Cambodia, formerly Kampuchea, emerged from the intense suffering of the 1970s with a shattered economy and a vulnerable church. Over the past 20 years, God has been building His church in remarkable ways, although the need for urgent evangelization and discipleship among the peoples of Cambodia remains.
- Almost 90% of the people are Khmer
- 33% are under 15 years old
- More than 75% of the population live in rural areas
Cambodia’s population was reduced by 2–3 million in the 1975–79 holocaust and accompanying wars, famines, and flight of refugees.
Buddhism has been the national religion since the 15th century. The Khmer Rouge sought to eradicate all religion; 90 percent of Christians and most Buddhist monks perished. Since 1979 there have been periods of greater tolerance. Christians have been allowed to worship openly only since 1990.
The official national language is Khmer, or Cambodian, which is related to ancient Indian languages. French, formerly an important second language, is being discouraged and English is in great demand.
Cambodia is on the Mekong River in southwest Indochina, covering a total area of 293,886 square kilometers. It is an extremely fertile, alluvial plain. Massive logging has reduced the rainforests which once covered much of the country.
Cambodia has a tropical monsoon climate. Average temperatures are 22–28°C (71–81°F). The rainy season extends from May to November.
From the 7th to 15th centuries, the Angkor priest-kings built up the country, built great temples, and controlled much of Southeast Asia. Cambodians today are nostalgic for this golden age when they were an independent and powerful people.
There followed 500 years of regional and global conflicts with Thai, Vietnamese, French, Japanese, and U.S. invasions or occupations, before the Vietnam War spilled over to Cambodia in 1970–75. This opened the way for the extreme Marxist Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975. The Khmer Rouge tried to isolate Cambodia from all foreign influence. In bloody raids on neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, they also tried to restore to it the glory and size of the Angkor Period.
The Vietnamese army ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979, but civil war between four contending armies raged with superpower support until 1991. UN-supervised elections in 1993 were held despite opposition by the Khmer Rouge.
Since the election of July 1998, a form of democratic government has been established, though its work is severely hampered by corruption, civil service over-managing, little income, and lawlessness. Millions of land mines remain, killing and maiming every day. Although Cambodia’s economy is growing, the country is still among the world’s poorest.
In 2004 King Sihamoni took over from his father, King Sihanouk.
The gospel came late to Cambodia. The first Protestant missionary arrived in 1923, translated the New Testament in 1933, and published the whole Bible in 1953. Its message was not welcome and few believed or obeyed it.
In 1965 the government’s anti-American crusade forced missionaries to withdraw. After 40 years of faithful work, the Khmer evangelical church had less than a thousand members when they had to leave.
In 1970, with the rise of a pro-American regime, the return of the missionaries, and the beginning of the war with the Khmer Rouge, there was freedom and growth for the church. Many turned to God. There were large evangelistic crusades and Christians laboured with a sense of urgency. When war broke out there were three congregations in Phnom Penh; by 1975 this had increased to 30.
In response to urgent requests, OMF International sent five members to Phnom Penh in 1974 to work alongside the church. But a year later all missionaries were forced to make a reluctant exodus, leaving a church of around 10,000 members. The Khmer Rouge assumed control of the country in 1975. The persecution was savage; 90 percent of the Christians and almost all Christian leaders were martyred or fled the country.
From 1975, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled to Thailand, where they were housed in refugee camps. OMF International and workers from other organizations previously expelled from the country went to the camps with the message of hope, and over the following years several thousand Cambodians were baptized.
By 1991 OMF International and other missions once again had members resident in Cambodia, learning the language. In 1994 the Cambodian government gave permission to OMF International to engage in religious and humanitarian work. The team has grown rapidly over the last 10 years, but the opportunities for long- and short-term work grow even faster.
Despite Pol Pot’s attempt to crush the church and the pressures on it during the next decades, the small remnant has grown from a few hundred Christians to approximately 150,000 today. There are now around 2,500 churches.
Despite this remarkable advance of the gospel, 99 percent of Cambodians are still living without Christ. Most church growth is taking place in larger cities and towns, while the vast majority of the population lives in rural locations. Many of these provincial areas remain unreached with the gospel. Recent research has shown that 12,000 of Cambodia’s 14,000 villages are still without a church.
- To establish communities of disciples among the unreached peoples of Cambodia.
- To make disciples in strategic areas of society such as healthcare, education, and among government officials.
- To establish an indigenous student movement.
- To work with the Cambodian church in leadership training and the production of Christian resources.
- Church planters, IT trainers, librarians and others with a passion for evangelization, discipleship and training others, and a willingness to live in the unreached rural areas of Cambodia.
- English teachers with a vision for making disciples among government civil servants.
- University lecturers with a vision for making disciples among students and academic staff.
- Medical professionals, counselors, and social workers with a heart for discipleship.
- OMF International Team Centre Manager and Finance Manager.
- Short-term openings.
- The terrible genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge and subsequent civil war continues to affect the people. There are many widows and orphans, and many families were decimated. The land is strewn with mines and many people are maimed physically and emotionally. Pray for lasting peace, political stability, and continued freedom of religion.
- Pray that God may raise up honourable leaders for the nation who will alleviate the sufferings of the people.
- For centuries Cambodia has been in spiritual darkness. There is strong opposition towards any ideological rival to Buddhism, many spirit shrines, and hatred generated by 20 years of war. The church needs prayer:
- For wisdom in knowing how to relate to the authorities.
- For godly leaders, who will be faithful to the Word of God and lead with servant hearts.
- For effective Christian families in a nation where family cohesion, trust, and love have been severely impaired.
- For a vision for mission: local churches reaching out in cross-cultural mission within Cambodia and to neighbouring countries.
- For the production of culturally relevant Christian resources and the emergence of gifted Cambodian writers.
- For greater unity and respect among churches, denominations, and mission organizations.
- The less reached:
- The Buddhist majority.
- The Cham Muslims: several believers but no known churches.
- Tribal peoples: pray for the emerging churches among the Brao, Krung, and other people groups.