A Virtuous Cycle of Missions

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Oct 25, 2018

When MTW missionaries Luke and Sokha Smith moved to the village of Angk’jeay in rural Cambodia in 2011, it wasn’t long before they set up an English language program. Reaching local students is a major focus of their ministry—a key outreach in their larger church-planting work—and, in Cambodia, English is in high demand.

“A lot of the students want to learn English,” Luke explained. “If you go to college here, even if your professor teaches in Khmer, a lot of your textbooks would be in English. … And you would also need to know some English to get a lot of the higher paying jobs.”

Three days a week, the Smiths work through the ABCs, phonics, reading, and English conversation. There’s an evangelistic component as well: Luke and Sokha teach stories from the Bible, work through the Shorter Catechism in Khmer, and lead the students in singing Christian Cambodian hymns. They‘re equipping these young men and women with valuable language skills, but they’re also helping them gain biblical literacy, learn basic theological truths, and come to know Jesus.

A Chance to Break a Vicious Cycle
The Smiths met Pisey Cheum during that first year. She was in 10th grade at the time, and eager to learn. She started attending their evening English classes after school, soaking in the knowledge and hearing the gospel. Before long, she started coming to church, and soon became a Christian. Just before her senior year of high school, Pisey’s mother came to Luke and Sokha and asked if they could somehow help put her daughter through college.

“We told her we would think about it,” Luke said. “But that put an idea in our heads.”

In those early years, many of Angk’jeay’s female students would drop out of school, forced by their parents or economic circumstances to go work in clothing factories and send money back home to the village.

“We really wanted them to have a way to get a better education and get out of the cycle of poverty,” said Luke, “to really be able to support not only themselves and their family, but to be able to support the church financially in the future—helping make the Cambodian church more self-sustainable.”

The Smiths’ answer? Help send the village girls to college.

By the time Pisey graduated high school, Luke and Sokha had picked out a group of four students, including Pisey, to begin the new program, funded initially by the Ambassadors Program and then through an MTW Cambodia fundraising project. The four stayed in the village for another year, helping with church outreach, studying the Bible and being discipled by the Smiths, learning computer skills, practicing English, and preparing for college. The next year, Pisey set off for the big city of Phnom Penh to study English education—but she wouldn’t be alone.

From Village to City
The majority of the MTW Cambodia team serves in Phnom Penh, church planting and partnering with local Christian leaders to bolster the Cambodian Church. Wanting Pisey to continue being discipled and growing in her faith, the Smiths connected her with Khmer Christian Church, one of MTW’s partner churches in Phnom Penh, where MTW Cambodia team leader Paul Lee and his wife, Susan, work.

Because Cambodian universities don’t have student housing, the church had set up a dorm ministry, providing affordable, safe places for students to live. For the next four years, Pisey lived in the dorms and studied hard. All the while she continued to be discipled by MTW missionaries and actively work in ministry with the church in Phnom Penh. Every time a missions outreach or church event happened, Pisey was there.

From City to Village
Every Sunday after the worship service at Khmer Christian Church, Pisey and the rest of the congregation would go to a village a couple of hours away where Khmer Christian had planted a church to reach the local people. While the pastor and older church members focused on evangelizing the adults, Pisey and others taught Sunday School for the village children. She and the other students from Angk’jeay also worked out a rotation system with the Smiths, and every four weeks one of them would come back home to teach children’s Sunday school there.

Following the Call
This past spring, Pisey passed her final examinations at Norton University in Phnom Penh, earning her bachelor’s degree in English education. Shortly after, she got her first job as a teacher’s aide at Logos International Christian School in Phnom Penh— a school MTW missionary kids often attend.

“I will follow Jesus and do what He wants me to do,” said Pisey. “I will teach Sunday school, join the mission, and help with everything that I can.”

Pisey is the first to graduate, but there are still six students from the Smiths’ village studying in Phnom Penh. All six are plugged into one of MTW’s partner churches in the city and are actively involved in ministry. One of the six is Pisey’s younger sister, now in her second year of college.

For Pisey and the other students, their journeys of faith began in the village with Luke and Sokha. When they moved to the city, MTW missionaries were right there, walking alongside them and discipling them as they grew. Now, starting with Pisey, these same students are graduating, breaking free of the cycle of poverty, and serving the Cambodian Church in even bigger ways.

“Now I feel called to ministry,” Pisey said. “I want to be involved with every part of serving God.”

Interested in serving? We have opportunities in Cambodia and around the world. Visit   

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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