Thursday, June 25, 2009

LDS Engineer Chhay Suy Leang Appointed Personal Adviser To Cambodian National Assembly President Heng Samrin

Over 30 years ago, Cambodia was a charnel house. The Khmer Rouge Holocaust was in full force, consuming the lives of two million Cambodians. It took an invasion and occupation by Vietnam to stop the carnage and restore normalcy. The leader of Cambodia during the Vietnamese occupation: Heng Samrin.

This same Heng Samrin is now the President of Cambodia's National Assembly. And he just appointed a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a personal adviser, according to a June 25th, 2009 story in the Phnom Penh Post. Chhay Suy Leang, an engineering graduate, is the first member of the Church to be awarded such a senior government position in Cambodia. This story has also been published in the Church News.

Church officials lauded the appointment of Chhay Suy Leang. "We are very pleased. Suy Leang is a man of great character, and he is well-respected among the members of our church," said Robert Winegar, the church's Cambodian mission president. "It is a great opportunity for him to be chosen as an adviser to Heng Samrin ... and serve in that position as a member of the Christian faith. I think that's a very good sign that the government is open-minded and very supportive of all religions." Winegar added that Chhay Suy Leang had established close links with government officials through his work in the church's Temporal Office, which administers Mormon property and other non-religious affairs.

Chhay Suy Leang, who served as a missionary in Idaho from 1997 to 1999, explained that during his tenure, which lasts until 2013, his role will involve giving advice on education, health and public works.

Since being established in Cambodia in 1994, the Mormons have grown to become the second-largest Christian denomination in the country after the Catholic Church. This is a pleasant surprise, but still only amounts to a small percentage of the overall population, which is 95 percent Buddhist. Christians combined constitute only two percent of the population. Official LDS statistics show that the Church in Cambodia consists of 8,359 members organized into 22 congregations under one mission. The nearest temple for their use is in Hong Kong.

Cambodia first opened the door to LDS missionaries in 1994. A July 2006 Ensign article provides a short account of the Church's activities in the country. A February 2008 article chronicles how the Church is improving self-reliance in the country by teaching them rice intensification - a new method of cultivating rice which has increased yield by as much as 200 percent.

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