November 26, 2021

Harvest Time in Cambodia

Church planting in lockdown

by Julie Daubé

When Alliance missionaries arrived in Cambodia in 1923, they were the first long-term Protestant workers there. They were evacuated in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over. By the end of 1979, 80 percent of Cambodian believers had been martyred. Yet God did not forget the beleaguered nation. 1993 marked the rebirth of the C&MA national church in Cambodia with the organization of the Khmer Evangelical Church (KEC) with 15 churches. From the 2,000 believers who survived the Killing Fields, the Evangelical Church in Cambodia has since grown to more than 200,000 members.

While this is reason to rejoice, Christians in Cambodia today number only 2 percent of the population. “Churches are continually growing, but 49 out of 50 Cambodians don’t know Christ,” said Alliance international worker David Manfred, who recently served as field director. Nonetheless, God has been at work in incredible ways. During the past year, The Alliance in Cambodia saw a significant church-planting boom with 20 fellowships started. With a total of 200 churches in the KEC, this represents a 10 percent growth in the number of Alliance church groups since COVID-19 started.

Soeuth and Syna Lao, who fled Cambodia as refugees and later returned to their homeland as Alliance international workers, have seen firsthand the wonders God has done. After serving in Poipet—Cambodia’s “Wild West”—the Laos are now ministering in Anlong Veng, where Pol Pot died and where many of his followers reside. Long considered Cambodia’s spiritually dark area, this province is now seeing a spiritual harvest that is nothing short of miraculous.

Taking the Great Commission Literally

When Soeuth and Syna arrived in Anlong Veng in 2017, five house churches existed. At this writing, a total of 21 house churches have been established. All the fellowships planted there since 2017 were started by students in the Laos’ discipleship classes and those of their ministry partners.

“All our students have the same spiritual DNA,” says Syna. “They begin each day by asking, ‘Jesus, who do you want me to see today?'” They take every opportunity to share the gospel, whether riding home from class, at the gas pump—anywhere. “Whatever they learn from us, they pass on to others. They take the Great Commission literally; they go and tell everyone they meet. They take God’s Word at face value, and He does amazing things. Every time our students pray, you can feel it in the atmosphere.”

One woman had been chronically ill and bed-ridden for years. Her believing family members told her, “Our God is so powerful—why not give Him a try?” Immediately after they prayed for her, she was able to stretch her leg. A week later, she was walking. As a result of her miraculous healing, all nine of her adult children came to the Lord. Another woman was miraculously healed after being prayed for, and 19 of her immediate family members received Jesus as their Savior through her testimony. A common biblical practice among those whom the Laos and their partners have been discipling is to bind the works of the devil—including the many Buddhist shrines dotting the countryside. “Our students’ most famous line is, ‘I bind you in the name of Jesus.’ Even three-year-old children do this because they hear their parents and grandparents saying it.”

Generosity Speaks Volumes

After COVID hit, the Laos canceled their weekly discipleship class in compliance with safety protocols. Their students were at a loss. “Teacher, what will we do? We committed this day to God, and now we cannot study.” The Laos told them to go and share all they had learned with their neighbors. The students did so, bringing bags of rice to each household as the Laos have often done. In a country where most people live hand-to-mouth, such generosity speaks volumes to the transforming work of the gospel. Once when the Laos surprised a family of new believers with a gift of rice, they burst into tears; they had been running out of food and had just prayed for God’s provision.

The March/April 2021 issue of Alliance Life reported that 1,158 people prayed to receive Jesus from March 2020–December 31, 2020, and a total of nine new village house churches were planted. As of July 2021, a tenth house church was birthed. All 10 congregations have been started since COVID-19 began.

In May 2021, as the Laos were preparing to leave Cambodia for home assignment, it was an emotional time. They traveled to remote villages where local Alliance house churches have been planted, saying their goodbyes and introducing believers to key church leaders. “Some of the new believers thought we were abandoning them and said, ‘I just joined the family of God, and now you are leaving me!’ Repeatedly, we assured them of God’s protection over their lives. Many asked us, ‘Before you go, can you share the gospel with my family?'”

As the Laos fellowshipped with local believers, their relatives and friends also joined the worship services. “At the end of each meeting, at least three to five new people prayed to receive Jesus!” Soeuth and Syna report. “After we had visited only four villages, 37 people prayed to receive Jesus in one week! Then, on May 28, while visiting Rohaal village, where seven new people were added to the Kingdom, we received the following invitation from one believer: ‘Please go and share this wonderful news with my family. They live in another village. Please go. It is not too far. You came all this way here to visit us, so why not go just a little farther?'” The Laos drove the 27 kilometers on bumpy roads. “Upon our arrival at the new village, more than 50 people were already waiting for us!”

Icing on the Cake

Responding to their desperate spiritual hunger, Soeuth shared an evangelistic message with the receptive audience. At the end of the service, 23 adults and teens and 17 children prayed to receive Jesus. “This marked the birth of another house church. Thmal Dach village (the literal translation means ‘Broken Road’) became the tenth house church planted in this region since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our God surely has a way of making something good out of the mess of this world.”

Even while the Laos were waiting in Phnom Penh to depart for the United States, local church leaders in Cambodia were calling the couple daily to report that more people had prayed to receive Jesus. As of July 2021, a total of 68 people had invited Jesus into their hearts in the last few weeks. The Laos said, “In our 26 years of ministry, we were never so excited and have never seen so many miracles. There is still intense opposition, and Satan doesn’t want us here—but God is working. Ministering in this area is like the icing on the cake.”

The Jesus People

Without the generosity of Alliance people, the Laos’ work would not be possible. Your gifts to the Great Commission Fund are making an eternal difference in the lives of those who would otherwise have no hope for a future in this world, let alone the promise of heaven. Soeuth and Syna, along with other Alliance global teams, also rely on people who give to specific needs. One example is a water-filter project in Cambodia for which the “Our Mission” ministry of Willard (Ohio) Alliance Church has been raising funds. Upon receiving the filters, local village leaders distribute them to needy families and invite them to listen to the good news. Overwhelmed by the kindness of believers, recipients have been spreading the word throughout their communities, saying, “The Jesus people love us so much that they gave us this water filter! Come listen to them!”

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