Jan 11 Summary of the Cambodia Mission visit

Written by Jack van Ommen on January 11th, 2010

This is to expand on the short reports in the last 5 days of the time spent with the 5 women, 3 men and our parish priest from St. Nicholas Church in Gig Harbor.  If you wondered why our priest remains nameless, just read up on the news about the challenges that are imposed by a few totalitarian regimes on a number of courageous Christian men and women and the risks they face. Just for the heck Google why my access to Facebook is banned in the country I am visiting…. It is a moral dilemma for me and many. What to do? Should we take our business elsewhere? Personally, I feel that we have done more to help the muted votes by bringing trade and tourism and that eventually the walls will implode, like they did in Berlin, on the wretched old guard. 

I had always been somewhat reluctant to get excited about individual projects when we are asked to make an annual donation to Peter’s Pence, the central world wide mission effort of the Catholic Church.  But in these 4 days I saw what a few dedicated individuals can accomplish with a minimum overhead to help so many. Father “X”, born in Vietnam, spent several years as a missionary to serve a vast area along the Mekong River of ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia. Most of these are economic migrants who came here during the French colonization. Some stayed behind from the Vietnamese Communists incursion into Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge in 1979. They live in villages of anywhere from 15 to 250 families. I noticed little intermarriage with their Cambodian neighbors and the Vietnamese hang on to their language and customs. They receive fewer of the Cambodian government benefits than their ethnic Cambodian countrymen.  Their main sustenance is fishing from the Mekong and farming. The mighty Mekong gives and it takes.  

The first day, Wednesday, we visited Chompa, 240 families mostly Catholics. Father celebrated mass here and ceremonial gifts in the form of blankets, from St. Nicholas, were distributed to the village and to a number of village elders from surrounding communities. The story (or is it a legend?) is that a wooden statue was found washed up on the Mekong bank here by a Cambodian and he figured that this would bring good luck to the area but he could not identify the image so he asked local Catholic Vietnamese to help him. They recognized it as a statue of St. Francis. (See the below photos) and the Cambodians then invited the Vietnamese to settle on the spot.  Next stop was Ta Hien, 60 families, where we met father Tinh. Father Tinh, was my age and I could speak French with him, a delightful encounter. Thursday, January 7 we crossed the river to visit a village on an island in the Mekong. This settlement had a lot more land and was growing lush vegetable and fruit crops. Living appeared easy as far as what the land and river can provide. There was no electricity. T.V.’s, fans and lights were powered by car batteries. In the afternoon the group visited the nuns of the order of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order) in Pnom Penh. These sisters care for women and children suffering from HIV infections.  

Friday we visited three villages. We started at Koh Thieu (= sprouting grass). Our leader celebrated mass here in the still roofless new church being built. A Christian Brothers priest, Le Dinh Phuong, complete in his long black cassock, was the Holy Name (Giu Se ?) church priest. Next was To Muy Mot a village within 5 miles from the Vietnamese border. The last visit of the day was across the river to Been Phuan. This was similar to the island community we visited the previous day since it was also much on it’s own without road access and electricity. This village was predominantly Buddhist with only a couple Catholic families. Everyone received the same gifts from St. Nicholas church. I had an emotional encounter with one of the Catholic elders of the village, when he learned that I had served in the US army in Vietnam he told me that he had joined the Viet Cong as a 14 year old in 1968 and had later also fought the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He volunteers many hours as a liaison for his people with the local Cambodian government. We parted, as brothers, with a warm embrace. The last day, Saturday, we visited one village more to the N.E. of Pnom Penh. We crossed the Mekong by ferry, soon to be replaced by a brand new bridge under construction. It was a long drive over a particularly dusty and potholed road to Ho Pruk Poth. Forty seven families most of them Catholic.  Fr. X celebrated mass here. All of the previous hosts had treated us well, but this last stop received our highest rating. They outdid themselves in the choice of delicacies set in front of us for our lunch. A nice cool breeze blew up from the river and the view was spectacular.

I am still digesting the whole experience and the pictures tell you much of the gratitude and love we encountered everywhere. I stand in awe for the efforts and results of this one man’s mission and also for Ba Ghi, father X’s point woman here. She is my heroine. Ghi came to Cambodia from Vietnam to search, in vain, for her missing husband. Her talents to have our days organized, transport and feed us and have these hundreds of children and adults get their individual ceremonial gifts from St. Nicholas in the form of clothing, uniforms, blankets, mosquito netting, fresh bank notes, etc. just blew my mind.

My wish and prayer is that this effort will continue to grow and be supported by our parish and others. I have many more photos than the few I am showing on this blog. I’d like to do a promotional benefit slide show of this visit and of the beauty of Indo China for the parish and the Gig Harbor community and possibly combine it with a slide show of my sailing adventures, this April. For those wishing to make a donation you can mail a check to:

St.Nicholas Church, 3510 Rosedale Street, Gig Harbor, Wa. 98335.  With reference: Cambodia. There is an excellent brochure available showing the aims, budget and results of the program that I can have mailed to you.  

 

1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Tammy says:

    gJack please contact me at my e-mail

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