Following the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s, few theologically educated pastors were left alive. However, since the country reopened in 1993, the church has blossomed. OMF’s long-standing experience in church planting has been the foundation for planting a small association called Fellowship Churches of Cambodia (FCC) in the capital of Phnom Penh and less-reached provinces of Cambodia. Over 2,000 churches are now meeting around the country. Given the situation, who will pastor these emerging churches?
Initially, workers trained other Christians with little or no formal education. These leaders lacked time for formal study as they struggled to provide for their family. However, today there is a new generation of young leaders emerging to meet a growing need. FCC churches are beginning to be led by young pastors with names like Vachna, Samnang, Sokka, Silong, Seiha, and Lai. Many have completed high school, and some university, before going on to study in Bible school. They were raised by non-Christian parents and some are still the only Christian in their family. Pressure from unbelieving family members weighs on them. Most are in their late 20s or 30s and have begun starting families. Few Cambodian pastors receive a full-time salary from the young church they lead. They work bi-vocationally with another Christian ministry or in the emerging business world of Cambodia. They receive a lower salary than they could earn in a full-time secular job. Even their social standing in Cambodian society is low.
Support and training
Pastor Va Vachna grew up in a town along the busy national highway between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh city. He first emerged as a leader in his church youth group. Later, he studied in university in Phnom Penh while living in a Christian dormitory. When OMF workers discerned that God was calling Vachna into ministry, they sponsored him to do theological training. His English language skills allowed him to study at Bible school in the Philippines where he graduated in 2013 and began pastoring Fellowship Church of Neak Leung. He currently chairs the FCC National Council.
Lai grew up in Northeast Cambodia as a member of the Krung minority group. He attended a church youth group in his town called Ochum. Later his parents became Christians and faithful members of this church. Lai and two other young leaders now serve as elders at Fellowship Church of Ochum. They attend a modular Bible school in his province that meets twice a year. This training, supported by OMF and other agencies, allows them to continue working full time to support their families while studying. Lai’s faith was severely tested in 2016 when his wife Na was killed in a motorbike accident by a drunk driver. He continues to raise their only son Joseph with the help of grandparents, while working full time, and sharing responsibility as an elder in his church.
The Cambodian Church continues to grow numerically and spiritually. God is raising up well-equipped leaders who will shepherd his people. May the Cambodian Church continue to be a beacon of hope in this land.