One of the challenges to missions is to continue to be relevant to the needs of the people to whom we are ministering. In Cambodia, the setting up of The Third Place exemplifies our ministry to reach out to young women and equip them with livelihood skills.
Preceding The Third Place, the Emmaus Women’s Centre (EWC) was set up in 2000. Supported by GC WSCS and our partner churches, EWC provided skills training and discipleship programmes for the young women. But with the changing dynamics of the economic situation in Cambodia, employment opportunities have presented a challenge to the viability of continuing our ministry at EWC. Greater opportunities led to declining figures in EWC and, in March 2018, it ceased operations.
However, there was still the need to reach out to the young women. Since the young women were not coming to us, the alternative was to go to where they are! This resulted in the birth of The Third Place.
Odem is a town in Phnom Penh that stood out as an ideal locus for ministry and church-planting as the area is teeming with factories—a great harvest field. Moreover, there was initially no Methodist presence. Thus, The Third Place was set up in August 2018.
In Sep 2018, English and Chinese enrichment classes for children and adults were started, thus expanding our reach not just to women, but to families as well. To bless the community, various community activities were conducted in partnership with mission teams: a cultural exchange programme; health checks cum health talks; a beauty care workshop; a Khmer New Year party cum Easter celebration; and a Christmas programme.
In Nov 2018, we started Sunday worship services, and the children from our enrichment classes joined the Sunday morning children’s programme. In Jan 2019, volunteers from our Post COSI Integration Programme (PCOSIIP) came to assist in the children’s ministry, enabling the PCOSIIP youth to have a place to worship as they serve. We were also blessed with a Bible-trained pastor, Theng Tharoath, who, along with his family, is now actively involved in engaging the community to transform lives.
It has been about a year and a half since The Third Place was started. It is now a community of believers whose task is to shine the light of Jesus and draw others to Him. As with any church planting endeavour, there have been challenges. Factory workers are transient, children are limited by parental boundaries and, culturally, people will only go where their immediate tangible needs can be most met. Odem is riddled with social ills like drinking, gambling, drugs and people with undesirable influences. A thrift shop was recently started with the hope that we will be able to befriend more people, share God’s love and bless the community.
The task before us is tremendous. As God has called us to shine His light and bring about positive life-changing transformation, we are confident that His presence and provision will follow. We started in faith, believing that God will provide and prosper our ministry. From reaching out to young women, we are now able to reach out to families with life-changing experiences and to transform the community in Odem.
Carol Ong is a missionary with MMS serving in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Her home church is Toa Payoh Methodist Church.
Photos courtesy of Carol Ong