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?

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