Worthy of Celebration – John Stumbo Video Blog No. 115

Filmed at the 100-year celebration of The Alliance in Cambodia, John presents a remarkable story of the resilience of the gospel through adversity and persecution as told by three Alliance workers who watched it unfold.

– [John] Alliance family, we are joining together with our brothers and sisters of Cambodia to celebrate 100 years of gospel presence. As we’ve frequently said The Alliance is one of God’s end-times families that He has raised up to complete the Great Commission. Evidence that we have lived out that calling is clear in the country of Cambodia, where 100 years ago in 1923, The Christian and Missionary Alliance had the privilege of being the first to bring the gospel to this land. To celebrate something like that, you can’t just do it all in one day, so the Alliance family gathered the first day with over 1,000 people in attendance to celebrate with joy and music and preaching and various forms of traditional dance, followed by two more days of a national celebration, where over 10,000 people rejoiced in the fact that the name of Jesus is being loved by more and more people, and there is still more work to do in this land. So, to help me tell the story of Cambodia, I’ve invited three people for this video blog. First of all being David Manfred, our field director, who’s going to give us an overview of the scope of this ministry.

– [David] Sometimes I say the church in Cambodia is 100 years of history but only 30 years of experience. And that’s because there was a Khmer Rouge season where the church was almost wiped out, and the church had grown slowly from zero to about 1,000 believers by 1970. Then, there was a spurt of growth from ’70 to ’75, from 1,000 to 10,000 believers in just five years. So, there’s a sense that “Finally, the gospel has taken root,” but then the Khmer Rouge took over, and in the span of three and a half years, the church experienced 80% martyrdom– only about 2,000 believers were left by 1979. Cambodians fled to refugee camps and just decimated after the season. And many of them heard the gospel, both in word and deed, when they were in those refugee camps in Thailand. And as the church began to be reborn in those refugee camps, the church grew from maybe 2,000 believers around 1980 to about 20,000 believers by 1995. And from 1995 to the current day, the church has grown from maybe 20,000 believers to now estimates around 300,000 believers. So, it’s been one of the countries in the world where the evangelical church is growing the fastest. In The Alliance, we have about 220 churches around the country, maybe about 10,000 believers. We’re actually one of the larger denominations, but there are many, many groups that are working and serving here. And that’s one of the reasons why this interdenominational celebration, which is not just The Alliance, but it’s the entire church of Cambodia celebrating what God has done to bring the gospel here. And it’s not about any one group, it’s about Jesus and His faithfulness to build His Church. The name of Jesus has never been as well known in Cambodia as it is today, And it all started with two families. Arthur and Esther Hammond and David and Muriel Ellison were the first long-term protestant, evangelical missionaries to Cambodia. They translated the Bible into the Cambodian language; they evangelized; they planted the first evangelical church in Cambodia; they started a Bible school. And today, the church in Cambodia as a whole, celebrates the legacy and the history. We have in our home today, a very special guest–Helen Ellison Ellenberger has been an Alliance missionary for many years. Her parents were the pioneers that brought the gospel here in 1923. Helen was invited to sit on the platform with the Cambodian prime minister as part of this 100th anniversary celebration. Even the secular Cambodian government appreciates the work that has been done and is represented through her family through this 100 years.

– {Helen] My father, even when he was just a young boy, loved the Alliance Witness magazine. He just loved reading about foreign countries, the outreach to people there. And so, he was called when he was young. My mother was just eight years old when she felt the call of God, and it was just from a missions program in her church in Canada. They had felt the call for missions, and they knew that the Alliance school in Nyack, New York, was a good missionary training place. And so, they came and met each other there. They became engaged before they went to the field, but the Alliance policy at that time was that you have to stay single until you have learned the language. You have to prove that you can both learn the language well. Dr. Geoffrey, the field chairman at that time in Indochina, wanted to open up Cambodia, and he couldn’t have sent them single. So, he married them right away as soon as they got there. My parents came in and they loved the people, and they were kind and welcoming to them. People were afraid to go to the French hospital that was set up, which was a very good hospital, but they loved coming to my mother. She was gentle with them and kind and didn’t order them around. She just helped them. The other couple that helped open up Cambodia–the Hammonds–they were involved in Bible translation work. My father and mother opened up the Bible school in Battambang that later moved to Ta Khmau. That was nine years old when Pearl Harbor started. My father had been invited to speak in Thailand, so we came to Bangkok to visit our friends. Our host was listening to the news, and he said, “War, war, war.” And it’s very vivid in my memory. I probably didn’t really understand what war was. All the Americans and British and Dutch moved over to the American Embassy, not knowing what was going to happen next. When the Japanese wanted to move us to a concentration camp for civilians, the Thai said, “We’re not at war with anybody. We will set the guards around the camp.” I was six months there, and after we left, my parents’ love for the Cambodian people just filled their hearts, and they continued to pray and call on people in America to pray for the Cambodian church there. As soon as the war was over, treaties were still being signed probably, but my parents came back as soon as they could because they knew the Cambodian people needed to hear about Jesus and that there was a great harvest here from amongst the Cambodian people. If my parents could have seen the celebration, they would’ve just been rejoicing, and I think they did see it from heaven. As far as your eye could see, there were people who were there to praise the name of Jesus and to thank Him for 100 years of the gospel in Cambodia.

– [John] Friends like David and Helen could spend hours giving us stories and context of this ministry, but I hope you’re beginning to get a sense of the significance of what God has done and is doing in this land. To bring it now to home, I’ve asked Cambodian American Nareth May if he would give us the story of his own experience with the gospel–having grown up in Cambodia, now serving as the association president for the Cambodian church of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in America. Tell us, my friend, how the gospel has impacted your own life.

– [Nareth] My grandfather was a Buddhist monk, and my grandmother taught me, “Anything that you kill at all, you will be suffering in hell.” And I always remember that, and there’s no way I could escape hell because there’s no time in my life that I had not taken any life, especially fishing. So, I just knew that I could never be able to escape hell. After Cambodia fell to Vietnam occupation, we walked three days from where my hometown is, which is Battambang, all the way to the Thai border. I was placed into a refugee camp called Khao-I-Dang Camp. And 1980, a group of young people would go around the camp preaching the gospel of Christ. Not only did I reject the gospel of Christ, but I also was not very nice to the evangelism group. I would tell them that, “I have lost my country, and I also have lost a sense of identity. But now, you want to brainwash me to believe a foreign God?” A friend of mine persuaded me to go to the church because there must be something good for the future, especially going to resettle in the third country. But what had happened was that my friend and I, we were discussing how could we disguise ourselves to be Christian. And I really wanted to take advantage of the Christian. So, we went to the church. To my surprise, the worship overflowed the sanctuary. There was a last bench in the church that I found; I was sitting there listening to the message of the gospel for the first time. I felt like the preacher only spoke to me. And when the gospel came right to me, it touched my heart, it touched my soul, because the preacher was talking about, “You could be free from sins, therefore you have eternal life.” Eternal life that I would never be able to find myself. There’s a voice, not an audible voice, but in my spirit, that called my name and told me that, “Nareth, the ground that you’re standing is a holy ground. Get down on your knees.” So, I get off from the bench, and I was kneeling down on the floor, on the dirt floor, and then the same voice came and said, “Nareth, take off your shoes because this is holy ground.” And every word that the pastor lead the people to accept Jesus Christ, I prayed the same. And after the prayer, I felt like there was a big mountain that was lifted off of my life. There were 13 churches, small churches, in the refugee camp, and my home became one. And the reason is because I wanted to open a place for the people to come and worship but also to hear the gospel myself. Anything at all that came from the Bible teaching, I would absorb like a dry desert. The work of The Alliance through CAMA Services, too, planted a church in the refugee camp. That’s where I was saved by the C&MA church. And in 1984, I was sponsored by a C&MA church– a church in New Jersey sponsored my family, and that’s where I got trained in theology. After I came to know the history of the gospel that came to Cambodia, one name came to my heart, and that is Dr. David Ellison because I visited his grave. And I remember the gospel says unless a kernel falls to the ground and dies, it won’t bear much fruit. And the life of our missionary, that’s shared in Cambodia, and now the fruit of a Cambodian Christian, including myself, my life is a product of the C&MA effort that brought the gospel to Cambodia.

– [John] Thank you, my dear brother, for allowing us to capture just a piece of your great story. The gospel continues to advance in this country, and in the last few days, I’ve had the joy of being an eyewitness of that. Churches are being planted by people who are coming for the first time as followers of Jesus Christ– delivered from demons, healed of illnesses, baptized in the name of Christ, children getting trained, families being brought together, testimonies of alcoholism being released, and the presence of the Spirit entering into a home where there once was abuse. On and on the stories go as church after church is still being planted. We’re not done in this work. 100 years into it, the national church and mission are working side by side. There’s still unreached peoples to hear the gospel, and there’s still leaders to be developed, but the mission is moving forward. And Alliance family, look what we get to be part of. It’s rich, it’s real, and it’s continuing. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord for as much as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.