‘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…’ Isaiah 25:4
A Difficult History
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.
Stronghold is Born
In 2011 an LCMS initiative prompted Pastor Dion Garrett, from St. John Church in Ellisville, MO to pursue global mission opportunities. After exploring ministry options and a lot of prayer, St. John Church 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 poor neighborhoods.
Finding our Place – Following God
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 – essential elements in Cambodian culture.
Investing in the Next Generation
Today, Stronghold Cambodia is a safe haven for children of Fish Island. Stronghold still uses a before and after school ‘wrap around’ model to provide lessons for grades 3-9 teaching ESL, Bible and basic computer skills. Students are offered a daily nourishing meal created with care and love by Naomi and Jesse leads daily devotions in their heart language of Khmer. Stronghold missionaries teaching ESL are native English speakers and often play with students in between classes encouraging prayer, singing, conversation and fun. The Stronghold staff regularly goes into the community visiting with student families, deepening meaningful relationships and growing trust. Stronghold annually hosts VBS, youth retreats, and Christmas and Easter events teaching the children about Jesus’ love for them and how He shapes their self-value and lives. We also hold events for the parents/guardians of their students to help support and educate them while fostering relationship within the context of Stronghold’s values.
Making a Lasting Difference
To make a long-term impact in Cambodia, Stronghold is committed to anchoring themselves in the community of Fish Island by purchasing property and growing alongside the village. Stronghold is in the process of making this dream a reality through a multi-phase capital campaign. Phase 1 was completed in August 2020 with the purchase and preparation of land nearby their current location. Now in Phase 2, we are raising money for building a new facility to support the growing ministry of Stronghold. Ownership of land and a facility will not only provide stability amidst the socio-economic climate of ever-increasing lease/land cost but allows for opportunities toward financial independence and sustainability.