Cambodians enjoy their ‘Blessing Field’

STATESBORO, Ga. (BP) — Desperate for nourishment, the 8-year-old boy, separated months earlier from his parents, searched the ground in 1979 for spent bullets and chewed on the gunpowder inside for what nourishment there might be, before spitting out the wad like chewed tobacco.

After months and months and months of serving on Khmer Rouge labor crews in rural Cambodia, earning a bowl a day of water that had a few grains of rice in it, the boy named Map slipped away from his Khmer Rouge captors one day and weeks later was almost within sight of a refugee camp in Thailand when he sank to the ground, too weak to walk even one step farther. Some time later a woman stopped and shook him awake.

“Here, take this,” she said as she handed Map an envelope with powder in it. Whatever it was – he never learned – he was able after he ingested it to stand and to shuffle down a dirt road to a gate. One look at him, swollen with malnutrition, and refugee workers took him to a makeshift “hospital” where he stayed for three weeks.

Map Voun was one of several speakers at the 40th annual meeting of the Cambodian Southern Baptist Fellowship June 25-29 at the fellowship’s 7-acre property, the Blessing Field, purchased last year.

It was a time of reflection for the 130 or so Cambodians present and of thanks to Almighty God who loved them, rescued them and continues to provide for them.

“It was a very good meeting,” said Chairman Seang Yiv. “Biggest group ever!”

It was five days of amazement at what God had provided for people who had arrived in America starting in the early 1980s with virtually no possessions. High wooden enclosures on a side road off a U.S. highway open to show the tree-lined, serene Blessing Field, which includes buildings for worship and fellowship, a sports field, two gazebos, a pond and water features.

The Blessing Field, valued at more than $3 million, is “a gift from God,” Yiv said. “When I was a boy, Cambodia was an island of peace. This place is a reminder that with God, we can have that peace again.”

Over the last year, volunteers led by a general contractor replaced the roofs of the garage and storage sections of the fellowship hall, built nine showers and 17 8×10-foot sleeping cubicles and replaced two air conditioning units.

“Seeing how magnificent the place was, was like an emotional time for everybody,” Yiv said. “We know the Lord gave it to us. They will remember this for a long time. “

The annual meeting included multiple music, worship and preaching opportunities each day, interspersed by generous servings of traditional Cambodian dishes, and afternoons open for fellowship and wandering the grounds.

Ten youngsters and about 30 teens and 20-somethings, met separately from the adults for age-specific activities. On Monday, men’s and women’s groups met separately.

The fellowship hall has only two small kitchens, so longtime volunteer chefs Kimberly Noeun Long and Nop Seun, assisted by up to a dozen others, worked outside in the South Georgia heat preparing favorite as well as “special” Cambodian dishes.

“I heard one woman scream with happiness when she saw what we were having today,” Sophy Lee of Long Beach, Calif., told Baptist Press.

The meeting’s theme was “From the Killing Fields to the Blessing Field,” which also is the title of Yiv’s memoir, published in early June and available on Amazon. The book tells the story of a young boy (Yiv) in a small village on the Mekong River in pre-war (1950s to early ‘70s) Cambodia.

It also tells the story of the daughter of an influential judge caught up two months before high school graduation in the fall of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. The Prom family, who lived in a house with 27 rooms, were among the 2 million people ordered out of the city by Pol Pot’s soldiers, the Khmer Rouge.

They went from luxury to scrambling for food like everyone else, and teen daughter Vijila, who in time became Yiv’s wife, and her sister made plans to drown themselves if any soldiers showed undue interest in them. Her father, the judge, led his 17 family members to escape, over a period of 18 months, from Cambodia to France.

The messages at the Cambodians’ annual meeting followed a parallel theme — that God’s plan might not be easy, but all that happens is designed to increase strength, stamina and a close walk with God.

Map Voun, who chewed gunpowder to stay alive, preached first, on the preparation for the Israelites’ exodus. Bruce Carleton, the first Southern Baptist missionary to Cambodia, spoke Friday night on the “Field of Grace,” from Joshua 24. He chronicles his missionary life in his book “Amazing Grace: Lessons on Church Planting Movements in Cambodia.”

Four men preached the final message Saturday morning on maintaining and enhancing the Blessing Field for coming generations and for God’s honor.

There was no business conducted. The annual meeting is to develop and replenish friendships among people who only see one another once a year, the executive director said.

Business is conducted throughout the year by men who, once elected, retain the volunteer position for an indeterminate period. In addition to Yiv as executive director, the Ministry Team consists of vice chair and English ministry leader Caleb Soch; secretary Sithon Nuon; treasurer Map Voun; WMU director Mrs. Tzi Wei Wong; bookkeeper Mrs. Sithon Voun; and building development director Ron Kim Long.

The next annual gathering of the Cambodian Southern Baptist Fellowship is set for the last weekend in June 2025 at the Blessing Field.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

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