PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Thousands of Latter-day Saints grew silent as President Russell M. Nelson displayed a rendering of the future Phnom Penh Cambodia Temple here on Tuesday evening, Nov. 19.
The stillness, however, was quickly replaced with a wave of delight that rippled across The Premier Centre Sen Sok, a Phnom Penh exhibition hall and reception center.
“That is what it will look like — isn’t that beautiful?” asked President Nelson, acknowledging the sacred work done in a temple before adding, “Preparing for the temple is sacred work.”
Marking his first trip to Cambodia — a busy nation of 16.5 million — President Nelson spoke as part of his Southeast Asia Ministry, visiting four countries in seven days, from Nov. 15 through Nov. 22.
The temple — the first in Cambodia — will stand on Russian Confederation Street, next to the Cambodia Institute of Technology and opposite the National Pediatric Hospital.
The sacred building is an indication that “God knows and loves” members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cambodia, he said.
“We don’t know when the temple will be completed,” President Nelson said. “But I do know this: Difficult as it is to build a temple, it is more difficult to build a people ready for the temple. Now is the time to start preparing for the temple.”
President Nelson promised the congregation of almost 3,000 that “God knows you and loves you.”
Individual preparation for the temple will bless families, he said.
“Why are we building a temple in Cambodia? So that families can be together forever. As you serve them in the temple, their holy presence will become known to you.”
‘Thy work may flourish and grow’
Standing on the banks of the Mekong River in Cambodia on May 29, 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley offered a prayer on the land and the people.
In the prayer, he referred to Cambodia as a “place of great tradition and great history, looking not to the past but to the future with optimism and faith.”
He closed the prayer with these words: “We pray that strong and wise and good men who are virtuous in their lives may come into the Church and may be raised up to become officers here of wards and stakes in Zion that Thy work may flourish and grow in a remarkable and marvelous way.”
Displaying a photograph of that historic day, President Nelson asked the congregation to stand if they know or are related to any local Latter-day Saints pictured in the photograph.
“Look what has happened from that small group in 1996 to thousands here tonight,” he said.
Growth in this nation has been slow but steady.
On July 1, 1997, the Cambodia mission was established. The first two stakes were created in the country on the same day in May 2014. On Oct. 7, 2018, President Nelson announced the new temple for the country of almost 15,000 members.
Many in Cambodia have ancestors who perished without a knowledge of the gospel. “You will not forget them,” President Nelson said.
Seang Chen’s brother introduced him to the Church in 2002. With his wife, Meas Choeun, he was baptized Dec. 7, 2003. Both the couple’s children — Chhum Savatey, 20, and Chhum Kim Chhorr, 23 — started processing missionary paperwork this week.
Choeun, a ward Relief Society president, is helping the women in her ward spiritually prepare for the temple. Chen, who has made his career in real estate, said President Nelson came to Cambodia to have the members hear a message from God.
“When I heard the prophet announce the temple, I was overjoyed. I had tears in my eyes,” he said. “I know Heavenly Father loves Cambodia and Cambodian people; that is why He gave us a temple.”
‘Blessed by the prophet’
Earlier in the day, President Nelson — accompanied by Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — called upon the Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An, who is responsible for humanitarian and social work in Cambodia. Since 1984, the Church has provided $14 million in Church-sponsored humanitarian aid to projects in the country.
“She was warm and gracious, accepting,” said Elder Christofferson. “She understood what the Church has been doing to help. She was grateful for the members of the Church for their strong families, for the help that we’ve given with wheelchairs, medical assistance and other projects.”
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Speaking of the temple, President Nelson explained that when the Church builds a temple, “we really want it to be an asset to the community, an asset to the country. We’re here to help them, to bless their lives. So it’s important for their government leaders to be in on the takeoff as well as the landing on a project like that, so that they’re a part of the solution and never a part of wondering, ‘what are those people doing?’”
Elder Christofferson said Cambodia has been a fruitful field for the Church and will continue. “We want to bless them. It says a lot that the president of the Church would be here, even though the numbers aren’t great at this point in time. As he said to the deputy prime minister, everyone is precious. We’re here to give them that message.”
Eng Bunhuoch joined the Church in 1998 after taking English classes taught by the missionaries. He served a mission to Cambodia.
Many Latter-day Saints in the country still cannot afford to attend the temple in Hong Kong, he said.
Great things are in store for Cambodia, he said. “Cambodia will be a place with a temple. Cambodia will be blessed by the visit of a prophet.”