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Plugging the Planet Into the Word

Children in Rong Domriex, Cambodia, learn to read by following along in their books as they listen to a New Testament passage read on tape.
Children in Rong Domriex, Cambodia, learn to read by following along in their books as they listen to a New Testament passage read on tape. (By Mary Jordan -- The Washington Post)

David Hammond, who works in Nairobi for the British-based United Bible Societies, a network of agencies in 200 countries, said Bible formats are changing to suit a changing world.

"Audio," he said, "can be better than a big black book."

The 'Jesus' Film

Farther north in the Cambodian hinterlands, Elijah Lok zoomed down dirt paths across the rice paddies to the village of Trapain Ampil with the "Jesus" film strapped to his motorbike.

Tonight, as on most nights, Lok would be showing this two-hour movie about the life of Jesus, the most translated movie in history. He pulled two 16mm reels out of a metal carrier box, a big blue umbrella protecting them from monsoon-like rain.

Two other members of his team lugged a giant white screen, two loudspeakers and a generator-powered projector into this village with no electricity.

When the downpour eased, 70 people stood barefoot amid the muddy puddles and watched the story of Jesus told in Khmer. For most of the villagers, who live here in shacks built on stilts to protect against flooding, it was the first movie they had ever seen.

And in this nation where 90 percent of people are Buddhist, the villagers were familiar with Buddha and karma but not Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Originally released by Warner Brothers in 1979 for U.S. audiences, the Jesus film has been translated into more than 1,000 languages, with the voices of local actors dubbed over the originals. It has just been completed in Cham, which is spoken by several hundred thousand Muslims in Cambodia.

As Lok cranked up the projector, the film's soundtrack drowned out the sound of monks chanting in a nearby Buddhist temple.

"The Gospel has done so much for me and my family," said Lok, 26, who often sleeps in a hammock he carries with him from village to village.

Lok said he has found peace and contentment in his religion, but not everyone is receptive to his work. Some complain that Christianity is a foreigner's faith, an unwanted import from the West. Some take offense at the notion of Christians preaching to Buddhists.

"In some villages, drunks have beaten our staff," Lok said. "Sometimes people take slingshots and hit the screen."


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