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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The stones being thrown at Christians

The stones being thrown at Christians

C AMBODIA'S minority Christian community is trying to rebuild its flock after

American evangelist Mike Evans dented the belief in Christ in this Buddhist


Christian pastors and followers tell stories of intimidation by

gangs on motorbikes; stones being thrown at provincial churches; insults and

persecution of Christians and even black magic.

Oung Rein, pastor of

Opening Haven Church, said in the last few months, since Evans was forced to

flee the country last November, the membership of most churches have dropped as

Christian followers have lost their faith and become


Advertisements for the Evans "crusade" at Phnom Penh's

Olympic Stadium promised the blind would see and the lame would walk. When no

healings occurred, irate audience members rioted.

Since then, Rein said

stones have been thrown at provincial churches, insults hurled and some

non-Christian villagers "made black magic" against village


"There is fear, but our country has a law which allows anyone

to follow their religion of choice and not to abuse other religions."


Yam, 50, a Christian loyalist said some gangs sat on motorbikes and yelled at

her while she was decorating a cross with lights for her weekly


She said she was accused of believing in a foreign religion,

while her ancestors were Buddhists.

"They insult us for believing in the

Western God. It is wrong. Jesus was a Jew. He was an Asian man."

"I don't

care what they say but I care in what I believe; and what is the real God who

can save me from sin."

Ministry of Cult and Religion State Secretary Hien

Vanniroth said he did not want to prohibit any religion.

However, he said

he would not allow any religion to dominate or insult Buddhism because "Buddhism

is the state religion."

Today, there are 12 different Christian

denominations in Cambodia, with a total of about 300,000 followers. Before 1970,

there were about 500,000.

He told the Post that the increase in

foreign-based religions such as Islam, Christianity and Kong Siv Im (a Chinese

religion) could undermine relationships between Cambodians.

Even in the

Buddhist religion, some, especially in rural areas, believe in the honoring of

dead souls and the spirits of the earth and water called "Neak Ta", while others

do not.

"It could be a problem if one family had two or three religions.

I don't mind people believing (in what they want) but I would mind if someone

uses money or other means to persuade people to join their


Vanniroth said that he has been told that some

foreign-supported churches were giving money to people if they would join their


The Post has also been told that some Christian leaders

considered King Sihanouk as an evil person because he worshipped an idol


Vanniroth said he will shut down churches and charge any person who

insults Buddhism.

Religions other than Buddhism are as yet small.

However, when they "grow up" and became even more popular "I will have to be

careful in the future" to avoid the problems other countries, such as India,

have experienced, he said, referring to religious rioting


Vanniroth said he had a plan to avoid such potential problems, but

he would not describe his plans in detail to the press.

Rein said he

would never dream that Christianity would dominate politics or social

activities. There are no Christians in high political positions or in the

National Assembly, he said.

However, he said he wanted people to hear

about Jesus.

Vanniroth explained that at the present time it was very

difficult to get Christians to work together.

The ministry has urged all

denominations to set up their own central committee to supervise all the

Christians in the country.

However, this had not yet been done because

some Christian leaders wanted to dominate others, he said.

The separation

of Christian denominations meant it was impossible for them to work together,

Rein said. For example, some churches supported Evans' disastrous evangelical

campaign late last year, while others opposed it.

Some churches

apparently criticized others for misinterpreting the Bible and other Christian

churches were very restrictive in areas of inter-denominational marriage,

smoking, alcohol consumption and pre-marital sex.

Rein refused to reveal

the names but said four churches were wrong in their Bible teaching - such as

inviting young people to enjoy slow dancing and thanking God for teaching them

how to dance.

Others said that if their followers did not listen to

their preachers they would not reach the Kingdom of God, he said.


said some churches practiced what their foreign-based money-lenders asked them

to. "They do not believe in spirituality, only money."

Chan Sovany, who

was baptized two years ago, said it was very difficult to decide which

denomination was right or wrong.

"All churches claim that they are right,

but sometimes they had different teachings... I don't think they are right

unless the Bible says it is right."

During the 1980s, the then-socialist

government did not allow Christians to worship. Christians were reportedly

killed or persecuted.

All worship was done in secret, hidden in houses

which doubled as churches.

In 1990, after international pressure to stop

human rights violations, the former State Of Cambodia permitted the official

re-opening of Christian worship services.

Since then, the number of

Christians has gradually grown, with support of western NGOs and overseas

Cambodian missionaries.

But the Mike Evans fiasco has made it just that

much more difficult for Christian leaders to build up their flock.



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