04/19/2006, 00.00
CAMBODIA – JAPAN – VIETNAM
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Missionary commitment to "transmit the real message of Christian love"

A Japanese missionary relates his experience in Konpon Ruan floating village. Development projects are very important but not everything. Since he realised this he has been working with the villagers as a Christian among Christians to truly help these people.

Konpon Ruan (AsiaNews/JCW) – Konpon Ruan is a village made of boathouses on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia that is home to some 60 Vietnamese families. Their floating church is moored among the dwellings and is a "source of courage and consolation to them in their struggle against poverty".

Taira Nishiki, 33, is a member of the Japan Catholic Missionary Movement (JCMM) and has been involved in the village for the past two years helping educating locals in ways to maintain health and hygiene. "Most of my work is with children," he said. "They are hope for the future."

The JCMM began working with the Battambang Apostolic Prefecture in 2001 and since then its actions has enabled the villagers' to improve their reading and writing skills.

"None of them has Cambodian citizenship and if they don't speak Cambodian, they'll remain on the margins of Cambodian society," the missionary said. "Most are employed in fishing but many families are poor".

A local woman, Panam, 50, lives in one of the floating boathouses. "I have also lived on land," she said, "but life was hard there and it was difficult to get along with people. Life is not easy here either but it is better than on land."
The floating church was built in 1998. Fr Tonlop Sopal, 53, who ministers the community, said that the structure came about "because it was impossible to hold mass as well as simple prayers in a boathouse. They are too small and unstable to the point that on one occasion it sank under the weight of the congregation".

Missionary work here is not tied to the faith of the residents. "The opportunity to learn reading and writing is offered to everyone and for this reason all the children come," Taira said. "Our hope is that by living with them without making any differences we can transmit the real message of Christian love".

"In working with the people I came to realize that development projects are not everything," he noted. "Since then, I have been working with the villagers as a Christian among Christians [. . .]. I feel that a slow pace and self-reliance based on the Church and the Church community will do more for the future of the village."

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