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."
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
"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
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
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.
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.
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
But the Mike Evans fiasco has made it just that
much more difficult for Christian leaders to build up their flock.