The Christian Church in Cambodia

The Christian faith comes to Cambodia

The history of the Cambodian church is a story of periods of growth alternating with periods of persecution. Cambodians who have turned to Jesus Christ from Buddhism or animism have been accused of betraying their country.

In 1555, Roman Catholic missionary Gaspar de Cruz visited the capital, Longvek, at the invitation of King Ang Chan I.

The first Protestant missionaries arrived in 1923, but by 1970 there were only about 700 Christians in Cambodia. In 1965 Prince Sihanouk had expelled all missionaries in an anti-CIA campaign.

Between 1970 and 1975 missionaries were permitted to return and the church grew to about 10,000. Then came Year Zero. By 1979 only about 200 Christians remained alive in Cambodia.

In 1990, when the church emerged from its most recent wave of persecution and was given government permission to function openly, there were ten evangelical churches in Cambodia. Today there are over two thousand, with a total membership of perhaps 200,000.

Baptism in a river

A baptism about to take place in a Cambodian village

More on Cambodian church history

See:

  • François Ponchaud, The Cathedral of the Rice Paddy: 450 Years of History of the Church in Cambodia. Translated from the French into English by Nancy Pignarre and the Bishop Salas Cambodian Catholic Center (Paris: Le Sarment, Fayard, 1990)
  • Chronology of the Cambodian Christian Church by Brian M. Maher
  • Cry of the Gecko by Brian M. Maher (also available in a Kindle edition)
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24, NIV)

The Church in Cambodia today

Open-air Christmas service

An open-air Christmas service held by a Phnom Penh church

Although the church in Cambodia is growing, it lacks many of the resources that Christians in the West take for granted, such as trained pastors, Bibles, Christian literature and well equipped church buildings. Many church workers need a paid job outside the church in order to support their families.

Bible schools, Christian radio stations, recordings of Christian music, Bible distribution and theological training programmes are all helping to equip Cambodian Christians to grow in their faith and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11, 12, NIV)

Does the Cambodian church need help?

CCC's understanding is 'Yes' — but help of the right kind.

We believe that the worldwide church needs to share more of its wealth — spiritual and material — with its brothers and sisters in Cambodia. Cambodian Christians are committed to sharing the good news of Jesus in word and action and planting new churches among every people group in Cambodia. But they could do so much more if they had more resources: money, literature, equipment, transportation.... And Cambodian church leaders and members are hungry for teaching, training and mentoring.

We believe that the role of the missionary or partner from outside Cambodia is to equip, train and encourage Cambodian Christians, who can then get on with the job of sharing the gospel and planting churches amongst their own or related people groups. We, and we trust other Christian organisations working with the Cambodian church, aim to serve and submit, not to lead and control.


Where to go next

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