St. Luke’s Church has been involved for many years in outreach to the Cambodian population of Fall River. Cambodian refugees first came to Fall River in 1979 after four years of a traumatic takeover of their country by the Khmer Rouge, a radical communist insurgency. St. Luke’s sponsored the first Cambodians into the city along with two other city parishes and has been involved with this population ever since. Currently, it is estimated that there are about 5,000 Cambodians in the city. Some have learned English, become educated and now work in factories and social agencies in the city. Some have started small businesses. Others have struggled to adapt to American life, especially the elderly. Many elderly Cambodians speak very limited English and are quite isolated from the American mainstream. Even some younger Cambodians may speak little English if they arrived in the U.S. as adults. They work in factories that do not require a lot of English skills and so their language ability remains rudimentary. Most Cambodian youth in Fall River have been educated in American schools and speak English as a native language. These young people bridge two worlds, the American world of their school and the Cambodian-speaking world at home.
For all of these groups – elderly Khmer-speakers, adult workers, teen boys and girls, children – St. Luke’s Church is an important meeting place with the American community. We have served a role in Fall River as friends to Cambodians and an entrée to mainstream American society. We welcome Cambodians to our weekly services and special events such as the Easter Egg hunt and the Christmas Buffet. We translate portions of the service into Khmer so that non-English-speakers may hear the Gospel in their native language. Literate Cambodians read the Gospel lesson and translate the Prayers of the People into Khmer. Our Sunday morning services are the only place in Fall River where Cambodians regularly hear their language spoken in an American setting. When social service agencies want to communicate with Cambodians, they often call us.
We work hard to convey to our Cambodian members the values and beliefs of Christianity. They come from a Buddhist background and most take part in Buddhist festivals out of respect for their ancestors. They look to the Christian faith for help in living in the U.S. and coping with the materialism and speed of American life. We focus on basics such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the key teachings of Jesus. We incorporate everyone into the Lord’s Supper and convey a sense of being one Body in Christ despite our differing ethnicity and backgrounds.