A story of friendship with the people of Cambodia

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A story of friendship with the people of Cambodia

A parishioner from St Mary’s in Ipswich has written a book about the friendship which has grown up with villages in Cambodia through the diocesan Building Bridges Scheme.

Dr Marie-Madeleine Kenning has named her book Then the Khmer Rouge Came. It charts the developing relationship between the Diocese of East Anglia and the Battambang Prefecture in Cambodia.

As a memoir, it provides insights both into what it is like to visit people at once so different and yet so similar to ourselves, and it also includes first-hand accounts of life under Pol Pot and its aftermath.

“No-one in St Mary’s had ever been to the Cambodian parishes,” said Dr Kenning. “So, as 2007 turned into 2008, we set out to find out more.

“Like all our subsequent visits, that first trip was very much a rollercoaster experience. But being the first, it was also a baptism of fire. The poverty we witnessed, the lack of sanitation, the number of young people who had become disabled after inadvertently picking up or stepping on a landmine were profoundly shocking and distressing.

“And yet, time and time again, we felt uplifted: by the beautiful, participatory liturgy, by the warm welcome we received, by the way people seemed willing to help each other. We felt that somehow, we had had a glimpse of heaven.

“We’ve been back every year since, one year with our then parish priest, Fr John Warrington. Bishop Kike, Fr Totet and Fr Pedro from Cambodia have all come to St Mary’s. Over this period, thousands of pounds have been raised by St Mary’s Friends of Cambodia group, with support from St Mary’s primary school, for projects ranging from education to new buildings and irrigation work.

“And in the process, we have learnt that it is possible to become friends with people with very different life stories from you own living on the other side of the world. People you care about and who care about you, people who pray for you and your parish, just as you and your parish pray for them, people who joke with you and smile when they see you, people who value the link with their twinned parish, people with whom you can pick up where you left off, as if a year had not gone by.”

Dr Kenning is a retired Dean of the School of Language, Linguistics and Translation Studies at the University of East Anglia. All profits from the sale of her book will go towards helping those in need in Cambodia. To maximise the amount sent, she is setting up a personal pre-order list and will distribute the book post free.

The book is due to come out at the end of June, priced £14.99. To reserve a copy please email mariemadeleinekenning@gmail.com  No money is needed now.  

Pictured above is Marie-Madeleine Kenning with students in Cambodia