“The answer to leadership failure is not just more leadership training but better discipleship training. Leaders must first be disciples of Christ himself.” -The Lausanne Movement 2010 Cape Town Commitment
The Creator God was a foreign being to the Brao people of Thun village in Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia. An animist people, they worshiped the spirits of nature. But when an OMF team entered the village in 1998 and shared about the God who made the mountains and rivers, a hunger for God grew. The team started a literacy project in the village as they talked about Christ and built relationships.
Within two years, about 25 percent of the village was attending house church meetings. Regular Bible teachings followed. However, as years passed, church attendance dropped. The pastor struggled in his walk with Christ, and some members returned to sacrificing to the spirits. As with the parable of the sower, persecution and the worries of life choked out their faith.
God is building his church in Cambodia, but the church is young and in need of discipleship. Through the wars and genocide of the 1960s and 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime reduced the Christian population to less than 1 percent. As the rubble began to clear, a fledgling church emerged.
Since 1985, the Cambodian church multiplied 5,000 percent in just 25 years. The country’s limited theological resources have not been able to keep up with the rapid growth. New believers, while earnest, need help in understanding what it means to follow Jesus.
Kreg Mallow has spent over two decades serving in Cambodia on church-planting teams. He currently serves with OMF among the Brao (specifically Krung) people in Ratanakiri Province. Only 500 of the 40,000 Brao in Cambodia know Christ. That number might seem small, but there were no believers in this unreached people group in the early 1990s. Kreg has witnessed God do amazing work. But he has also seen that Bible training for Brao leaders often lacks a vital component: mentorship.
“House church leaders are urgently needed, which leads to Bible training being offered for new believers who can read and write, but have never been discipled by a close mentor,” Kreg says.
While not ideal, the trend is birthed out of necessity. Very few Krung villagers are literate—a prerequisite to receiving Bible training. That means that once a literate villager is considered trained, he still may struggle to apply biblical principles to daily life, especially in the family. Furthermore, remote house churches far outnumber missionary mentors.
“Cambodian believers are first-generation, and they’ve had no models for a healthy family life,” Kreg says.
Societal pressures factor into the challenges new believers face as they try to model their lives after Jesus. Cambodia is 83 percent Buddhist, and spirit worship pervades religious practices. In Krung villages, community blessing is secured through multi-day sacrifices to spirits where drunkenness is the norm. New believers struggle to resist the temptation. To not participate is considered an affront to one’s friends and family.
Cambodia needs long-term workers who will walk with believers as they navigate challenges and face daily temptations. Kreg has seen the fruit of this kind of investment firsthand.
In 2013, Kreg began discipling four men with leadership potential from the struggling Thun church. Bible studies were made available for members. Over time, people came to understand the gospel more clearly. Lives started changing. This past year, church attendance surpassed its initial numbers. New people have come to faith. Others are returning after a long absence. Through faithful investment in people’s lives, the gospel is taking root and transforming hearts.
Will you pray for the East Asian church?
Praise God for Christian workers and church leaders in Cambodia. Pray that God would send more long-term workers to Cambodia who will commit years to learning the language and culture, developing relationships, and teaching faithfulness to God’s word.