Jamey T. is one of the HeartCry coordinators for Asia. He wrote the following report upon his return from training men in Cambodia and China.
Charles T. Studd remarked, “Difficulties, dangers, disease, death, or divisions don’t deter any but Chocolate Soldiers from executing God’s will.” During my last trip overseas I met men who have experienced difficulties, dangers, disease, death, and division and were not deterred from following Christ. They live in nations where life is difficult and where faithfully proclaiming Jesus Christ is even more difficult and often dangerous! The men to whom I am referring live in Cambodia, Vietnam, and China.
Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia. Its ancient predecessor, the Khmer Empire, reached its zenith between A.D. 802-1431. It included the land area of the modern nations of Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and southern Vietnam. The once powerful and prominent Khmer Empire no longer exists and is often overlooked or ignored historically. When Cambodia is mentioned today, killing fields, genocide, child trafficking, and Pol Pot are the horrendous places, names, and activities that we immediately consider and associate with this foreign nation.
Pol Pot was the evil despot that instituted a communistic society after the model of the ruthless Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, ruling as prime minster from 1975 to 1979. Citizens were taken from the cities and forced to work on collective farms in deplorable, frightening conditions by and for the government. During those years of forced labor, twenty-five percent of the population was either killed or died from starvation and disease. An estimated one to three million lives were tragically taken in death during this period. Schools and hospitals were closed; engineers, teachers, doctors, and other professionals were executed. In addition, monks, religious leaders, and Christians were slaughtered. It is reported that some 10,000 Christians lived in Cambodia at the beginning of the Khmer Rouge, but by the end of Pol Pot’s reign, the church was reduced to only 200 believers.
After the defeat of the Khmer Rouge, the United Nations established democratic elections in the early 1990’s, and the church was given freedom to worship. However, the past barbarity from the Khmer Rouge still adversely affects Cambodian society and the church today. Time may heal wounds; but the elimination of the educated and the professionals, the closure of schools and universities, and the presence of severe malnutrition may take several generations to overcome before the country can see complete restoration emotionally, economically, and theologically.
The religious culture in Cambodia is dominated by Thearavada Buddhists, who make up ninety-five percent of the 16 million people. The number of Christians has grown since the 1990’s, but there continues to be a great need for theological resources to help train and equip the men in ministry. Unfortunately, when opportunities for the gospel opened for Christian missions in Cambodia, heretical and destructive doctrines were also proclaimed and disseminated.
In May and June, HeartCry had a great opportunity to participate in two pastors’ conferences in which the pastors were able to hear solid expository preaching.
The first conference in Cambodia was held in the small town of Stoung. HeartCry missionary Matt G. flew to Cambodia and taught from II Timothy. The theme was, “Enduring Sufferings in the Ministry and Christian Life.” Matt exhorted the men to remain faithful to God and His Word by feasting on the gospel, being strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and obeying the numerous imperatives throughout the letter.
Of the thirteen men at the conference, many have lived through terrible atrocities. They survived death camps as children and have endured many trials as adults. In the midst of the land mines and killing fields, God has proved Himself gracious to these first generation Christians, pastors, husbands, and fathers. The pastors were blessed by the teaching and encouraged to remain faithful so they can join with the Apostle Paul in saying, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7).
The second pastors’ conference was held in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Present at the conference were more than thirty pastors, including seven men whom HeartCry supports. HeartCry also provided transportation for three pastors from Vietnam and four pastors who live near the border of Vietnam in the province of Mondulkiri. Pastor Wei En Yi from Singapore was the invited teacher, and he presented a clear and biblical teaching on “The Order of Salvation.” Pastor Wei focused primarily on the application of salvation: effectual calling, faith and repentance, justification, sanctification, and the perseverance of the saints. The men were attentive, and the question-and-answer sessions proved to be edifying and helpful in clarifying the finer points of sound doctrine.
Christians are persecuted and abused by the communist leadership in Vietnam. The distribution of Christian literature is forbidden, and Christians are still arrested and placed in jail for sharing the gospel. While in Phnom Penh, we met privately with the three Vietnamese pastors who were able to attend the conference. It was encouraging to visit with these men who have suffered for faithfully following Christ. As I sat and heard their testimonies, I was reminded again that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12). Pastor Barnabas* was imprisoned for a year and a half for proclaiming the Word of God and gathering with the local church. While in prison he was beaten and suffered broken ribs. Nevertheless, God gave him grace so that he suffered faithfully by proclaiming the gospel to the prison guards. A highlight of the trip was watching and listening to Pastor Barnabas and his associate sing earnestly and joyfully, “This Is the Day Which the Lord Has Made.”
After a long day of sitting and listening to the Word of God at the conference, the men from Vietnam and the border town in Mondulkiri Province asked us if we would share the Word of God with them again in their hotel room. We were delighted that evening to meet and worship together in the small space. Matt G. was able to exhort them from John 15 on “The Parable of the Vine” and encouraged them to continue to abide in Christ and bear much fruit for the glory of God.
Matt and I also had the privilege of visiting with Pastor Solomon*, who serves as a pastor of an underground church in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Pastor Solomon has translated several theological works from English into Vietnamese, including books from the 9Marks series and the 1689 London Confession of Faith. He has a burden to translate sound materials into Vietnamese and help the Vietnamese pastors to understand how critical it is to be diligent to study for the ministry. Pastor Solomon is constantly watched by the Vietnamese government. He has to report to law enforcement officials at two-week intervals and explain to them his activities over that period of time. Thankfully, he was able to travel eight hours by bus to discuss the needs and goals for the translation of materials into Vietnamese and to see if HeartCry might assist in projects related to translation works in the future.
Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China and one of the largest cities in the world with a population of over 20 million. Christianity is permitted by the Chinese constitution but only for state-sanctioned churches, where the government strictly observes and controls what is taught. Many Christians have faced arrests, interrogations, fines, and imprisonments; and many have seen their places of worship destroyed by bulldozers. However, the Chinese government is impotent to prevent the power of God from penetrating hearts as believers in the underground churches continue to increase. In spite of opposition, Jesus is building His Church, and neither hell nor the governments of this world are able to resist the expansion of His Kingdom.
For five days, I visited with a local pastor, his beautiful family, the church he oversees, and a number of seminary students. I found the local church to be extremely loving and warm. The members welcomed me when I arrived and earnestly invited me to return as I departed.
I was pleased to observe the purposeful manner in which the local body evangelized unbelievers and edified believers. After two services on Sunday, the believers gathered together at a local restaurant to enjoy a meal together and to disciple one another. Also, in the corner, believers gathered together and sang hymns while a sister accompanied the singing on a ukulele. The gathering provides an opportunity for the men and women of the body to encourage one another. The conversations ranged from theological questions on the Trinity, Roman Catholicism, and the dangers of easy-believism to practical matters like marriage and parenting.
On a weeknight, the church also has leadership training. This is necessary, since many of the churches meet in houses and have to start a new church when the congregation outgrows the location where they assemble. The leadership training is a two-year program developed by the pastor. Its purpose is to equip the leaders so that they might assist and support a church plant. Aside from the lesson presented by the pastor, the brothers and sisters are also required to read their Bibles, study a book assigned by the pastor, and listen to lectures on systematic theology during the week. On the evening that I attended, the group expressed their burdens for a community in Mongolia where no church exists and where there is no witness of the gospel. The believers fervently prayed that a door might open to evangelize that area of Mongolia and that God might provide a man with a burden to move there and attempt to start a new church.
The church members are also encouraged to evangelize in their communities and among their families, coworkers, and friends. The church body visits a pediatric hospital each week to sing, pray, and share the gospel with the children and their families. In addition, many of the Chinese are dedicated to exercising in parks, often implementing tàijíquán (or tai chi, a traditional form of Chinese shadow boxing). The church purposefully visits the parks and participates in order to mingle among the health enthusiasts and share the good news of salvation.
The trip to Cambodia and China, including the visit with pastors from Vietnam, was edifying, challenging, and tremendously encouraging. It was a privilege to witness our brothers and sisters serving Christ in the midst of pagan societies and the opposition of oppressive governments. The pastors, members, and students I met are laboring arduously to strengthen believers and churches and to evangelize the lost and dying. Let us pray that God will give them the grace and ability to suffer “for the gospel according to the power of God.”