From Japan to Cambodia


Yuzo Imamura is OMF Cambodia’s first Asian field director, and the first director based outside the capital. We caught up with him recently to find out more about how his openness to God’s call on his life has led him to share the good news of Jesus in Cambodia.

Where are you from and how did you end up in Cambodia?

‘I’m from Japan, I grew up in a non-Christian home. Since I became a Christian at university, I felt that as a Japanese Christian I should do something for the Asian people. So, my vision was to do something for God, but after early retirement at 40 or 50. Until then, I planned to use my training as a doctor to contribute to medical science and support student ministry at one of Japan’s top universities. However, as I was finishing my PhD God told me I should go now. I was shocked! I struggled with this. In the end, I just had to surrender before God. So, one year later, my wife and I went to Singapore to study the Bible. I now wanted to use my medical skills overseas, but God showed me that was not my calling either. 

‘I went to Cambodia with a seminary group and my wife began to say, “Maybe God is calling us here.” My first reaction was no! I’d visited most of Southeast Asia in two years, and Cambodia didn’t appeal to me. But I began to pray for God’s guidance and he gave me three visions – (1) share the good news of Jesus with Cambodian people; (2) send Cambodian cross-cultural workers to neighbouring countries; (3) invite neighbouring brothers and sisters to Cambodia for training. 

‘So, I’ve been in Cambodia with OMF since 2003.

What have you been doing since then?

‘I wanted to do pioneering church planting, but my first assignment was in Kratie province to help the first church started by OMF workers prepare for life without a missionary, the aim of all our church plants.
‘Getting that church ready for us to leave took two years and was a very eye-opening experience. God taught us a lot, so that now my wife and I are doing pioneer church planting in a rural area ourselves, we knew from the start what we should do and not do.

‘I later served as advisor for Fellowship Church of Cambodia, the main church association OMF is connected with. So I met the church leaders regularly and encouraged them toward independence. I was also deputy field director for a year.

‘In March 2020 I became interim field director, around the time of the first COIVD-19 case here. I live about seven hours drive from the capital Phnom Penh so the COVID-19 pandemic helped me because more meetings are online and I don’t need to travel. So, I’m field director in the week, but at weekends I’m still involved in a house church and local evangelism.’

Tell us more about OMF’s work in Cambodia

‘OMF’s ministry in Cambodia began in 1974 with five workers. Although forced to leave in 1975 because of the Khmer Rouge, OMF continued serving Cambodians in the refugee camps along the Thai border. Over the following years several thousand Cambodians were baptised. In 1991, OMF was able to return to the country. Since then we’ve been involved in church planting, theological education, dentistry, health care, literacy, and student work. We currently have around 60 long-term workers from 17 different countries.

Our vision is to see communities of disciples who are following Christ in every aspect of life and multiplying throughout Cambodia and beyond. So not just reaching out to the unreached peoples, but also to help every Christian to follow Jesus in every aspect of life, not just Sunday Christians, but 24/7 Christians.’

What’s changed in your time in Cambodia?

‘When I arrived in Cambodia in 2003, I was told it wasn’t safe to visit a dentist. Now, there are a variety of choices of dentists and recently I got two implants at a local clinic. What changed? OMF colleagues have taught dental students at university and made a textbook for students and trained teachers. It’s just one way OMF has helped Cambodia’s professional development.’

What’s the biggest challenge for ministry here?

‘Our home cultures are very fast-paced. We love instant results and effectiveness is one of our top values. However, God’s economy is different. Cross-cultural mission work takes time. We can see God use our ineffectiveness for his work.
For example, in my first term in Kratie, my ineffectiveness helped the church become independent. Gradually the church members realise foreigners couldn’t understand fully and they need to preach themselves.
We need to realise missionaries are actually weak, ordinary people.
If we recognise our ‘ineffectiveness’, it will help us to be humble before God and rely on him more to do his work by his Spirit.’

What excites you about the next five years of ministry?

‘Three things excite me: first, in 2024, we’ll celebrate OMF Cambodia’s 50th anniversary. It will be a great opportunity to review our ministries and remember God’s grace. Second, mature partnership with the Fellowship Churches of Cambodia. We have laboured building Christ’s Church in Cambodia. We want to learn from them about local theology and work together to reach those yet to hear of Jesus. Third, working towards an inter-culturally friendly organisation. One of our core values in OMF is to celebrate diversity in unity. It sounds very good, but in reality, it is hard to experience. We are an international, inter-denominational organisation. However, I think we need to pursue God’s kingdom community more, discovering our identity in Christ. In him there are no Jews, no Greeks. No English, no Japanese.’

What’s one thing you’d like readers to remember about Cambodia?

The Cambodian Church is growing. Please pray with us in this exciting time of opportunity as the church in Cambodia reaches more people.

Resources

  • Pray for Cambodia
    Find our short and simple prayer guide for Cambodia here. It guides you through 5 days of prayer for the country covering 5 key topics. You can use it on your mobile or tablet or download and print it out to use at home or in church groups.
  • Read more about Cambodia
    Explore the rest of this edition of Billions focusing on Cambodia.
  • Learn more about OMF Cambodia
    Discover more about OMF’s work in the country.