takeo, Cambodia, a desperate mother known by local villagers as Mrs. Pun was barely hopeful in a quest to find a school where her three children who were educationally struggling could thrive.

Piseth, Sokpanha, and Soksolika developed a reputation amongst locals for being rough and rude, both in the classroom and at home. The three siblings jumped from public school to public school, but their behavior spiraled downward with each change. Teachers’ complaints about the children became commonplace.

After exhausting all public school options, Mrs. Pun sought advice from neighbors and fellow villagers who had children succeeding in private schools. Those conversations led the frantic mother to find a possible solution.

In 2011, Kit and Ream Carson, who began as missionaries from Calvary Chapel Fallbrook, CA—had started A Heart for Wisdom Christian School. Over the last decade, the school has consistently been rated as one of the best academic institution in Takeo. Kit and Ream are now supported by Calvary Chapel Lihue, HI.

“In the community, people know our ministry as ‘Jesus Lord’s School,’” Ream said. “We don’t have to advertise because parents tell other parents. If you want your kids to learn and be good kids, just send them to Jesus Lord’s School.”

Piseth, Sakpanha, Sakoslika read through the old testament stories.

Piseth, Sakpanha, Saksolika read through the old testament stories. Their mom has noticed their behavior improve when they read the Bible.

A MOTHER’S DILEMMA

Though the Church has grown significantly in the southeastern Asian country since the 1990’s, according to the Joshua Project only 3.2 percent of Cambodia’s 16 million people are professing Christians. Most families come from Buddhist or Muslim backgrounds, but because A Heart for Wisdom School has a much lower tuition than competing private institutions, many parents choose their children’s education over religious restrictions.

Still, some refuse to budge when it comes to Christian-based education.

Equipped with multiple success stories from parents who have kids attending A Heart for Wisdom School, Mrs. Pun eagerly approached her husband with her plan.

Without hesitation, Mr. Pun was staunchly opposed.

The traditionalist father made it clear that he did not want his children becoming Christians or attending a school where Christ was at the forefront.

Piseth always stacks his bible on the top of the book shelf to remind him to read before he studies his other subjects.

Piseth always stacks his bible on the top of the book shelf to remind him to read before he studies his other subjects.

After relentless insistence by their determined mother and their father becoming silent on the matter,, Piseth, Sokpanha, and Soksolika embarked on a fresh start at A Heart for Wisdom School in 2019— despite Mr. Pun’s firm opposition. In a matter of weeks, the three siblings surrendered their lives to Jesus. Naturally, their behavior and school performance improved.

The children’s faith never wavered and even though they knew they would face physical punishment from their mother who was appeasing their father, they began each morning with prayer.

“I don’t want to see you praying, I don’t want you to be a Christian,” Mrs. Pun would yell before lashing the children with a stick.

Seakhoy is focusing on her studies while her family is away at work.

Seakhoy is focusing on her studies while her family is away at work.

SMALL GROUP BIBLE STUDY

Piseth struggled the most in the public school system.

He was born with developmental problems and spent significant time in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit before eventually going home with his family. Those complications led to issues with focus and concentration that often seemed insurmountable for Mrs. Pun, but as a second grader, Piseth was making big strides at the new school.

Like the other two children, Piseth excelled in the classroom and transformed his behavior in a short period of time. But miraculously, Piseth took an extra step forward by immersing himself in the Word of God and growing as a Christian. He joined a small group Bible study, and seeing his improvement, his mother pleaded for the two other siblings to join him.

Both of his parents were beginning to take notice. Slowly but surely, they were witnessing Christ working in the lives of their loved ones.

Chansocheata Kouy studies through Facebook live while her younger sister practices writing letters.

Chansocheata Kouy studies through Facebook live while her younger sister practices writing letters.

“Why do you keep placing the Bible on your stack of books?” Mrs. Pun asked after noticing the extra time her youngest son was devoting to his faith.

“I want to study the Bible before my other studies because it’s the most important,” Piseth responded.

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)

After witnessing the rapid transformation during their first year at A Heart for Wisdom School, even the children’s father could no longer deny the miracle God had worked for his family. Mr. Pun eventually came into the school office and offered to let teachers who didn’t have a place to stay live in his home while they worked.

“Life is short and anything could happen to me,” Mr. Pun said. “I don’t want to fight my kids on what they choose to believe in.”

The siblings study and do their school work together in harmony.

The siblings study and do their school work together in harmony.

COVID-19 CHALLENGES

Like institutions throughout the world, A Heart for Wisdom School has been forced to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last few months, classes have only been available online, a change that has had a massive negative impact on the student body. The local village lacks resources that are abundant in the city and only a little more than 50% of the roughly 800 students have reliable internet access.

Though employee wages are in jeopardy, a Heart for Wisdom School has relied on faith and continued to push forward.

“God has been faithful in providing and we know He will continue to be faithful,” Kit said. “Doors for the church and school will open again eventually. Until then, the ministry will continue to reach the community with quality education and the love of Jesus. This is the fruit of a small ministry in a village in Cambodia and I love it.”

As of now, A Heart for Wisdom School is eying November to potentially reopen, but like anywhere during times of uncertainty, nothing is set in stone.

Daroth, Nuza, and Sreynea went above and beyond & created their own classroom in their bedroom with what they had, to study quietly and privately.

Daroth, Nuza, and Sreynea went above and beyond & created their own classroom in their bedroom with what they had, to study quietly and privately.

The future of the Cambodian private school system will undoubtedly look different in the future—and the stark reality of the pandemic has led to some schools throughout the country already closing their doors for good—but there is a silver lining that aligns with the ministry’s mission of spreading Christianity in the country.

“A lot of private schools have been closed and are out of business now,” said Skyler Bonfils, who has worked at the school as a missionary for more than a year. “50% of Cambodian students are privately educated, so as we are able to hold on, we might get flooded with new students when things reopen. Because we are focused on getting the kids saved, it makes the school’s survival, reputation, and success so important.”

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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