Ethiopia Then, Cambodia Now

Guest post by Forrest McPhail, churchplanter among the Khmer of Cambodia

The Winds of God: How the Gospel Swept the Four Corners of Southern Ethiopia by Raymond Davis is an interesting little book. God works different ways at different times among the various peoples where He is calling out a people for His name, and it is interesting and instructive to read accounts like these. In Ethiopia, He chose to work in a very profound way, with much visible fruit, over the course of several decades (1930s-1970s). The Church was born there amidst much persecution, including murders and imprisonments, relative poverty, widespread illiteracy, occupation by the Italians in WW2, later Communism, and extreme pagan tribal culture.

In that movement of God, the Lord did use foreign missionaries, both in church planting as well as discipleship and training. National workers however, both ordained pastors, as well as their co-workers, did most of the work, of their own volition.

Funds? The movement was almost entirely sustained by the national believers. Bible conferences, supplies, love offerings for special meetings, support for evangelists, prayer houses (as they called meeting places) etc. came from the Ethiopian believers. They gave, and kept giving, and God kept blessing the forward movement during these years.

Cambodia? What a contrast! Nearly every city church is almost completely patronized by foreigners. Most pastors that are trained are funded from overseas. The Church does not pay for almost anything. Bible conferences, special meetings, pastoral support, evangelistic efforts, buildings etc. are almost always completely funded by foreigners. Cambodia is much better off financially than the Ethiopians spoken of in this volume. Why is Cambodia in this predicament?

One reason is history: the Church was largely birthed (a second time) after Pol Pot in the refugee camps and its aftermath of Communism, where emergency aid was necessary and vital to survival. Once things began to calm down and things began to normalize in the 1990s, the NGOs and Christian aid and development workers came in legion. The second reason for this endemic dependency, then, is foreign Christians who thought, and still do think, that the Cambodian church needs foreign money and projects in order to follow Christ—they could not be further from the truth!

What Cambodian churches need is the gospel, discipleship, and obedience to God’s Word, trusting God to meet their needs in their own context, not foreign funding. What happened in Ethiopia has happened among some in Cambodia, particularly among the tribals in Rattanikiri, but it is very rare among the main people group of Cambodia, the Khmer.

Missionaries who understand the need for Cambodian believers to live out the Gospel outside of financial dependence from abroad know also that God’s blessing will be largely restrained on the Church here until a change happens. This leads to frustration, thoughts of turning back, desires to look for easier places to minister, discouragement, discontentment, even disillusionment.

Yesterday I met with an American missionary who wanted to discuss ministry over for coffee. I found that he was very like-minded. He shared his burdens for Cambodia, which are similar to ours. He began to be passionate about the need for faith and confidence in God and His Word, that, if we ourselves will preach Christ in truth and keep calling Cambodian believers to biblical discipleship, God will bless. God will break through the mess and will raise up an indigenous church. Our job is to be faithful to our task and have a biblically informed faith in what God can do. I needed that encouragement from this man.

There is a growing number of foreign missionaries and Cambodian pastors that are awakening to the need for Cambodian churches to make the break from foreign funding, and, more than this, to return to biblical discipleship which would strengthen churches and lead them towards healthy NT local church life. This does not mean that foreign funding has no place, but it should definitely be a small part, if present at all, within the churches.

Pray for God to work! He is building His Church here! Pray that His people, both foreign workers and Cambodian believers, will rally around biblical truth, the power of the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit, resulting in “The Winds of God” blowing across this land in very clear ways, to His glory. Pray that we will be faithful to do our part, and full of faith in God, not ourselves.

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