Forty Years Ago: Part 4

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 3, March 1974

“The greatest of the Cambodian war’s tragedies is that no one knows how to end it. Militarily and diplomatically there simply is no end in sight for what surely must be the world’s saddest, least honourable, and most unnecessary war. More than two million of Cambodia’s seven million have been made homeless by it; the casualties are uncounted but estimated in the hundreds of thousands. The Cambodian economy has been destroyed, and, as one diplomat put it: ‘You sense the national spirit has been broken. There are so many beggars in Phnom Penh now, but you pass many other people and you know they are hungry and would like to beg, but it is the only shred of their self-respect they have left.'”

The struggle goes on, and this recent report by a leading British newspaper sums up the awfulness of life in Cambodia today.

Politically little has changed in Cambodia since our last letter. The Khmer Rouge (Cambodian communists, backed by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese) still hold large areas of the country while the government defends a series of outposts, major cities and the capital, Phnom Penh – about ten to twenty per cent of the land mass. Although over 80 per cent of the country is under insurgent control, 85 per cent of the people live in government controlled areas. The fact is that the large majority of Cambodians remain unconquered.

Day and night artillery and rocket attacks, more intense since Chinese New Year, have left large areas of the capital in ruins. Over two hundred have died in the shelling since Christmas, with hundreds injured, and in January over half the French population of 1,000 left Phnom Penh. All roads out of the city are cut and the price of a plane ticket to safer cities such as Battambang and Kampong Cham is out of reach of most Cambodians. There is no way out for the poor but to cross the front lines and no one is contemplating that. Food shortage, looting, inflated prices and student unrest all add to the troubles in Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge claim to have 14,000 troops and say they will continue bombarding the capital, attack Mekong River convoys and finally enter the city, but this last claim is not likely unless things rapidly deteriorate. As things are at present this stalemate could continue indefinitely as neither side has the resources to win an outright victory; it seems that Cambodia is in for a long and wasteful struggle for survival.

Normal life is difficult; most schools have had to shut down, especially those with French teachers. Many shops have been closed too and a strict curfew has existed for some weeks now. French doctors in Phnom Penh report that as a consequence of the privations of war, cases of night-blindness – induced by vitamin deficiencies – are appearing for the first time in Cambodia since medical records were started by the French in 1861.

Please pray. Humanly speaking little can be done to alleviate the situation, but we must ask God for deliverance and a second chance for a people who need to hear of the One who loves and died for them. The Khmer Christians need and should have our prayers, for grace and strength, wisdom and hope. Even in the most difficult situation God controls and the Holy Spirit is active. Cambodian believers have ample opportunity to share a living faith, made more real to them perhaps by the nature of their circumstances. When the American bombing was halted in August 1973, the Cambodian church fell on its knees before God in prayer and fasting for their nation. Christians believe that divine intervention has turned a despairing situation to one of hope and rejoicing – the hand of Almighty God, El Shaddai, is overshadowing Cambodia. Let us keep this in mind when we hear of all the negative elements in Cambodia. The National Church continues to be involved in practical ways, and co-operation with the government is good. The missionaries are planning to remain, and although women and children of missionaries had left Phnom Penh, women missionaries have now returned to continue their work. Reverend Merle Graven of the Christian and Missionary Alliance says, “Opportunities abound for an unlimited ministry. We are trusting for a great swell of prayer around the world for further miracles.”

During the week leading up to Christmas Day 1973 the Bible Shop in Phnom Penh put on a special window display of Bibles, portions and selections. Every day crowds of people gathered outside the shop to look at the window; these were mainly young folk and Buddhist monks. Nearly 6,000 copies of the Bible, portions and selections were sold in the week, in Khmer, French, English and Chinese. Many read them and came back for more, and over the whole week including free distribution 75,000 scriptures went out. Every Buddhist priest studying at the University has received a Bible. One Buddhist priest said recently, “You simply cannot read what the Bible says and believe that Jesus Christ was just an ordinary man.”

In a letter from Phnom Penh in January Taing Chhirc a Cambodian Christian wrote, “I thank the Lord for giving real opportunities to serve Him among our people at this time of harvest. Hungry souls have poured into our 15 churches in the capital each week, and there has been a shortage of Bibles for many months. We are running out of almost everything here, but not of the sweet love of Jesus our dear Lord and Saviour who is manifesting Himself mightily in our land.”

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.