Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Chaos and anger as preacher slinks away

Chaos and anger as preacher slinks away

Chaos and anger as preacher slinks away

A MERICAN evangelist Mike Evans - fearing for his life - hastily left Cambodia after two near-riots and one cancelled rally, leaving many desperate Khmers angry and out-of-pocket.

Families from distant provinces - some of whom thrust blind or spastic toddlers to journalists on stage trying to get Evans' implied miracle cures - sold cows, rice and possessions to pay for the trip to the capital.

One Westerner wrote to Co-Premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh imploring him to seize Evans' television footage from Cambodia "because that is all he wants".

"This has put Christianity in Cambodia back 20 years," said another Westerner. "He lied to the people," said a local woman.

During Evans' first rally at Olympic Stadium on Nov 23 his inadequate security was swamped by the crowd. He exhorted: "We have a problem here... we will get this sorted out for tomorrow night... I want you to pray now..."

However, 30,000 people ignored Evans and were in no mood to be pacified by local evangelists singing to tambourine accompaniment.

Finally realizing that things were getting out of control Evans - a big man - gave up his microphone and took off. He hurried down the platform steps and along a small alleyway between the back of the stage and a fence in front of the main stand, shouldering local people out of the way.

Attempts to interview Evans at this time were difficult. He responded to calls of "Mike, Mike" by looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide and clearly panicked, sweating and ashen-faced, answering "what, what?", before darting through a gate to a late model van.

"Greg, Greg... where are the keys," he yelled repeatedly , but 'Greg' either did not have them or was possibly still on the stage, which was now being overrun.

Evans, caught in "no-mans land" in the open - and still far too close to the main crowd for his comfort - was quickly surrounded by Khmers and, though standing perhaps half a meter or more taller, was jostled and pressed.

A Khmer evangelist grabbed Evans and said "this way."

Evans, dressed in a fine dark suit and tie, ran as fast as his loping, straight-armed gait would take him. At least two Khmers fell as the Western faith-healer fled.

They ran under the stand and only slowed at the car park.

The Post caught up with Evans and put it to him that things had got out of control. "Jesus spoke to the crowds," he said, "I was just concerned that any little children didn't get crushed."

When asked why then did he seem so panicked, Evans said: "Relax, man, we will have this sorted out tomorrow. "

The miracle-medium from Texas then found a white World Concern land cruiser and breathed: "OK, this is our car, its OK, we're fine."

When asked why he fled such a desperate crowd, and how he felt about those he had left, he said: "Just relax man" and the car sped off to the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana.

As he spoke, the mob was invading the stage, smashing a barrier.

The second night was more sedate, with security fences keeping most of the crowd off the field and away from the stage.

On the third of the scheduled four nights angry crowds, realizing that "miracle" cures would not be visited on everyone in the stadium, resorted to physical violence.

A van containing young volunteer Christians and some Western NGO workers was surrounded, stoned and beaten upon by fists and feet. Those inside admitted to the Post later that they feared for their lives.

They only managed to escape after police with batons cleared the crowd amid violent scenes. Youths tore down Evans' signs, kicking and beating his portrait with sticks and stones.

At the hotel, shaken workers were still trembling and dumbfounded, looking for answers and composure. The Post visited Evans' room but he refused interviews.

His cohorts were pleasant but firm in their assurances that they would talk to the press after a meeting with Evans, but Evans was too worked up.

He emerged at the door, shouting at a security guard that the press should be removed. He appeared agitated."This man lied to you. He is not with us.Take him away," he yelled.

Greg Mauso, part of Evans' crusade tour, said: "Relax Mike, I'll deal with this" and eased Evans away from the door . Mauso promised an interview but later in the lobby he had more pressing meetings with shaken volunteers who had been followed to the hotel by a 200-strong mob driving motos. Troops had to keep them at bay.

The NGO, Global Networks, which worked to provide support for the crusade "did so for the best intentions, but must take some responsiblity," said a spokesman.

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