In front of the district building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Church of Mormon, opposite Hun Sen Library LIFT meets Elder Sat and Elder Duffy, both 19, from the US. The two elders (missionaries in the Mormon faith) are on a two-year mission in Cambodia to convert Cambodians to Mormonism.
Since the church was legally accepted in Cambodia in 1994, about 11,500 Cambodians joined and six church buildings, called districts, have been built in the country, three of them in Phnom Penh alone.
“This [the two years of mission] is the best time of our lives.” Elder Duffy says. “I know what I do is the right thing and I know it helps people.”
Both young men are exceptionally friendly, open and helpful.
Today LIFT is allowed to join the pair on their mission to help people.
We visit Vanny and Dara. Dara has been a member for 12 years but stayed away from the church for five years. Her husband Vanny joined about a year ago.
To strengthen the converts’ faith and dedication to the church, Sat and Duffy visit them once a week and teach them the principles of Mormonism.
Elder Duffy gives us a handy-sized pamphlet with Jesus on the cover, which contains today’s lesson: The Plan of Salvation.
We enter Dara’s and Vanny’s business, a dark and smoky Internet café packed with truants in school uniform playing online computer games.
Seemingly unaware of the students’ screams when they make a kill in their ego shooter game, the two elders and two converts open their lesson with a prayer.
Sat and Duffy read from both the Book of Mormon and the Bible in fluent Khmer. Young missionaries are thoroughly prepared for their missions abroad in one of 15 training centres worldwide.
Before they ever set foot into a country they have to read and speak the local language fluently.
To simplify the doctrine of salvation Duffy earlier drew a map that features the three different kingdoms people will go to in the afterlife, according to Mormon beliefs.
Those who die without accepting the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Mormon Church will not enjoy the full glory of God.
To make sure Vanny and Dara understand, the elders set them a reading assignment in the Book of Mormon.
Vanny is very concerned about the afterlife. He himself feels safe because he accepts the faith, doesn’t drink and smoke, and goes to church every Sunday.
“I want to go to the Celestial Kingdom [the highest possible form of eternal being in the Mormon afterlife],” he explains.
“But I want my whole family to come and I worry about my father very much. If he wasn’t Buddhist but Mormon he could stop drinking.”
Tobacco, coffee, drugs and alcohol are strictly prohibited.
But as there is no church house (or district) in Vanny’s father’s home province chances for his father to dry up and become Mormon, as Vanny would wish him to, are small – though they may increase.
According to Richard Verhaaren, spokesperson for the Mormon mission in Cambodia, the church follows an expansion strategy and Cambodia has the fastest-growing Mormon community in Asia.
The mission is paid for by the church members who give 10 per cent of their income to the “mission of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ”, as it states on the church’s website mormonnewsroom.org.
Dara and Vanny also donate 10 per cent of their earnings from the online gaming Internet café; $20 to $30 a month.
“The church asks us for the money so they can build more church houses.” Vanny explains.
Although voluntarily according to the church website, paying so-called tithes is not a practice welcome or affordable by everyone.
“I know some people who stopped going to church because they don’t have enough money,” Vanny says.
Dara adds: “I know there are some people who quit believing in the church because they pray to God for help and God does not help at all when they have problems. They are disappointed.”
Vanny and Dara however, seem to place most of their hopes in the afterlife.
Their concern is to save enough money to travel to the big Mormon temple in Hong Kong to complete a ritual called “celestial marriage” that qualifies them for a god-like life in the afterlife.
“Together with my husband I plan to go to Hong Kong to register our names to be transferred to heaven after we die. We expect to see each other there,” Dara explains.
Elder Duffy and Elder Sat seem to do a good job of convincing people of their own faith.
Next week they will come back with a new lesson and check if Dara and Vanny completed their reading assignment that should further strengthen their faith.