Khmer is not an easy language,” Kate Shellnutt told me after her reporting trip to Cambodia for this month’s cover story. “English transliteration doesn’t really resemble the Khmer pronunciation.” And the words for hello, thank you, and yeah only get you so far when attempting to give directions. Still, her tuk-tuk driver smiled, nodded, and indicated that he knew where she wanted to go. And then, every day, “he’d just take me somewhere Christian: a church, a Christian daycare, a Christian NGO,” she said. “He had picked up that I kept going to Christian places for my reporting. He’d point to the sign and be like, ‘Here it is! Christian!’ I kept having to say, actually it’s not this church or this NGO, and had to get someone to explain to him.”
But the driver understood that those churches and ministries were all one big thing. Soon enough, Kate understood it, too. “I attend a Christian and Missionary Alliance church in Augusta, Georgia, and (as I mention in the article) the CMA is a big deal in Cambodia because of its long missionary history and its evangelism at the refugee camps. Several times, I’d ask a Cambodian where they went to church or how they came to Christ. When they’d say, ‘CMA,’ it was so special to say, ‘Me too!’ and have that moment of connection with people half a world away. I didn’t meet too many American NGO workers—maybe 12 to 15 total—but two of them had connections with my former church back in Houston and we had mutual friends!”
A world of hundreds of millions of Christians can seem remarkably small at times. The nerves and sinews of the Body of Christ branch and sprawl, but they also unite and double back upon themselves.
Sometimes those ties can appear closer than they are. Take, for example, our new print managing editor, Andy Olsen. While Andy excelled at putting together most of this issue, Kate’s reporting was finished long before he joined CT. I’m noting this because he comes to CT most recently from International Justice Mission (where he served as Latin America communications manager), whose remarkable work features prominently in Kate’s reporting. IJM’s former employee didn’t change the story; we’re as committed to independent reporting as ever. And while I’m clarifying, I should probably also note that Andy Olsen and I share a surname but aren’t related. But we are united in Christ—connected, along with those CMA pastors in Cambodia, IJM workers around the world, the Christians I’m meeting here in Kenya, and with you, dear reader. Here we are! Christian!