HeartCry Missionary Society is deeply appreciative for Jon Benzinger and his willingness to travel to Cambodia to teach the Family Conference. Jon is the pastor of Redeemer Baptist Church in Arizona (https://redeemeraz.org/bio-jon/). The following is Jon’s report from the trip.
Cambodia is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been too. My mother’s side of the family is Hawaiian and Cambodia reminded me a lot of my favorite place on earth, Kauai. Add to that the kindness and generosity of the brothers and sisters I met with and I felt completely “at home.”
I arrived a little after 11pm in Phnom Penh and did not meet Chhinho, my contact and the lead pastor of Shalom Mission to Cambodia, until midnight after the visa and customs process. My concern before arriving was two-fold: I didn’t want to be a burden to Chhinho and I really wanted to meet the expectations of the pastors and their wives (around 50 people in total) and help them with this conference on marriage. My prayer time that day included something like this, “Lord, please help me. I deserve nothing from You. You did bring me here. These men and women need Your training. I don’t want to be a rent-a-preacher. I want to know them and them know me. I want to love them and serve them. Help me help them, please.”
Chhinho gave me a lot of time in my hotel rooms throughout the week (which were very nice and clean and with a really good AC units), which I appreciated. It allowed me to get over the jetlag fairly quickly, and gave me ample time to text my family, pray, think, and study for the messages I would be preaching.
The marriage conference was about 5 hours southwest of Phnom Penh near Sihanoukville’s Golden Lions Roundabout and Serendipity Beach (https://www.lonelyplanet.com/cambodia/south-coast/sihanoukville/map). The first day of the conference we talked about God’s original design for marriage from Genesis 1-3. The big ideas were that men and women are equal in value and deserving of respect, but have different roles in marriage. These roles are part of God’s good creation, not the result of the Fall, and when obeyed will give us the great marriages we all long for. Most were taking a lot of notes. Afterwards, the pastors and their wives asked really good questions about homosexuality, America as a Christian nation and women teaching men, all of which showed they were engaged and interested in the implications of the topics we were seeing in God’s Word. Later, they had meetings while I prayed and prepared for tomorrow. Around 4pm we all walked down to the beach to play games in the sand, swim and relax before dinner.
This is what I wrote in my journal about my time at the beach:
We all found a spot with a long table and chairs under a hut. Some of us watched while most of the group relay raced, the men running with their wives on their backs. It was fun. When that ended they all went swimming. … This is a huge blessing for the pastors here, to be at the beach. I decided to walk around. I wish I hadn't. Everywhere are old women carrying some kind of food they're cooking with BBQs on their shoulders. Or, they're selling cheap souvenirs. It made me think ‘This is someone's grandma and she's doing this intense work for dollars a day.’ It made me sad. ‘What church is reaching out to them? What Christians are ministering to them?’ I wondered. Then, I saw 4 kids just a little older than [my three year old son] Colin rummaging in the trash and taking food from off of plates people left behind after a meal at the beachside restaurants. They were dirty and hungry and it just broke my heart. … On the way back to the hotel I saw multiple older men with young Cambodian prostitutes. … Then, there were two teenage girls with men in their 60s holding hands and walking down the street. I'm now in my room just sad. Sad that this is happening here. Sad that this is their life. Sad that in my mind at least they'll never get free from this. Sad that there's nothing I can do about it. Sad, ultimately, that I didn’t see any Christians reaching out to the poor in Sihanoukville, which is why I’m here, helping a ministry that will one day have a church in this province, maybe even in this city …hopeless poverty and sexual exploitation is right outside our hotel.
The second day was similar to the first. After the service (singing and a devotional), I spoke on Ephesians 5. I tried to make it clear that what I was teaching was coming from the text and not me as the source. We talked about wives being the helpmates of their husbands (yesterday from Genesis 2) with an attitude of submission and respect (Eph 5:22-24, 32) and we talked about men leading and loving their wives (Eph 5:25-32). They asked a lot of good questions about finances, wives working outside of the home and other relevant subjects that showed God was really doing work in their hearts with His Word. After, we ate lunch and then I went back to my room to rest, pray and prep for tomorrow while they had further meetings. At 4pm we went back to the beach to play games and swim. I even did a relay race with one of the pastors who wasn’t able to bring his wife and we won.
The final day of the marriage conference I decided to really focus in more on each spouse, so I spent the first half of the morning in Proverbs 31 and the last half in 1 Peter 3:7. They had a great rest of the day with further meetings and in the evening we had a special dinner. The couples shot videos talking about how much they love and appreciate their spouses. The men brought flowers to their wives, and danced with their wives, and took family pictures to commemorate their first annual Shalom Pastor’s Retreat. The highlight of the night for me was Chhinho saying to me “See, we are putting your teachings into practice.” I got to talk briefly one last time during the banquet. I thanked them for their kindness and told them I was grateful God wanted me to come to Cambodia. I hoped I was able to serve them and if I had one wish it would be that I could speak Khmer so I could have connected with each one of them personally.
The next morning (Saturday) we drove back to Phnom Penh (we stopped a lot so it took around 9 hours) and Chhinho took me to a pretty tasty hamburger place for dinner. Sunday we enjoyed a service at the Shalom mother church (even though the power was out) and then one of the local pastors, Chanthea, took me out to pizza and Dairy Queen with is wife and two daughters for dinner. It was a great night in the city center of talking and showing me around the capitol city. On Monday, after preaching on Jesus’ resurrection at a local non-profit Chhinho teaches at every week, he took me for a tour of the downtown area and later he took me on a boat cruise before getting me to the airport by 10:30pm for the 31 hour trip home (FYI, if you ever have a long layover in Incheon International Airport, check out the free tours around Seoul).
I love to preach and teach, so don’t get me wrong when I say that by far my favorite part of my 10 days in Cambodia was getting to know Chhinho. His love for Christ and the Cambodian people, his vision for planting a church in all 25 provinces, leadership development and helping pastors make a living in a country where the average income is $1000 a year is not just on a piece of paper. He’s had a hand in planting 32 churches in the past 12 years! I asked him dozens of questions. I wanted to learn everything I could from him. I LOVED hearing about his life and family and ministry plans as well as all about Cambodian history and missions. I LOVED getting to know the Shalom pastors and their wives, especially Chanthea, the lead pastor at the Shalom mother church, who was incredibly thoughtful and gracious with me. I LOVED and what encouraged me the most was seeing the joy, the unity and the friendships between the pastors and the wives in the Shalom Mission. I’m grateful God allowed me to be exposed to the work He’s doing there and I’m excited to see what He’s going to do. They are well on their way to being the kind of loving, joyful, united group that will reach Cambodia for Christ with solid, biblical, doctrinally sound, evangelistically minded churches.