by Sarah White
The Geography of Cambodia
Cambodia, or Kampuchea, is a small, Southeast Asian country located between Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and the Gulf of Thailand. The country is smaller than our state of Oklahoma, with a population of approximately 15 million. When reading statistics of Cambodia’s people, government and geography, the country appears very similar to many other Southeast Asian countries. It has a tropical climate and many natural resources; it produces rice and has a rather unstable economy.
People Were Murdered
What stands out about Cambodia though, especially to those with a heart for missions, is a striking component of Cambodia’s population curve. Only 3 percent of Cambodia’s people are over the age of 65, 52 percent are between the ages of 15 and 64, and 45 percent are 14 years old or younger. The reason for this lack of aged people is not simply a low life expectancy rate and high fertility rate, although those factors do play a role. The reason is found in what we have come to know as the Cambodian “killing fields” when, between 1975-1979, up to one-third (3.5 million) of Cambodia’s people where systematically tortured and murdered by their own countrymen.
The history of Cambodia seems to be riddled with instability, conflict and uncertainty. Even during periods of apparent peace and growth, such as the Angkorean period between 800 and 1450A.D. when the great temples at Angkor were built, forward movement and social accomplishments seem scarce. Internal conflicts between rulers and prospective rulers, as well as border conflicts with Thailand and Vietnam, seem to have virtually always existed.
Religions Abound In contrast to Cambodia’s political struggles, culturally, the Cambodian people seem to have been quite accommodating. Traces of, first, Brahmanism and Hinduism, then more solidly, Buddhism and Islam, are embedded throughout the Cambodian culture and world view. While these religions were all brought from India and have been somewhat assimilated with animistic beliefs, ancestor worship and other forms of folk religion, religious conflict was apparently, never a major issue. Perhaps the Cambodians have always been seeking but have never been spiritually satisfied.
The French Help
In the recent past, French colonization of Cambodia from 1863 to 1953 allowed for at least three positive outcomes.
* First, fairly distinct political boundaries were established for Cambodia. Whether they were fair or favorable is a separate issue, but since politics were slowly being imposed on Cambodia anyway, the opportunity for national protection and stability was an advantage.
* Second, for the first time, thousands of Cambodians had taken part in and were perpetuating an educational system, that has its obvious advantages for health and issues of general well-being.
* Third, with the French presence, Cambodia became open to missionaries and the gospel of Christ.
KINGDOM OF CAMBODIA
Khmer Rouge Kills
The presence of the Church in Cambodia in the past and our role there today revolve around the 1975-1979 period of political and spiritual chaos. The first noted and recognized missionary presence in Cambodia began in 1923. It took about 40 years from that time to establish a network of believers throughout Cambodia, who still only numbered approximately 700. In 1970, when the Buddhist head of Cambodia, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, fled the country, the Cambodians found themselves uneasily balanced between the communists of Vietnam and their own Khmer Rouge, and the US-backed government that resembled the previous French protectorate. All the seeds planted in the past began to be harvested, as God knew where the situation was heading. Three churches in Phnom Penh burst into thirty between 1970-1975, in addition to home churches and smaller Bible studies. The number of believing Cambodians during that time is approximated at between nine and twelve thousand. The Khmer Rouge took over the Cambodian capitol of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. They emptied the city of it’s inhabitants, telling them that it was going to be bombed by the United States—that in three days it would be safe to return. During the next four years, the people of Cambodia, fellow citizens of the Khmer Rouge, were herded into labor camps as an agrarian society was forced into action. Any person with an education, a past military involvement or who simply did not have calluses on their hands, was either clubbed to death (to save ammunition), shot or succumbed to starvation and disease. Children were separated from their families and became children of the state. All monks and Christians, and anyone caught praying, singing or expressing devotion to anything other than the state were killed.
Today, the aftermath of such unthinkable circumstances is the field God has again made available. The people that would be age 65 and older on our statistic sheets were all decimated. Those who remain are the babies, children, teenagers and twenty-somethings that survived the Khmer Rouge reign. For some reason, they were allowed to see such atrocities and live with the memories for the rest of their lives. They have all lost loved ones and been beaten, tortured or betrayed by someone. They walk through life wondering if they will run into someone they thought was gone or someone who once inflicted pain and suffering on them. They are all in need of cleansing, healing and hope that only God in His sovereignty and infinite love can provide. Article from www.xenos.org