Church of God general overseer Dr. Mark Williams led the churchmen into what was to be a 10-minute courtesy visit, but became nearly an hour of personal interchange.
Dr. Fred Garmon, executive director of Cleveland-based People for Care and Learning (PCL), coordinated a group of 45 visiting U.S. and Canadian pastors and church leaders, out of which the eight were selected.
“We were gratified at the knowledge the nation’s leader had of the activities of PCL in his country,” Garmon noted. “He was aware not only of the large Build a City project, but also talked about what we were doing in other parts of the nation with schools and orphanages.”
Hun Sen, who was first elected to the prime minister’s position in 1985, has held power since that time. He is the longest serving non-royal leader in Southeast Asia and is one of the longest serving prime ministers in the world, having been in office through various coalitions for more than 29 years.
When elections were held in July 2013, results were challenged, but he has remained in place.
Following the 1979 overthrow of the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge, chronicled in “The Killing Fields” book and movie, Hun Sen helped form a new government, rising to head it a few years later.
Chatting with the Cleveland group, the prime minister reminisced about the early days of life in the reclaimed capital, when all public utilities infrastructure had been destroyed.
He recalled that even though he was the nation’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, he had to walk from his residence to the river to draw water in buckets for use during the day.
He laughed that it was not too demeaning, however, since he could look along the river bank and see the prime minister doing the same thing.
Life in 21st-century Phnom Penh is now as modern as any U.S. city, but his memories of the days of deprivation motivated him to commend the efforts of People for Care and Learning for their work to relieve poverty in outlying areas.
The delegation of eight included General Overseer Williams; PCL CEO Garmon; assistant general overseers J. David Stephens and Wallace Sibley; chair of the PCL Board Bill George; state administrative bishops Mitchell Corder and Kenneth Bell; and Bien Raneses, a PCL leader in Cambodia.
“We were escorted into a magnificent room where Hun Sen and Mark Williams sat in adjoining chairs,” Garmon described. “They conversed through an interpreter while the U.S. delegation sat in chairs perpendicular to them, facing eight other persons who included Cambodian political figures and media reporters. It was a formal and affirmative occasion. One of our hosts pointed out we were in the same setting where Hun Sen had welcomed U.S. President Obama some months ago.”
People for Care and Learning operates elementary and training schools, a junior college, two orphanages, an upscale coffee shop and restaurant, a demonstration farm, and other activities in the Southeast Asian nation. Its biggest project so far is the construction of an entire city, Andong, a few miles outside the capital, where they are building housing for nearly 1,000 families, a market, school, medical clinic, police station and a children’s playground. The new city will be dedicated in May 2015, and the prime minister is expected to attend the ceremonies.
PCL is headquartered in Cleveland and has worked in Cambodia for 12 years.