• 08 Apr
    Kunthea’s Story: From Cambodia to Canada

    Kunthea’s Story: From Cambodia to Canada

    Meet Kunthea – a young Cambodian lady who was sent to Canada by her non-Christian family to pursue higher education a few years ago. While here, she came to know Christ as her Lord and Saviour through the ministry of her Christian home-stay family. Since then, she has grown in her faith to the point that she found herself studying in a seminary for vocational ministry.

    Today, Kunthea has graduated with a Masters’ Degree in Divinity and is actively serving with OMF Canada in two churches. First in a Canadian (multi-cultural) church reaching out to international students. Second, Kunthea has supported a Chinese church in Canada by leading their short-term mission teams to Cambodia over the last few years. More recently, she has started seeking opportunities to encourage and build up the fledgling Cambodian churches in Canada.

    Kunthea is a walking testimony of the truth of Paul’s words about God’s purposes in the world: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26 -28)

    God is on the move behind the global movement of people in places far and near. The exponential growth of diaspora communities all over the world is not an accident. The Lord in His divine wisdom has orchestrated these moves through political, economic and familial factors so that more will “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him”. In OMF, we’re simply joining him in what he’s already doing.

    Canada in particular is a land of immigrants, teeming with diaspora opportunities, both with those who plan to return, and with those who plan to stay. In recent decades, we have seen immigrant churches blossom and bloom to maturity, well on their way to becoming a strong cross-cultural missionary sending force.

    We see the East Asian diaspora communities as both people to share the gospel with and people who can go on to share it with others. With our history and experience in East Asia, OMF is well positioned to reach out to, and come alongside, East Asian diasporas all over the world by

    1. coming alongside them to help build indigenous biblical church movements within their own communities- this is especially important with the smaller diaspora communities like the Cambodian, and Thai.
    2. partnering with the diaspora churches to reach out cross-culturally – the larger communities like Korean, Chinese, and Filipino ones are especially ready for this

    To that end, the Lord has blessed us in Canada with a team that is currently 23 strong. Our team members are all “bi-cultural bridges” who can flow between the Canadian culture and at least one East Asian culture. Through this team, we seek to connect with East Asia’s diasporas all across the land – in their heart language and according to their heritage culture.

    Rev CY Yan
    Canada Director for OMF Connections East Asia

    Will you pray for The Task Unfinished?

    • Give thanks for Kunthea’s testimony and how she is now supporting churches in Canada.
    • Pray for God to bless her and make her fruitful in ministry.
    • Pray for Connections East Asia and all OMF’s efforts to engage with East Asian diaspora communities around the world to share the gospel and come alongside them.


    Will you pray for the East Asian Diaspora?


    Discover more about East Asians on the move.


    Explore how you could serve the East Asian Diaspora.

  • 26 Mar
    Suffering and Mission: Narrative Research from Cambodia, with Special Reference to Cambodian Church History

    Suffering and Mission: Narrative Research from Cambodia, with Special Reference to Cambodian Church History


    The paper presents the findings of narrative research on suffering in the lives of Cambodian Christians. It begins with a discussion of what the Bible says about suffering and a historical review of the suffering in Cambodia and her church. The paper shows how the scars inflicted on Cambodia through decades of suffering still impact the church and wider society.

    Yuzo Imamura

    Born and raised in Japan, Yuzo and his wife, Hitomi, have served as church workers in Cambodia with OMF International since 2003. He holds a Master of Christian Ministry from the Discipleship Training Centre, Singapore.

    Suffering and Mission: Narrative Research from Cambodia, with Special Reference to Cambodian Church History

    Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 3 (Sep-Dec 2017):4-12

    1. Introduction: Suffering in today’s world

    Every single day, we read stories of suffering in the newspaper. Tsunamis, hurricanes, an Ebola outbreak, multiple terrorist attacks all over the world, bombings in Syria, and countless mental and psychological collapses. The list goes on. It seems that the world is full of suffering. We ask ourselves agonizingly, “Lord, can this be your will?” It is so commonplace that a Google search of “theology of suffering” yielded 22,800,000 hits in 0.57 seconds as of 10 October 2017.

    In Cambodia today, more than three decades have passed since the devastation of the Khmer Rouge, yet the scars left by the Pol Pot regime and the following civil wars are still tangible in the society. On the one hand, physical suffering such as that which is experienced by land-mine victims is observable. On the other hand, psychological suffering such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression are invisible, yet they have tormented countless people. According to a 2012 report, between 15 and 35 percent of those who survived the Khmer Rouge and experienced violence associated with armed conflict suffer from PTSD and even more people within the general Cambodian population suffer due to a wider transmission of Khmer Rouge-associated trauma.[1]

    Dictionaries define suffering as “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship”[2] and “physical, mental, or emotional pain or anguish.”[3] They do not say where it comes from or whether it is beneficial or totally harmful.

    In reality, there are different views on suffering. For instance, people who live in highly industrialized countries such as Japan, find suffering to be an unpopular word as they are often convinced by the mass media that making our lives easier, smoother, and barrier-free is of ultimate value. They are constantly advised to eliminate suffering in their lives as much as possible by using high technology or the spirit of kaizen (continuous improvement).[4] Alternatively, they ignore suffering or think it doesn’t exist in their lives while they strive to keep up with a very fast-paced life. Even if there is suffering they can seek help from experts such as counselors, psychologists, or folk beliefs. The motto is “to manage, reduce, and cope with stress, anxiety, or trauma.” On top of that, they are prone to blame the socio-political and economic system for their suffering. As a result, there is very limited space to consider biblical ideas of persevering, enduring, and living with suffering. But once cross-cultural workers from those countries land in Third World countries like Cambodia, they are overwhelmed by suffering such as poverty, injustice, lack of social security, etc., that the local people face.

    Persecution (including martyrdom) is just one form of suffering. Tieszen reports that to some scholars “any unfortunate experience befalling a Christian is considered persecution.”[5] Certainly, persecution comes in various forms and intensities, and it hurts Christians physically, psychologically (mentally or emotionally), or socially. Tieszen rightly says, “We cannot define the event based on the level of pain it might cause, or the level of intensity in which it occurs. Instead, a definition of persecution encompasses actions spanning the full range of hostility.”[6]

    Before exploring the biblical perspective on suffering, I would like to note that while suffering can be subjective, some types of suffering—such as natural disasters—are evident to everybody. The Bible says that suffering not only gives believers sorrow and pain (e.g., Job of the Old Testament) but also brings joy (e.g., Acts 5:41; Rom 5). But such an epistemological discussion lies outside the scope of this paper.

    Rather than reviewing suffering in terms of non-Christian philosophical analyses, whether ancient, medieval, or modern, this paper will focus on what the Bible tells us about suffering.[7]

    2. What the Bible tells us about suffering

    Countless books and articles have been written on suffering. Hence, it is not necessary to duplicate this information here. Recently, an OMF e-Learning module on “the Way of the Cross,” the Theology of Suffering 101, was prepared and will hopefully help those who are not familiar with suffering.[8] Here, foundational teaching and practical issues surrounding suffering are explored briefly.

    2.1. Suffering is a part of the normal Christian life

    The Bible does not deny that the Christian suffers. Tim Keller rightly says:

    The Book of Genesis begins with an account of how evil and death came into the world. The wisdom literature of the Old Testament is largely dedicated to the problem of suffering. The Book of Psalms provides a prayer for every possible situation in life, and so it is striking how filled it is with cries of pain and with blunt questions to God about the seeming randomness and injustice of suffering. The books of Job and Ecclesiastes are almost wholly dedicated to deep reflection on unjust suffering and on the frustrating pointlessness that characterizes so much of life. The prophets Jeremiah and Habakkuk give searing expression to the human complaint that evil seems to rule history. NT books such as Hebrews and 1 Peter are almost entirely devoted to helping people face relentless sorrows and troubles. And towering over all, the central figure of the whole of Scripture, Jesus Christ, is a man of sorrows. The Bible, therefore, is about suffering as much as it is about anything.[9]

    While we try to eliminate suffering, the Bible tells us suffering can be beneficial and indispensable to our Christian life. Indeed, suffering is a gracious gift from God (Phil 1:29). Next, we will explore possible meanings of suffering.

    2.2. Certain meanings of suffering

    Because we instinctively pursue answers to the purpose or meaning of suffering, we should be careful to note that the Bible does not give a clear answer to why we face suffering. It only addresses how we can handle it. Here are some meanings that are found in the Bible.

    2.2.1. Suffering as God’s justice and judgment

    Genesis 1–3 explains that suffering entered the world as a result of the original sin of the first human beings, Adam and Eve, who turned away from God. Paul later wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). Their disobedience of the Creator’s will and the breakup of their relationship with God have filled the world with suffering: spiritual alienation, inner psychological pain, social and interpersonal conflict and cruelty, natural disasters, diseases, and death (Gen 3:16–19). In addition, Psalms and Proverbs suggest that suffering can be directly related to transgression (Pss 32:1–5; 38:1–4; Prov 12:21; 13:20–21; 22:3; 27:12).

    2.2.2. Suffering as God’s mystery and his good intention

    Trying to discover the reason for evil and suffering drives us to consider the bigger picture that is God’s plan which is far beyond our understanding. There are hard questions, like the way Joseph was sold by his brothers to Egypt. However great a setback he suffered, Joseph endured and trusted in God through every single episode of suffering. In the end he came to understand God’s big picture, “a great deliverance” (Gen 45:7, NIV), and said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20). Like Genesis’s picture of Joseph, Job and Ecclesiastes richly demonstrate that much of suffering is not directly related to justice and judgment; rather it is God’s mystery that is beyond our understanding (Deut 29:29). Joni Eareckson Tada views her suffering in this way: “My suffering is redeemed for His purpose.”[10] This view resonates with Romans 8:28 where Paul writes, “All things work together for good.” Peter encourages us to entrust our souls to a faithful Creator even when we do not understand our circumstances (1 Pet 4:19).

    2.2.3. Suffering as God’s means for strengthening our faith and holiness

    God saves us and shows us the infinite depths of his grace and love through weakness and pain. Dan McCartney writes, “Christ learned humanhood from his suffering (Heb 5:8). [And therefore] we learn Christhood from our suffering.”[11] God disciplines us through suffering (Heb 12:10–11). Just as Jesus has experienced our humanity through suffering (Heb 2:18; 4:14–15), we are also able to grow in Christ-likeness and care for others who are suffering, as we suffer. Job acquires a deep knowledge and experience of God through suffering (Job 42:5–6). The Psalmist writes that suffering is good for us and leads us to have a better understanding of God (Ps 119:71; cf. Jas 1:2–4). Likewise, Paul encourages us to be prepared for “an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison” (2 Cor 4:17) and “the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). Peter clearly states we will be restored, confirmed, strengthened, and established by God in the end (1 Pet 5:10; 4:12–14).

    2.2.4. Suffering as a display of God’s glory

    Jesus came to us and suffered for us chiefly through his death on the cross as Isaiah prophesised in chapter 53. Piper meticulously expounds the glory of God that comes through suffering. He summarized the achievements of Jesus Christ by his suffering as follows:[12] (1) Christ absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf (Gal 3:13), (2) Christ bore our sins and purchased our forgiveness (1 Pet 2:24; Isa 53:5), (3) Christ provided a perfect righteousness for us that becomes ours in him (Phil 2:7–8; Rom 5:19), (4) Christ defeated death (Heb 2:14–15), (5) he disarmed Satan (Col 2:14–15), (6) Christ purchased perfect, final healing for all his people (Isa 53:5; Rev 7:17), and (7) Christ will bring us finally to God (1 Pet 3:18). The ultimate reason that suffering exists in the universe is so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering himself to overcome our suffering and bring about the praise of the glory of the grace of God.

    2.3. Suffering and its five challenges to the character of God

    While an atheist is free from the problem of evil, religious people, including Christians, from ancient times have struggled to tackle questions arising from the problem of evil. That is why the study of theodicy develops. Theodicy is defined as “an attempt to show that God is not responsible for evil,”[13] or “the justification of a deity’s justice and goodness in light of suffering and evil.”[14] There is no space to describe all ideas of theodicy here, but five practical challenges when we consider suffering and God are noted: (1) a suspicion about God’s omnipotence; (2) a suspicion about God’s sovereign control of the future; (3) a suspicion about God’s goodness; (4) a suspicion about God’s love and presence with us; and (5) a total rejection of the idea of evil and suffering. People surrounding us might conclude that “if there is a good god, there should be no evil. But in reality there is evil in this world, so that a god who is both good and powerful cannot exist.” It is easy for them to miss the great teaching of suffering and thus develop a very myopic understanding of the gospel. All Christians are required to develop a biblically-sound understanding of each aspect of God’s character through sincere study of the whole Bible, and then live out the word of God.

    3. Suffering in Cambodia and her church

    Since the first Protestant missionaries with the Church and Missionary Alliance arrived in Cambodia in 1923, the gospel has not been received well. After forty years of work there were just 734 baptized believers in good standing in the Khmer Evangelical Church started by the C&MA. Ellison estimates that there would have been just over two thousand “Christians” in Cambodia just before 1965.[15] In 1965, King Sihanouk expelled all missionaries, and evangelical church leaders were ordered to close their churches when diplomatic relations with the West were terminated. But, in 1970–1975, missionaries were allowed to return to Cambodia with the rise of a pro-American regime. In 1972 the Khmer Evangelical Church held two evangelistic campaigns in Phnom Penh. Dr. Mooneyham of World Vision was the guest speaker, with music provided by the Palermo Brothers and also by the Danibelles. In these two campaigns more than three thousand people made public decisions to accept Christ. Before the war broke out in 1970, there were only three congregations in Phnom Penh.[16] It was recorded that there were ten thousand believers in thirty congregations in Phnom Penh in 1975 when Pol Pot’s regime took control over the country.[17]

    Cambodia experienced a notorious massacre during the Pol Pot regime (1975–1979). Today, many tourists pay a visit to both S-21, a former torture center converted from a high school in Phnom Penh, and the killing fields across Cambodia, as well as the Angkor Wat complex, a World Heritage site. More than one million lives were lost in less than four years of the Pol Pot regime. These four years were the darkest period in the history of Cambodia. Furthermore, its effects are still fresh and can be observed in daily life. Almost every household lost loved ones in that period. Because of Pol Pot’s systematic elimination of national leaders and intellectuals, poverty and poor education have been major problems in Cambodia since the 1980s.

    The situation is improving very slowly and Cambodia has recently escaped from its “poor country” status and joined the “low-income country” category.[18] When the Vietnamese army entered Phnom Penh on 7 January 1979, a few hundred Christians were still alive on that “liberation day.”[19] Ellison provides a list of thirty-three pastors and church leaders and found that twenty-seven of them were martyred or died as part of the policy of enforced starvation. By the end of 1979, eighty percent of Cambodia’s believers had been martyred during the horrors of Pol Pot’s Killing Fields. But even after the Killing Fields, difficult situations continued for Cambodian believers. Following the fall of Pol Pot’s regime, the new government persecuted the Church—confiscating Bibles, refusing to allow church meetings, and keeping known Christians under surveillance—until 1990 when the Cambodian Protestant Church was officially recognized by the government. It was reported that there were only about thirty small churches across the country in the early 1990s.[20] The number of believers has grown significantly in the last twenty-five years, and it is now estimated that there are more than 250,000 believers in over two thousand churches.[21]

    There are several other occasions besides the Pol Pot period when the Cambodian church suffered. In 1946, after the Second World War, the political vacuum gave rise to the nationalistic movement called the Khmer Issarak Movement, which was an anti-French nationalist movement that quickly split into competing factions. By the time of independence in 1953 all but one of these were incorporated into Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s political structure,[22] but many Christians were persecuted and the first Cambodian Christian was martyred by members of the movement.[23]

    Mr. Taing Chhirc was a high rank military officer, a major in the nation’s armed forces, and a strong Christian leader. He was General Secretary of the young Cambodian Evangelical Church. In the summer of 1973, he spoke at the Keswick Convention in England, issuing a challenging call to raise awareness and prayer for his country.[24] On the way back to Cambodia, he stopped in Singapore and talked with the directors of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship at 2 Cluny Road, assembled in Central Council, inviting this mission likewise to follow him into Cambodia where the harvest was great and the laborers all too few. To this pressing invitation to “come over and help us” from a man of Cambodia, the mission directors concluded that God was indeed calling them “to preach the gospel to them.” By early 1974 the first missionaries of an eventual band of five from OMF entered Cambodia, wading into a harvest for which they had not labored but were now privileged to help reap.[25]

    A few days after the fall of Phnom Penh in April 1975, Major Chhirc was standing on the roadside just beyond the city with his colleague Voan and shared the gospel to all the people who were unceasingly pressed on their way to the provinces. Chhirc did not hide his identity but continued boldly to proclaim Christ to his countrymen whom he so dearly loved, and consequently was soon overtaken by a martyr’s death.[26] Just before the fall of Phnom Penh, he had told a missionary friend: “Communists are willing to die for what they believe. Is not Jesus worth more than all these things?”[27] In writing of Bonhoeffer, Ajith Fernando could equally have been referring to Chhirc when he commented, “Many people thought his death was the waste of a great resource for the church. But Bonhoeffer himself remained close to God and knew that his death would only bring him nearer to God.”[28]

    4. Qualitative research on suffering in Cambodian Christians’ lives

    Qualitative research is an approach that allows us “to examine people’s experiences in detail by using a specific set of research methods such as in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, life histories, etc.”[29] It can thus provide complex textual descriptions of how people experience a given research issue. It provides information about the “human” side of an issue, that is, the often-contradictory behaviors, beliefs, opinions, emotions, and relationships of individuals. Qualitative methods are also effective in identifying intangible factors, such as social norms, socioeconomic status, gender roles, ethnicity, and religion, whose role in the research issue may not be readily apparent. It helps us to interpret and better understand the complex reality of a given situation and the implications of quantitative data.[30]

    Nowadays, qualitative research methods are used in social science, medicine, and anthropology, among other disciplines.

    I have chosen a narrative research method as the suffering that the Cambodian people have faced could be very different from the suffering I have experienced and imagined, and could vary between different Cambodian Christians. In addition, I am curious about their interpretation of their life experiences as Christians. Qualitative research could help us to learn from both their experiences and their perspective on suffering. One question that I was most curious about is how the Pol Pot genocide affects their life. While this is a time-consuming research method that further challenges my linguistic ability of analysis, I have conducted a life story interview with Cambodian Christians using the Khmer language. The whole interview was recorded with the interviewees’ permission. After each interview, the transcripts were typed verbatim. The abstracted stories from my interviews are summarized below.[31] In this paper, the interviewees’ names, ethnicities, and place names are changed or withheld in order to protect their identities.

    4.1. Cambodian Christians’ life stories

    Story 1 is about a Khmer man in his fifties. When he heard the gospel the first time, he was a teenager in a refugee camp in Thailand. He lost his parents during the Pol Pot era. He went to a refugee camp with his friend when they heard that they might be able to get some means to earn a living; his four brothers and sisters were separated from each other while travelling from Phnom Penh. At the refugee camp, he started attending a church on Sunday and joined a youth-group activity because many people, including his friends, went and many people said that the Christians helped their daily life more than others, including government organizations. After a couple of months, when many people were getting baptized he thought that he could gain some benefits too, so he also got baptized! He looked back to this event later and concluded that he neither had faith in Jesus nor experienced any spiritual transformation.

    Believers at the Aranya Prathet Cambodian refugee camp reading the Bible and Khmer literature reprinted by OMF; Don Cormack
    on the right in the front row.

    In the early 1990s, the UN encouraged people in the refugee camps to go back to Cambodia. Finding himself an orphan, he went back to Phnom Penh, was reunited with his brothers and sisters, and stayed with his uncle and aunt. But he and his siblings were not welcomed by his uncle and aunt due to the shortage of food. In addition, he had to work hard to take care of them while studying English to get a better job. His family origins can be traced back to Mainland China—his grandparents migrated from there to Cambodia and his father taught Chinese at a Chinese school. His family followed many gods including those worshipped in Taoism, and anything that provided merit for their lives. After his marriage, he moved to his wife’s province and started to work with a Christian NGO.

    Through working with missionaries, he was convinced that Jesus was the only Savior and got baptized a second time, this time after a sincere conversion. Looking back on his life, he said that he did not feel miserable during the Pol Pot time or while he lived in the refugee camp. He said that everyone was in the same situation. Everyone felt equally hungry due to the lack of food. He felt he suffered more after he became a Christian and was baptized a second time than during the Pol Pot era. He was dejected that his good friends left. Their sudden change of attitude towards him and termination of their friendship hurt him very much. His siblings and relatives also discontinued their warm relationships with him. Their reasons were his refusal to join them in drinking alcohol, smoking, gambling, etc. They also considered him a traitor to Buddhism. But he has been able to stay with Jesus because he has received much better benefits from Jesus. He mentioned a couple of passages from the Bible that helped him to go through his suffering. For him, the greatest news is that he understands his future destiny (John 14:1–3; Rom 8:31–39; Rev 21:3–4), living with the true God forever with eternal life and the incomparable peace from God. He came to understand God’s purpose in his life and has no more fear of death. It is indeed the good news that he needed in order to live his life at that time.

    Story 2 is of a man in his twenties from a minority tribe. His family was not affected during the Pol Pot time. He never heard of anyone being killed by Pol Pot’s soldiers. The first time he heard of Jesus was from his uncle. It scared him because he heard that he would go to hell if he did not believe in Jesus Christ. He and his family believed in many gods, both Buddhist and animistic. Ten years later, he got into trouble when his motorbike was stolen. He was ashamed as he lost face with his family and community. He was helpless and had no more hope to restore his face among them. Suddenly he remembered his uncle sharing that Jesus took his shame on the cross and he could restore him by the power of the cross. He asked his uncle for more teaching on this good news. Later, he got baptized. Since then, he felt no more shame. Moreover, he has an unshakable hope and peace in Jesus, and is always thankful to Jesus for his goodness. He boldly shares the good news with people in his community. When he shares the good news, he is intimidated by others who do not believe in Jesus. But he does not feel lonely at all, rather he gives thanks to the Lord that he belongs to the community of believers.

    Story 3 is of another man in his twenties from a minority tribe. His family also had a normal life during the Pol Pot era. The first time he heard of Jesus was when evangelists came to his village seven years ago. One year later, he joined a church conference at a district town, far from his village, because he wanted to see the town. But at the conference he clearly understood that he was a sinner and received Jesus as his Savior. Then, straight afterwards, he started to suffer from an unknown disease, which affected the right side of his whole body, causing numbness and pain. He got medical help from missionaries and stayed in a mission hospital in Phnom Penh for one month. After he became sick, his family repeatedly offered pigs and chickens to the forest gods. But his disease was not healed. He resisted joining their “satanic worship” because he believed Jesus would heal him because he is love. When discharged from hospital, his numbness and pain was almost healed except for the right side of his abdomen. His family was amazed that his disease was healed without any help from their gods, and all of them decided to believe in Jesus as their Savior. He is happy that all his family turned to Christ Jesus and wants to serve him forever.

    Story 4 is about a Khmer man in his forties.[32] He was born to a poor family and used to work for the military. It was years ago when he first heard of the salvation Jesus brings—through a Bible school student who came from Phnom Penh to share the good news in his city. After he became a Christian, he resigned from military service and started serving in a church while working as a night guard for an NGO office. He has a beautiful wife and two children. His family faced many challenges, especially in the last decade. First, he had a difficult relationship with his wife, as he was too busy at church and with ministries. Their relationship had become sour and tense. After reducing his time in church and ministries, their relationship improved. Second, shortly after his relationship with his wife improved, he was taking a shower from the well outside his house when a coconut fell and hit his head. He was almost killed, but God saved his life without any after-effects. Later, his wife got a strange illness that lasted many months. Local doctors could not help her so she traveled to a neighboring country a couple of times, but her symptoms did not improve. She ended up unconscious and they rushed her to one of most expensive private hospitals in Phnom Penh without thinking of the medical fee. She was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease and slowly improved. Every time she visited the hospital after her discharge, she had to pay an expensive bill, but God provided for them through many miraculous ways. In the same year, his daughter started stumbling and falling down and was later diagnosed with brain tuberculosis. By God’s grace, she received medical treatment and was healed a year later. Very recently his work-place lost its NGO status and came under the government. As a result, his salary was cut by more than half. His family is struggling to make ends meet and send two children to a middle school. But he and his family continue to serve the Lord faithfully.

    4.2. Insightful findings from the stories

    These interviews show that the experiences of the interviewees vary from person to person, generation to generation, and tribe to tribe. But the life stories generally seem to focus on their faith, probably because the interviewer was a missionary. Although these stories are still in the process of analysis by the author, some prominent findings will be presented here.

    There are a couple of key words regarding faith in Christ Jesus, suffering, and how to endure sufferings. First, regarding faith in Christ Jesus, socio-economic, physical, emotional, and/or spiritual crises and sufferings are observed to be a reason for seeking Christ Jesus. Because many communities in Cambodia have a “shame” culture, they took the opportunity to seek the ultimate solution from the Savior rather than from within their community when they faced trouble with their family members, close friends, and/or community. Suffering could prepare one’s heart and mind to look for the Truth.

    Second, suffering is not stereotypically linked to the Pol Pot era or refugee experience. To the contrary, relationship issues (which also trigger a seeking after Jesus Christ) were the foremost cause of suffering mentioned. Because of their faith in Christ, they suffered from conflicts in relationships with family, relatives, and close friends. Their friends cut off their friendship. The community ostracized them for being Christians. In addition, many mentioned dealing with the feeling of “loneliness.”

    It is interesting to see that the suffering in their lives is related to their faith. It is also surprising that they did not see themselves as being pitiful or poor when they experienced the same situation as others during the Pol Pot era. As outsiders, we tend to feel sorry for the locals when we see their lives are much harder than ours and that they have greater problems. When we are involved in a development project, it would be helpful to get an insider’s perspective in order to avoid giving too much or inappropriate aid, which might lead to dependency. However, this unexpected finding, related to their experiences during the Pol Pot era, might have resulted from the depth (or lack of depth) of the interviewer’s relationship with the interviewees. It is rare in Cambodia for people to share about the suffering they experienced under the Pol Pot regime with someone they do not yet trust, as they might end up getting into trouble, such as becoming the subject of gossip, in the community. Further interviews with a more established relationship with the interviewer will more clearly address this point.

    Third, the interviewees shared key Bible truths about enduring suffering by faith. These include their eternal relationship with God, their Lord and Savior; the power of the resurrection; God’s protection; God’s indescribable eternal love; eternal life; a clear destination after death. Their sharing suggests that it could be helpful for them to understand the nature of the Trinitarian God, the work of the Holy Spirit, the theology of suffering, and their belonging to the new community of believers as their community is a shame-based and relationship-oriented culture.

    Fourth, it would be impossible to generalize this, yet if the interviewees (e.g. Story 3 and 4) had accepted Jesus Christ as Savior prior to suffering, they could look back on their sufferings as God’s means of strengthening their faith and holiness. (See Section 2.2.3.) Indeed, they have clung, in the midst of sufferings, to God’s faithfulness and goodness by faith and prayers and waited for his glory promised. And after that, they have praised him and shared his greatness with others. On the other hand, those who suffered without knowing Jesus but came to know Jesus later (e.g. Story 2) tended to think that their sufferings drove them to thank God for his good intentions toward them and their family. (See Section 2.2.2.)

    Fifth, in view of Cambodian church history (Section 3 and 5.1), the fact that quite a few people came to Christ in Cambodia and in refugee camps has been recognized as a revival. And yet, some apparent conversions might have been insincere as indicated in Story 1. It could be instructive to examine when a rapid increase in the number of Christians takes place under perilous conditions. A careful follow-up study on those who came to Christ in refugee camps would be beneficial, particularly one that focuses on the long-term relationship between revival and trauma.

    Lastly, it would to be helpful if more interviews are conducted on people from different backgrounds, such as gender (female or male), ethnicity (Khmer or other minorities), and religion (Folk Buddhism, animism, Islam, or others) and analyzed.

    5. Implications for missions and church

    5.1. Suffering and church growth

    The second century Church Father Tertullian wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”[33] It is a well-known belief among Christians that suffering helps churches grow. We see many examples of this in church history. For example, nobody would have imagined fifty years ago that there would be more than seventy-five million Christians in China today.[34] Cambodia is no exception. According to Cormack, Cambodia experienced two revivals before the early 1980s. The first happened from 1970 to 1975 in Cambodia and the second took place between 1975 and 1981 in the refugee camps.[35] As reported in section 3, there were only three congregations in Phnom Penh before 1970, yet more than three thousand people accepted Christ as a result of the 1972 evangelistic campaigns. More people came to Christ through evangelistic efforts such as those organized by brother Chhirc. Cormack reported:

    The year 1973 ended with about one thousand two hundred Christians in Phnom Penh celebrating the Saviour’s birth in their various and sundry meeting places. This represented a near one hundred per cent annual increase from the three hundred souls to be found four years earlier in 1970 … 1974 was going to be an even more abundantly fruitful year than 1973 … By mid-year the church in the capital had increased to upwards of 3,000. A growth rate in those six months alone outstripping the entire growth of the church throughout its fifty year history.[36]

    It was also reported that fewer than one thousand Christians survived the genocide during the Pol Pot regime, but many people came to Christ in the refugee camps until the early 1980s.

    Looking back on Cambodian church history, we can also see another period of rapid numerical growth in 1990–2010 (Figure 1).[37] From 1996 the Protestant church doubled in size every two years until 2010.[38]

    Figure 1: Christians in Cambodia

    Estimates indicate that there are now more than 250,000 Protestant Christians in Cambodia in more than two thousand churches. That Cambodia has “the modest two percent annual growth of Christianity from 1910 to 2010 masks the impact of Pol Pot’s genocide in the 1970s.”[39] Cambodia’s Christian growth rate in 2000–2010 was the fastest in South East Asia at 7.28 percent, followed by 4.80 percent in Timor.[40]

    Now, the question of whether Tertullian’s phrase could apply to the Cambodian church needs to be asked. Although there are few analyses of the reasons why so many people came to Christ, suffering is one of the key factors which contributed to church growth. Besides the factor of suffering, other factors helped to spur church growth both in 1970–1975 and 1975–1981. First of all, there was the supreme work of the Holy Spirit. It has been suggested that God prepared Cambodia for the next decade’s suffering when the Cambodian church grew just before the Pol Pot regime took over. When they sensed a very ambiguous and unstable political situation, many people sought God. Regarding the 1975–1981 church growth, which took place mainly in refugee camps, suffering and devastating life situations stirred the hearts of many to look for God. But as Cormack honestly shares, “In the context of the dull and uninspiring refugee camps, Christianity was very attractive.”[41] As mentioned by the brother in the first life story (Section 4), his first baptism that took place when he did not have faith was a joyous event at the refugee camp. Cormack writes of the latest church growth that, “the direct correlation between the level of Christian philanthropic aid and church growth cannot be allowed to escape our attention here.”[42] In fact, the church prior to 1993 was a handful of isolated, small, underground groups, but from 1993 onwards, every major denomination, large Christian NGOs, and many missionaries arrived in Cambodia.[43] It was common in the later 1990s that many young people went to the churches where a western missionary worked in order to get free English and/or computer-skill instruction so they could seek a better job.[44]

    Another interesting phenomenon could be observed in later part of the first decade of this century. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia, the number of new church plants started to decrease after 2008 (Figure 2).[45] Their analysis came up with various reasons, but one strongly-suggested reason is materialism.[46] Cambodia started to enjoy relative peace and a stable society, which promotes more economic activities. As the growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) shows (Figure 3), Cambodia’s economy has steadily grown since the last coup d’état in 1999.[47] But at the same time, Cambodian people have started losing their interest in Christianity. It leads to the next point related to the prosperity gospel.

    Figure 2: The number of newly-planted churches in Cambodia

    Figure 3: Gross Domestic Product of Cambodia

    5.2. Suffering and the challenge of the prosperity gospel

    The “prosperity gospel” is one of the biggest challenges in mission today. The Cape Town Commitment defines it as “the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through financial or material gift.”[48] If we say that we have a right to the blessings, we reject suffering. If we then experience suffering, we face problems in our faith. In the second Cambodian life story, when the brother shares the good news with his fellow villagers, he is often asked, “How much monthly salary can I get if I believe in Jesus?” Literally it means, “What kinds of benefits do I get from the Christian God?” It is a big challenge for him to share the good news with people who want to get tangible, material benefits. As he shared, “They always mocked me when I explain about heaven, eternal life, and the kingdom of God, which are invisible things.”

    Prosperity theology is very common in Cambodia where churches or Christian NGOs, which provide a tangible benefit such as financial support for the poor, are very popular in the community. Many people do not come to a church to hear the gospel, but only want to get the immediate, tangible blessings. As a result, it is very hard to share the good news. While there are no statistics, there is a general feeling that many people in Cambodia respond positively toward Christianity, but very few continue to worship God after several years. It surely relates to a lack of discipleship, but the tangible blessings could also be a key factor in this. In rural areas, many people respond to Christianity through experiences of God healing their sicknesses by prayers or contemporary medical services provided by Christian NGOs. It would be an important approach to share the good news with them through healing in this country. The Lausanne Movement rightly deals with the prosperity gospel. In particular, the Akropong Statement is very helpful for us to defend the biblical teaching on suffering.[49]

    5.3. Suffering and evangelization

    5.3.1. Suffering as a wake-up call to lukewarm Christians

    The Bible says suffering is a part of discipleship. But those who come from relatively comfortable countries without tangible persecutions and sufferings may have overlooked the great teaching on suffering in their life. In addition, if affected by the secular worldview which says that comfort and convenience are essential human rights, our perspective on suffering might be skewed. Suffering may have little chance to contribute to our growth in Christ while we try to ignore or view it as a curse to be avoided.

    For example, Japan has enjoyed a peaceful society for more than seventy years. Japanese Christians love religious freedom since it means there is no public persecution of their faith. In accordance with the Japanese value of social harmony, many do not proactively seek opportunities to bear witness to their faith in public, as this might upset harmony. As a result, their presence is often that of the “hidden Christian,” as the statistics show the number of Christians is less than 1% of the population. They sneak in and out of church without telling their friends. When they are encouraged to share the gospel, they view themselves as being unworthy to tell the good news. They feel that sharing the gospel brings shame rather than honor. The church and mission societies should address this reality. Interestingly, when faced with unexpected suffering due to natural disasters, Japanese Christians took it as a wake-up call to share the gospel. Following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, even though Christians were a bit confused regarding a biblical response to such an unprecedented disaster, they have done much good work in the disaster area.[50] The preparation for suffering is crucial, as is developing a sufficiently deep knowledge of the Bible and a strong, vital prayer life so that we are not surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon us to test us and we don’t conclude that something strange is happening to us (1 Pet 4:12). Christians need to present their understanding of biblical truth to those who are suffering. We must proclaim and teach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

    5.3.2. Suffering as a threat to gospel workers

    Second, failure to develop a theology of suffering could threaten the Christian worker’s life. In most cross-cultural and pastoral settings, Christian workers face numerous challenges, including suffering. If they are unprepared for it and do not understand the meaning of suffering biblically, they cannot survive and often terminate their service prematurely.

    John Stott’s classic dictum remains relevant.

    The place of suffering in service and of passion in mission is hardly ever taught today. But the greatest single secret of evangelistic or missionary effectiveness is the willingness to suffer and die. It may be a death to popularity (by faithfully preaching the unpopular biblical gospel), or to pride (by the use of modest methods in reliance on the Holy Spirit), or to racial and national prejudice (by identification with another culture), or to material comfort (by adopting a simple life style). But the servant must suffer if he is to bring light to the nations, and the seed must die if it is to multiply.[51]

    It is important to recognize that we are tempted by such things as popularity, pride, material comfort, and racial and national prejudice, and that these temptations often challenge us in a difficult and stressful situation and become a stumbling block for the kingdom of God. If dying to these things is suffering, we would like to suffer well. Sunquist rightly sums up, “Mission is from the heart of God, to each context, and it is carried out in suffering in this world for God’s eternal glory.”[52]

    5.4. Narrative research as a powerful tool for mission

    While interviewing Christians about their life stories, I came to realize that narrative research is a powerful tool for opening up a people’s worldview. That is clearly so when it comes to their perspective on suffering. As noted at the beginning of this study, one’s perspective on suffering is obviously subjective, and it is never easy to understand each person we evangelize or disciple. While it is wonderful to find many books being published on suffering, we cannot apply these studies and findings uncritically to the people in our context. Narrative research provides a strategic tool to help us accomplish our vision and mission. It helps us to practice incarnational ministry—one of our core values. Though it takes time and requires local language proficiency in the case of cross-cultural settings, it is worth doing for God’s glory.

    6. Conclusion

    It is critical that every Christian understands suffering from a biblically sound perspective and lives out their faith through the difficult situations they face. By God’s grace, the Cambodian church continues to grow through varied sufferings. Narrative research could address the questions of what kind of suffering Cambodian Christians face and how Cambodian Christians recognize their sufferings and keep their faith in Christ Jesus. The battle against the prosperity gospel is right before us. It is necessary not only to defend the gospel apologetically but also to proclaim the whole gospel effectively in our context. If suffering could be our cross, we would like to live out our suffering well. Indeed, if we obey his calling, God will glorify his Name through that cross.

    I end with the words from the OMF General Director’s admonition at Urbana 15.

    Your talents, your gifts, your profession cannot change the lives of people. That cannot bring hope to the people. It’s only in Jesus. So my encouragement to you is love the Word of God, the Truth will bring change. Love the Word of God. Study the Word of God. And live out the Word of God by your lives because as you live out the Word of God people see that and are attracted to Jesus Christ. That will change people. Let God be using you as a change agent. But in the end it has to be the Truth that brings changes. So let the Word of God be in your life as you study, meditate, and live out the Word.[53]

    [1] Daniel McLaughlin and Elisabeth Wickeri, Special Report: Mental Health and Human Rights in Cambodia (New York: Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, 2012), 12, (accessed 9 October 2017).

    [2] Oxford Dictionaries 2015, s.v. “Suffering,” (accessed 9 October 2017).

    [3] The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, Revised ed., Millard J. Erickson, ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), s.v. “Suffering.”

    [4] Kaizen is the famous core value of Toyota. The infamous Toyota Production System (TPS) is a corporative decision-making process which is essential for the success of kaizen.

    [5] C. L. Tieszen, “Redefining Persecution,” in Sorrow & Blood: Christian Mission in Contexts of Suffering, Persecution, and Martyrdom, William D. Taylor, Antonia van der Meer, and Reg Reimer, eds. (Pasadena: William Carey, 2012), 43.

    [6] Tieszen, “Redefining Persecution,” 43. On the one hand, extensive hostile actions could include beating, torture, isolation, or imprisonment. On the other hand, mildly hostile actions would include ridicule, restriction, certain kinds of harassment, or discrimination.

    [7] Timothy Keller surveys these three areas in chapter 2 of Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (New York: Penguin Random House, 2013), 35–63.

    [8] The author contributed to the content of this module.

    [9] Keller, Walking with God, 5–6.

    [10] Joni Eareckson Tada, “Theology of Suffering,” recorded 11 February 2009 in Dallas Theological Seminary chapel, (accessed 12 October 2017).

    [11] Dan McCartney, Why Does it Have to Hurt?: The Meaning of Christian Suffering (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), 60. Quoted in Keller, Walking with God, 152.

    [12] John Piper and Justin Taylor, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 87–89.

    [13] The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, s.v. “Theodicy.”

    [14] Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, ed. Donald K. McKim (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), s.v. “Theodicy.”

    [15] J. Paul Ellison, A Short History of the Cambodian Evangelical Church known in Cambodia as the Khmer Evangelical Church with Particular Attention Being Given to People Movements and Some Factors Related to Church Growth. Paper presented at Cambodian Christian Services Conference, San Jose, California, 1991.

    [16] “Cambodia Profile,” OMF International, (accessed 20 January 2016).

    [17] OMF International, Pray for Cambodia (Littleton, CO: OMF International, 2012), 12.

    [18] The Minister of Commerce announced that General National Income (GNI) for 2015 would be estimated as US$1096. The definition of Low Income Country according to World Bank is one with GNI in the range of US$1046–1985.

    [19] Some sources say that there were 200 Christians. For instance, Veritas College International. (accessed on 12 October 2017).

    [20] Interserve New Zealand, “The Cambodian Church,” Go Magazine (Second issue 2012): 18–19, (accessed 12 October 2017).

    [21] This number of churches is from Keith Carey, ed., Global Prayer Digest (Pasadena: U.S. Center for World Mission, 2011): 9. Others cite different numbers of churches. Some say there are 750 churches (e.g. OMF International), others mention 5,000 to 7,000 congregations (e.g. Interserve), or 1,224 Protestant churches (e.g. the 2010 International Religious Freedom Report published by U.S. Department of State, (accessed on 28 March 2016). Steve Hyde, in his 2012 report, suggests that the different numbers of churches given would be caused by “different definitions of what a church is or incomplete research”. A nation-wide statistics research by MK2021 is now ongoing. The number of 2,920 churches is registered as of 25 August 2017.

    [22] John Tully, A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival (Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm, 2006), 119–121; Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. “Khmer Issarak,” (accessed 25 December 2015).

    [23] Don Cormack, Killing Fields Living Fields (Crowborough, UK: MARC 1997), 75–79.

    [24] Cormack, Killing Fields, 130–133.

    [25] Cormack, Killing Fields, 133.

    [26] Cormack, Killing Fields, 169–171.

    [27] Cormack, Killing Fields, 326.

    [28] Ajith Fernando, The Call to Joy and Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 178.

    [29] M. Hennink, I. Hutter, and A. Bailey, Qualitative Research Methods (London: SAGE, 2011), 8–9.

    [30] Natasha Mack, Cynthia Woodsong, Kathleen M. MacQueen, Greg Guest, and Emily Namey, Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector’s Field Guide (Durham, NC: Family Health International, 2005), 1–2, %20-%20A%20Data%20Collector%27s%20Field%20Guide.pdf (accessed 12 October 2017).

    [31] In this method, the relationship between interviewer and interviewee is affected by the way the interviewee is interpreted.

    [32] His story was published in a different form in Yuzo Imamura, “#Iwitness: Joyful in the Midst of Sufferings: A Life Devoted to Christ in Cambodia,” EMQ (January 2016). (accessed 9 October 2017).

    [33] Tertullian, 50.13, quoted in An Expository Commentary. Vol. 3 God and History, Romans 9–11, James Montgomery Boice (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 1323.

    [34] Jason Mandryk, Operation World, 7th ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010), 216.

    [35] Cormack, Killing Fields, 371.

    [36] Cormack, Killing Fields, 135–136.

    [37] Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia, “Mission Kampuchea 2021,” unpublished Occasional Report (Cambodia, 2012).

    [38] Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia, “Mission Kampuchea 2021,” unpublished Occasional Report (Cambodia, 2012). Updated statistics from 2011 onwards are not available yet.

    [39] Todd Johnson and Kenneth Ross, eds., Atlas of Global Christianity (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, 2009), 148.

    [40] Johnson and Ross, Atlas of Global Christianity, 147, 149.

    [41] Cormack, Killing Fields, 317.

    [42] Cormack, Killing Fields, 137.

    [43] It is interesting to look at the number of missionaries per capita in Cambodia. For East Asia as a whole (excluding China, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam due to lack of information), the average is twenty-five missionaries per one-million people. But Cambodia has thirty missionaries per million people. Yuzo Imamura, “Approach to the Buddhist and Animist in Cambodia,” Unpublished paper presented at OMF Cambodia Training Session, Cambodia, 2007.

    [44] Personal Communication with Rev. Sho Sugaya (OMF worker) in 2003.

    [45] Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia.

    [46] Rev. Heng Cheng (the then General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia), Personal communication with author at the Annual Congress of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia, 24 February 2011.

    [47] World Bank, “Gross Domestic Product,”!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gdp_mktp_cd&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:KHM&ifdim=region&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false (accessed 27 October 2017).

    [48] Lausanne Movement, The Cape Town Commitment, Part 2, Section IIE, 5, (accessed 9 October 2017).

    [49] The full text of this Statement can be found at (accessed 9 October 2017).

    [50] “Lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Suggestions for future” [in Japanese.], Disaster Relief Christian Network, (accessed 9 October 2017).

    [51] John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: IVP, 1986), 322.

    [52] Scott W. Sunquist, Understanding Christian Mission: Participation in Suffering and Glory (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), xii.

    [53] InterVarsity ISM, “Dec 30 Interview with Patrick and Jennie Fung,” Urbana 15, (15 Jan 2016), (accessed 9 October 2017).

  • 15 Dec
    Partnering to Train Pastors in Cambodia

    Partnering to Train Pastors in Cambodia

    Ratanakiri Province in north-east Cambodia is home to three ethnic minority hill tribes, the Jarai, Krung/Brao, and Tampuan, who first heard the gospel from missionaries in the 1990s. Scripture tells us to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations….’ These disciples are to be formed into churches shepherded by local pastor-elders who would ‘teach them to obey everything [Christ] commanded.’ In 1999, a missionary from the Evangelical Mission to the Unreached (EMU) began an informal Bible school in Ratanakiri for house church leaders. That first year they met for a block class and continued to meet two times a year from then on.

    Growing the teaching team

    In 2001, missionaries from OMF, BFWE, and CMA joined the teaching team. These like-minded organizations held both theological agreement (such as the inspiration and power of Scripture) as well as methodological agreement (such as indigenous church planting and narrative, creation-to-Christ teaching), which allowed for a Bible School partnership to form. The core curriculum consisted of Firm Foundations (Creation to Christ Bible Story telling), Acts, Matthew, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 Corinthians, Romans and other books of the Bible.

    All of the partners were convinced that the Bible school had to be able to be reproduced by Cambodian Christians. So from the beginning, students were required to pay a small tuition fee or rice (which went toward meals) and provide their own transportation. Some traveled up to 50 km by bicycle and motorbike. The venue was usually a local church building with no rental cost. Local Christians housed students free of charge.

    Most of the believers had little formal education and many were functionally illiterate. We decided that verse-by-verse expositional Bible teaching was the easiest way for them to learn to teach their churches. For many years missionaries modeled how to teach in this way, and students practice-taught the lessons to one another during the trainings, and to teach what they had learned in their churches.

    The missionaries provided written lessons in Khmer for the pastors-elders that were trained on site in Ratanakiri, either translated from appropriate sources (Firm Foundations by Trevor McIlwain) or developed by the missionaries to fit the setting (Matthew and Romans lessons by JD Crowley). Eventually the lessons began to be translated into the three main indigenous languages of Ratanakiri.

    Taught to teach others

    In 2005, missionaries encouraged the church leaders to start Bible schools for their own church members. Initially this was attempted in the national language of Khmer and they struggled to prepare and teach lessons. The next year they were encouraged to teach in their indigenous languages, and this was more successful.

    From 2005-2012, while the Khmer-language, province-wide Bible school continued twice a year, the three indigenous language schools were reaching around 180 students. However, the main impetus continued to come from the missionaries. By this time some missionaries had also learned the indigenous languages.

    Between sessions, missionaries also visited emerging church leaders in their villages on a weekly basis, developing close relationships with leaders and their families. Through those relationships missionaries offered one-on-one encouragement, advice, and correction, as well as small group teaching. This ongoing relationship of discipling allowed for missionaries to develop church leaders of Christian character according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus.

    Growing independence

    In 2013, about 15 years after the initial Bible training began, local leaders were challenged to run their indigenous language Bible schools completely on their own. Beginning in 2014, Krung, Tampuan and Jarai churches, as well as local Khmer, successfully organized, taught, and financed their own Bible schools. Because the students were already used to paying a significant portion of the costs from the beginning, they were able to take care of their own finances without missionary help.

    With the basic curriculum being taught by local church leaders, a committee of missionaries from EMU, CMA, OMF, NTM, and other organizations met in 2016 to form Ratanakiri Pastors Institute, a Bible college level program in the Khmer language for church leaders, with the motto “Theology for Worship.” It began with 65 pastor-elders, Bible translators, and women’s group teachers. The Pastors Institute is taught and organized entirely by missionaries, along with some visiting Cambodian faculty from CMA and FCC churches. After completion, a student will earn the equivalent of an Associates Degree at a Bible college. As of May of 2019, this new program will have completed its first “semester” of five classes, or one-fourth of the way to the 10-year graduation.

    Above: Pastor’s Institute group photo, 2017.

    Will you pray for Partnership in The Task Unfinished?

    Please pray that:

    • God would raise up pastor-elders in churches in Ratanakiri who understand and love God’s word and teach it clearly under the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • God would continue to give the missionary community in Ratanakiri a partnership that blesses the local churches.


    Explore how you could serve in different ways in gospel partnerships.

    The Task Unfinished

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  • 01 Oct
    Church planting in Kep

    Church planting in Kep

    Kep is located in the beautiful southern coastline of Cam-bodia. Formerly a seaside retreat for the French elite who built their villas there in during the French rule, today Kep is drawing tourists back with seafood, sunsets and hikes.

    Kesara, our OMF team member from Thailand served in Kep in her previous term of service. She helped a local Khmer church called ‘Korn Khmer Church’ located a dis-tance away from downtown Kep. She regularly provided training, visited the church members and also did outreach to people in downtown Kep. Her ministry has brought upon blessings to this church, especially to the local pastor. When Kesara did outreach and taught the bible to the people near-by the house she rented in downtown Kep, she realized that it was not easy for them to travel to the Korn Khmer Church for Sunday service due to the long distance they have to travel from their houses. To solve this problem, this local church agree and support Kesara’s decision to plant a new church at downtown Kep. Regular Sunday worship at the house Kesara is renting started since her new term of service in April, 2018.

    There are now over 10 people attending these Sunday services regularly. Most of them have just started their spiritual journey with Jesus though their contact with Kesara. They enjoy singing worship songs and listening to God’s word. Kesara’s landlord’s family was among the first believers to come to faith in Christ through Kesara’s living example as a disciple of Jesus. Kesara longs to see all the believers join the corporate Sunday worship regularly, grow in their faith and become Jesus’ disciples to reveal His glory through their lives in their community. She thanks God for the various ministry opportunities and prays for team mates to join her as there a great need for ministry to the children and youth in Kep. By Kesara

    By Wing Lo Cambodia
  • 06 Aug
    Though ORO team Beginning was small….

    Though ORO team Beginning was small….

    Ou Reang Ov (ORO) in Tboung Khmum province is about 110 km by road from Phnom Penh. With 141 villages and a population of over 80,000 Ou Reang Ov district has one of the smaller district populations in that province. OMF couple Seong Bok and Eun Mi Lee saw that, although there were many people living in this area, no one had ever gone to share the gospel there and so they have started a house church about 1 km south of Ou Reang Ov market.

    When Eun Mi and Seong Bok researched the area, they realised there were over 1000 students studying at Hun Sen high school and felt God’s calling to evangelize students in this area. In May 2011 they moved to ORO and started a house church close to the high school.

    In the early years, they didn’t have any OMF teammates so they asked Jesus Village Church (JVC) to partner with them. JVC sent Sokha, a Khmer believer, who served with them for 2 years. He travelled from Phnom Penh to ORO every Sunday morning and taught Sunday school. Though the ORO Team beginning was small, by the grace of God, faithful disciples (who had been in Sokha’s Sunday school class) have now grown up and become involved in ministry. 5 or 6 young disciples help with teaching God’s Word and leading the Sunday school program. Also, two disciples take turns along with Seong Bok to preach the Word of God during Sunday service. Since June 2014, church members have met five days a week at 6 am for Morning Prayer. A Youth Bible Study group meets every Saturday led by Eun Mi and there is a new Believers Bible Study group every Sunday morning which is led by Seong Bok.

    Over the years, Eun Mi and Seong Bok have continued to teach Korean language and guitar in order to develop good relationships with students and village people. They have also taken every opportunity to share the good news in their neighbourhood and beyond as well as visiting contacts and the families of the church members.

    ORO team was strengthened by Muriel, who joined in April 2016. Muriel helps with the English teaching program at the high school. This last year, she taught all the grade 7 and grade 8 classes in the area of speaking, pronunciation and conversation. As a teacher accepted by the community, she is able to connect with teachers, students, parents and grand-parents. Pray that God would work through all her relationships, but particularly with staff, parents and grandparents – that they would be open to consider that someone can be truly Cambodian and a Christian and that Christ is relevant to the lives of adults as well as youth.

    By Wing Lo Cambodia
  • 25 Jul
    A Long-Term Missionary Shares: Is Short-Term Mission Worth the Effort?

    A Long-Term Missionary Shares: Is Short-Term Mission Worth the Effort?

    Is short-term mission worth it? It’s an important question that many people ask; in fact, it’s a question we ask before ever sending a short-term worker to a country. Clarissa felt led to Cambodia for her Serve Asia trip, but because of the timing, the host questioned whether it was worth her coming. Paul shares from his point of view about hosting a Serve Asia worker.

    short-term mission trip worth it

    What were your reservations about hosting Clarissa?

    When Clarissa applied to work as my intern at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) in Cambodia, I was ambivalent. Would her Serve Asia placement be worth the organisational effort half way through the academic year?

    You spoke with her via Skype before she came. What was that like?

    The Serve Asia coordinator for Canada had journeyed with her well; persevering to arrange an autumn 2016 Skype call with me in Phnom Penh. Clarissa had completed the Serve Asia application process and wanted to work with me for the first four months of 2017 as I lectured in Urban Design at RUFA.

    I concluded the Skype call by advising her that I couldn’t give her any assurance of practice or experience as the Cambodian university environment I was in could be ‘changeable.’ I encouraged her to be as flexible as possible with both her expectations and practice. None of this managed to prevent her from coming at the start of January!

    After she had been in Cambodia for some time, did you still have reservations or feel her coming was a waste?

    Four months later I concluded that Clarissa’s placement was very worthwhile and a privilege to host. From the moment she arrived in Cambodia her attitude was always positive and willing to ‘have a go…’ even though she was nervous and sometimes out of her depth.

    By April, Clarissa had created great connections with a number of students (something I could never do as their teacher); spending time with them, befriending and witnessing to them.

    She also produced some excellent urban design work that included a translated book of interviews, exhibition publicity and an architectural tract. Clarissa had also learned more about her own character and future life ambitions.

    Hosting a Serve Asia worker like Clarissa was worth the organisational effort. It was great to journey with her for those four months of short-term mission and to see God working through her personally and with the people she connected with too. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Clarissa.

    Initially it seemed like it might be a waste of time and resources for Clarissa to go on this trip to Cambodia. Yet, God used her to bless others and connect with students in a way that wasn’t possible for Paul, the long-term worker to do. Together, short-term and long-term workers can make a stronger team and work together to accomplish God’s will in mission. If you’d like to read about Clarissa’s story, she shares what life is like after a short-term mission trip.


    Information on Serve Asia, OMF’s short-term mission discipleship programme.


    Resources and information to help you pray for the global missions movement.


    Search for mission trip opportunities in East Asia and apply online.

  • 18 Jul
    Persevering in Rural Cambodia

    Persevering in Rural Cambodia

    OMF work in our rural district began in seed form in 2002, when a German missionary began literacy visits to seven villages with Khmer believers from Kratie. They surveyed the district and were surprised that they could not find among its 38 Khmer villages a Christian presence.

    Following a time of prayer and discernment, the German family and then two single missionaries moved to the district capital in 2006. From the beginning the team worked alongside the Ministry of Education in supporting rural schools. This also brought the opportunity to share stories about Jesus Christ.

    2006-10: Laying Foundations

    In the beginning the team focused on the market and one nearby rubber plantation village. The team did a lot of children’s ministry in this village and the first year they had a big Christmas outreach in the district market with the help of others from OMF outside the district. The first team formed a youth group, an English group, and guitar group.

    Help arrived with the addition of another missionary couple in 2008-09 but by then church attendance had dropped from as many as 20 to one family. They tried hard to invite people to worship, but the Khmer would no longer come and a key family moved to Phnom Penh (where they still worship).

    For various reasons, the original team members had to move on, but another couple was called to carry on the work, and they persisted for the following decade. For a time, a children’s outreach of 40-50 kids met, but after hearing that the Khmer had an impression Jesus stories were just for kids the team began to spread out and widely visit the other villages of this district that hadn’t had a chance to hear about Jesus yet.

    Over the years the team continued working with the Ministry of Education supporting rural teachers. They also started a library project in district’s two least reached communes. The commune leaders invited the OMF team to help with libraries and after a couple years of trust was built and the commune leaders allowed Christian books to be put in the libraries. Later these stories about Jesus became the most borrowed books.

    2011- Present: Persevering

    In a village near the market, the team also discovered the remnants of a church that had disbanded. They began discipling two believers who had been praying for 10 years for someone to come and teach them the Bible. After a time, a house church was formed again. A young American couple joined the team in 2012, along with their six-month-old baby.

    They began discipling two believers who had been praying for 10 years for someone to come and teach them the Bible.

    Our part in the journey has been following up with discipleship relationships, and continuing to visit other villages. However, during our first home assignment, the leader of the church completely left the Lord for over a year. He has since come back to Jesus, but the house church hasn’t really started again.

    Still we have seen God move, the father and later the sister of one of the church members believed, and later a lady with a disability believed. For a time we worshipped again under a tarpaulin in a field where she lived (she passed away this past year).

    In the rubber plantation where the first team had done outreach we have continued (although not as much the last few years). We had the chance to disciple a Christian lady who moved to the area and then her neighbor for a time (she has since moved again). The people of the village have been friendly, but overall still not open to Jesus.

    In another village there was another house church that formed in 2014 and the team saw some fruit when another family came to put their faith in Jesus. However, the leader of this group had significant discipleship issues that were compromising his faith and we decided to stop the group for the time.

    In several other villages, we have continued to visit, with the goal to share something about Jesus. In many places, people have received resources and shown interest, and then have also cooled off. But in a village the team has visited off and on for over 10 years, a group of men has been meeting. They met last year for a seven-part gospel overview before the Swiss missionary that started the group went on home assignment. They have continued to meet and we have read portions of the gospel of Mark. Most weeks there are visitors who have never heard anything about the Good News of Jesus.

    In another village the sister of the believer from the house church near the market has come to put her faith in Jesus, and a small group is meeting in her home. She is the first to believe in her village and is often asked about her faith. What she says in response is simply, “This I know. Jesus, is the God who saves.” We are still seeking to widely spread the seeds of the gospel looking for people of peace, for groups who are interested to hear more. We are also actively seeking partnerships with local Christians to help us in the work here.

    15 Years of Labor

    15 years ago, when OMF first came to survey this rural district, it had a population of around 45,000 and no visible Christian presence among the Khmer. Today that number is closer to 80,000, a handful of believers, and several scattered house churches. We have had a small part to play but we are certainly not the only ones God is using in this district. The task remains largely unfinished, but we have seen many answers to prayer and God confirming the gospel in amazing ways.

    The history is long and in some ways messy, but we are believing and praying that God’s time is coming for rural Cambodia.

    Will you pray for Cambodia?

    • Give thanks for how God has been at work in this district over the long-term.
    • Pray for God to make the gospel seeds, which have been planted over many years in this rural district and others across Cambodia, grow.
    • Pray for local and foreign workers to go to other unreached villages and districts and start churches where there are currently none.


    Explore the variety of ways in which you could serve in Cambodia.

    The Task Unfinished

    Be a part of helping bring the gospel to the unreached in Asia.


    Learn more about how God is moving among the people of Cambodia.

  • 17 Jul
    Called to Cambodia Twice: Teaching in Cambodia

    Called to Cambodia Twice: Teaching in Cambodia

    Mae arrived in Cambodia in 1995. After language study she taught English in local schools and was involved in church planting in Kratie and Snoul.

    When Mae returned to Scotland for a home assignment in 2007 she knew it was God’s will for her to stay home to take care of her mother. She went back to teaching, God confirming this step by giving her a permanent contract at a time when the local authority was closing schools.

    Called a Second Time

    After her mother died in 2014 God challenged Mae through the Bible and different people to return to Cambodia. Mae came back to a changed country in November 2015. She has been working in Central Cambodia since then. When she arrived she hoped to connect with teachers in the area and trusted God to work out how this would happen. After seven months in the town Mae was invited to help with the English programme at the local high school. Mae goes into all the grade 7 and 8 classes for an hour every week to give practice with speaking, pronunciation and conversation. Mae says ‘It’s so good to be teaching again and able to spend time with the teachers and students.’

    Getting to Know the Neighbors

    Mae also has been able to build relationships in the area through her neighbours’ little girl. Mae explains: ‘I would take her for walks every evening and I not only enjoyed the walk but she gave me opportunities to sit, chat and get to know people. She’ll be 2 years old next month and our walks aren’t so frequent any more as she joins the older children in their games, but she was a gift from God for that time. I would have found it much more difficult to get to know people, especially in the wider neighbourhood without her.’

    One of the challenges with these relationships is going beyond ‘small talk’. It’s reasonably easy to chat, even to compare religious practices but I pray that there would be opportunities to speak to the heart and that I would be ready to use them.

    Teaching Dependence

    I like to be independent so God has to constantly teach me to learn to depend, not just on him, but also on others. Because of work on a new road through the town, our water supply was cut-off for several months. I had no other water supply but my neighbours have a well so I was completely dependent on them. They helped me get as much water as I needed into my house whenever I needed it. I had to learn to humbly accept their generosity and help. They treat me like a family member and I receive more from them than I can ever give in return.

    Will you pray for Cambodia?

    • Give thanks for friendships that our workers have built with Cambodians, pray that they will take every opportunity to share the gospel with them.
    • Give thanks for Christian high school students in Cambodia. Pray that their daily lives would be a witness to their teachers and peers. Pray for a Christian student movement in the high schools.
    • Pray for encouragement for the very few Christians teaching in Cambodian government schools. Pray for more Christians to join this workforce (as godly educators to the next generation).


    Explore the variety of ways in which you could serve in Cambodia.

    The Task Unfinished

    Be a part of helping bring the gospel to the unreached in Asia.


    Learn more about how God is moving among the people of Cambodia.

  • 16 Jul
    ‘I told myself I’d never be a Christian’: a Cambodian pastor’s story

    ‘I told myself I’d never be a Christian’: a Cambodian pastor’s story

    Pastor Vachna grew up in Neak Loeung, a market town on the Mekong River, about 65km South East of Phnom Penh. In 2001 a small team of OMF missionaries began working there, including starting the music classes that drew Vachna to the church. After studying at the Royal University of Agriculture, Phnom Penh, Vachna spent three years at the Asian Theological Seminary in the Philippines. Today Pastor Vachna leads the church in Neak Loeung and is Chairman of the Fellowship of Churches of Cambodia.’

    There is God!

    Most Cambodians do not associate with Christians; I was once one of them, hating Christians. One day, in grade 9, I heard about a Christian group conducting a music class. I had always dreamed of playing guitar someday. I went to the class; it was free, but I still didn’t want to associate with them. Playing guitar was what I always wanted.

    I decided to go the class, despite the Christians. I prepared myself: I would be very careful if I needed to join in any Christian activities. Unfortunately, we needed to pray to the Christian God at the start of class. I prayed, but only for the sake of playing guitar; I told myself that I would never be a Christian.

    I prayed, but only for the sake of playing guitar; I told myself that I would never be a Christian.

    A chance to hear the gospel

    I was invited to join a Sunday Service; it was not a class requirement but I wanted to see how Christians worshipped their God. The message was very interesting – the offering from an old woman (Luke 21:1–4). It was an eye opener for me. What I had learned from Buddhism was the more we offer to god, the more we learn righteousness. Yet Jesus considered what the poor woman offered the most among the offerings.

    I decided to learn more about Christianity. I allowed myself to be more exposed in the Christian group and got involved in ministry. Soon enough, I decided to accept Jesus as my personal Saviour.

    After some time, I got a calling to be a pastor. I had no idea what or who a pastor was, but he seemed to be the head of the church. It sounded great to me. I went through some training and deeper involvement in ministry. It was then I realised that the pastor was a nobody, no recognition in Cambodian social status and even no salary. I wanted to drop back, but I knew it was never right to live against God’s will. I would follow God’s will. Thus I found a way to affirm God’s calling for me. I made a deal with God; if someone from my family became a Christian within one year (it was also my last year in the college), I would accept the calling.

    God has proven his existence

    I started praying for everyone in my family (two of my brothers were already converted). My oldest sister, youngest brother, and my mother were closer to me than my father. Besides, he was a medical doctor; he would never believe in any spirit or supernatural god. So I prayed for the others more than my father. I had been praying for almost one year but nothing happened. My family seemed not interested at all. I was very upset. I wondered whether to extend it another year for God to work.

    The last Sunday of the year arrived; we celebrated Christmas and all my family were invited. After the message, the speaker invited the audience to accept Christ. In my heart I was shouting so loud, ‘come on Mother, it’s your last chance of the year!’ I could not look up. I was very nervous as to whether anyone on my prayer list would accept Christ. I said in my heart, ’Mother! Mother! Mother!’ None of my family would respond, except my father. Unbelievable! I could not understand why God had worked that way.

    Walking on the narrow road

    New Year came and I went to pray at the church as I usually did at the beginning of New Year. I did not thank God for my father’s conversion; I apologised instead. I said sorry to God for limiting him. I thought my father too hard to be converted.
    In fact, I even prayed for God to have mercy if he entered the fiery lake.

    My father’s conversion not only proved God’s calling, but also his might and faithfulness. From that day on, I declared that nothing is impossible for God. I accepted the calling and went to a Bible school. After three and half years I came back, got married, and became a fulltime pastor in Fellowship Church of Neak Loeung.

    In my very small experience as a pastor, walking the narrow road helps me understand what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:13; he wanted to finish his walk. Many times along the way, the need to be significant, recognised, and comfortable has dragged me down and pushed me towards the wide road. As God has already done his part, I long to finish mine. May God grant me faith, joy, and courage to finish the walk.

    To God be the glory!

    By Pastor Vachna

    This post originally appeared in Billions magazine May – August 2016.

    Will you pray for Cambodia?

    • Give thanks for Pastor Vachna’s journey of faith. Pray for him as he continues to walk the narrow road.
    • Pray for more Cambodians to be drawn to consider Christ, by whatever means.
    • Pray for Christians to be bold in witnessing to their family and praying for them – anything is possible with God.
    • Pray for Cambodian church leaders to shepherd their flocks wisely, with godliness and humility.


    Explore the variety of ways in which you could serve in Cambodia.

    The Task Unfinished

    Be a part of helping bring the gospel to the unreached in Asia.


    Learn more about how God is moving among the people of Cambodia.

  • 11 Jul
    Rice Planting and Discipleship

    Rice Planting and Discipleship

    Each year in Cambodia, as the floodwaters start receding, rice farmers get into action, mobilising entire families to plant the seedlings.

    A Christian Khmer family that I knew decided to rent a plot of land to try and grow rice, hoping to harvest enough to feed the family for a year. So for the first time, after about 12 years of living in Cambodia, with a classroom knowledge of the cycle of rice growing, strains of rice, names of rice and so on, I went along to ‘help’ them plant rice.

    Theory met reality and a song from childhood became my refrain out in the rice field after just a few minutes:

    “Planting rice is never fun, bent from morn till set of sun.

    Cannot stand, cannot sit, cannot rest a little bit.

    Planting rice is no fun …”

    I did not make it to mid-day, let alone sunset. As for the ‘never fun’ bit – considering that my thighs and back ached so badly the next day – I wonder why ‘fun’ was even used as an adjective in the song!

    What is Discipleship Like?

    Yet, working side by side with this family, I gained more than aches and complaints; the fellowship was sweet and memorable. Crouching there, between random conversations about this or that, I also got to thinking that building up a Christian in their faith is rather like rice-planting.

    There was no short-cut, and no way of staying clean! In the field, my feet got sucked into mud that also made its way to my toenails; my hands were plunged beneath muddy water groping for soft patches to smack in the rice seedling, while I kept squealing under my breath, “That squishy bit is not a leech, not a leech, right?!” And after an hour, it seemed I had only covered a square foot or so with rice seedlings!

    If I want to reach people with the gospel, I also have to get my feet and hands dirty, and be prepared to work hard, for a long time. Wading right into their lives, even though I was sometimes unwelcome as a leech, was necessary in order to bring about a harvest of faith.

    At different times pleading, encouraging, praying with face to the ground, nudging their faith forward, laughing and crying with them required my heart, mind, spirit and strength to stay engaged with them. I could not be an objective bystander, much as I would like to, just to protect myself from the mess. Where it was messy and deep, there hope and change could be planted.

    Does this kind of ‘field work’ interest you? Could you step into a rural ‘field’ in Cambodia and plant seedlings of faith or join in gathering the harvest? If yes, then be prepared for mess, but also to find the Lord’s faithfulness in bringing about a harvest in his time.

    Rebecca, OMF worker in Cambodia

    Will you pray for Cambodia?

    • Pray for church leaders and OMF workers as they wade into Christians’ lives and work to help build them up in the faith.
    • Pray for strength for Christian workers to persevere in planting and watering seeds of the gospel.
    • Pray for new workers willing to serve in Cambodia’s rural areas.


    Explore the variety of ways in which you could serve in Cambodia.

    The Task Unfinished

    Be a part of helping bring the gospel to the unreached in Asia.


    Learn more about how God is moving among the people of Cambodia.

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