Complementary congregations serve Cambodian community south of Houston

By Marv Knox
Field Coordinator

ROSHARON, Texas—A truckload of fruit helped a pair of Baptist churches deliver hope,
healthcare and healing to a buffeted community south of Houston.

For several decades, Rosharon has been home to immigrant Cambodian farmers who
grow a hardy crop called water spinach. From their greenhouses halfway between Houston and
the Texas Gulf Coast, they raise and deliver the plants to Asian restaurants and markets across
the region and beyond.

Late last summer, Hurricane Harvey flooded their homes and shredded their
greenhouses. Members of Cambodian Baptist Church of Houston joined other Cooperative
Baptist Fellowship groups in providing disaster recovery, a ministry coordinated by CBF
missionary Butch Green. The church also sent funds for longer-term support.

“We didn’t know the community before Harvey,” reported Cambodian Baptist Church
Pastor Panha Mey. “But Harvey was God’s way of kicking the door open for us to go in.”
The Cambodian farmers of Rosharon remained on Mey’s heart and mind. An idea
blossomed when members of First Chinese Baptist Church in San Antonio, where he formerly
was the pastor, suggested congregational collaboration.

“We have been talking about ‘Why don’t we do a mission trip together?’” Mey said.
“So, I proposed for them to come down to this community.”

The skills and resources of First Chinese and Cambodian Baptist churches complement
each other, he noted. “They brought a variety of healthcare professionals and set up clinics
inside Rosharon Bible Baptist Church. Our friends from San Antonio do vacation Bible school
really well, and our young people were able to plug in and serve with them. Our church
coordinated the food distribution, construction and block party, which we have experience in.”
And when a truck from Houston Food Bank arrived to deliver produce, Mey knew the
entire effort was “a God thing.”

Most of the Rosharon Cambodians are Buddhists, at least culturally, if not faithfully, he
said. So, to drive traffic to the Baptists’ three-day “Operation Rosharon,” he arranged to give
away food.

“We never know what kind of food we’re going to get,” Mey reported. That day, he
looked inside the truck and knew: “This was a God thing. For this community, we could not
have arranged it any better. There were pineapples, mangos, oranges and watermelons. These
are fruits Asian people could relate to and love.”

When the local early-arrivers saw the tropical fruits, they started calling and texting
friends and neighbors. Soon, a crowd gathered. And the mission volunteers from the two
Baptist congregations started signing children up for vacation Bible school and adults for health screenings.

“We registered 109 families,” Mey said. “And out of that, there were about 90 Asian and
15 Hispanic families. Of the Asians, there were some Laotians, but predominantly Cambodians.”

Many health professionals are members of the San Antonio church, reported Jim Lee, a
dentist and coordinator of the health clinic in Rosharon.

“We were able to mobilize a team of two dentists, a pharmacist, two nurses, two
medical students, and several pre-dental and pre-medical students to serve in the health clinic,”
he explained. “Houston Cambodian Baptist Church supplied one physician, two nurses and a
number of translators.

“We offered a range of health services, including blood-pressure and glucose testing,
health counseling, and dental and optometry services. I reminded the health team that in
addition to meeting the physical needs of the community, we were modeling Christ's love for them.”

The dental clinic saw 68 patients, providing services such as exams, teeth cleaning,
fillings and extractions, Lee said. A second dentist, Alicia Tsai, came from Durham, N.C., to help
with the clinic. Optometrist Steven Kim performed more than 26 eye exams and dispensed
more 200 pairs of reading and sunglasses. The nurses, pharmacist, and students provided testing and health counseling to more than 120 community members.

“The mission trip was a humbling experience for me, as the physical needs and suffering
were so great, and we only had a limited time to help,” Lee said. “A number of patients asked,
‘How much does it cost to have dental work done?’ When we told them our services were free,
they were surprised and pleased.

“Hopefully, as the community understands the free gift of salvation through faith in
Christ, the folks in Little Cambodia will turn in a new direction in their spiritual future.
First Chinese Baptist Church—the San Antonio congregation—desired to serve the
Rosharon community and encourage the local church, noted Pastor John Lee. “Families were welcomed to participate in various aspects of the mission trip,” he said.

“This was a multi-generational opportunity to work together, combine diverse skills and go
beyond their comfort zones to demonstrate God’s love and power to connect with a
community that was ravaged by a storm and cautious toward outsiders. This mission trip was a
churchwide effort—from logistical planning, contributing funds, sending a team and providing
prayer cover for all involved.”

The 40 children who attended VBS received shoes purchased with contributions from
South Main Baptist Church in Houston and First Baptist Church in Athens, Ga., which sent a
youth group to help with Harvey recovery in June, as well as the participating
congregations—Cambodian Baptist of Houston and First Chinese Baptist of San Antonio.
The pastor of Rosharon Bible Baptist Church, The Mey, (no relation to Panha Mey)
hosted and served alongside the mission teams.

During a block party on Saturday night, Panha Mey told the Rosharon farmers and their
families why Christians from San Antonio and Houston would drive almost to the coast to help

“I had about five minutes to share why we do what we do. They wanted to know why; I
could see it in their eyes,” he said. “I told them: ‘The reason we’re doing this is that we
have experienced God’s love, and we want to share that love with you. There is a God who
loves you very much, and he has not forgotten you.’”

To see more photos of the trip, click here

Jay Pritchard