Forty Years Ago: Part 3

In the year leading up to the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975 we are publishing extracts from the newsletters produced by Cambodia for Christ.

Newsletter 2, January 1974

These last months have seen various developments in Cambodia. The war situation is still extremely serious and no-one really knows how long this will last. Rocket and bomb attacks on the capital are frequent, and according to news reports over a third of the country – that lying east of the Mekong and bordering South Vietnam – has been annexed by the North Vietnamese who have settled the families of their soldiers in this area. With the Monsoon season over renewed activity may occur, and we need to pray very much for the political situation. In December a motion to recognise a government in exile under Prince Sihanouk as the Khmer representative at the United Nations was defeated by two votes and the question postponed until next year.

There are developments too in the life of the Church in Cambodia. Since freedom of worship was granted in 1970, through crusades and personal witness the National Church has grown from 200 professing believers to over 4,000, most of these being under the age of thirty. Opportunities for service are unlimited, though at the present time missionaries and national Christian workers are stretched to their limit. There has been steady and faithful progress by the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C and MA) since they entered the country in 1923 and many areas of work have benefited by their ministry.

Christianity is now seen in a new light and the National Church has identified itself with the needs of the people and God has richly blessed in many ways. A Bible school has been established, literature though limited is being distributed, the Bible can be read in the Khmer language, a Christian bookshop has been opened in the capital, and eight churches now exist there. Some Christian radio and television programmes have also been received in the last years.

The capital city of Phnom Penh, previously with a population of 600,000, is now bursting with over a million refugees. This creates enormous problems of overcrowding, and disease and hunger are widespread. From the beginning the Church has been involved in practical relief for refugees. This has produced a lot of goodwill and helped to convince the Government and the Buddhist people that Christians do care. Because of overcrowding the only aid which can be given is direct supplies of food, clothing and medical supplies as there is not room for the people to work their own fields and provide a normal living for their families. The contact through material aid has also led to a liberal distribution of literature accompanied on occasions by songs, testimony and explanation of the Gospel. This has been an effective means of leading some to Christ.

A visitor wrote this account of what he saw in Cambodia. “I saw refugees by the thousands who have recently fled the terrifying scenes of battle. Bewilderment and confusion cloud their normally happy faces. I saw children by the hundreds who have been turned into homeless orphans overnight. These touched me the deepest. As I beheld the suffering of the gentle Khmer people, I had a hard time believing that part of the world is saying, ‘Let’s wait and see if this little country can survive,'”

In the crowded refugee camps 7 or 8 children die nightly from diseases related to malnutrition. About forty miles away from Phnom Penh in a camp called Kraing Poltep, 9,000 refugee families are living. Adults and children work to clear the land so they can plant crops.

World Vision, an American society, have undertaken the construction of new villages for the homeless, and in the capital the first 100 resettlement homes have been completed. An estimated 17,000 orphans exist in Cambodia, many of whom are crowded into refugee camps and in the crush of people it is impossible to find out who have families. Others camp out together in the open, cooking what they have to eat over open fires. Local rice is no longer available in Cambodia, although the Americans recently brought in 50,000 tons, enough for two months. Beans and vegetables are fast becoming a staple diet.

Medical aid is being given by a small C and MA team who are giving assistance to the existing government hospitals and are working among the refugees. Contacts and opportunities to witness are many and Khmer doctors as well as patients have listened to the Good News of Jesus.

Finally, a letter received from a Christian in Phnom Penh had this to say. “Thank you so much for your letter which gave us real comfort knowing that you are still remembering us in prayer.” Thank you for standing with Cambodia and our brethren there. Your prayers can achieve more than any army could – will you continue to uphold the Church in that land – that a bulwark will be made against the forces of darkness and the light of the gospel of Christ penetrate many hearts while there is day?

Forty Years Ago: Part 2

In the year leading up to the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975 we are publishing extracts from the newsletters produced by Cambodia for Christ.

Newsletter 1, November 1973

“Blessed is the Nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33v12)

This letter is an introduction to the work that God is doing in Cambodia. Many Christians in this country have expressed concern for the situation in South East Asia and especially in the war-torn lands of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The latter has been perhaps the most neglected over the years by Christian Missions and the Church worldwide.

For the past two years the north eastern region of Cambodia has slowly come under the control of North Vietnamese and Vietcong guerillas, and a naturally peace loving people have been thrust into a war for national survival. Up until recently, the prospects of holding the capital had not been good, and at one point – when the American bombing stopped – the general opinion was that Phnom Penh would be taken. This, however, did not take place, and news from Cambodia by Western reporters states that the city is functioning fairly normally under the circumstances. Nevertheless, though food is available, prices have rapidly escalated, and with over one million refugees in Phnom Penh the situation is not good as supply routes are continually threatened. There are also increasing numbers of orphans and homeless, the natural result of war.

For Christians in Cambodia there is an open door of opportunity. The war has brought with it a sense of insecurity to a people who are normally happy with their lot. The Church has a new boldness which is acceptable in the situation and the Asian manner of preliminary introductions before plain talking is slowly disappearing in the face of questions like, ‘what can we do?’, ‘who can help us?’, ‘is there a God?’. By practical means wherever possible, and by showing calm and compassion for the people, the Evangelical Churches and Christianity itself are gradually being seen in a new light, as a positive and distinctly Cambodian way of life, relevant to them today.

The door to Cambodia is wide open – the Gospel must go out while there is time left. A land of seven million (approximately the population of Scotland) needs to know that Christ can give them hope in a future that looks pretty bleak.

Major Taing Chhirc who spent 18 months in Britain was the means of awakening many of us to the urgency and need of prayer for Cambodia. Little has been known about this land closed to the West for many years, and now we realise the situation, prayer would seem to be all the more urgent.

“Prayer is as vast as God because He is behind it. Prayer is as mighty as God because He has committed Himself to answer it.”

May the Lord Jesus Christ be exalted through the testimony and faithfulness of His people worldwide.

Forty Years Ago: Part 1

In 1972 Major Taing Chhirc, a Christian officer in the Khmer National Armed Forces and General Secretary of the Cambodian Evangelical Church, left Cambodia along with his pregnant wife Bophana to study in the UK. In 1973 the pastor of Bethlehem Church, Sem Bun, wrote to Chhirc asking him to return to Cambodia, where the church was growing rapidly and needed his help. Before leaving the UK, Chhirc spoke at the Keswick Convention. He appealed to British Christians to get behind Cambodia in prayer and support. To this end, Chhirc’s British friends Paul and Helen Penfold formed Cambodia for Christ, now Cambodia Action.

Chhirc left his wife and child in Edinburgh, UK, while he remained in Cambodia until the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. According to one witness, a few days after the fall of Phnom Penh Chhirc was in the town of Neak Loeung among a group of panicked, bewildered people, offering them the hope of Christ. Suddenly, five or six Khmer Rouge cadres appeared and, without warning, clubbed Chhirc to death while the stunned crowd looked on.

After its formation in autumn 1973, Cambodia for Christ published an occasional newsletter to inform Christians in the West about the situation of the church in Cambodia. These newsletters are fascinating historical documents set against the backdrop of the final months of the Khmer Rouge military campaign against the Khmer Republic.

In 2013, Mr Randolph Parrish of Scottsdale, Arizona, USA, kindly sent to CCC a set of Cambodia for Christ newsletters for the period November 1973 to March 1975, requesting that they be preserved.

With the permission of Cambodia Action, which evolved from Cambodia for Christ, we shall be publishing extracts from these newsletters over the coming months.

The Cambodian Herald

Cambodian Herald cover

The latest edition of our newsletter, Issue 17 of the Cambodian Herald is available for download.

In this issue:

  • Unto Us a Child Is Born
  • Dump Kids
    • School Progress
    • Don’t Let Them Go Hungry
  • Cambodia the Most Corrupt Country in South-East Asia
  • Three-Quarters of a Million Working Children
  • How You Can Help
    • Happy Birthday to… Cambodia
    • For the Price of a Takeaway…
    • Support CCC As You Shop Online
  • Walk in Their Shoes

You can also download Issue 16 and Issue 15.

Please contact us if you would to receive a printed copy of this issue or go on our mailing list.

Church Behind the Wire

Church Behind the Wire coverCCC has enjoyed a long friendship with Barnabas Mam. Barnabas was one of the handful of Cambodian Christians to survive the killing fields. He went on to lead an underground church during the post-Khmer Rouge communist regime, had to flee to Thailand for his life and then returned to Cambodia to plant hundreds of churches. He is now the Asia Regional Director of Ambassadors for Christ International.

Barnabas has recently published his first book, Church Behind the Wire. This is how the publisher describes the book:

From the oppression and terror of the killing fields in Cambodia, this is the story of how one man’s conversion led to a rebirth of faith that brought hope to a nation. Commissioned by Communists as a spy in the concentration camps, Barnabas Mam came to faith in Christ and became the foremost evangelist and church planter in a land broken by genocide. An inspiring story on a personal, church, and national level, this is more than a narrative – it’s a blueprint for success for church growth of the most powerful kind.

You can buy Church Behind the Wire at Amazon or other book retailers.