C&MA DNA in Cambodia

U.S. pastors make a connection overseas


How do you begin to bring the gospel to a country that is 96 percent Buddhist and 2 percent Muslim? Where do you begin in a land that was devastated by war and scarred by the killing fields? That is what we came to find out.

A small team of pastors from the Metropolitan District was given the opportunity to spend 10 days in Cambodia with field director David Manfred as he poured out his heart for this country of 14 million people. Although the Alliance has been in Cambodia since 1923, most Christians were killed during Pol Pot’s regime in the late 1970s; however, people now are turning to Christ in significant numbers.

We spent most of our time in the provinces of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, known as the “Highlands.” We traveled over difficult and dusty roads to reach these remote areas, which border Vietnam and Laos. In this region are many different tribal groups collectively known as the Montagnards, each with its own language and culture.

The United States was allies with the Montagnards during the Vietnam War. Most people we met had stories about B52s bombing their villages. One man told me he raises fish in a crater created by one of the bombs. As we approached the Vietnam border, the road we drove on was the Ho Chi Min Trail.

We discovered that several people groups have a vibrant, growing Christian church—not yet mature, but passionate. The Pastoral Epistles and the Book of Acts were written about churches that struggled with the same issues the Montagnards face. In one leaders’ meeting the discussion was about what was permissible and what wasn’t now that the villagers were following Jesus. One tribe is trying to understand their marriage customs in a Christian context. Their historical practice involves multiple acts of fornication with many partners to determine the right choice of a spouse. We met people dominated by fear of the spirit world who were struggling to understand the authority in Christ they now have over demons.

One group that God is particularly at work in, the Kachok, lives deep in the jungle. We had to take a ferry and then motorcycles to get there. The members of this group enjoy favor with the other tribal peoples, making them uniquely positioned to be an influence for Christ. While we were there, village leaders were introduced to a new Bible school graduate who would be equipping them to fulfill their Great Commission plan. The meeting was held in a stilted church covered with thatch, and two young men were listening in. Afterward, they came to us with a translator and wanted to become followers of Jesus. So right there, these two entered the Kingdom of God!

Workers and Witnesses

International workers are vital to what God is doing among the Montagnards. O’B O’Brien, with CAMA, mentors a Bible school graduate who is in his first ministry position. We watched the gentle nudging of an experienced and knowledgeable worker with a young man who was tentative but eager to serve God. With this mentoring it is clear that he has the capacity to raise up an army of church planters.

We met with another couple who had just completed translating the New Testament into one of the tribal languages. I had the privilege of carrying it back to New York City to be printed at the New York Bible Society. Now the people will be able to read the Scripture in their own tongue.

We spent another afternoon with Joyce Johns, an Alliance nurse who has been used by God in villages without hospitals or clinics. Her compassion for those in the Provincial Prison led her to intervene on their behalf. Over several years, beginning with offering medical care and setting up a pharmacy in the prison, she was allowed to develop a literacy program and provide agricultural training so that prisoners will have an education and skills to live in the modern world when they are released. We attended her literacy class and discovered that the main textbook was the Bible! Joyce Johns is bringing the gospel to the darkest places, offering hope in this life and for the life to come.

One evening we were hosted by Jeff and Heather Williams. Our international workers discovered that when they sent new believers to the city for training, few of them returned to the villages. One of the problems is that other well-meaning Christian groups offer salaries to these graduates to pastor existing churches. This leads to dependency, and most of these churches close after several years. For this reason, the Williamses founded a residential jungle Bible school where training is based on mentoring rather than a classroom model.

The Williamses live in the same primitive conditions as the students—no running water, an outhouse and a solar panel to light a single bulb in the evening. The students learn spiritual disciplines, study God’s Word, learn to farm with better technology and practice their ministry skills each afternoon in the local villages. All 18 students will serve in rural areas and be self-supporting or bivocational. This model is sustainable and reproducible. The Bible school actually has a goal of supporting 30 percent of its own expenses through its agricultural production. This model is so promising that another school is being planned in a nearby province.

The gospel demands that we love one another. The poorest of the poor in Cambodia are the Vietnamese refugees. Most live on houseboats, the cheapest shelter available. They are not permitted to own property, and many cannot attend public school.

The Alliance is addressing this need by running five primary schools for these children. We stepped onto one of these floating schools and observed children who otherwise would be on the street, but who are now learning to read and write. Most of them confess Christ as Lord, and some of their families joined the local Alliance church. If the children can complete a state exam when they turn 14 years old and pay a fee, they can become citizens of Cambodia. The Alliance is providing them a pathway out of poverty.

Toward the Future

One of the highlights of our visit was a full day meeting with the Alliance national church leadership. These five men shared their stories of coming to Christ and their love for The Alliance. It was moving to hear their vision for the future and their great faith in what God is doing.

The Alliance has laid a solid foundation in Cambodia that is going to bear fruit long after the international workers leave. The goal of the field is to turn over most ministries to the national church by 2023, at which time Alliance leaders hope to have a church in every provincial capital. In cooperation with other believers and Christian groups, The Alliance wants to have believers in all 14,000 Cambodian villages by 2022. There is much to be done, but we have the right people there to get the work accomplished.

We left Cambodia with a renewed passion for the Great Commission Fund and what is being accomplished through our gifts. We have made churches’ resources available in partnership with the Cambodian national church, and we have been invited to help train leaders to work with youth, which make up 50 percent of Cambodia’s population. It will be our privilege to work alongside and serve our international workers and the Alliance national church of Cambodia.

Gripping Their Hearts

Leaders of the Metropolitan District of the C&MA recognize that if believers in our churches are to fully engage in the call of Christ, then that call must grasp their hearts. Since many people in our churches rely on their leaders for both inspiration and information, these leaders must see, feel and experience God’s work in global missions in order to convey that passion to the congregation.

Pastor’s Global Connect, a project of the Metro District, aims to immerse the local church’s lead pastor in the culture and vision of an Alliance mission field and team. This 7- to 10-day cross-cultural experience teaches him more about missions and missiology than he learned in seminary. The Metro District has conducted Pastor’s Global Connect trips since 2007. Six pastors and chosen leaders travel with the district missions mobilizer to a chosen country. During their visit, the field director becomes their instructor and the international workers, along with national pastors, validate the teaching in real experience.

The outcomes have been exciting. Churches take short-term teams that focus on fulfilling the field strategy and local needs. Believers develop caring relationships with international workers and national church leaders. Giving to the Great Commission Fund increases because the congregations know and trust the work. Followers of Christ begin to own “living the Call”!

“I thought it wasn’t that important to support the GCF, but now I recognize that I need to be more balanced in raising support for the GCF and for ministry expenses,” said one pastor. “I can be an educational advocate to help others in the region understand how the GCF works.”

Thirty-two pastors and four lay leaders from the Metro District have participated in Global Connect trips in eight nations since 2007. Eighty-five percent of these leaders continue to change their congregation’s commitment. As one participant noted: “Now I understand the heart of the C&MA!”

—Dr. Paul R Keidel
Metropolitan District Missions Mobilizer

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