Growth of Cambodian Church Influenced by Reconciliation

By Stan Friedman

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA (December 3, 2010) – Vuthy Nong held his cell phone so that a recorder could capture the words of Chamron Phal, who was calling from Oakland, California.

Phal, an associate pastor at First Covenant Church, was phoning a message that would be broadcast as part of a weekly Christian radio program in the Southeast Asian nation.

More than 20 former sex slaves heard the message and gave their lives to Christ.

Phal ministers to a large group of Cambodians who attend the Oakland church, but he also has led the planting of more than 40 churches in the Asian nation where he once was a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, the brutal regime responsible for the Killing Fields in which millions died. A mission team largely comprised of members from First Covenant and some other churches traveled earlier this year to connect with the churches, offer leadership training, and provide material assistance. They worked alongside a team of up to 30 Cambodians.

The baptism of 381 converts (top photo) in eight provinces was indicative of the rapid growth among the congregations. The churches are growing because people normally marginalized in the country are among its leaders, says Phal.

For example, there is Sokhim Long and Nong (center photo).

Sokhim is a woman who once attended a Bible school, though women leading ministry is not generally accepted. She led Nong to Christ. He now guides a burgeoning ministry at the University of Phnom Penh, where he is a student and has led 50 people to Christ.

Nong also is blind.

Here’s an example of two people who normally would be passed over as possible leaders,” says Paul Wilson, First Covenant’s senior pastor, who made his first trip to Cambodia with Phal.

Long’s influence has been felt elsewhere among people who are dispossessed – inmates at Battambang prison. Wilson says as many as 200 people have become disciples of Christ because of her ministry, and she continues to disciple them.

Worship services in the prison consist primarily of scripture reading and music. One of the inmates is emerging as a preacher and teacher. The prisoners write their own music because they have never had access to Western hymnody, Wilson says.

Wilson says the ministry among the 40 churches would not have happened without the leadership of Phal, who leads two mission teams each year. “He is the key to the fruitfulness of Cambodian ministry. He has gifts and vision to reach the people of Cambodia.”

That ministry includes reconciliation among enemies who once were trying to kill each other. Some of the pastors attending the leadership conferences and working alongside one another are former Khmer Rouge.

During the most recent trip, roughly 200 people took part in a dedication ceremony for a building that houses a church led by a former member of the Khmer Rouge (lower photo).

The ministry taking place in Cambodia ought to be instructive for churches in the United States, says Wilson, speaking with the passion of a street preacher. “We have many godly and gifted leaders in our country. Why don’t we hear much about them?”

He answers his own question. “Power – they don’t have it. People with power have the opportunity to fuel ministry dreams. If we will take our influence and resources and serve people without influence or resources, we will see phenomenal fruitfulness in ministry.”

Wilson adds, “We don’t dominate the Cambodian churches. We come alongside them.”

Seeing the ministry led by the marginalized in Cambodia was inspiring to Doug Stevens, a Covenant minister who is the executive director of The Leadership Connection (formerlyThe Renewal Project), which offers leadership training and guidance to churches.

“We need a global perspective and a great wealth of kingdom insight to inspire and inform our local ministry,” Stevens says.

He was especially impressed by the Cambodians’ “total dependence on God that is consistent with a powerful humility that is willing to serve, willing to wait, and willing to believe the promises in the Bible. I got close to all of this and the impact on me is profound.”

Although the Cambodian churches have no formal connection, they are in fellowship with each other. Twenty of the churches gathered together last Christmas for a worship service that attracted 400 people.

There is no push to form a denomination, says Wilson. He is more concerned that the churches are supported regardless of their affiliation.

First Covenant is committed to offering that assistance. During the recent trip, the team – comprised of 12 people from the United States and as many as 30 from Cambodia – gave aid for the local churches, needy, and homeless:

  • Provided 75 pounds of medicines, 300 pairs of glasses, and a large cache of food that included three tons of rice and more than 3,000 packs of noodles
  • Purchased a motorcycle for leaders in Preah Vihear Province and four computers
  • Built a shelter for the poor, and a new building
  • Assisted in constructing a road in a local community
  • Provided $700 cash donations to leaders of more than 40 churches
  • Hosted Family Fellowship Retreats in nine provinces that attracted more than 1,600 people

Phal plans to return to Cambodia in June 2011.

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