Q&A about recent VIM Cambodia pilgrimage

Nick Ruxton, conference videographer, and Nancy Yarborough, York River District lay leader, were part of a recent pilgrimage to Cambodia. The focus of this Volunteers in Mission (VIM) trip was to provide and opportunities for sharing, growing and learning from and with both laity and clergy of the Methodist mission in Cambodia.

You can also learn more about the trip in the April issue of the Advocate magazine.


   Nancy Yarborough, left, plays with Cambodian child.

• Why did you decide to go on this pilgrimage to Cambodia?

Nancy Yarborough: I had been in 2013 and 2015 and I was anxious to see how the Holy Spirit was still moving and what accomplishments were being made by Methodists in everything we were trying to do. I also wanted to go back because of my love of the people.

Nick Ruxton: I didn’t know what to expect. After doing some research about the country, I was really excited to see how a church that is only 30 years old and to think about what they are doing there compared to what we are doing here.

• What are things you now know about the country that you would share with others?

NY: There is a real need to support the pastors especially in their salaries. That’s one big hurdle.

   Nick Ruxton with Cambodian children. 

NR: I would want people to know about the country and their history with the Khmer Rouge. Over 50 percent of the population are under the age of 30, so it is a young country but you see the hope there even from the ones who survived the Khmer Rouge. The people were eager to show us their love of their country.

I would also share that it’s not all pretty stuff going on over there. Things from unclean water to human trafficking to the sweatshop industry. It’s important to bring to light those heart-wrenching things and how the church there is asking how they can fix these things.

NY: I would agree, Nick that it is important for people to understand the history of Cambodia. From the Vietnam War to the Khmer Rouge to the civil war. I think the main reason we keep going back in there is because they don’t have parents and grandparents to teach them and to help them with agriculture and the raising of the chickens with aid we see in the CHAD project. They just don’t know how to do that.

• What would you like people to know about the church in Cambodia?

NR: These are first and second generation Christians here. To see them making an impact in their communities already is amazing as well as seeing the passion of the kids.

NY: Oh my goodness. To see the Holy Spirit at work. And to see the passion they have for their loving, living God that has come into their lives. They are spiritual. It is beautiful to see. Each time I go, I am blown away by how spiritual they are and how overwhelming it is to see how excited they are to be Christian. I think the Methodist Church has given them hope for a better life.

NR: It’s nice to be able to show people where their apportionment dollars and giving are going.
NY: Children are coming and they are encouraging their parents to come. So it’s the children who are actually leading their parents into Christianity. How often do you see that?

• Who was someone of impact that you met while there?

   From left, Sophany and Nancy Yarborough

NR: We had Sophany who was the first person in her community to accept Christ and become Christian. She was chastised and judged and now everyone in her community tells their children, “You need to be like Sophany.”

 So she has really brought Christ into her community. She is in her early 30s and to see such a young women with a family share her story and also share with us the Cambodian Methodist Church’s story is amazing.

NY: She is one of the female pastors there.

NR: Just her passion is extraordinary. I don’t think I saw her frown once. She really took care of us while we were there.

• What was one place that most impacted you in Cambodia?

NY: When we were traveling from Siem Reap to Phnom Phen and we saw all those women being herded into those trucks like animals. Shoulder to shoulder for that long dusty ride home after they had worked all week in the factories to get some time to see their families for maybe a day and a half. For me that was heart-wrenching and hard to know that they live and work under those conditions.

In talking with one group, one of the young women who works in one of these said that it is all about production. If you can’t meet your production then your let go. Or if you have to go to bathroom too many times, you will be let go. It is such horrible conditions with such little pay.

NR: And that’s on top of the abuse they go through there. But in that women’s group we worked with, they are trying to get inside these dormitories of the sweatshops to reach these women. But there is a fine line with the government. For now they allow the church and recognize them, but that could change if there are seen as meddling too much in terms of money and production.

NY: It’s hard to see what these women have to go through just to make a minimum for their families and how little can be done with such a corrupt government.

NR: Living wage is about $200 or $300. We talked to a district superintendent and he is paid a little over $100 a month. Their clergy are paid less than that. Not even those district superintendents are making a living wage. Now look at a person in a factory who is making even less than that.

Some of the clergy have a full-time second job to make a living for their families and they can’t devote their full focus to ministry. But even so, the Cambodians believe in tithing to the church, 10 percent no matter what you make.

NY: Don’t you love how they all go up to the altar with their offerings?

   Nick Ruxton shares pictures with Cambodian children.

NR: Oh man, you dance up to the altar. You dance up to the altar, Nancy. (Laughter).

NY: Yes, they do!

NR: I would also add seeing the Killing Fields. There is a sign that said you are walking on a burial, treat it as sacred ground. I took a step, I saw cloth from a shirt coming out of the ground and beside it was a jawbone and a femur. Just lying there.

It’s because so many people were murdered and buried in these places that the earth is constantly moving and more and more bones are becoming unearthed. To see it  in person greatly impacted me.

• How has this experience changed your ministry?

NY: Not only has it changed my ministry, it’s changed me. I had been to a third world country before but I saw something totally different in Cambodia. It has made me more passionate, more understanding, and more spiritual and so much more willing to do everything I can to help anyway I can. I think that’s why I keep going back. If I can change one person’s life, it’s worth it, it is so worth it.

NR: I like telling stories. That’s who I am and how I do my ministry. And through this trip, I can share what I saw and share that. We may say that “the church is declining”, it is but it also isn’t. If you think that, look elsewhere. Look outside of our country.

It makes me wonder: how can we model what they do here?  It’s all about the connection.



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