Floating Churches & Firm Foundations


Justine Demmer, Viva’s Network Consultant for Asia, gives us a glimpse into a recent trip to Cambodia where she visited a floating church, and the children who call it home.

I step outside of our accommodation in Siem Riep, North-Western Cambodia to find an open wagon drawn by a motorcycle. Our child mentor, pastor and guide decided that today we would be sharing the Anti-Trafficking and Sexual Abuse training we had been presenting with his second congregation, some distance from Siem Riep.

Stacked inside the wagon was huge quantities of snacks, games, a generator, DVD player and projector. And, thankfully, what looked like some decent cushions for us to sit on. The journey to this unknown place was definitely going to be an adventure.

We hop inside and off we go, along dirt roads gutted by heavy rain into rather deep potholes, with which my backside becomes well acquainted. Eventually after an exhilarating ride we arrive at a ‘port’ on the riverside and are transferred to a local canoe. We are very quickly joined by a handful of church members, who thankfully brake my fall down the muddy bank as we board the boat.

After the short boat ride, we arrive at a floating village, where shacks are constructed on floating pontoons. We watch as children swim various items between houses. Then, most unexpectedly, a floating church comes into view; white roved with a blue trim, a cross near the apex of the roof, flowerpots hanging from the rafters, blue shutters framing the windows and boats moored to the side.

As the team hurry to get equipment organised from the boat and into the church, I move from window to window watching children pop up out of seemingly nowhere. Some mermaid children simply swim over to join us.

It is a festive affair. The 50 children joining our activities are not Christian, but all of the boat community know they are welcome at the church, and that they are wanted, so word spreads quickly that there are activities prepared for them.

I lean down to chat to some of the children as they chat away in Khmer, and I just listen, nod, and make reassuring noises. I have no idea how much they are making fun of me. A lot, I hope; at least I can be entertainment value, as there’s not much else I can do to at this point!

I realise that there is one thing really bothering me. We’re about to share information on how to stay safe from sexual abuse and child trafficking, but this information is really only effectively communicated to children 8 and up. The majority of the kids look far too young.

So, for one of the icebreaker games I ask that all the kids aged 8 and up stand to one side, and all the kids 7 and younger stand on the other. I’m stunned. Only a handful of kids are on the younger side. This community suffers with such a high level of malnutrition that over the years the children have become severely stunted in their growth and development.

It’s not the first time I’ve come across malnutrition, but my brain refuses to take it for granted, and it still shocks me every time.

We begin the DVD lessons. They cover the dangers of people telling you that your family will have lots of nice things and experiences if you follow them, but that we should not believe it, as it’s a trap.

It also advises that if you go with them they will take you far away never to see your family again; so if you think that this is happening to you, to come and tell the pastor and adults of this church and they will be able to help you.

It is going so well, the kids are fully engaged, listening to each section and getting the answers to the questions we’re asking them right.

But then, three quarters of the way through, the generator runs out of fuel and the lesson has to be downgraded from the TV to an iPad. The size of this screen means that only a few children can see what’s happening.

After a few minutes, the pastor decides to finish the lesson by sharing the information himself, but at this point, his audience has lost interest, the session unravels and children begin trickling away.

It is, by a technical count, not a very productive day. But, as we sail away from that floating church it is so evident to me that these children, though they are not Christian, so obviously feel this is their church – their safe place. Just the fact that effort was made for them makes them feel valued, loved and protected by these people – their church family.

Is this not exactly the result we pray for, each and every day?



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