By Mariellyn Dunlap Grace
Missionaries today come in all shapes and sizes, with varying backgrounds, job descriptions, and titles. With a background in finance and administration, Esther Gitobu may not seem like your typical missionary, but her gifts fit perfectly with the needs of the Methodist Church in Cambodia.
After growing up in a Christian family in Kenya, Esther worked for 10 years at the Central Bank of Kenya before deciding she would prefer serving with people to spending her days behind a desk. She and her husband, Nicolas, then spent three years doing mission work in the Congo before The United Methodist Church sent them to a new mission field in Cambodia.
“We were quite open to going wherever we were needed,” Esther says. “It’s been great to see lives transformed in Cambodia for 10 years now.”
Today, Esther’s job has expanded much beyond finance to hosting mission teams, doing fundraising, mentoring young people, and managing the partnerships between U.S. churches and churches in Cambodia. Her great passion is for young people, a real asset in a country where 70% of the population is below the age of 30.
Evidence of that compassion shines through when Esther speaks of the ‘Daughters of Cambodia’ program, which works with young girls who want to escape from a life of forced prostitution. Due to the high rate of poverty, children in Cambodia are often sold into slavery by family members. ‘Daughters of Cambodia’ offers two years of training for these girls to learn trades like sewing, cooking, and hairdressing.
The program has been so successful that 98% of its participants have stayed out of the brothels. “[These girls] are looked down upon by society, but this reverses at ‘Daughters’ because they become productive,” Esther says. “People look at them differently.”
Much of the ministry in Cambodia focuses on leadership training for young people. In a country where children are expected to contribute to the family income, scholarships are needed for children to attend school, and in some instances, to compensate families for that loss of income. One-hundred dollars per year can provide a child with school supplies, uniforms, etc. The Methodist Church is also helping 34 young people attend college, where $450 can send a student to school for one year.
“There are so many needs that the resources we have cannot always meet them. But we also need prayer support,” Esther remarks. “Cambodia is a Buddhist country with many restrictions. We must ask for permits, and there’s a lot of red tape in the government, so we sometimes have problems providing programming.”
In addition, Esther and her husband, Nicolas (currently enrolled in seminary in Singapore), and their three daughters, are required to raise financial support for themselves. “Covenant Support allows missionaries to be present. These programs need oversight,” Esther states. Covenant support for the Gitobus can be contributed online at www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission or sent to Advance GCFA, PO Box 9068 GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068, with Advance #13959Z in the Memo line.
To learn more about the Methodist Mission in Cambodia, visit (link to Four Corners/Cambodia) or contact Dee Stickley-Miner at dstickley [at] wocumc.org.