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Cambodian students answer Oakmont group's prayers

| Thursday, July 24, 2014, 2:01 a.m.
DAN SPEICHER | For TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Cambodian students Sarah John, (left) and Vathana Sao talk to South East Asian Prayer Center president Matt Geppert at the beginning of a three-monthlong training program that will help to prepare the students for ministry and work in Cambodia. Photo taken at the organization's Oakmont office on Wednesday, July 23, 2014.
DAN SPEICHER | For TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Cambodians Chan Oudam Im, (front), along with Srey Mom Phon, and Vannak Hong listen to Southeast Asian Prayer Center president Matt Geppert at the beginning of a three-month training program that will help to prepare the students for ministry and work in Cambodia. The sessions are being held at the organization's Oakmont offices. Photo taken Wednesday July 23, 2014.

For Cambodian student Chan Oudom Im, coming to the United States is like being in a dream.

Im, who arrived in Oakmont on Tuesday, is one of five Cambodians to come to the United States for three months as part of an educational program through the Oakmont-based South East Asia Prayer Center and Riverside Community Church.

“I only wanted to study in America, and God provided this opportunity,” said Im, 26.

Members of the prayer center, located at 432 Allegheny River Blvd., began praying for Cambodia in 1995 in the aftermath of civil war and genocide.

Today, those prayers have been answered in more ways than one.

The nonprofit organization was founded in Oakmont in 1992 by Mark Geppert. His son, Matt, is the president of the organization. It has built 14 children's homes in Cambodia and helped hundreds of orphans in the last 15 years, according to Matt Geppert. It also helped educate thousands of Cambodians by building eight public schools.

Im and the other four students in Oakmont are among those orphans. They range in age from 21 to 26.

The organization has been working with these five students since they were children in the New Hope for Cambodia program, which matches Cambodian orphans with sponsors in the United States and Asia.

“Because we're a global organization, we want them to be able to have global standards,” Geppert said. “We're taking these next three months, and we're really working hard.”

The students have a schedule each day that includes English lessons, job shadowing, church work and leadership training.

“It's a very beautiful country,” Im said. “We've met a lot of nice people.”

The organization works with 25 nations and helps develop the country in four ways: health care, education, parenting and economic development.

“We believe that as we go and pray, God gives us an opportunity to serve in one of those platforms,” Geppert said.

Geppert and Riverside Community Church's arts and missions pastor, the Rev. Dave Longstreth, visited Cambodia and found that many of these students had a drive to do more to help rebuild their country.

So they selected nine students, split into two groups, to bring to the United States for three months. Im and his colleagues are the first group.

“This is kind of a dream concept that we've been talking about for the last couple years,” Longstreth said. “To say we're excited is an understatement.”

Geppert said the organization wanted to continue to follow these students onto the next chapter of their lives.

“We're walking with these guys through young adulthood and into their professions,” he said. “They're doing excellent.”

Srey Mom Phon, 26, said she is looking forward to learning more about English and the Bible to take back to Cambodia.

“I'm excited to meet friendly people in Pittsburgh,” she said.

Longstreth said the church will be teaching the students about team interaction, business practices, English and spiritual development.

The students are staying with host families who are members of the church, who will also expose them to different experiences while they are here.

“We're building a strong bond that's not going to end after three months,” Longstreth said.

Once the program is over in October, the group will work for the prayer center in Cambodia for five years.

Longstreth stressed the importance and impact of bringing these students to the United States to learn and take skills back to their home country.

“It's really kind of a small seed that they've planted years and years and years ago that's really starting to produce a great crop,” he said. “It's going to go a long way and really impact the future (of Cambodia).”

Emily Balser is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-7710 or ebalser@tribweb.com.

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