A Firmer Grip on the Rope: Lessons Learned in Cambodia
by Mike Sanborn, Teaching Pastor at Granada Heights Friends Church
The Sunday after I returned from the pastor’s vision trip to Cambodia was the first day of our annual missions conference. Pastor Sung Kim from Gateway Friends Church was the guest speaker. He used a rock climbing illustration to encourage us to continue providing good support for our missionaries. In most rock climbing situations, the climber is supported by another person on the ground who is called the belayer (see diagram). The belayer literally “holds the rope” for the climber, continually giving slack and monitoring the position of the climber in case the climber slips, always ready to stop the rope to prevent a big fall. The belayer is also an encourager and a guide, helping the climber to see the path forward a little clearer. Sung Kim encouraged us to “hold the rope” and be good belayers for our missionaries.
As I have been reflecting on my time in Cambodia, I believe that the Lord has asked me to have a much firmer grip on the rope and a much more attentive eye as a belayer for our missionaries there. The Friends mission in Cambodia is disciple-making that I can whole-heartedly endorse. There are some other missions groups that attempt to make a big splash with quick “results” by throwing money at people. But when the money stops flowing, the “converts” fade away and the fruit does not last. Our Friends missionaries are devoted to the long, arduous task of bearing fruit that lasts by guiding people into authentic discipleship to Jesus.
This task involves a thoughtful incarnational approach that enters into the everyday life and culture of the Cambodians, patiently learning from them and loving them so that the Cambodians will truly open their hearts to the beautiful life of Jesus that rescues and transforms. How encouraging it was to see all the different groups of Cambodian believers light up with joy when the missionaries came to visit them for fellowship – even though no large gift was given, just the culturally-appropriate gifts of fruit, and some eye-glasses to help them read. How wonderful it was to see some Cambodian churches that we visited take ownership of the worship service and lead and encourage us in our walk with Jesus. How heart-warming it was to hear about Cambodian Christians who decide on their own to destroy their spirit houses – the ubiquitous mini-altars in front of every home and business to appease the spirits – because they came to the conclusion that Jesus has authority over every spirit. The missionaries did not tell them to do it, and they won’t, because they see it as one of the markers that genuine faith has taken root in their souls.
But there is an enormous amount of work to be done in Cambodia. Walking through the country today, it is near impossible to find a home or business without a spirit house out front. Christians are still very few. Our team of 7 missionaries is a dynamo bunch for sure, committed to be bright lights in the darkness. But they know their limitations and weaknesses. They need strong belayers like you and I to hold the rope for them. And they’re praying for more climbers to join them.
There are many practical ways to hold the rope, but the one that kept coming to my mind is prayer. The spirit houses were a constant visible reminder of the invisible reality of the spiritual war raging in Cambodia. Evil spirits are, in reality, constantly working to snuff out the light of Christ. But God has so arranged this world that He allows our prayers to be colossal “shock and awe” weapons against the forces of darkness. God mobilizes heaven’s armies when our hearts engage with God’s Spirit in fervent prayer. I hope that you will join me in pursuing a much greater realization of the importance of prayer. May we belay our missionaries with more and more prayer for the growth of God’s kingdom in Cambodia… and as we pray, perhaps several of us will hear God’s call to climb with them.