How gospel partnership around the world supports Cambodian Christian students

The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) supports Christian student movements around the world in their mission to share the good news of Jesus with every student. OMF is privileged to work with IFES across East Asia. As part of our article on the history of SONOKO, the Christian student movement in Cambodia, we chatted to East Asia Regional Secretary Annette Arulrajah about how connecting with Christians around the world has helped SONOKO.

How has connecting with other student movements benefited SONOKO?

The student movement thrives on a passion uniquely its own – to see the witness for Christ and the ushering in of his kingdom, on every campus, in every country possible.  This passion has served as a catalyst to SONOKO, as they see the movements in East Asia undertaking this dream as well. It has fuelled their dreams and helped them overcome obstacles creatively, in campuses where it is tough to be seen on campus doing religious activity.  We share stories, we share learnings, we share prayers together.

What kind of support does IFES provide to SONOKO?

IFES’ role is to journey with movements by providing pastoral care for the movement – visiting the leaders and the staff at least 3 to 4 times a year; providing trainings; and consultation in how to grow the student work. A lot of financial and “missionary” support also come from student movements in East Asia and USA. 

Many of the missionaries currently serving through OMF and directly on the student field, all originate from student movements in their home countries. Such as, the Sugayas, who were involved in KGK (IFES in Japan), Stephanie Smalts originated from IVCF (USA); the McCanns from UCCF (UK) and currently the Kims from IVF (IFES Korea) and the list goes on. 

How have IFES and OMF been able to partner together to support SONOKO?

OMF and IFES had partnership talks since the early 2000s, dreaming together for a student ministry in Cambodia which would be word-anchored, witness-oriented; and student-initiated.  Partnership meant time spent in the leadership of both sides meeting together regularly at least twice a year; writing up agreements with milestones to dream for, and coming together to work out our concerns for the work, the workers and other things. At the end of the road our shared dream is to see a locally-led student movement.

What’s the significance of the movement being affiliated with IFES since 2019?

The significance of the IFES affiliation meant that SONOKO is now officially part of a larger family comprising of about 200 other movements. Although unofficially we have always seen her as being our family right from the beginning!  

It also means that SONOKO has journeyed into a maturing phase with a local board being set up; and mainly local staff leading the work in the branches. Pov Phearak, the first local General Secretary was appointed in November 2020.  It is a historic moment in SONOKO –  after 24 years seeing a local being appointed as General Secretary.  He is a humble leader who knows without a doubt that God is the One at the helm, and he a mere under shepherd. It is also a testament to the ministry that Phearak is home grown through the SONOKO ministry. Having been a student himself – God raised him to be a staff, then a branch leader and now a General Secretary.

What excites you about the movement in Cambodia over the next few years?

We dream of bringing the student witness into a third city (currently in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap) and maybe a fourth. Seeing a country ravaged by the killing fields finding hope and healing through Jesus Christ is something we all have longed for, for years.  This is the potential in the hard, ploughing ground of Cambodia – vast opportunities to touch lives with the saving grace of Jesus.  

Empowering local students to do it, is the pathway to see more growth, as they speak the heart language of the people and are all too familiar with the pain and brokenness of their country.  We carry the call to be messengers of hope, in the unfinished story of God in Cambodia. And as inspired by Alice Compain [the musically-gifted first OMF missionary in Cambodia], we continue to sing songs of hope, healing and being a shining light to the nation!