Approximately one third of the population of Cambodia was annihilated during the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, beginning in 1975. Two to three million Cambodians, out of a total population of 8 million, died from executions, overwork, starvation and disease. This era gave rise to the term “The Killing Fields.” After years of warfare among various groups, peace was finally established in 1991. The physical and national recovery of Cambodia has continued through a multi-party democracy under a constitutional monarchy.
While social, economic and political life of the country is important and admirable, the opportunity for spiritual life is eternally significant. The search for purpose and a power beyond this life is characteristic of the people of Cambodia as well as all others throughout the world, however misguided they may be.
God, who can see the end from the beginning, can bring forth life from the dead. People who are dead in their sins can be made alive through Christ (Eph. 2:1-5). Jesus gives hope where there had been no hope (Eph. 2:11-22). Because of His life, death and resurrection, Jesus makes possible an abundant life (John 10:9-10). When the apostle Paul describes godliness, he says, “(it) is profitable in the life that now is, and in that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). Paul adds one who will continue in the teaching of Christ and his own example (or Christian walk) will save both himself and those who hear him (1 Tim. 4:16).
Through a series of circumstances that resemble a modern Macedonian call, the International Bible Institute of Siem Reap, Cambodia is now proclaiming spiritual life from the dead. Siem Reap was an easy choice for a Bible school. It is the fastest growing city in southeast Asia, primarily because of the extensive Angkor Wat temple complex. In addition to thousands of tourists, the city is becoming a commercial, financial and cultural center.
Before BVBID could establish a school to train native evangelists, we had to lay a foundation. Ralph Williams, a staff member of BVBID, made many trips to Cambodia to help prepare that foundation. Ralph contacted Chann Lork to serve as the first evangelist in Siem Reap. Chann has become a vital stone in that foundation.
Chann and several of his brothers were converted through a mission work in the city of Phnom Penh. When Sarah and I met Chann recently, we knew why Ralph described him as “a gentle giant.” Though small in stature, Chann combines great Bible knowledge with compassion and zeal for the salvation of his people. At the end of one year, Chann had baptized 24 people into Christ. Through the preaching of the gospel, Christ is bringing forth life from the dead.
— Gary Fallis
The Providence of God and the Power of the Gospel
I first met Phanat Ouch in 2007 at the annual meeting of the Bear Valley Bible Institute in Denver, CO. He had an interest in evangelizing his own people. This is his story in brief.
Phanat was born in the United States of Cambodian parents and raised in the Buddhist faith. His father’s first wife and his mother’s first husband were killed during the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. As a young man, Phanat already had a budding career in Austin, Texas. His supervisors asked him to read about leadership, and someone suggested to him that he read the Bible.
Phanat began to read the Bible, and his life began to change. With a keen mind and open heart, he learned the basic teachings of Christ—what Christ promised, but also what He expected of someone to receive those blessings. Phanat then began visiting various religious groups, comparing what he had learned from the Bible with what these congregations taught. He lived near the Southwest church of Christ in Austin, Texas and one day visited there for worship. He discovered that the congregation was teaching what he had learned from the New Testament. He was soon baptized into Christ, born again into the kingdom of God.
Phanat’s spiritual growth now blossomed. Phanat learned the congregation sponsored the Southwest School of Biblical Studies and wanted to be a part. He finished at the top of his class in 2007.
His spiritual pilgrimage had only begun. Phanat then learned that the Bear Valley Bible Institute hoped to establish a school of preaching in his native country of Cambodia. For Phanat, this seemed like an answer to his dreams.
Since late 2007 Phanat has been in Seim Reap, Cambodia teaching his own people what God has taught Him through His word. He studied with and baptized a young woman, Aya, who worked at the University. They are now married with one daughter.
Phanat is only one example of a an open Bible and an open mind—of a seeking God and a searching soul. The providence of God can bring the sinner and the Savior together. The provision of God can then unite people, plans and resources to take the gospel to others. This is the purpose of the Bear Valley Bible Institute.
Training Preachers in Cambodia
My name is Phanat Ouch, and I am a 2007 graduate of Southwest School of Bible Studies in Austin, Texas. I am currently serving our Lord Jesus Christ in Siem Reap, Cambodia as the director of the International Bible Institute of Siem Reap overseen by the elders of Bear Valley church of Christ in Denver, Colorado.
The past three and a half years, we have graduated 15 students, groomed 3 well educated teachers for the Bible school and developed 4 congregations. The Bible school now has 11 students. Brethren have begun a children’s home that is caring for 16 orphans. All of this was done in a relatively short time due to God and the power of His word to transform lives.
The faithful brethren who support this work financially and the teachers who come to teach the short courses also played a major role in helping the work here in Cambodia grow to where it is now. Finally, we cannot forget the local brethren who worked so hard from the beginning until now: Chann Lork, our local preacher for the congregation at Siem Reap, his brother Sokchea Lork, the preacher for Leang Dai village, Choeuy Choeun, the preacher for Takam village, Darat Run and Savai Bun, teachers at IBISR, and Hout Heng, the director of Hannah’s Hope Children’s Home. Many other local leaders also contribute to the success of the work here in Cambodia.
I am privileged and honored to work with such individuals in the furtherance of God’s kingdom in Cambodia.. As the church continues to grow, we know that there are challenges that we will have to overcome.
One major challenge that the work here is currently facing is how do we find a solution to becoming autonomous as a local congregation? When we teach the locals the whole counsel of God and they learn how to be proper stewards of God, how can we generate enough funds to be self supporting as a local church? We know that the local church must use the weekly contributions to support its own work (evangelism, paying the local preacher, benevolence, etc). A majority of the members are poor and jobless and give as much as they can. We cannot depend upon work funds from abroad to keep the work afloat forever. It defeats the purpose of being autonomous.
This is the issue that we are currently faced with and are working towards a solution for. We have to find a way to help the local leaders find a source of income outside of their support from abroad without losing the “Macedonian mindset” of further perpetuating the work of Christ in their labor of love through their financial giving. We continue to ask for wisdom and guidance from above and we seek your prayers and support for the work of Christ that’s being done in Cambodia!
— Phanat Ouch
God’s Holy Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Most people go to Siem Reap to see the largest religious temple in the world – Angkor Wat. It was built early in the 12th century to honor the Hindu god Vishnu and represents Mount Meru, the home of the deities of Hindu mythology. Angkor Wat is now primarily a Buddhist temple, though the two religions are very similar. Buddhists accept and honor all the Hindu gods and myths. (Simply put, the Buddha’s teaching gave Hinduism an explanation of suffering and an eight-fold path for a life toward “enlightenment.”) This area was a thriving city and capitol of the Khmer people for about 500 years. It was hidden from the West by jungle and became the target of interest in about 1860 when a Frenchman visited the Wat and sketched pictures to share with the world. The temple is now a popular tourist site because it was featured in the movie “Tomb Raiders.” Angelina Jolie’s picture is in almost every store in Siem Reap.
We visited Angkor Wat on our first Saturday in Siem Reap. It is impressive; the outer wall encloses 203 acres. The temple features several large bas-reliefs adorning the walls depicting guardian spirits – apsara – and scenes from Hindu mythology. One wall shows a mythological battle featuring monkey-headed gods; another describes the “Churning of the Sea of Milk” where various deities pull on the head and tale of a large snake (naga) to release the elixir of eternal life. Besides the main temple which is a national symbol of Cambodia and is featured on their flag, the whole complex is home to many other smaller temples. Most of the temples are in ruins, but the main complex is being renovated by an international group.
Yes, Angkor Wat attracts many tourists to Siem Reap. However, Gary and I came to Siem Reap because of another temple. God’s temple in Cambodia is more beautiful, glorious and impressive than Angkor Wat when it was new. Isaiah prophesied about the Cornerstone of this temple in Isaiah 28: 16-17. And, Peter quotes Isaiah’s prophecy in 1 Peter 2: 4-10, telling us that we are living stones in that holy temple.
It was a tremendous blessing to be in Siem Reap in the real temple – the temple that will not deteriorate and that will never be destroyed. The living stones in Siem Reap want to be “built up as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood…” (1 Pet. 2: 5) Most of them are new Christians, and they were eager to learn more of God’s Word. I taught the women each evening, showing them how the Old Testament points us to Jesus beginning in Genesis 1 and continuing through the Day of Atonement in Leviticus. I wish I had the time to show them Jesus throughout the whole Bible, but I think they became more curious about that theme and will continue to build on that foundation.
Coming home, I had to process all I had experienced. I had seen the “room of 1,000 Buddha” in the national museum. I had learned more about Hinduism and Buddhism. Many people in America who grew up in homes with an open Bible are now embracing those Eastern religions. As I am writing this, the Dali Lama is in Chicago conducting a Buddhist ritual for world peace. Thousands here throng to his speeches. We are going backward, headlong into paganism! I had to ask myself, “Why?” Yes, some of the precepts of Buddhism are good and helpful. However, we have cleaned it up and put a nice veneer over it. Let us never forget that Hinduism and Buddhism are fertility religions that are just as pagan, sensual and oppressive as the religions of the Druids, Incas, Babylonians or Assyrians. We saw various linga (Hindu phallic symbols) throughout the temple and in the museum. I even noticed a chocolate linga for sale in a bakery shop in downtown Siem Reap!
It also disturbed me that so many people in the Asian world are blinded by these religions. I remember asking Phanat about the small “temples” I saw outside many homes and businesses. He told me they were houses for the spirits of their ancestors. People place flowers and other offerings in and around these temples to honor the spirits and to keep evil spirits away. Then, Phanat said, “I’m sure if they stopped and really thought about it, they would see how futile it is. They do it mainly out of tradition, not out of reason.” That’s where the gospel comes in! Phanat, Chann and the other young preachers we are teaching through BVBID can help these people leave the darkness of those traditions and come into the light of the gospel. They have both come from a Buddhist background, and they know the challenges of reaching their people. Chann was living in a Buddhist monastery, training as a monk when he was a teenager.
Sometimes people ask me about the sincerity of their faith and commitment to Christ. Many of these new Christians will face persecution from their families when they return home. Some already have and have made the choice of Christ above family and tradition. Chann and Phanat have each endured similar persecutions, and they prepare these men and women for that opposition. Thankfully, Chann was able to reach his mother with the gospel. Also, his brothers are Christians and preachers in Cambodia. I’m impressed with their love, commitment and faith, and I’m reminded of Isaiah 9:2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” Thank God for His light!