Feature

Sewing Seeds of Change

Crown students stitch together a plan to “Change Cambodia”

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An impoverished family desperately needs money for food or rent—or maybe even to pay off a debt incurred in a card game or casino. The head of the household goes to a rich person in the neighborhood, who agrees to make a loan in exchange for collateral. But the poor family has only one thing of value to offer—a child.

Boys traded in this manner are often put to work selling trinkets or begging on the streets. All of the money they make is turned over to a “handler” in order to pay off the parents’ loan—yet the principle never seems to diminish. Little girls, many as young as five, and a few of the boys as well, are sold to brothels.

Change Cambodia

Each year, Crown College financially and prayerfully supports a mission project through the student-led Global Impact Team (GIT). Last year’s endeavor was one that would ultimately change the lives of not only a group of women in Poipet, Cambodia, but also the hearts of Crown students.

Sex trafficking is an incredibly destructive yet highly profitable form of slavery. The student project—_Change Cambodia_—came about through the help of the Crown missionaries in residence who have personal connections in Poipet, Cambodia. They passed to GIT students first-hand knowledge of the slavery in that country and shared an ongoing need in which the entire campus could be involved. And students came away with a new understanding of present-day slavery.

“Sex trafficking is a major problem in Asia, mainly because the women’s families have taken out loans from the rich,” said Peter Roeth, a student involved in the GIT project. “In turn, the rich charge extremely high interest rates that are almost impossible for a poor family to pay off.”

Since so many are forced to put their daughters into the sex industry to pay debts, the Khmer Evangelical Church (the C&MA Cambodian national church) began a ministry to teach women of all faiths how to sew and earn money in a healthy, spiritually nourishing environment. As the women make clothes to financially support their families, the church cares for their physical and spiritual needs. Nearly all of the women in the project are now Christians and are telling others about the hope they have found in Jesus.

GIT Going

The core of the 2006–2007 GIT team comprised seven students: Chandra Parker, Laurel Rundstrom, Peter Roeth, Erik Kling, Caleb Kohl, Sonja Anderson and Mirjam Schroeter. With the team, each student involved their heart in a focused mission project for the year to orchestrate means for their campus to reach the world with Christ’s love. They met once a week to plan the fall Missions Festival, organize GIT chapels that took place approximately twice a month and work on the Change Cambodia project.

Throughout the year, GIT kept the campus up-to-date on the project’s progress and the dollar amount raised. Laurel Rundstrom, one of the prayer coordinators for GIT, said, “I see this project as more holistic, not just preaching the Word. You have to have something as an expression of God’s love—actions and not just words.”

Those actions have made a significant difference for many lives in Cambodia in just a year’s time. Between the hard work of GIT and the caring hearts at Crown, a goal was set to raise $11,761—enough to purchase approximately 50 sewing machines.
Donations came in through a variety of ways. GIT chapel offerings, advertisements with contribution boxes placed around campus, faculty/staff and student pledges and a “‘GIT’ It Done” day helped provide motivation for the campus to give the project a strong push. In addition, people could donate online. To help students see progress, a world map placed on a highly visible billboard kept track of the number of sewing machines making their way to Cambodia with each goal increase.

Through the generous on-campus gifts, the initial goal was exceeded by more than $2,100 for a total of nearly $14,000. With the increase, team members were able to purchase 10 more machines. These funds were sent to C&MA missionaries who helped purchase the machines and set up stations for the women in the sewing ministry.

Making a Difference

The C&MA missionaries in Cambodia GIT worked through are Soeuth and Syna Lao. As native Cambodians, Syna and Soeuth have a distinct perspective on the needs in Poipet, and a unique story of becoming overseas missionaries in their own land. In the 1970s, to escape the Khmer Rouge war, Soeuth and Syna individually fled their homeland for the United States, where they each became citizens. Syna had made her decision for Christ in Cambodia. While in the United States, Soeuth also became a Christian and soon attended a Bible school. Syna met Soeuth, and they were married in 1992. They became missionaries with The Alliance and eventually returned to Cambodia.

During one GIT chapel, Syna called from halfway around the globe and was put on speaker phone. She shared their thanks, along with an update on the state of the project and the impact it was making. It was a meaningful way for the students to connect in real time with how their dollars were being utilized. Soeuth and Syna will be in the United States on home assignment during the 2007–2008 school year and will visit both Crown and Nyack colleges.

Two GIT members visited the ministry center in Poipet and worked with Soeuth and Syna. Peter Roeth, GIT treasurer, and Erik Kling, logistics coordinator, met with the women in the program and shared with the campus of the impact Crown has had and the many families who have been touched by the church’s ministry.

As the school year came to a close and the Change Cambodia goal had been exceeded, it was evident that Crown students made a positive impact on one city in this poverty-stricken country of nearly 15 million people—and had in turn been blessed. “Going to the sewing project site and seeing the other Alliance ministries in Poipet was an incredible experience that reignited a passion in my own life for sharing the love of Jesus,” said Roeth. “This project has opened my eyes to the many injustices around the world, and I want to be involved in helping the oppressed and afflicted.”

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