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In Cambodia, Elder Renlund Visits Prime Minister and Ministers to Saints

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To mark the 30th year since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was recognized in Cambodia, an Apostle was in the land for three days to minister, build bridges with government leaders and help improve the country’s health care.

 

On Monday, January 22, 2024, Elder Dale G. Renlund became the first Church leader to meet with the prime minister of Cambodia. Elder Renlund called Prime Minister Hun Manet “a remarkable individual.”

“He’s very capable and has a vision for the country to help people and lift them. It’s just a really remarkable vision. And it’s very clear he’s charged his government ministers to do that,” Elder Renlund said. “The work that we’ve done with helping with humanitarian things — including elevating the level of health care in some places — aligns completely with what the government wants to do.”

The Apostle told Prime Minister Manet that the Church of Jesus Christ is donating nearly US$2.2 million to build a heart hospital in Siem Reap (318 kilometers south of Phnom Penh). The objective is to bring better health care to Cambodian provinces. This will bless people like the prime minister’s own uncle, who died in another province from an acute coronary syndrome.

“We’re creating a situation where emergency cardiac care can be given with a heart attack so that people can get less damage to their heart when they have a heart attack, preserve the heart muscle function so they don’t develop heart failure or that they don’t die,” said Elder Renlund, a former cardiologist. “Right now when that happens, people have to be transported hours and hours to Phnom Penh to get that kind of care.”

Elder Renlund said the Church of Jesus Christ’s focus on health care (as well as education and other humanitarian needs in Cambodia) is one way the faith follows the Savior of the world.

“We go about doing good, and to really do good you can’t just spread benevolence all over. You do have to be specific,” he said. “Instead of being spread an inch deep and a mile wide, we can create a flood in certain situations. And if we pick the right things to focus on, that will make a difference.”

Elder Renlund also met Monday with the Minister of the Cambodia Ministry of Cult and Religion, H.E. Dr. Chay Borin and his Secretary of State H.E. Chhat Sochhet.

“We felt that [Elder Renlund] is a man of enthusiasm and friendship,” H.E. Sochhet said. “Although Buddhism is the state religion, Cambodia gives rights to all other religions in Cambodia, and they are coexisting in harmony. Moreover, in the past the Church has helped Cambodia in many ways. The Church has helped in three big areas: the health sector, educational sector and clean water systems.”

Spaces of Contrast: The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center and the Phnom Penh Cambodia Temple Site

On the morning of Tuesday, January 23, 2024, Elder and Sister Renlund toured the sobering space that is the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, one of 300 such sites known as the killing fields. Choeung Ek contains mass graves of victims of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge communist regime, which killed some 3 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.

“It just leaves a hole in your heart to realize how brutal people are to each other,” Sister Renlund said.

Elder Renlund ruminated on a question as they walked through Choeung Ek: Does the Atonement of Jesus Christ cover even this?

 

“The answer is yes — it’s an infinite Atonement,” Elder Renlund said. “Everything that is unfair about life can and will be made right by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For these victims here and their families, somehow in the eternities Jesus Christ, because He did what he did and He has that power, will somehow compensate even for this and make it right. And that’s really the message of the gospel.”

The visit to the killing fields on Tuesday was a stunning contrast to the construction site of the Phnom Penh Cambodia Temple (ground was broken in September 2021), which they visited on Monday.

“There are some that say, ‘If there were a God, wouldn’t He have done something about this?’ And the answer is that He has,” Elder Renlund said. “He has restored his gospel. He’s restored the sealing authority so that one can do something for these victims as one chooses to. And that’s part of making this right. The temple brings the hope and joy and resolution and even reconciliation of this into the lives of people and their families. The contrast of this heavy, heavy, horrible feeling that we right now have is a contrast with the joy and peace and comfort that can come in the temple.”

Multistake Conference in Phnom Penh

The Apostle and his wife, Ruth, also ministered to the spiritual needs of Latter-day Saints. In Phnom Penh on the afternoon of Sunday, January 21, 2024, they spoke to Latter-day Saints from two stakes (a group of several congregations) and one district (smaller version of a stake).

Sister Renlund noted that they could see the Phnom Penh Cambodia Temple rising to completion.

“I’m so excited for you,” Sister Renlund said. “This is a great time to prepare to make covenants with God, to come closer to Him and to be blessed by making those covenants.”

Elder Renlund expressed gratitude for the religious freedom granted by the Cambodian government that allowed the Saints to gather. And he encouraged the Cambodian Saints to remain true to God.

“We learn that if we are faithful members of the Church, God will bless the country in which we live,” Elder Renlund said. “If you want to be a patriot in Cambodia, be a faithful member of the Church—because your faith and faithfulness will pull blessings from heaven.”

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