Christianity in Cambodia has its roots in Battambang, so perhaps it is not surprising that, although there are many temples in this city, there are also around 35 Christian churches – not a bad number for a Buddhist city of around 200 000 people!
The church we attend is called Cambodia Christian Church. The current church building was built in 2011. Visiting and helping sick people, the elderly, widows, assisting poor children, orphans and people in need is an ongoing work of the church. Bible lessons, English language, music instruction and song are shared throughout the week to children without cost.
The Sunday service commences at 8.30am. The average attendance each week is around 70 people, and unlike the other churches we have attended since coming to Cambodia in 2011, there are proportionately quite a few older folk – older than us! There are also young adults and children and often, visiting teams from Youth With a Mission, which has had a long association over the years with our church and which is very active in Battambang, due mainly to the presence of seven universities in the city. We have teams regularly from Colorada Springs and Montana in the US. A number of the young people in the church have had involvement with YWAM in the States and, on their return, they assist with translation as their English is usually pretty good. The service is primarily in Khmer, but translation of the main components of the service happens when there is a significant number of foreigners – which turns out to be most weeks!
A typical Sunday service opens in prayer and then we sing three or four worship songs, often songs we know – like Hillsong, as well as some homegrown Khmer songs. Like everything here, the music is LOUD! (Khmer people are not known for doing anything quietly and church music is no exception!). We have a music group, consisting of a keyboard, guitar(s), drums and, sometimes, a tro – traditional Khmer fiddle – played by an older man.
After the worship in which we all participate, there is usually a musical item from a large group of church members, both men and women. They sing from the hymnal and the hymn is a traditional Khmer one, which is to say the tune is rather strange and unpredictable and, to my ear, not particularly musical! Sometimes the children from the family ministry or the young adults perform a song, usually with actions, and these items are quite delightful. Next comes the offertory (dongwaie) and we all parade up to the front of the church in a line and put our offering in a blue crate type offertory box.
Pastor Khiev Phon (pictured above) then shares the notices. We are exhorted to pray for church members who are unwell or who have a need of some sort. It is not unusual for the pastor to announce the passing of an older church member, or someone from another church. There is a special fund which operates amongst the Christian community in Battambang and, when someone dies, a financial contribution is made from Funeral Association members, to help cover the cost of the funeral. Traditionally, funerals here take place at the temple and the locals are cremated there too, but this is obviously not appropriate for Christians, thus the existence of the special fund. Sometimes the pastor announces a special appeal, for example, to build a fence or make an addition to the roof and a second offering is received for this purpose.
Next comes the sermon but it is not usually the pastor who preaches! He is almost 78 years old and is desperately trying to find a successor. He usually invites one of the elders or a visiting preacher to preach. Sometimes our American friend and retired pastor Don Whitney preaches and we can be sure of a good message – in English! – when he does. Don is usually a quiet, reserved man – but, when he preaches, it is as if he undergoes a character change and frequently has us shouting out “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord” when cued! He also loves to dance and often has us dancing as he finishes delivering his message! Sometimes one of the YWAM group shares the message, so all up, we have quite a variety of preachers.
The service concludes with Pastor Khiev Phon reflecting briefly on the message of the sermon and praying. We then sing the doxology and it is time to go home.
We have had a few particularly memorable services recently. One Sunday recently, the pastor introduced a new convert to the congregation – a teenage girl who had been witnessed to by her sister and had made a decision that, like her sister, she wants to follow Jesus. These two young girls face quite a lot of opposition from their Buddhist family, so practising their faith is an ongoing challenge for them.
Perhaps the most notable service was last Sunday when the pastor shared his testimony and gave us an informative presentation about the history of the church. Pastor Khiev Phon spoke of his early years, growing up with his grandmother as his parents had separated. He became a Christian through the ministry of American missionaries and his grandparents were particularly influential in his Christian development. His grandfather was a pastor, who attended Bible School in Battambang in 1927 and began his ministry there. Mrs Ouch Dyna, Pastor Khiev Phon’s wife, has also been a Christian for many years. Her father was a Pastor and a missionary to Thailand. They have seven children and 18 grandchildren, most of whom are involved in the church, which Pastor Khiev Phon started in 1997 after quite a few years as a teacher and school principal. In his testimony he spoke of God’s miraculous intervention to save him from the hands of the Khmer Rouge soldiers, who usually killed anyone who was educated. It was a very moving occasion and concluded with us gathering around Pastor Khiev Phon and praying for him as he currently has some health issues.
I found an interesting blog on the internet about Pastor Khiev Phon. It was written a few years ago by a YWAM team member and I recommend you read it for more information about this remarkable, yet humble man who loves and serves His Lord faithfully. Click here to read it.
To see the original post by Anne, visit their blog at anneandanthony.wordpress.com