After Government Endorsement, Cambodian Christians Are Eager to See the Gospel Keep Spreading in the Buddhist Nation

Image: Office of the Council of Ministers / Government of Cambodia

Bob Craft is the founder and president of Reach a Village. He has served in ministry throughout Southeast Asia for nearly 30 years and has worked in Cambodia with the NCCN-CC since 2002, helping train local pastors and Christian workers in church growth and church planting.

Last weekend the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association held its first rally in Cambodia, with Franklin Graham preaching before thousands in Phnom Penh. Organizers called it a “historic event” and the “perfect time” for the global organization to encourage the faithful minority trying to reach their country for Christ.

Momentum around the spread of the gospel in Cambodia has been mounting for years, with another significant gathering taking place a couple months before.

In October, the government of Cambodia held its largest-ever meeting with Christian leaders, with Prime Minister Hun Sen addressing over 3,000 leaders representing more than 7,000 local churches. It was only the third time in the history of the predominantly Buddhist nation that this official gathering with the head of government had taken place.

Amid heavy security, smiles, and countless selfies, the prime minister entered Koh Pich Convention Center in Phnom Penh. He addressed the Christians gathered and thanked them for their involvement in education, ethics, and social projects. He praised the church’s role in contributing to the peace and stability of the nation through promoting human dignity and unity.

Among the many leaders in the audience were the leaders of the two largest groups of evangelical churches in Cambodia: General Secretary Heng Cheng of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia (EFC) and Pastor Uong Vibol of the National Christian Churches Network, Cambodia Council (NCCN-CC). The chairman of the board of NCCN-CC, Pastor Uong Rein, was appointed to help organize the church leaders and offer prayer for the prime minister and the Kingdom of Cambodia at the event.

Praise from the Prime Minister

Image: Courtesy of Bob Craft

The gathering has grown since 2010, when 400 Christian leaders first met with officials from the ministry of religion. At that first event, officials were presented with the Creation story using Cambodian music, dance, and drama. I was there as a ministry partner from the US, and it brought tears to my eyes as I prayed for the Buddhist officials who were watching. They were clearly moved and pledged continued religious freedom for the church leaders who, even then, represented almost every province in Cambodia. In 2012, the Cambodian ministry of religion approved and attended the public celebration of Easter with worship organized by the NCCN-CC involving 18 different associations and denominations.

Nearly a decade later, the evangelical networks have continued their plan for church planting and evangelization across the country, and only in May of 2018 did the prime minister begin to address Christians in large gatherings like the one in October.

While elsewhere in the region, Christians face government restrictions, Cambodia’s church leaders have seen their work not only permitted but championed and celebrated from the highest levels of government.

This year, Hun Sen commented on the contribution that the Christian community had made in society to combat violence and addiction within Cambodia. And he specifically thanked Christians for participating in the peaceful, democratic elections that had helped keep the Cambodian People’s Party in leadership. (Hun Sen has been in office since 1985.)

The leaders of the national evangelical networks can celebrate the event as an answered prayer. The prime minister assured Christians that their religious freedoms would continue, meaning evangelicals can continue their coordination in a years-long plan to reach all of Cambodia—each and every village—with the gospel.

Looking back through all the struggles in the history of the gospel in Cambodia, this event is nothing less than a modern-day miracle. The year 2019 will prove a landmark year for Cambodia, with the growth of the church standing in stark contrast to the repression and trauma of its historic past.

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Source: Christianity Today

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