Serving Cambodian Pastors: Every Tribe & Tongue & People & Nation
Reaching out to the mission field in our neighborhoods
On Friday, March 4, 2005, Pastor Reth Nhar said goodbye to his wife, climbed into a car with four Cambodian friends, and headed out into the evening rush hour for the 60-mile drive north out of Providence, through the heart of Boston, to Lynn, Massachusetts. There the five made their way up to the second floor of an office building at 140 Union Street, grabbed some tea, and at 6:45 p.m., they crammed into a meeting room at the new Cambodian Ministries Resource Center.
Convening on the first weekends of February, March and April this year, the class, “Evangelism in the Local Church,” is part of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s urban extension program, the Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). On Friday evenings, the 17 students from seven churches and their two instructors meet from 6:45 to 9:45. Then they are back on Saturdays from 9:00 to 4:00. The schedule is designed for busy bi-vocational pastors, like Reth, and church lay leaders who want to pursue a seminary education but need to fit it into their already busy lives.
This is the first class at CUME taught in Khmer.* Rev. PoSan Ung, a missionary with EGC, teaches in Khmer. Rev. Dr. Gregg Detwiler, Multicultural Ministries Coordinator with EGC, co-teaches in English. Asked in a survey if they would prefer to take the course in English or Khmer, some students said they were more comfortable in one language and some in the other. This, according to Gregg, “reflects the reality of a community in transition.” When a guest speaker presents in English, PoSan will translate key concepts into Khmer.
Rev. PoSan Ung established the Cambodian Ministries Resource Center last year to help support the growing ministry of Cambodian Christians in New England. There he offers Christian literature in Khmer, as well as meeting and office space. PoSan is also planting a church in Lynn, reaching out to young, second-generation Cambodians. Having lived through the Cambodian Holocaust and grown up as a refugee, PoSan is intimately in touch with the Cambodian experience. For the past ten years, he has served in various churches in New England as a youth pastor, as the English-ministry pastor for a Cambodian church, and as a church planter. Since 2000, PoSan has worked to develop a ministry that extends to church leaders in the Cambodian Christian community across New England and reaches all the way to Cambodia.
According to PoSan, “The Greater Boston area has the second largest Cambodian population outside Cambodia. However, there are merely a handful of Christians. Thus the Cambodian community is a mission field, in desperate need of enabled, equipped and supported workers.”
In 2000, this need among Cambodians was not in focus at EGC. But that was the year we teamed with Grace Chapel in Lexington to research unreached people groups within the I495 belt of Eastern Massachusetts, and to identify indigenous Christian work being carried on among them. As a result of that research, a joint Grace Chapel and EGC team began to help pastors and leaders gather together to form the Christian Cambodian American Fellowship (CCAF). The aim of the CCAF is to find avenues for training and equipping Cambodian leaders and for planning collaborative outreaches and activities that strengthen and encourage Kingdom growth among Cambodians.
That work also informed the development of EGC’s Multicultural Ministries program. While we have worked with ethnic churches since the ’60s, a vision was growing to do more to encourage ministry among the region’s immigrant populations who were settling not only in Boston, but in urban communities around Boston. To put flesh on this vision, Gregg Detwiler joined the EGC team.
Rev. Gregg Detwiler served as a church planting pastor in Boston for twelve years. He then served as the Missions-Diaspora Pastor at Mount Hope Christian Center in Burlington, where a ministry emerged to serve people from many nations. In 2001, he earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell through CUME and started his multicultural training and consulting work with a dual missions appointment from EGC and the Southern New England District of the Assemblies of God.
In time, as Gregg pursued open doors of opportunity to serve ethnic communities in Greater Boston and to consult in multicultural ministry collaboration, four streams of service developed, the first being to support the CCAF.
1. Supporting CCAF
“My role in the fellowship is that of a supportive missionary who seeks to encourage and promote the indigenous development of the faith,” Gregg explains. The CUME class came out of listening to the Cambodians in the CCAF, and was a concrete response to the needs they expressed. “In the past year, we have seen participation in the CCAF broaden and deepen. By this I mean that we have come to a place where we are now dealing with some of the deeper issues hindering the Cambodian churches from expanding.” The CUME class is another major leap forward toward this broadening and deepening.
2. Multicultural Ministry Training and Consulting
Gregg lumps much of his daily work under this broad category. He provides training and consulting for churches and organizations that wish to learn how to better respond to and embrace cross-cultural and multicultural ministry. For example, in February, Gregg conducted a workshop at Vision New England’s Congress 2005 on “Multicultural Issues and Opportunities Facing the Church,” co-led by Rev. Torli Krua, a Liberian church leader and pastor. At times, Gregg is called upon to serve as a minister-at-large, responding in practical ways to needs and crises within ethnic Christian movements. He serves as a catalyst for collaborative strategic outreaches such as sponsoring an evangelistic drama outreach to the Indian community of Greater Boston. Gregg has worked to form racial and ethnic diversity teams at churches and for his denomination. He is also available for preaching, teaching, workshops, and organizational training for churches wanting to be more multicultural or more responsive to their multicultural neighbors.
3. Multicultural Leaders Council Development
On November 9, 2002, nearly 200 leaders from 16 people groups gathered at the Boston Missionary Baptist Church for an event called the Multicultural Leadership Consultation. Gregg, Doug and Judy Hall, and a diverse team worked for over nine months to plan the gathering. The event served to build relationships, heighten awareness, and launch the Multicultural Leaders Council (MLC).
The MLC is comprised of key ethnic leaders from a variety of ethnic groups, currently 15. The aim of the MLC is to find ways to strengthen Kingdom growth in each of the respective people groups, while at the same time seeking to identify with, learn from, and relate to the wider Body of Christ. Gregg explains, “In this unique context, Cambodian leaders can learn from Chinese leaders, Chinese leaders can learn from Haitian leaders, and Caucasian leaders can learn from them all—and vice versa! Also, resources can be shared that can benefit all of the ethnic movements.
“We meet once a quarter, averaging around 20 to 30 leaders. This year we are focusing most of our energies on two areas: corporate prayer and youth ministry development. In both of these, we are working with the infrastructure already in place in the city that wants to see that happen. The Boston Prayer Initiative is fostering corporate prayer. We believe that multicultural collaboration will not happen outside a climate of prayer. In the area of youth ministry development, we are working with Rev. Larry Brown and EGC’s Youth Ministry Development Project. Larry has come to meet with the MLC to let the people of the MLC influence what he is doing, while he influences the work going on among the youth in various ethnic communities by providing consulting, networking and leadership training for youth workers.”
4. Urban/Diaspora Leadership Training
In addition to his work with the Cambodian class, Gregg works closely with Doug and Judy Hall in teaching CUME core courses in inner-city ministry. “I am now considered a ‘teaching fellow.’ That is not quite a full-grown professor! I teach and grade half of the papers, I am responsible for half of the 46 students currently enrolled in Inner-City Ministry. This is a natural fit for me, as those students are African, Asian, Latin American, Jewish, Caucasian, African American—it’s a natural environment for a cross-cultural learning environment.”
A New Cultural Landscape
A flow of new immigrants into Boston and cities and towns of all sizes is altering social and spiritual realities, providing both blessings and challenges to the American church. One of these blessings is the importing of vital multicultural Christianity from around the world. This vitality has produced thousands of vibrant ethnic churches, and is increasingly touching the established American church.
Rev. Dr. Gregg Detwiler embraces the new realities of our multicultural world and is working to find new ways to allow that diversity and cultural mix to influence our response to the Great Commission of Christ. Gregg says, “I am convinced that if churches in America effectively reach and partner with the nations at our doorstep, God will increase our effectiveness in reaching the nations of the world.” To Gregg, this hope is not merely a theoretical idea or a worthy goal, it is a reality he enjoys every working day.
[published in Inside EGC, March-April, 2005]