Cambodian members ‘full of joy’ with temple announcement

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A group of Saints from Siem Reap, Cambodia, attended the Hong Kong temple in January 2018. Because of Cambodia’s hot climate year-round, worried Saints from Hong Kong brought the Cambodians warm clothing because they had never before experienced “winter” weather. (Lori Thurston)

Many tourists travel to the fascinating country of Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat, an ancient Buddhist temple which used to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

But now, a new temple, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will be built in Phnom Penh to “make Cambodia even more beautiful,” according to church member Ouk Mara. 

During the closing session of General Conference on Oct. 7, President Russell M. Nelson made a significant announcement that 12 new temples will be built in various locations around the world, including four countries receiving temples for the first time: Cape Verde, Guam, Puerto Rico and Cambodia. 

In reaction to the announcement, people were in awe that the country would finally have its own temple, especially people in Cambodia. 

Yin Sreyleak, a member from Siem Reap, Cambodia, was at work when she heard the news.

“I could not stop crying and smiling because the house of the Lord will be built in Cambodia,” she said. “I called my mom. She was curious why I was crying, and I told her that a temple will be built in Cambodia … soon. She was so happy. This feeling is the same feeling I had when my family and I got baptized. I am just full of joy.”

Over the phone, Yin’s mom expressed her desire to serve in the temple when it is finished.

“It is blessing for me so I can work in the temple,” she said to her daughter. “That’s what I have been praying and waiting for.”

Yin expressed how their love for the temple fuels their excitement to attend and work in the Cambodia temple once it is finished.

“My mom wants to work in the temple so badly and so do I,” Yin said. “We love the temple so much!”

Phirun Amreth LeGrand was stationed in the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, throughout the conference sessions to translate them into the Khmer language. 

“When President Nelson announced it, I wept with joy while one of my interpretation associates was speaking for him,” he said. “I feel that we are loved by our Heavenly Father.”

That love is what has propelled the spirit of family history work in Cambodia, as many people have been searching for information and stories of their ancestors, especially those who were killed during the genocide under communist leader Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

Now, members will finally be able to take their family names to the temple themselves.

“The temple will be a gargantuan blessing for Cambodian people whose ancestors, even those who passed away during the Pol Pot regime or older generations, who need proxy ordinances in the holy house of the Lord,” Phirun said.

Despite the newness of the church in Cambodia, which was dedicated for missionary work by President Gordon B. Hinckley in 1996, the country now has two stakes and is working to create a third. However, the road hasn’t been easy.

“Regardless (of) our years of struggle in the effort to create the third stake, the Lord now blesses us with a temple,” Phirun said, alluding to the tremendous blessing despite the difficulty of progression. 

Ouk, a 23-year old returned missionary, said he thinks that having the opportunity to participate in temple ordinances will help members progress spiritually.

“I think that having a temple in Cambodia will help the members stay more active,” he said. “Having the opportunity to be sealed and participate in ordinances in the temple will help them be increasingly firm in the faith.”

Ouk was riding a moto — a common form of transportation in Cambodia — when he heard the announcement.

He expressed feeling so excited that he “wanted to fly.”

“I tried to share the exciting news with other members as quickly as I could so that they could feel the excitement that I felt,” he said. 

Ouk also said that with a temple in their own country, members won’t have to spend a large amount of money to travel to a temple outside of Cambodia.

Up until yesterday’s announcement, many members have not had the means to go to the temple, not even once, as the closest locations are in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

They have to save up the money they can, and the Church’s Temple Patron Assistance Fund provides the rest. One family sold their ducks and duck eggs to have enough money to go to the temple, according to Lori Thurston, a former LDS Charities missionary in Cambodia.

Thurston said aside from saving money, those who wish to attend have to go through a six-month to a year-long process of obtaining visas, passports and other essential records.

Within the groups of members who can travel to the Hong Kong or Manila temples, Thurston said many of them have never ridden on a bus before, let alone flown on a plane.

The lucky handful of those who have gone to the temple thought that they would never get to go again.

“Having a temple in Cambodia is our dream,” Ouk said. “Now it’s going to happen.”  

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