Yesterday morning, July 3rd at 5:15 AM, a dear man, loving husband, attentive grandfather, and redeemed child of God ended his struggles on earth to enter into the joyous presence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He and his wife vowed to have Christian funerals for the praise and glory of God. It is very seldom that a Christian in Cambodia gets a completely Christian funeral. Relatives and friends will often demand the ceremony be mostly if not all Buddhist. By God’s grace, Samnang’s funeral was Christian, and I believe a great testimony to the Lord. In less than 36 hours, God brought it all together. I praise the Lord for the doors that were opened by this funeral and for the work he is doing in lives of people through the home going of one of his saints. Time will tell what God is doing through this event. However, this email is not about the funeral, but about three men that worked together through God’s leading to perform this funeral for Him.
The Cambodian is Pastor Nuth Sakaun
The American is me, Rodney Ruppel
The Cambodian-American is Missionary/Pastor Kounaro Keo
These three men are different from one another in many ways. The most obvious is their nationality, or you could say, their cultural background. Gifts, abilities, and education are all very different as well. Position (rank) and age differences are culturally significant,
I want to testify of something that I experienced in the last two days that very few people noticed, that maybe only a few people think is significant, but that I want a lot of people to understand is very important to me. The “pecking order” seemed to disappear. Skin color faded away. Differences in cultural background, education, and ability seemed to be lost in a single-mindedness to bring Glory to God through this funeral. In the last two days, the large amount of time spent together planning, praying, worshipping, crying, laughing, rejoicing, and comforting brought me closer to these men than I have ever been. Most importantly we were just servants of the same Lord, soldiers under the same Captain, brothers in the same family, children of the same Father, and members of the same Body.
Sakaun and I have spent much time together, but this was extra special. As the Lord revealed problems or potential problems throughout the funeral, Sakaun was there to give answers, ask questions, and pray with when we had no clue. In Cambodian/Buddhist tradition, the Buddhist “clergyman” is responsible to prepare the body, place it in the casket, and basically just stay with the body (no matter how long it may be) until the body is cremated or buried. Because there were no Buddhist “clergymen” there, these responsibilities were to fall on us. By God’s grace, I have never felt more in sync with Pastor Sakaun about anything. Though we had no training and little to no (me) experience, God helped us work together as a team. Last night, we noticed that most of the family was leaving. Obviously, Sakaun and I would need to stay all night, not because of any spiritual or physical demands, but to give comfort and rest of mind to the deceased’s family. After all, there is a dead body in the living room, and superstitious people can sometimes be bothered by that sort of thing. Sakaun and I took turns sleeping so we could keep an eye on the motorcycles parked outside. When it was all over, I thought back on all that had happened in such a short time, and I just want to say how thankful I am for him.
Kounaro Keo and I have known each other for over 10 years, but we have never worked this closely on anything before. He is a great man of God doing a wonderful work. Samnang and his wife have been members of our church but moved into Kounaro’s area earlier this year. But because of Samnang’s illness, they have not yet been to his church. So this family, effectively, has two pastors. That doesn’t work! But by God’s grace, it did this week. If you know Kounaro, you know that he is very laid back and humble with a huge servant’s heart. This week, I got to see his pastor’s heart also. He loves the Cambodian people and especially his own church people. I also had the privilege of having him interrupt a teaching time to put in his own “2 cents.” Normally, I wouldn’t be so excited about that, but the paragraph below will explain it.
When a person dies, their relatives will commonly report seeing their deceased loved one in a dream or even as a ghost. Since all of the children and grandchildren of Samnang are still lost without Christ, I decided to do what I could to “nip this in the bud.” Once we buried the body, everyone went their separate ways, but I headed back to the family’s house. I told Samnang’s saved wife and his unsaved children that I wanted to pray for them before going home. As we were waiting for a couple people, Kounaro unexpectedly showed up. As I began to remind the unsaved family members that Samnang was in Heaven, and that even if his spirit could come back, he wouldn’t haunt, threaten, or try to scare them through dreams or visions, but demons might try to deceive them. (Nobody thought I was a “quack”. This is a real fear in Cambodia.) Unexpectedly, uncharacteristically, and thankfully Kounaro interrupted me mid-sentence. Yet it seemed so natural and planned by the both of us. He shared his own testimony of Khmer Rouge henchmen taking his mother away to a brutal death. From that time as a young child and into his adult life, he continually had dreams of his mother asking him to join her. (die) He was so scared, he never wanted to go to sleep. This continued until his salvation as a young adult. Samnang’s unsaved family was glued to the story until the very end, and this prepared their hearts to finish hearing the truth about God being greater than all spirits. It was the first time that Samnang’s oldest son showed any interest in spiritual things. Seeing God work is wonderful, but again, seeing God use Kounaro and I together unrehearsed and in sync together was a great privilege. It is also my honor to call Kounaro my friend, my co-laborer, my brother, and my interrupter.
May I add, that these three men would have been but useless stumps without the loving and humble service of all the people that call them pastor. I would also like to add that their are many more servants of God (Cambodian, American, Cambodian-American, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, etc) in this country that God could have inserted into our place and used them in the same manner. The last couple of days, I was honored, privileged, and humbled to be among those used of our Lord.
Amazed at God’s Goodness and Greatness!