September 21, 2014
We had a great weekend here in Phnom Penh. This week the majority of Cambodian people are observing “Ancestor’s Day.” (បុណ្យភ្ជុំបិណ្ឌ) This is the most significant Buddhist festival all year. The festival lasts for 15 days but the most important day is this coming Wednesday morning. Many of our new believers will experience pressure from unsaved family members to participate in ceremonies that are abominable to the Lord. Much of the city has already returned to their village since yesterday. This year we really stressed the importance of being in God’s house today rather than returning to their village, even though their unsaved families might criticize them for doing so. I was so blessed to see that many of our folks delayed returning to their village in order to honor the Lord’s day. Monday morning most of our Phnom Penh church will return to their birthplace to spend time with their extended family and friends. Today we distributed an evangelistic booklet written by another missionary entitled “Do You Know God?” along with several tracts, and have encouraged each family to hand out these tracts to their family this week. Please pray for our families to be a shining light in their village.
Kam is a faithful member of the Phnom Penh church. He is from a Cham village that is located about two hours from Phnom Penh. His father is a soldier and a lay leader at the Mosque. When Kam received Christ as his personal Saviour his family totally rejected him. At one point he fled the village and sought refuge here in Phnom Penh out of fear for his life. Over the past year he has sought to restore a relationship with his family and has been able to return to his village a couple times over the past year and spend time with his mother and younger brother. This week he returned to the village to help his mother plant rice. He is hoping that his family will see that he loves them and desires to be a blessing to them. Please pray for Kam to have wisdom and God’s grace to be a shining light among his lost family.
Psalm 31:24 says, “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.” This past week I made a visit to a hospital located about 10 kilometers outside of Phnom Penh to visit an older lady who is a member of one of our village churches. Though she has been told by the doctors that there is no hope for her physical condition it was such an encouragement to see her smile and the joy on her face. She is 73 years old and has been saved just over two years now. I reminded her of what her life was like before she was saved. She lived in constant fear of the demons who controlled her village and her religion. I reminded her of how she used to stand and mock me while I was preaching in her village. She laughed and said, “Yes, I remember.” She is now one of the ones whom others mock and hate because of her faith in Christ. I remember last year when villagers would throw rocks at her house in an attempt to force her to renounce her faith in Jesus Christ and return to the bondage of Islam and the occult. What a blessing it is to see the peace and hope that she now possesses because of the grace of God in her life.
Ephesians 2:12 says, “That at that time ye were without Christ…having no hope, and without God in the world.” While returning to the city and crossing the bridge I observed a very sad incident. A crowd was gathered and peering over the side of the bridge – I exited my vehicle and joined them whereupon I saw a man being carried away by the current of the river. Just moments before he had jumped off the bridge in order to commit suicide. This incident was sad on several levels – obviously it was tragic because of the fact that his man was apparently living a life without hope and with no access to true hope. It was sad because of the pain it no doubt caused in the lives of those who cared about him. It was sad to witness the reaction of some of the young adults who were gathered on the bridge as they pointed and laughed at this man’s plight. Years ago, while living in southern California and serving as a police officer and Chaplain of a local police department I responded on multiple occasions to suicides and attempted suicides. As I think back on some of those incidents I am reminded that some who committed suicide were business owners who possessed great wealth yet had no peace. Some were fellow police officers whose lives had been build upon shifting sand rather than the Solid Rock. It is always sad to realize the fact that so many people are living without hope and without a feeling of belonging. Whether we live in America or Southeast Asia, we live in a society that seeks to fill the void in their soul with possessions, entertainment, pleasure, education, and false religion. May we as God’s people be the ones to faithfully proclaim the true hope of the Gospel. Does your life reflect hope to those around you?
This afternoon I made a visit to one of the local Buddhist temples to observe some of the ceremonies that were taking place in regard to the festival they are now celebrating. I spoke with one of the lay priests who was in charge and asked him about the significance of some of the things I observed. It was interesting to have him explain that one of the things they seek to do during this festival is to help alleviate the suffering of those who have died without having performed enough merit (good works) to be reincarnated. This particular “sacrifice for sin” is supposed to make it more difficult for the devil to judge sin. They believe that the devil must accurately count each grain of sand that is used in this ceremony before he has the ability to torture their lost loved one for their sins. He explained that they are suffering in Hell and that the devil is the one who is torturing them for their sin, but that in a couple of days those who are suffering in Hell are temporarily released to roam the earth in search of food. Each family is supposed to perform certain rituals and sacrifices so that they might provide comfort to their family members who might have died and gone to Hell. He explained that the spirits of our loved ones will search for food at 7 different temples. If they find that their living family members have not properly participated in this festival then these spirits will remain hungry. It is believed that the hungry spirits will then search out the members of their family who are still living and cause them harm.
We clearly see how clever the lies of the devil are. He has found a way to manipulate those who are under his control into believing that they are helping their family members to have reprieve from their suffering. While researching this festival online I read what a Cambodia Buddhist scholar wrote in regard to this festival. He wrote that nearly every Cambodian world-wide participates in this ceremony whether they are practicing Buddhists or not. He wrote that even those who “claim” to have changed religions and who now “follow the religion of Christianity” still participate in this ceremony because “they realize that their decision to abandon the religion of their ancestors was a personal choice but should not be a reason to cause their ancestors to suffer.” A statement like that might give you some insight into the condition of the “church” in Cambodia. I often tell our soul-winners that when they meet someone in this country who claims to be a Christian they should not be hasty to believe them. IT IS A RARE THING TO MEET SOMEONE IN THIS COUNTRY WHO CLAIMS TO BE A CHRISTIAN AND WHO CAN ACTUALLY GIVE A TESTIMONY OF THEIR SALVATION! On the other hand, it is very common to meet people here who have gone to church for many years but who have never one time heard of the gospel. To the vast majority of folks here in Cambodia church is a place where you learn English, computer skills, sing songs with your friends, have fun and dance to the throbbing beat of a rock band, and receive free food and money. If one plays the game real well there is a chance they will receive a visa to go live in Korea or perhaps the United States. Just three weeks ago I had the opportunity to discuss this with a friend of mine who happens to be a Buddhist monk. Some in the west have wrongly believed that there is some sort of church-movement happening here in Cambodia and that many Cambodians are turning to Christ. Some, no doubt, have read on websites about popular American “evangelists” who have come to Cambodia in recent years and been here for less than a week yet who claim to have seen 50,000 Cambodians saved during their crusade. I would venture to say that out of the 50,000 who were “saved” it is very likely that 49,999 of them are at the temple this weekend offering sacrifices to the demons. We and other churches of like faith covet your prayers as we try to remain faithful to proclaim the true message of salvation and to equip the new believers to know the truth of God’s Word. Thank you for partnering with us in this endeavor through your prayers and encouragement.
For the past two Sundays I preached a message dealing with culture and traditions in an attempt to help equip the new believers to understand Biblical principles that should guide us as Christians as we determine in what festivals we should, or should not, participate. In this message I quote an authority on Cambodian Buddhism and address a paper he wrote regarding the purpose of the festival this week. I address, from the Bible, seven particular points that he mentions in his article. I do not have my outline in English but we have a good number of folks who follow our blog who are Cambodian or who read Khmer. Here is my outline from our bulletin the past two Sundays. Perhaps some of you can use it or adapt it to help you as you disciple new converts. (Please overlook any typos…I’m by no means a scholar in the Khmer language! 🙂
This past week we found this spirit sacrifice at the base of the stairs leaving our church auditorium. It was placed there by someone in the community in an attempt to appease whatever spirits who were perhaps roaming around our neighborhood in search of food. I suppose they realized that no one in our church was going to do it so they took it upon themselves to make sure the spirits were appeased and would not return to our neighborhood hungry and angry.
Here is the link to a video we shot at the Buddhist temple yesterday afternoon. In this video I show a quick glimpse of what it looks like in the temple during the festival this week. This temple is located in the neighborhood where our Phnom Penh church hopes to plant a new church in 2015. http://vimeo.com/106672082
Because of God’s grace,
Dave, Debbie, Joshua, Jeremy, and Jason