Dear Friends and Family,
Old Farmer Ted (that’s me) watched his early season rice crop die last month due to drought. Afterwards, he bought $18,000 worth of registered, early-season, Philippine rice seed and replanted. Did I hear from God? No, I’m a farmer and when it’s time to plant, we plant! We got a rain to sprout the seed then more drought – at the brink of another disaster another rain – and so it’s been for a month. There are 164,000 hectares (that’s over 400,000 acres) of rice under severe drought in Cambodia, much of it beyond help. Our rice fields have gotten rain that missed the entire country. While we have never had flood cover on any of our rice this year, we pray and pray and pray and get rain just in time. This is more like raising dry-land wheat than rice, and it is exhausting, even for a supposed “Man of faith”.
I was attending a Friday night prayer meeting and I was praying for the rice. I felt no emotion, I’m a tough old farmer and I’ve lost crops before, but I noticed I had tears flowing down both cheeks uncontrollably! I could not understand this. This has never happened to me in 66 years of life. I asked God, “Why is this happening?” He responded, “These are my tears flowing through you for all you’re going to go through in the next few weeks.” This was not good news to me.
We are out of rice until this new crop comes in. So, we’ve put out this appeal. We need a total of 160 tons to get us to the next harvest, and thanks to some generous donors, 40 tons of rice has arrived. ( see video / photos)
But, I knew this “word from the Lord” meant there was more pain coming down the pike. That night one of our Board of Directors, Yohan (John), the builder of 46 of our buildings had a massive stroke. Yohan got saved while he was working as a construction laborer at our church home in Toule Dam Na; he literally saw the fire of God fall in January, 2000 and came to faith in Christ on the spot. He was the only contractor who never cheated us; a major donor to the church, he used his 2 1/2 ton truck to make multiple trips each Sunday to bring people to church.
The night before he died, Yohan received a ranting, three hour phone call from the former leader at our rice farm telling him how bad he was for staying loyal to Dr. Lina and the Foursquare church. The next morning he had a massive stroke. His son-in–law, Dr. Lina, was at the hospital when Sou arrived. He examined the CAT scan and told Sou, “There is no hope without a creative miracle, he is already dead.” Sou prayed, “God, Yohan doesn’t want to come back and be paralyzed; so, heal him completely or take him home!” Seri Yen, one of our recent graduates of Don Bosco, and one of the longest residents of our child care was there. She says, “I saw the power of God go into Yohan when Mak Sou prayed.” Yohan opened his eyes. Mak said, “Yohan, if you can hear me squeeze my hand.” Yohan squeezed her hand and then said twice, “Take care of Dr. Lina!” and he was gone to be with the Lord.
His family has donated a prime piece of land on Highway 6 in Khampong Tamaw for the construction of the “Yohan Foursquare Church”. Enough people came to the Lord at his funeral to fill it. To see more than 1000 people show up in a rural community to say, “Goodbye” to a man who never learned to read nor write is a great testimony to the love people felt for Yohan. ( see video / photos)
Farmers know that a new season is coming, and after a disaster all you can say is, “Praise God it is over! Happy days are here again!” I’m not talking about rice production. Church attendance where our former National Leader used to pastor has doubled. Five new home groups have been formed in the town where his brother was supervisor. Attendance at the church where our rice mill was located is up ten fold, and of the 4000 + pastors in Foursquare, not one has chosen to follow him. “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.” (Prov. 11:10) The leaders and kids from the Chom Chao met in prayer after the new Supervisors had selected new leadership. Joy and ice-cream abounded for all afterwards! ( see photos)
What’s this all about? An old farmer (not me) walked into the jewelry shop and plopped his hunting case pocket watch on the counter. “It quit working”, explained the farmer. The jeweler picked up the watch and with his precision tools quickly pried open the back of the watch. A dead cockroach fell out onto the counter. “There’s your problem!” exclaimed the jeweler, “The engineer is dead!”
We were under tremendous pressure for about six months through the beginning of July. Our committed leaders were seeing unprecedented church growth, but the former National Leader was trying to crush the “Young Lions,” our most fruitful component. His corrupt family members were not being corrected; good leaders were being turned against one another through rumor, and the church was spiritually stalling. It felt like we had to drag the church forward even though we’d just gone through a great time of revival. There was discontentment, discouragement and a lack of joy.
So, like the jeweler, we pried the back off the watch. Sure enough, the “engineer” was spiritually dead from the knees up. Evidence of misdeeds started to pour in that implicated virtually his entire family: two brothers in leadership positions, his wife, his mother and his nephew were involved in serious misconduct. When confronted, they resigned en-masse. Liars love Facebook; you can say anything on Facebook without substantiation. The confronted claim they were fired, but we have multiple affidavits, video statements, written proof and sworn testimony that this is simply not true, even though their misconduct warranted it.
Old Farmer Ted (that’s me) has no interest in jewelry. In fact, a diamond has no more attraction to me than a piece of road gravel – my jewelry collection consists of a $12 rubber wrist-watch, complete with calculator. Talk about “polar opposites”, my wife has no greater fondness for any physical object than jewelry. Opposites attract you know? That’s why my wife, Sou, and I will never get a divorce. I suppose her love for the stuff came as a result of her royal upbringing in Laos. And when I married her, she came with quite a collection. During our 43 years of married life, if I managed to make any money, she’d gladly spend it on some jewels. I didn’t mind because my greatest joy was to see Sou happy.
God works in strange and mysterious ways! When we arrived in Cambodia, we had a small amount of personal savings. Sou noticed, while traveling the provinces, there were huge amounts of uncut sapphires, rubies, emeralds and other precious stones to be had at extremely low prices. She has an eye for these bargains and bought up shoe-boxes full of them. Over the years she has become very good friends with the King’s jeweler, and this woman has helped fashion these rocks into beautiful jewelry items. For example, one rough stone she purchased for less than $100 was transformed into a necklace worth $40,000. This an exceptional example, but it gives you some idea of the blessing upon her, and I might add, “For such a time as this.” ( see photos)
Farmers never give up. This past year we have been blessed even in the face of adversity. Upon our separation from Warm Blankets USA, almost everyone thought we would fail financially. The fact is, we have done better financially than we did while we were with them. That truly is a miracle, since we have no paid fund raising staff or rented office space in the US. We needed to rebuild our church homes in order to meet the new standards set by the government. ( see photos) We have spent nearly $600,000 on church home repairs; about one-third of that came from jewels sold by Mak Sou. She has been suffering from a three month long bout of a cough, but she won’t quit! Please continue to pray for her healing, restoration and strength.
As any good farmer will tell you, maintenance is a major part of success. Much of the expense of the past year was in building or rebuilding gates, walls, fences, roofs, railings, etc. We even managed to get some playgrounds donated by Foursquare Foundation which are not included in the above total ( see photos). The following is true but it will sound like fiction.
Good farmers watch their fences. Our former National Leader was trying to steal one of our church homes in Steung Treng. One of his brothers, a District Supervisor, had been running an illegal lumber business out of the church. The church was totally battered and unfruitful. No one felt any pity for the church because the District Supervisor had been so ruthless.
My insistence that our former leader, “Dismiss this unproductive fraud!” helped lead to our discovery of other corrupt family practices. Even though this corrupt District Supervisor signed a resignation paper and agreed to leave the church home, he was convinced to stay in the home by his brother, our former National Leader, thinking they could gain possession of this property. Sou, so sick she could not drive, went to Steung Treng with three of our Regional Supervisors and one other District Supervisor who has high level political connections in the area. It was a tough fight; the night they arrived, the city seemed lost.
Sou was so discouraged and sick, being plagued with a persistent cough for over a month. Then, a prophetic word came for her from a man half-a-world away. He’d been fishing in Canada and knew nothing of what was going on in Cambodia. Sou had just sold some jewels to rebuild the home, reclothe the children and re-equip the entire operation. (I always thought the ruins were re-built of jewels but the Bible says, “with”) When I read his email I thought I was reading something the prophet was writing to us as a personal encouragement after gaining knowledge of our predicament. He sent it to me out of the message Bible, so I didn’t even believe I was reading scripture:
“Afflicted city, storm-battered, unpitied: I’m about to rebuild you with stones of turquoise, Lay your foundations with sapphires, construct your towers with rubies, Your gates with jewels, and all your walls with precious stones. All your children will have God for their teacher—what a mentor for your children! You’ll be built solid, grounded in righteousness, far from any trouble—nothing to fear! far from terror—it won’t even come close! If anyone attacks you, don’t for a moment suppose that I sent them, And if any should attack, nothing will come of it. I create the blacksmith who fires up his forge and makes a weapon designed to kill. I also create the destroyer—but no weapon that can hurt you has ever been forged. Any accuser who takes you to court will be dismissed as a liar. This is what God’s servants can expect. I’ll see to it that everything works out for the best. God’s Decree.”( Is 54:11-17). The next day, the government ran the crooks out of town!
Like all committed farmers, what do we do? We plant! What? Rice, churches and hope; by ministering to the orphan, the widow, the poor, the sick and the prisoners. The prison outreach part of our ministry gets little press due to the insistence on “privacy” on the part of the government. We do have this: ( see photos). There is not much we can say about this other than that we are not oblivious to the imprisoned. Baptisms continue, new churches abound, growth continues; unfortunately, the devil is not dead, but we know who wins! Enjoy the ride! Life is great!
These farmers are determined to have a good, rainy, month. May you have one as well, if you need it.
Ted & Sou Olbrich (Pa Thom and Mak Sou)
And, the real heroes, those that do all the unrecognized work, our staff!