Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 2, no. 1 (February 2011)

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What Is Good News to the Poor (Cambodia)

Casey Allison

While sitting with my neighbor, Chanthu, on her bamboo platform in the suburbs of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we watched some local dogs picking scraps from a garbage pile. The dear woman quietly mentioned how she and her young sons would one day be such mangy animals as these. She reasoned that their poverty was a sign of their bad karma.

“Does this bother you, Chanthu?” I asked, shocked.

“It is what it is,” she replied, “the truth.”

“Are you afraid?” I whispered.

“Yes, but there is nothing for me to do. My sins are more than my merit,” Chanthu said, hopelessly.

“Is there no one to forgive your sins?” I asked, hoping to lead her deeper into discussion about Jesus.

“No one,” she stated with finality.

“Aren’t you afraid?” I could not help but ask.

“Yes. I am afraid of my boys being dogs. I am afraid that no one will feed my ghost in the waiting time between lives. I have much fear.”

Yet, Chanthu, resigned to her fear, looks to money as a solution to at least the most pressing problems. Her husband recently moved to Australia to work as a migrant fruit picker. Chanthu says she misses him, but she would miss the money he was sending more. The money, she knows, will not change her karma. At least some relative comfort can be found before her next life as a dog. As much as Chanthu desires wealth, surely better good news exists than a TV and cell phone!

Freedom from fear is found in Christ, and that is good news! We, as Christians, know and believe this truth. Chanthu, however, can only focus on alleviating her poverty in this life and leaves dealing with the terrible prospects of the next life until later. We know later is too late, and, while we are rejoicing in Chanthu’s new income, we fear it will only distract her from God’s good news to the poor. As disciples, we are called to share Christ with others. We should be fearless, knowing that the only way we can fail is by not sharing.

In my early years in Cambodia, I had a discussion similar to the one I recently had with Chanthu. Considering her words now, I wonder whether I fully understand or appreciate Christ’s good news myself:

“What if there were someone who could pay for all your sins?” I asked.

“Well,” the woman replied, “that would be just too amazing to believe.”

Too amazing? Almost.

Casey Allison, along with her husband Chris and their three children, serves as a missionary among the Khmer people of Cambodia. Visit the Cambodia Mission website at http://www.allisonmission.com/ or Casey’s personal blog at http://www.earlymorningmissionary.blogspot.com.