Every Tribe, Every Tongue
Serving in a country disillusioned by a war-ridden past, missionaries Tyler and Katie Van Halteren speak about the importance of exhibiting Christ-like love, care and consistency to bring the message of salvation to the people of Cambodia.
Give us your testimony and tell us about your family.
In God’s grace, we were both introduced to the gospel from a young age. Katie responded to the gospel when she was a child, and I rejected it until I was about 15 years old. In God’s patience, He opened my eyes to my sin and my need for a Saviour. The gospel seeds — which had been sown for many years — took root in my heart and I was born again. Katie and I were married in 2013 and have two lovely boys who are four and two years old.
Where are you serving? How did the Lord call you to this specific mission field?
We are serving in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I heard about the needs in Cambodia through a graduate from my seminary. As I prayed about where to serve, I knew I wanted to partner with a like-minded team, in a place where there was a great need for discipleship and pastoral training.
The church in Cambodia is very young, and there are very few pastors who have grown up in Christian homes or received Bible training. This need burdened my heart, and God confirmed my gift for teaching and training through ministry in the local church.
How did God confirm those gifts in your life? For our readers who may be struggling to identify their spiritual gift(s), what ways might the Lord use to guide and confirm them?
I believe the best way to confirm gifts is to serve in the church or other ministries. For me, preaching at camps during university and intentionally discipling guys within the church was great confirmation of those gifts. It would be unwise to go overseas as a church-planter if you have not been evangelising in your home country. It would be hard to train leaders overseas if you haven’t been intentionally discipling people in your own culture.
The best way to confirm gifts is to serve in the church or other ministries
As we serve, God will give both inward and outward confirmations — you will have a passion to serve in a certain way (teaching, evangelism, encouraging, etc.), and that will also be confirmed by others growing through it. As we use our gifts to serve the body of Christ, we will see God work and confirm or redirect our desires.
Tell us about the people you minister to.
Cambodia is a Buddhist country, highly influenced by animism. Their heart-religion is based on appeasing spirits, and many believe that sickness and misfortune are caused by the spirits.
Though Cambodia has been a country for nearly 2,000 years, and once was a great nation in Southeast Asia, they have faced extreme difficulties in the past 50 years. They were subject to bombing during the Vietnam War and to a destruction of their culture through the Khmer Rouge genocide from 1975-1979. Many scars remain from this period, and though Cambodians are very warm and friendly, it is difficult for them to form trust and deep relationships.
So, how do you foster trust and promote deep relationships in those you disciple?
I’ve realised that I almost always need to be the one taking initiative in relationships. Like anything, consistency and caring can go a long way. Inviting others to breakfast or joining in a sports activity can show that you care and are invested in their lives.
How did you adapt to the Cambodian culture? What were some changes you had to make in the way you live? How does the belief of animism affect the way you share the gospel?
One way we needed to adapt was realising that trust can take a long time in this culture. We felt that Cambodians at our church were not very warm and friendly when we first came but, three months later, they welcomed us in after they saw we were consistent. Presence is important.
For the gospel here, you always start with creation. They have a completely different worldview, and there is a lot of foundation to be laid before getting to the cross. The other day, one man told me, “I am very interested in Christianity, but I can’t believe because my parents are Buddhist — I need to follow them.” The fear of rejection by family is a significant barrier.
Though Cambodians are very warm and friendly, it is difficult for them to form trust and deep relationships
Give an example of a challenging situation you recently faced and what the Lord taught you from the experience.
Several months ago, I became sick with dengue fever. This put me in bed for about two weeks and left me fatigued for several months (on and off). Some faithful teammates of ours also had a child born with several complications, including a missing arm.
Both experiences reminded me that we continue to serve in a broken world, and we are not immune to suffering. They also taught me that God is not in as much of a rush as we are. He could give us perfect health. He could keep us from setbacks. Better yet, He could use angels. But instead, He shows His power by using weak vessels.
For those of our readers who are going through suffering, how can we suffer well and not lose heart?
1 Corinthians 15:58 encourages us to be “steadfast and immovable”, knowing that our “labour in the Lord” is not in vain. That is in light of the resurrection hope we have. Paul emphasises many times that the path to glory is paved with suffering. We must walk this road, looking to Jesus and the eternal joy set before us.
What are some personal spiritual challenges you face and what is the Lord teaching you through these challenges?
I think it is easy to idealise the church overseas and assume they don’t have the problems we have at home. But I’ve been seeing just how difficult a first-generation church is (think 1 Corinthians!). There are struggles with division, pride, and unqualified leadership.
I’ve been grateful to be reminded of the importance of discipleship and long-term ministry. Jesus called us to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded”. That takes a long time and much perseverance. Many missions’ methodologies prioritise speed and trying to reach many people quickly. We need to plant down and work hard in discipleship to see mature churches grow.
How has the Lord encouraged you to press on? What encouragement can you offer our readers who are involved in ministries where they do not see visible fruit?
I always cling to 1 Corinthians 15:58, which says our labour is not in vain — Christ will reward all labour done for His glory. Recently a friend told me, “You can accomplish far less than you thought in one year, but far more than you imagined in 10 years.” While this may not always be true, I believe that, in time, we will reap a harvest if we persevere.
God is more concerned about our fruitfulness than we are
Lately, I’ve been very encouraged by the truth that the Lord does not reward us based on the number of converts or the visible impact of our ministry. He rewards us for faithfulness in the areas He has called us. Our concern should not be fruit — He is the only one who can produce fruit — but rather faithfulness to walk with Him, love our families, serve our church, and share the gospel.
John 15 teaches that as we abide, God will bear fruit through us. Ultimately, God is more concerned about our fruitfulness than we are. We must remember that we are His sons and daughters, clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ, no longer under any condemnation. His love for us is the same on our most fruitful and least fruitful days (John 15:9, 17:23).
How can we pray for you?
Pray for perseverance in language study, and for our opportunities to disciple. I will begin teaching at a local Bible college this fall and am praying that God would raise up many leaders to lead His church in truth and unity.
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