My wife and I are Korean missionaries who have served in Cambodia since September 1997. We are supported by the Life Bible Presbyterian Church, Singapore. We trained in a Singapore Bible college before taking up our present assignment, which is our first full-time ministry for the Lord.
In 1997 there were less than 100 churches in Cambodia. There was a civil war in progress, as well as widespread poverty and HIV/AIDS. Many were dissatisfied with the national religion of Buddhism and open to hearing the gospel.
During these last six years we have been free to engage in evangelism and church-planting throughout Cambodia. We have witnessed the planting of 12 churches and the establishment of a Bible school (65 students).
We believe that God has recently opened wide a gospel door to this nation, and is pouring out his grace upon a people who have known many years of acute suffering.
The number of Christians has increased tenfold during these six years — up from 0.1% to 1% of the population. The number of churches has increased to a remarkable 500. Many Cambodian Evangelical church congregations number between 30 and 70, including a high proportion of children.
Many new missionaries have entered the country. For example, the 20 Korean missionaries here in 1997 have now increased to 130.
Cambodia has always been strongly Buddhist, although the Pol Pot regime killed many Buddhist monks and intelligentsia. Today over 80% of people profess Buddhism, and Cambodia’s national ceremonies are conducted in Buddhist temples.
As in many other religious contexts, the Cambodian people are slow to understand the truth as it is in Christ Jesus — particularly the doctrines of grace, since salvation by human merit is such a prominent teaching in Buddhism.
But consistent Bible teaching has had much impact, especially among young people and children. The older generations are more difficult to work with, often wanting to syncretise their old Buddhist beliefs with Christianity, and showing little change of lifestyle.
In spite of good progress made, Cambodian churches still rely greatly on foreign help in the form of leadership and finance. Also, some missionaries have not always been wise in their methods, even inducing people to come to church for needed material help.
In the Kompongsom Bible school we teach every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. As a result of three or four years’ intensive study in the school there are already trained gospel workers who have gone out to various provinces in Cambodia.
Apart from the Khmer Bible, there was little translated Christian literature in 1997. Today there are some good Christian books translated and published, but we urgently need many more to teach pastors and lay Christians the Reformed Faith. There is also ongoing Christian ministry via radio and television.
Last year some of our workers faced persecution for the first time. But they experienced the Lord’s protection.
There is at present a tremendous opportunity for missionaries and Bible teachers to work in Cambodia.
There is a need too for teachers of English and vocational skills like farming, commerce and bee-keeping. To acquire such expertise will have a positive impact on the lives of the Christians.
Cambodia has much agricultural land, but little farming is practised other than raising one rice crop a year. This involves just two months of sowing and harvesting. The rest of the time the farmers are unemployed.
The man half-dead
Alongside the Buddhist nations of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, Cambodia has had a miserable history. But today it has potentially the brightest future of all of them.
Cambodia can be compared to the man in Luke 10, on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho, who was set on by robbers and left half-dead.
Missionaries and local Christians have arrived to pour in the oil of the gospel and the nation is beginning thereby to experience a recovery from past traumas.
Soon we may expect this once half-dead person to go out to his neighbours (the nations round about) and tell them about Jesus Christ the Saviour.