Pastor Sok Em in Kampong Chnang, Cambodia recently sent a report from the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia. The General Secretary stated that there are over 2000 churches in Cambodia [15 million] and 235 churches in Phnom Penh, the capital [1.7 million]. That’s roughly one church for every 7-8,000 people. This is phenomenal growth when you consider there were probably only a handful of churches in 1990 when Cambodia first began to open up to the outside world.
For comparison, Quebec has one evangelical church for every 10,000 people; Ontario has one church for 3,500, while the rest of Canada is roughly one church for 2,000.
Rev. Heng Cheng, the General Secretary went on to say that less than 2% of those churches are able to support a full-time pastor, and that of all the persons identified as pastors of these congregations, at least 80% would have to be regarded as inadequate Christian leaders.
He mentions a pastor who came to register his church with the EFC. When interviewed it was apparent that the man had very little knowledge of God or the Bible. Rev. Heng asked him how he came to be a pastor. The man replied, because there was no one to lead this particular group of people and so he stepped up and everyone in the group appointed him as pastor.
In the same report Rev.Heng told another story about a particular church in Kampong Som province. There was a lady in that church who was sick and the pastor and other leaders thought that she was demon-possessed. They tied her arms and legs and whipped her to drive the demon out of her. Somehow the woman escaped and reported to the authorities that her pastor and elders had whipped her. Serious problems ensued for that church.
This is the context of a recent visit to Cambodia by myself and Pastor Joseph Moreau from Ecclesiax FMC in Ottawa. We were spending a few days becoming acquainted with the current ministry of the Free Methodist Church in Cambodia. In conferring with Rev. Joel Margin, the FM team leader, an experienced pastor from the Philippines who has lived in Cambodia for the last eight years, he confirmed the above report. There are more Christians and churches than there are trained leaders to disciple them – and it is resulting in serious concerns.
Enter Pastor Sok and Savy Em. It was Pastor Sok who began the Free Methodist church planting work in Cambodia in the early 90s, while still living and pastoring in Canada. He and his wife Savy have recently left their grown children behind in Canada and moved to the city of Kampong Chnang, about two hours north of Phnom Penh. Working with other mature Christian leaders they are establishing a modular training program for lay pastors. A high-quality, three-year, interdenominational, residential bible college program in Phnom Penh is graduating a steady flow of trained pastors, but the flow is just not adequate for the number of churches that need trained leaders. The Tahas Bible Institute, on the other hand, is designed to offer 2-3 week practical programs in bible knowledge and pastoral skills at the training centre in Kampong Chnang, every couple of months. Lay pastors will continue working in their home villages, sustaining their personal needs. Pastor Sok Em will go out to visit these pastors in the surrounding region providing coaching in their own ministry situations.
Sok Em’s role and ministry plan is a bit unconventional but it is addressing the specific situation in Cambodia at this present time. Although an Ordained Minister in The Free Methodist Church in Canada, he is released for ministry to work with Mission to Unreached Peoples [MUP] in Cambodia, a small para-church mission organization. This is the organization to whom he is accountable for his finances and ministry objectives.
The support of the Ems’ ministry assignment in Cambodia will be through churches and individuals who have a desire to see this kind of training contribute to the growth of the kingdom of God in Cambodia. In light of our long-term involvement with Pastor Sok Em and the FM work in Cambodia we are approving him and Savy as short-term missionaries of The Free Methodist Church in Canada. You will find information about them and their ministry needs on our website. [www.fmc-canada.org]
In November 2006, Pastor Em conducted a weeklong course with 10 Free Methodist pastors and leaders on “Pastoral Ministry Practices.” The course was taught in Prek Thei, Sok’s home village and the location of the first Free Methodist church he planted in Cambodia. Joel Margin, the FM team leader, reported that having a mature Christian leader teach a course like that in the Khmer language and cultural framework is a tremendous asset for their leaders. This leadership development partnership between Sok Em and The Free Methodist Church in Cambodia promises well for the future.
Rev. Dan Sheffield is the Director of Global and Intercultural Ministries for The Free Methodist Church in Canada