The Growth of Christianity in Cambodia

The gospel came late to Cambodia. The first Protestant missions organization, Christian Missionary Alliance, 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 foreign missionaries to withdraw. After 40 years of work they left the Khmer Evangelical Church (CMA affiliated) with less than one thousand members.

In 1970, with the rise of a pro-American regime, and the return of missionaries, 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 as the Khmer Rouge advanced. When war broke out there were three congregations in Phnom Penh. By 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh, this number had increased to 30.

In response to urgent requests, OMF sent five members to Phnom Penh in 1974 to work alongside the Cambodian church. But a year later, all missionaries were forced to make a “reluctant exodus,” leaving a Church of around 10,000 members. The persecution was savage; 90% of Christians and 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 workers previously expelled from the country went to the camps with the message of hope, and over the following years several thousand more Cambodians were baptized.

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 250,000 today. There are now more than 2,000 churches.

By 1991, OMF and other missions agencies once again had members resident in Cambodia. In 1994, the Ministry of Cults and Religions gave permission for OMF to work in Cambodia as a religious and humanitarian organization. Since that time we have worked in a wide range of areas from church planting, education and health to community development and social work. The OMF team now numbers around 65 and there are many more opportunities to serve the Cambodian church and society.

As the Cambodian church grows and matures, an increasing number of our team are working in partnership with national believers in church planting, in local communities or in the workplace. Alongside this there remain areas of ministry which still call for a pioneer spirit. OMF is privileged to have played a part in bringing the good news of Jesus to Cambodia’s peoples for almost 50 years.

Source: Killing Fields, Living Fields (Don Cormack, 1997).

Page last updated: January 2022

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