Twenty years ago, there was no Lutheran church body in Cambodia, a country in Southeast Asia just west of Vietnam.
It’s been an amazing journey over the past couple of decades, but today, Lutheran church leaders there are celebrating a historic moment in the life of the Cambodia Lutheran Church (CLC): the translation and publication of the Book of Concord in the Khmer language.
“It’s exciting to see how God, through His Word and the Holy Spirit, is using us and LHF materials to bring His teachings and faith to the Khmer people,” said Rev. Ted NaThalang, LHF’s coordinator for Southeast Asian projects. “This is what mission work is really about, and I am sure that Martin Luther is looking down on us with a smile, seeing God’s Word translated for His children in Cambodia.”
A key to training up faithful pastors
Sopha Korn, LHF’s translation coordinator in Cambodia, said that the Book of Concord will be essential for helping to train up faithful pastors in his country, where there are no Lutheran seminaries.
“For Lutheran churches in Cambodia, it has been a challenge to get a theological education, due to the lack of Lutheran classes and shortage of confessional Lutheran instructors who are Cambodian nationals,” he explained.
Rev. J.P. Cima, an LCMS missionary to Cambodia who assists in theological education there, agrees. “This Book of Concord is so crucial because it’s an opportunity for the pastors and deaconesses, as well as other church leaders, to have access to a really important resource where they can say, ‘THIS is why it’s important to be a Lutheran.’ In terms of the Lutheran identity, it’s the key historical document.”
During his three years in the country, Rev. Cima said that this understanding of what it means to be a Lutheran has been an area of great growth for the CLC.
“There is a core of pastors and leaders who have been very well trained,” Rev. Cima reflected, “but many are still growing in their knowledge of what it means to be a Lutheran. This is a concept that is sometimes difficult for Americans to understand, because in the United States, people think of religion in terms of Truth: ‘What is Truth?’
“But in Southeast Asia, groups form more on the basis of relationships, rather than truths. So in this culture in Cambodia, people may become members of the CLC less because they’ve immediately discovered the amazingness of Lutheran teachings, but more likely because they had a relationship with someone else who was a Lutheran.”
When Scripture’s clear teachings are laid out in an organized way, as in Luther’s Small Catechism and the Book of Concord, people get excited about what they are learning, Rev. Cima said.
“When I’ve taught them the catechism, they react very strongly when we start to study the Sacraments,” he said. “They mean something; they do something in our hearts and lives. That’s always a big ‘Aha!’ moment.”
LHF is actively translating the Book of Concord in several other Southeast Asian countries, including China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar.
“The most important thing that we as Lutherans have to do is to equip Lutheran leaders and pastors in Southeast Asia well,” said Rev. NaThalang. “If we don’t, we will not have many Lutheran churches to carry on good and Scripturally-based teaching in the near future. The needs of the mission field have changed, and unless we try to fulfill the needs of God’s people for the complete and true Word of God, we will regret it later.”