In recent years, the spread of Christianity in the Kingdom has been quickening. Tivea Koam goes beyond the numbers to talk to converts and other experts about how a religion born in the West might benefit people living in the East.
One of the most popular places that Cambodian Christians go to pray is the Phnom Penh New Life Church, which has a huge hall with a big stage, is nicely decorated with flowers and has a band playing on the side of the stage.
Every Sunday about 300 people, both old and young, come to worship in the hall. More Cambodian teenagers are starting to believe in Christianity, not because they need material support or support in their studies through Christianity, but they believe in Jesus.
Wearing a white shirt and long blue jeans, Keo Sophina, 18, said she has believed in Christianity for nearly two years, and it is not because of any benefits such as funds to study, but because she believes in what she has read in the Bible.
She spends her Sunday mornings at church every week. Keo Sophina, who is a first year student at Pannasastra University of Cambodia, said “if I feel unhappy when doing anything, going to church can make me feel better after hearing prayers and singing Christian music.”
Her feelings were shared by Ly Linda, a 19-year-old, who said she has gone to church for the past two years because she feels connected with God and says God takes her there every week.
“If I don’t pray to God, I do not feel well with both my studies and business,” she said. “I cannot do anything; I only want to stay at home, but after praying I feel very happy with my life.”
She added that she prayed to God and God can touch and feel her heart. “Most of the time I pray, I burst into tears because of the power of praying to God.”
The first Protestant missionaries came to Cambodia in 1923. From 1970 to 1975, the number of Christians increased to about 10,000. However, churches disappeared during the Pol Pot regime, but in 1990, the church reemerged and was given permission to function openly.
According to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour International Religious Freedom Report in 2010, Christians in Cambodia constituted only 2 percent of the population attending 1,292 churches. In addition, there were 883 places to pray, but only an estimated 1,000 were officially registered as churches.
Pa Sokha, the senior pastor at the Phnom Penh Promise People Presbyterian Church, which has been going for five years, said Christianity has played an important role in changing people by educating their minds and changing their attitudes to live their lives in a better way.
“Some people may go to abuse drugs or do something bad in society affecting their life. Rather than do those bad things, people can come to church to listen to the Bible and live a better life,” he said.
Ly Linda said that God has changed her from a naughty girl to a good one. When she reads the Bible every day, she becomes a better person. “What I have done wrong was stated in the Bible and I started to correct my actions with the advice from God. I have learned a lot from God via the Bible,” she said.
This idea was echoed by Keo Sophina, who said she had changed a lot after becoming a Christian. “When I was in grade 10, I wanted to be better than anyone in my class. I wanted modern phones and stuff to use; I was so materialistic. However, now I live my life for God and just want to be happy with what I have. I have peace of mind and everything means nothing,” she said.
Sin Sokheang, a 21-year-old Christian and student of medicine at the University of Health and Sciences, said people are born with sin, so only God can save human beings.
“It is hard to tell a non-Christian to believe since they haven’t experienced the truth and magic I have,” she said. “Sometimes I share what I know with my parents, but they think I am strange,” she added. “We know the truth, not because of the reason, but from the heart.”
Another Christian who did not want to be named said: “If I have some candy and I tell you it is delicious and sweet, you won’t believe me, for you haven’t tasted it. But if you have tried it and know the taste, you will dare to say if the taste is good or not.”
She gave an example about how she had prayed for a motorbike for three or four years. Then her parents bought her an old motorbike, but she wasn’t satisfied with it since it didn’t work well and was quite old. Therefore, she prayed to God for a new motorbike. After that, her motorbike was stolen. She said she knew that God knew her will and she was bought a new motorbike by a fellow Christian in her church.
Pa Sokha said it is good for teenagers to believe in Christianity. “It can make people listen to their parents, help their community and nation,” he said. “When they are working somewhere, they won’t take time off to do other things. Christianity teaches them to do good things for other people.”
Ven Chuon Pov at the Langka pagoda said there may be some challenges as more teenagers now believe in Christianity, while our state religion is Buddhism.
He said that the top leaders of Buddhism have to take measures to disseminate Buddhist teachings as Christianity does, and they have to encourage teenagers to know more about Buddhism.