Preparing for our Skype interview Daniel Zwygart warned me the weather or a power cut might stop us connecting. These are facts of life in rural Cambodia where he and his wife Wei Wei have served in church planting teams with OMF for many years. As he had predicted, we were interrupted for a few minutes by a power cut. And, sure enough, a rainy season downpour drumming on the tin roof accompanied the second half of our call.
I was intrigued to hear how Daniel went from being a chef in 5-star hotels in Switzerland to church planting in Cambodia. He told me he never saw himself serving God overseas because he felt others would be more qualified. ‘However, the more I realised that in Jesus, I really have received everything I need, the more obvious it became that other people need Jesus just as much as I do,’ he said. ‘Unexpectedly, God convinced me, over quite a few years, that he’s really calling me to be a cross-cultural Christian worker.’ Cambodia was also unexpected. In 1995 a newspaper article detailing the brokenness of this nation that suffered terribly under the Khmer Rouge caught Daniel’s attention. This chimed with his Bible readings in Nehemiah, who after hearing a report on Jerusalem, sought God in prayer and wanted to go and rebuild the city’s walls.
Eight years later, Daniel landed in Cambodia as a long-term OMF worker. Since then he has served in three different rural church planting teams. What drives Daniel & Wei Wei in their ministry? Daniel explains, in Paul’s words, ‘Christ’s love compels us’ to no longer live for ourselves but to share the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). In particular, Daniel says it seems unfair that, even in today’s globalised world, many people still do not have an opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus. This passion brought them to a new location, Mondulkiri province in north-east Cambodia in 2018. This remote district surrounded by forests is home to about 20,000 people. The Zwygart’s focus on the district capital and the surrounding villages where there is still no church among the Khmer people.
Though there are a few Christians among a tribal group, for various reasons they struggle to share the gospel with the majority Khmer people. Progress, however, is slow. Daniel & Wei Wei worship together every Sunday, but have only been joined by interested people a few times. Before the arrival of COVID-19, they would go out in the afternoons to share the gospel and lend Christian literature. In 2019 and early 2020, they also had a weekly Bible study with one family who wanted to find out more about Jesus. For now, though, none of the Zywgart’s many friends are ready to commit to Jesus.
Daniel says when we are pioneers, some of the first to share Jesus’ love with people, it may be a long time before we see much visible fruit. So, it’s easy to become discouraged if we aren’t clear what we can do and what only God can do. He explains: ‘Once we start to mix up these two things, we enter troubled waters. Our part is to share the gospel and pray, looking to God to bring fruit; God’s part is to change hearts and save people.’ Daniel adds that they keep going by faith: ‘I know that my reward is not in a so-called successful ministry but in God himself. I’m not here to prove myself. No, I’m here to bring glory to God.’ The Zwygarts take heart that one day the ‘sower and reaper may be glad together’ (John 4:37–38). Daniel explains: ‘As pioneer missionaries … we may not see a big harvest ourselves. Others may. Yet to be able to reap you have to sow first – and in God’s economy sowing involves hard work. Actually, before you can sow, you may have to plough the field and take out all the stones first, so that the seed can bear fruit.’
While Daniel & Wei Wei must persevere in preparing the ground and sowing, they do not work alone. Daniel explains that the support of their sending churches and prayer partners spread around half the globe from Switzerland to Taiwan are an essential part of their ministry and a great encouragement: ‘What does encourage us as missionaries is when prayer partners respond to our prayer letter … We have some people who respond almost every month. They pray for people by name … We are a team and they are not less important than we are here. And for sure their prayers also sustain us to keep going, by faith.’
BY REUBEN GRACE