For You have been a stronghold for the poor, a stronghold for the needy in distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.
In the late 1970s, when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took power, one fifth of Cambodia’s population, including most of the educated population, was killed, starved or fled the country. Cambodia is still suffering the effects of the genocide 50 years later. Today, nearly half the country’s population is under the age of 25 and the general level of education is extremely low. More than one out of ten children never attend school and nearly half the children ages 5 to 14 work to support their families. On top of these heartrending statistics human trafficking is a very real threat with the poorest communities being at the greatest risk.
In 2011 an LCMS initiative prompted Pastor Dion Garrett, from Pathfinder Church in Ellisville, MO (formerly St. John Church) to pursue global mission opportunities. After exploring ministry options and a lot of prayer, Pathfinder partnered with a Cambodian pastor, Phan Narit (Jesse), to begin a wrap-around model of education and Christian care. Both Jesse and his wife, Chin Sithon (Naomi), heard and answered the call of God to the mission and ministry of Stronghold by pursuing children and families the way God pursues us. In 2014, Stronghold Cambodia opened its doors in the port city of Sihanoukville, tucked away in one of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.
As Cambodia develops economically, Stronghold fell casualty to the influx of Chinese business influence and was forced by land prices to move out of Sihanoukville. In July 2018 after much prayer and research, Stronghold relocated to Kampot on Fish Island, 2.5 hours east of Sihanoukville. Stronghold rented a large home near the primary and secondary schools and once again began building relationships and trust within the community – an essential element in Cambodian culture.