December 7, 2009

Cry of the Gecko – Chapter 1

Cry of the Gecko

by Brian Maher

From the Beginning 

Chapter 1

            Pastor Seang Ang was born on May 19, 1918.  He was raised in a Buddhist farmer’s family in Roeusey Village, Takeo province.  His parents were Mr. Seang Beth and Mrs. Am. Pastor Seang Ang has four sisters and is himself the fourth child in the family.

          In 1934 he entered the monkhood where he remained for eight years.  This first hand knowledge of Buddhism would later help him in his evangelistic work. In 1943 he married Bun Sok, who lived in the same village. He was converted to Christ by a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor, Chum Beang, and then attended the Bible School in Takhmau town, Kandal province, for four years. After graduating he worked as an evangelist with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

          In 1954 Pastor Seang Ang went to evangelize in Takeo province.  As a result, many people converted to Christ. The authorities accused him of disgracing Buddhism and inciting people to betray their own religion and arrested him.  He was asked to pay 2,500 riel. In those days that was a high sum, but they said if he did not pay, they would not release him.  His wife borrowed money from some relatives and paid the authorities.  God for worked a miracle in their lives as the authorities seemed frightened, returned the money, and then apologized to them.

          In 1961, he went to serve the Lord in Prek Kranh Village, Psar Sre Thom KomChay Mountain, Toek Laok sub-district, Prey Nop District, Kampot Province. He planted a church there and stayed in Kampot until 1970.

          When a Christian conference in Phnom Penh decided to send volunteers to work as missionaries among the Kampuchea Krom people, he volunteered to serve in Klang Province, Kampuchea Krom. Before he left, the central committee pledged to support him every month.  When he reached this new place that was not his home country, he encountered a lot of persecution and the promised support did not come.  His family faced severe hardship. He stayed in Mono Ten Village, Prek Roeusy Sub-district, and Klang Province, Kampuchea Krom. Because of his experience in Buddhism he could successfully share the good news with the Buddhist monks and people in Kampuchea Krom very easily, but at the same there was much persecution.

          When he was in Kampuchea Krom he received no salary from Cambodia, so entrusted himself to God’s provision. God proved to be faithful in caring for his family.  He always encouraged his children to trust God and he led a Bible study for his family every night before bedtime. He quoted verses from Psalms 1, 23, and 91, and from Matthew 5 to remind his children to put their trust to the Lord.  Kampuchea Krom does not have many palm trees, as does most of Cambodia but he earned his living by farming and climbing palm trees to collect the sugary sap to sell. His life as a farmer and palm tree climber was not easy, but God provided what he needed and he was able to take care of his family during their five years in Kampuchea Krom.  By the grace of God he was able to plant a church in Klang Province.

          In 1979, Cambodia was delivered from the grip of the Khmer Rouge and the genocidal Pol Pot régime.  His time as missionary in Kampuchea Krom thus ended, he repatriated to Cambodia.  Upon arrival he learned that forty pastors who had graduated from Takhmau Bible School had perished during those four years.  Only four pastors remained alive. Two are living in the United States, and two in Cambodia—Ngov Vorn and Seang Ang. At that time he started to gather some remnants and new converts, and established one church out of the rag-tag bunch of survivors the war had left them. In the spirit of Nehemiah, he worked very hard for the Lord and before long one church emerged in Prek Talong village, Sangkat Chak Angre Kraum, Meanchey District, Phnom Penh.  He named it “Takhmau Church.”

          In 1982, he went to share the gospel and visit some congregations in secret, because in those days the government did not recognize Christianity. Then he traveled to the Thai border area to visit some war remnant Christians.  He settled in Kao I Dang camp, Thailand, to serve the Lord and there met some of his old friends.  Eventually he was chosen to resettle in a third country, but refused to go for two reasons:  he did not want to go alone and he did want to leave the church in the midst of troubles.  He decided to return to Phnom Penh in 1984. There he faced tension and more persecutions every day, but they could not stop him from sharing the gospel and visiting churches. At last he was arrested, sentenced to three to five years, and thrown into jail. In prison he did as Paul and refused to worry, even though they banned church members and relatives from visiting him.  In jail he still kept telling people about Jesus.  By the grace of God he remained in jail only one hundred twenty days.

          In 1985, Pastor Seang Ang and his wife planted a church that today is called “Ta Ang Metrey Takhmau Church.”  In forty-eight years of serving the Lord he never enjoyed regular financial support from any group but God took care of him and his family. They have three sons and five daughters. Two sons died in the Pol Pot régime and one daughter died in Australia. They have twenty-two grandchildren and four great grandchildren. They all are Christians and three of his sons-in-law are pastors.

          Pastor Seang Ang retired as pastor a few years ago and has given all the responsibilities to his children and to the board of elders in the church.  He and his wife lived with happiness in their old age as they could look back over the fruit of their effort over the past years as well as their children and grandchildren maturing in their faith.[1]

Pastor Seang Ang passed away in February of 2005. He was eighty-eight years old.

Rev. David Ellison and the Return of Evangelical Missions[2]

David Whitham Ellison was an American born in the States but he was brought up in England. When he was 7 years old, he returned to England with his parents and, when he turned 19, the First World War was off and raging across Europe. Every able-bodied British male was enlisting in the military and, when David made no effort to enlist and join the fighting, many of his neighbors and co-workers became angry with him. He ended up losing his job at the Bank of England and couldn’t find another decent job. With that experience, he left to live with an uncle in Canada. He had a Seventh Day Adventist uncle in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan where they farmed together.

David Ellison felt the Lord’s call to missionary work through the Alliance Witness (or Alliance Life magazine as it is now called) and when David made his call to missions known to his uncle; his uncle was favorable toward the news. The next door neighbor however, a big German man, offered him two big draft horses not to go but to stay behind to farm. David turned him down and the German fellow cursed him up a storm.

Muriel Eleanor Harrison also felt called to missionary work. Muriel was brought up in a Christian home and probably heard the call to missions at the age of eight, probably through missionary guest speakers. She was a Canadian born in Manitoba. Her father was a farmer and then builder who later moved to Milton Ontario and then to Denville which is forty-five miles from Niagara Falls. Before enrolling at Nyack, she took Teachers and Nurses training in Ontario. Muriel Eleanor Harrison went to Nyack[O'B1]  two years after A.B. Simpson died. There she met David Ellison and they were engaged during their studies there. Their son John recounts his parents telling him that during his parent’s time at Nyack there were a lot of strict rules, so if a couple wanted to meet each other they had to meet behind the mountain for a date.

When the David and Muriel finished their studies, they first went to France as an engaged couples with six other couples from Nyack. David then in France wanted to visit his folks in England because he hadn’t seen them after ten years living in the States and he had to write a special letter to Headquarters at Nyack [O'B2] to get permission. Also engaged couples could not get married on the field until they had two years of language study under their belts. Muriel left France for Indo-China (Vietnam) six months before David. He needed extra time in French, but Muriel went on ahead and learned Vietnamese. Six months later when David left for Vietnam, the door had opened for Cambodia. Headquarters in Nyack told them to get married quickly, so they asked permission[O'B3]  and it was granted. The Arthur Hammond family was already committed to serving in Cambodia. They were ready, and waiting to go. The rules were waived for David and Muriel, and they got married earlier than was normal for those under the authority of the Nyack Missionary Institute.

In Vietnam they met R.A. Jaffray who they knew as very dedicated and zealous in opening up new fields. Jaffray was very serious and solemn man. For the Ellison’s wedding, Rev. Jaffray was supposed to bring the wedding cake but for some reason Jaffray was late so their friends made a cake out of charcoal and a frosting façade until the real cake arrived. Jaffray was so late they had to cut the cake, and when they tried to cut through it, they were surprised to find it was full of charcoal. David and Muriel honeymooned in Hue and around Danang and their bus broke down a few times during their trip. The Ellisons walked down the road a bit to look around during one of the breakdowns but the bus driver called them back, warning them of the nearby presence of tigers.

After getting married, the Ellisons were appointed to the western half of Cambodia, and the Hammonds, who were commissioned to do Bible translation, were appointed to the eastern half. David Ellison translated hymns and started a Bible school, but one of the first things they did in Cambodia was to make a survey of the areas they would be working in.  The Ellisons [O'B4] arrived in Cambodia in 1923, and as we know, David was assigned to begin a Bible school and to translate a hymn book in Battambang. John Ellison remembers his father beating out the rhythm and melody to the hymns at night when John was just dozing off to sleep.

According to son his John, David Ellison was a go-getter. He was very efficient in office work and had a good grasp of languages, completely dedicated, energetic, and full nervous energy. He was a quite a fast and reckless driver over the Thai/Cambodian border roads. When Dr. Jaffray and David Ellison went to do survey work they hit a water buffalo on the road to Phnom Penh.

John remembers another occasion of his father David nicking a cow and a steam roller on the same trip. He was a very intense and determined man. He loved the work and he loved the Cambodian people, and this was shown through his regularity in visiting the people at his outstations. The outstation in Tamor Kol (Battambang) had remained strong until the Khmer Rouge took over on April 17th, 1975.

John also recalls that just before the fighting between the French and Cambodian[O'B5]  factions, French soldiers were listening to David’s preaching through the chapel windows so he added French and English to his Cambodian sermon and number of the soldiers converted, including a German Jewish man named Hershberg.

At another time a Cambodian man heard the organ music and came in. He felt led to talk to the Cambodian man after the service personally. He was an opium user and had been drinking but became a Christian and forgot about the opium for two weeks and realized after that two weeks was up that he hadn’t even thought about the opium. God had delivered him. His daughter became the first Cambodian missionary with her husband to Cambodians in Thailand. “Kru Put” was the opium addict.

Muriel, doing a lot of medical work, got along well with the Cambodian people who came to her for treatment. Hospitals were pretty bad back then. John remembers a Cambodian family that had a mother in the hospital, but his own mother was feeling rather ill, but went to visit the sick lady anyway. The Lord healed Eleanor as she traveled to look at the lady. A lot of these stories are recorded in the many letters she had written to her stepmother back home.

A Cambodian man, Ouk Soth, helped in the beginning of the work and another Cambodian man, Hing Kong, was a language teacher for the Ellisons. Their first son, John Ellison was born in 1925 in Phnom Penh but the family was living and serving in Battambang where they founded the Bible School in 1935 after David got enough language under his belt. There were just a handful of students in the beginning – people from Tamor Kol and “Monkey Ladder” village. In later years, they came from those villages to celebrate Christmas on the compound.

John Ellison’s earlier recollections have him recalling that his father taught preachers at his Bible School. Their house was out front and the Bible school was in the back. John heard a lot of preaching which helped him learn how to write the high religious and royal language. John’s early access to the Cambodian Bible College also helped in his early training in Bible knowledge. They usually had about 15-30 students who lived in dormitories. David taught theology, hermeneutics, church history, homiletics, and other typical Bible School courses. Muriel taught the organ.[3]

1922-It was in 1922, a year before the Hammonds and Ellisons received permission to live in Phnom Penh and pioneer the work in Cambodia, that there was a small ‘people movement’ among the Cambodians of Chau Doc province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta (formerly Cambodian land and now called Lower Cambodia or Kampuchea Krom) and several families became Christians. This group of Cambodian Christians living in South Vietnam would be considered an “outstation” that would be responsible to missionaries in Phnom Penh until 1954.

1923 The C&MA entered Cambodia in 1923 as the first evangelical missionaries since what some church historians believe had been the presence of Nestorian Church missionaries (Syria) around 450 A.D.  Rev. David Ellison would work on starting a Bible school to train pastors and church leaders while Rev. Arthur Hammond would be commissioned to translate the scriptures into the Cambodian language. Hence the translation, upon completion, was called the Hammond Version. Both were required to do survey work in their different locations and study the language before beginning their assignments. 

After the arrival of C&MA missionaries in Cambodia, (Ellisons, Hammonds, and the Floyd Petersons) two gospel tracts were prepared, printed, and distributed to people in Cambodia.

1925 In 1925, at the C&MA Annual Missionary Conference in Vietnam, Dr. Robert Jaffray pushed for the appointment of Rev. Arthur Hammond to do translation work in Phnom Penh and for Rev. David Ellison to open a Bible School in Battambang. Dr. Jaffray’s initial intuition proved to be right as Rev. Hammond ended up translating the Bible, a large portion of today’s Cambodian hymnal, and other books and publications.

                  C&MA is responsible for the first Cambodian Bible and should be credited for much of the hard work of preparing the soil for the success of mission endeavors today. By the C&MA’s own estimate, there did not appear to be much fruit between 1923 and 1965. By 1965 the KEC conservatively estimated 2000 converts over those years, and others would estimate the number of those converts to closer to 1000. One should not so measure the success of the C&MA missionaries solely on the basis of number of converts but for the foundation C&MA laid as well, as it was invaluable for the growth of the church in Cambodia for the near future. It was not easy work in the Theravada Buddhist country of Cambodia. At that time, the C&MA counted only Arab countries as less responsive to the Gospel than Cambodia.

Some of the early work of the C&MA centered on Battambang where David Ellison had chosen to minister from. Sometime in 1925, it was reported that he received a delegation from the village of ‘Chkae Con’ (which means “litter of pups”) who gave their hearts to the Lord one evening. As time wore on and the last modes of transportation had long since left, David asked them why they weren’t heading back only to learn that the group had heard that if they committed their lives to Christ, they would receive a large bag of rice. Rev. Ellison told them that this was but a rumor, and that soon they should be giving offerings to the Lord for the growth and advancement of God’s kingdom here in Cambodia.

OMF missionary, Alice Compain, who knew some of these first generation Cambodian Christians, commented: “The first known church group was in ‘Chkae Con,’ where Granny Yim still lives today (now deceased). She came as a 5 year-old from Kampuchea Krom to live and witness in Cambodia with her parents. Now into this new millennium, where is the church in Cambodia? A simple answer – every­where! For the first time we can find Christians in every province around the country. When you consider the turbulent history of this country, it is amaz­ing to see God is bringing the message so that people can and do believe in Christ. Only thirty years ago there was a deliber­ate attempt to stamp out not only Christianity, regarded as Western and imperialist, but all religions. Yet God pre­served a remnant. Here is a significant word applying to those who clung to their faith in spite of everything; Isaiah 46:3 & 4.”[4]

By 1960 according to Paul Ellison, ‘Chkae Con’ was forty percent Christian, and Paul Ellison’s boyhood friend[O'B6] , Reth Man became one of the first pastors of ‘Chkae Con’ church.  Especially in Battambang during the early years, the French Administration which was mostly Catholic, was rather anti-Protestant. In the early and mid-twenties it was not easy for foreign missionaries or their Cambodian converts to get official permission to do much of anything. Some had even done short stints in jails.

                  The church in ‘Chkae Con’ grew steadily up through the early 1960’s. Paul Ellison credits some of the early success of his father with the fact that in the delta land was scarce and was not as fertile as Battambang. Many of those living in Chkae Con were economic refugees looking for better farming opportunities. When they left the delta, they also left the matrix of Buddhist social institutions that would keep the people focused on Buddhism. They were now no longer tied to those systems as in the Battambang area at that time there were not that many formal structures to keep drawing them back. People originally from the delta felt the freedom to be more open to other ideas.

1928 – Skoun, Kompong Cham– There seemed to be another people’s movement in the making as a man who apparently had read the gospel tract, The One True God, told his family on his death bed, “When you hear about the God who is truly concerned and helps people, you must commit yourselves to him.” His daughter later heard the Rev. Arthur Hammond and Pastor Ros Hom (a lawyer who was an expert in village law) preaching the good news. She knew that this was what her father was talking about on his deathbed. All her family and close relatives committed their lives to Christ. Ros Hom pastored this group and others who came to Christ through the witness of the family. Out of it, the C&MA saw more than eight pastors emerge.

1930 – Because of disenchantment with French colonial rule, the Cambodian authorities put pressure on the church. Some Christians were persecuted and jailed.

1932 – In Kbal Chour, Kratie Province, the Rev. Gordon Smith led one family to Christ before he left for Ban Me Thout, Vietnam to minister to minority groups with which he first came in contact in Cambodia.  King Sisawath Monivong’s writing of an anti-proselytizing law prompted some C&MA missionaries ministering in Cambodia to consider relocating to Vietnam. This did a lot to slow down the numerical growth of the church at the time and it also brought some persecution and hard times. It seemed to refine and build up the purity and depth of the Khmer church as happened under the Japanese occupation during the Second World War.

Smith’s group of converts remained faithful until missionary Ed Thompson and family were assigned to Kbal Chour in 1950. Rev. Kim Aun, who partially supported himself by rice farming, soon became the pastor of this group. The original family was such a testimony that many were drawn to Jesus by their collective Christian witness.

1934– Future Pastor Seang Ang entered the monkhood where he stayed for eight years and Dr. Arthur Hammond finished the translation of the New Testament into the Khmer Language. Dr. Hammond wrote:

                  “During the early years of missionary endeavor, there was no one but the informer and the missionary to get ideas across. Any other source of information was entirely hostile. No books were available for study, so we were forced to attempt ‘a sort of’ translation work.  We started to transcribe, as nearly as possible, the Gospel of John. Day by day the work grew, new words and new idioms were added to our knowledge, and we felt a definite thrill of pleasure as page after page, and chapter after chapter, were completed. Thus, the foundation was laid for more serious work later on. Other gospels followed and book after book was finished unit we had he joy of completing the entire New Testament and seeing in it through the press in 1934. The text was printed in Hanoi where the Alliance press had a printing shop.”[5]

                  Father Francois Ponchaud has suggested that David Ellison depended on the work of Catholic dissidents in Battambang and Ellison’s input into Dr. Hammond’s translation had the effect of giving the translation a Battambang language flavor along with some Catholic terminology.  He pointed out that those who resist the Today’s Khmer Version[6] [O'B7] so vigorously today (because of Ponchaud’s own Catholic influence in the translation) should be aware that the Hammond Version also had early Catholic influence.[7]

1935- David Ellison got his Bible school off the ground and some of the first graduates of the CMA’s Bible School were Mr. Chao Vouch, Try Hoc, Neak Hom, and Sok Chhoum. 

1936–On July 18 the Spanish Civil War began as General Francisco Franco led an uprising of army troops based in Spanish North Africa.

1937–Three thousand New Testaments were printed that year. As the church was becoming established, Cambodian Christians began reading their New Testaments and asking about the references made to the patriarchs in the Old Testament. They wanted to hear their stories so this led to the beginning of the translation of the Old Testament. Genesis, Exodus, and Proverbs were set up and printed in separate editions.

1939 (1939-45) –The Japanese occupation of Cambodia was administered by Vichy French. American CMA Missionaries Harry and Miriam Taylor left language studies in France to go on a stormy trip by ship across violent seas to Vietnam. Three days into their trip, on September 1st, World War II began as Nazi Germany invaded Poland.  During the tumultuous trip by ship, the Taylors’ orders were changed and they were transferred to Phnom Penh.  They were driven by car from Vietnam to Phnom Penh, and then soon after to Kompong Cham.

                  CMA Missionaries Harold and Marguerite Sechrist traveled to Kompong Cham to stay with the Taylors while the bombing intensified between Thailand and the Vichy French until the French ceded Battambang and Siem Reap Provinces. Not long after the Japanese army took over Indochina without meeting any opposition. Harry and Miriam Taylor, pregnant with their second child, debated whether or not to flee from the Japanese occupation in order to give birth to their child in a safe place. Marguerite Sechrist had already gone to the Philippines to deliver her child and the Taylors planned to evacuate with the other CMA missionaries who were heading back to the States, but Harry Taylor became sick and was evacuated to Vietnam for treatment. From Saigon, the Taylors left to seek refuge in Manila.

1940 – On July 10, during World War II, the 114-day Battle of Britain began as Nazi forces began attacking southern England by air. By late October, Britain managed to repel the Luftwaffe, which suffered heavy losses.

                  Dr. Hammond finishes the translation of the Old Testament (although it would not be printed until 1954) making the whole Bible available to Cambodians in their native language. During that same year the entire Bible became obsolete because the Buddhist University of Phnom Penh published the Venerable Chuan Nath’s definitive dictionary of the Khmer Language. Up until this time, people spelled everything the way they personally decided. Now this was all changed. It was a great discouragement to Rev. Hammond, but in spite of the setback, he begins the revision of the entire Cambodian Bible.

Rev. Hammond himself explains:​​

“Up to shortly before the war, there were no dictionaries worthy of the name. Then the Cambodian government produced the first tome of an official dictionary, setting forth the correct meanings and spellings of words in Cambodian. Previously, we had developed a phonetic system of spelling; now we found that the Pali and Sanskrit loving Cambodians had tacked on all the foreign word endings with silent characters and syllables, so that sometimes the Cambodian word was unrecognizable. This meant that the manuscripts for the newly translated Old Testament and the New Testament printed in 1934, had to be entirely revised. It seemed like a tremendous task after all the former years of labor.  However, following the war this was tackled anew.”[8]

John Ellison

John Ellison was born on November 15, 1925 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to C&MA missionary parents David and Muriel Ellison. From 1932-1936 and 1938-1941, he attended the school for the children of C&MA missionaries in Dalat, Vietnam (Central Highlands) and gave his life to Jesus there in May of 1935. 

One of his earlier memories from his time at Dalat with other missionary children where on occasion they did overnights in the jungle. They children often heard the sound of growling tigers and so on night excursions they had to build fires around the campsite and had drivers armed with shotguns. The director of the school took them on a night walks through the jungle with a miner’s lamp on his head and after a while they got so good they could tell animals by the color of the eyes when the light hit them. John also remembers running into a herd of wild boar.

John was in school at Dalat in August of 1940 when the Japanese they took North Vietnam. According to John, the French who were occupying Indochina at the time were given a bunch of Ford trucks by the United States and some old worn out WWI tanks by the United States but were unable to stop the Japanese. The Japanese eventually took over the whole country. When Dalat let out for vacation in November, it was just before the Japanese attacked. David and Muriel came from Cambodia to get John for vacation. John remembers the Japanese were in Phnom Penh during the summer of 1941. They ferried all their heavy tanks and artillery across the Mekong. Many areas in the city were sectioned off by Japanese for staging their equipment.  Schools were turned into field hospitals and they were building up their forces preparing for their attack. Everyone knew about the buildup but the United States didn’t seem too concerned.  John and his brother had a close call with an aggressive Japanese sentry.

The Japanese did not come into Dalat at the time John was there because they were encroaching on Thailand. Battambang and Siem Reap Provinces would soon be ceded to Thailand by the Japanese in order to secure their cooperation in Japanese war efforts. The Ellisons were the only western family in the Battambang area and they would have been the first westerners the Japanese would have run into. John doubts they would have been spared. During that time, David Ellison was invited to speak in Bangkok by C&MA missionaries in Khon Kaen, Thailand. When he went, he brought the whole family with him. David knew that the Japanese forces were in Thailand and at that time approaching Aranyaprathet. When they arrived in Bangkok, it was three days before Pearl Harbor was hit, and then came the invasion of Thailand.

The Japanese gave the Cambodian provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap to the Thai in order to get Thai cooperation, especially in finishing the unfinished railroad that lacked about 26 kilometers that would to connect Cambodia to Thailand. The French left the track purposely unfinished because they did not trust the Thais. [O'B8] As the Ellisons drove to Bangkok, they observed the wet concrete trestles that would make the railway operable in a few days- just enough time to harden in order to carry the heavy Japanese military equipment.

David and Muriel returned to Cambodia in 1945 from Nyack where they had been teaching. They entered into new Thai ocuppied Cambodian provinces through Thailand. [O'B9] Phnom Penh and many parts of Cambodia depended heavily on the rice and fish of Battambang so the Ellisons knew that getting those two provinces back would be a pretty hot issue. According to John,American military forces mopping up Japanese pockets of resistance ran into his father and asked him who the provinces belonged to, and took David Ellison to both American and French military authorities to sign an affidavit testifying that these provinces belonged to Cambodia. The contested areas were eventually returned to Cambodia and the Cambodian people were grateful to David Ellison’s part in the reclamation. When he died, his funeral procession in Cambodia was 400 cars long, and many Cambodians, including high government officials came out to show their appreciation.

 When the Japanese first came into Thailand, David Ellison [O'B10] was on his way to the annual missionary conference in Khon Kaen, and when his train arrived at the station they asked him if he heard the news and informed him of Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Thailand. David returned to Bangkok’s American Bible Society where Muriel and the kids [O'B11] had been staying but they were not there when he arrived. His son John remembers that before his father returned to Bangkok, they had been moved into the American Embassy. The Thais had secretly agreed to cooperate with the Japanese and let them enter Thailand unchallenged.  Japanese planes were flying over Bangkok at all hours. “Dad found us at the embassy and asked the Japanese to let him into the embassy. When Mom came a few days earlier with me, (she was Canadian with a British passport) they didn’t want to let her in, but the American ambassador interceded for her and let her in. When Dad found us, we had been there in the embassy for two weeks.”

“After being there for two weeks altogether, the American missionaries that greeted Dad at Khon Kaen tried to escape by elephant to Burma, but were caught by the Thai authorities who brought them down to Bangkok where we were being interned. The Thai asked the Japanese to turn over the internment camp to them, and they did- one of the only concessions given to the Thais was that they were able to control this internment camp. Thailand was spared due to their cooperation. We were interned there in Bangkok for about six months. A nearby hotel catered the food, and the food was quite bad, and we could actually see bugs and worms. The meat was partially boiled in order to get the gravy and juices for hotel guests so when the meat got to us, it was tasteless. Our internment camp had a canteen, though, and a lot of the items and food sold came from Chinese stores that had been storing this stuff for years hoping for prices to rise. They sold it to us refugees at bargain prices and many of those items that you couldn’t get on the inside. I remember having Thai and foreign visitors, and even Cambodians from our own station in Battambang come to visit us.”

 After being in the internment camp for six months, the Ellisons then took a small 212 foot long Thai steamer called the Velia, which took them [O'B12] to Saigon. The ship [O'B13] plied through rough waters around Singapore and Philippines, with 100 other people of whom ninety-seven were Americans.  Everyone was sick, and the men were put in the hold. Cot legs would break daily due to the violent motion of the ship in rough waters. John stayed up on deck most of the day to avoid seasickness. At Saigon they were transferred to another ship called the Contaverde which set sail for Mozambique (Portuguese East Africa) and arrived at Maputo, Mozambique. John met fellow C&MA missionary Robert Eckvall on the Contaverde who was apparently smuggling some sensitive information concerning locations of Japanese ammo dumps, supplies, and other information in the lining of his sandal that he wanted to deliver to the United States.[9]

1941–Norodom Sihanouk is crowned king of Cambodia, then a French colonial monarchy on April 26, 1941 by the Nazi-controlled Vichy French government.

                  On December 8th the Taylors now in Manila, gave birth to their second child, learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the previous day, and a day later, the Japanese began bombing Baguio where the Taylors were staying, and US military bases in the Philippines. At Christmas time, Harry Taylor and his son Don are interned by the Japanese with all other Americans and 500 of them were stuffed into a single barracks at Camp John Hay. Miriam was in the hospital and had given birth to Janice Allaine Taylor (now Janice Kropp), and they were soon reunited with Harold and Don in the internment camp. On February 5th, 1945, the Taylors and their two young children emerged from their four year captivity under the Japanese emaciated, weak, and both physically and emotionally drained, but very much alive. They spent 1,137 days in captivity.

                  Reverend Hammond was unable to finish his revision work on the Cambodian Bible as he becomes almost blind. He sought medical treatment in the United States. With many praying for him, he is healed and his sight returned. Rev. Hammond continued his Bible translation work until the complete Bible was published in the Khmer in 1954.

1942– A law was enacted to stop the French Romanization of the Cambodian language. French Romanization of languages in South East Asia began with Vietnamese language in 1620.[10]

1943–Seang Ang is married and converted to Christ by KEC pastor, Chum Beang. 

1945– On Aug. 6, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II, killing an estimated 140,000 people in the first use of a nuclear weapon in warfare.

On Oct. 24, the United Nations officially came into existence as its charter took effect.

1946 – KEC[11]Pastor Yorng Soth was born in 1946, in Kompong Thom while the US and USSR divided Korea at the 38th parallel.

Heng Cheng, the Man at the Helm

In 2002 at National Pediatric Hospital, the EFC Youth Commission staff conducted a Jacob/Rachel Seminar, their biblical euphemism for a Christian youth sexual awareness seminar. About one hundred twenty young people attended from a number of different churches. Pastor Heng Cheng opened the seminar, speaking about God’s design for marriage.  I caught up with him after he finished speaking. He had driven three hours from Kompong Som where he was teaching at an EFC women’s group conference, only to open up the Jacob/Rachel seminar and drive back to Kompong Som again.

The first time I met Heng Cheng was at the Pon Lok Restaurant on Sisawath Quay in Phnom Penh, at a pastor’s fellowship dinner in 1990. I was told not to trust him, as he was most likely a spy for the Vietnamese. Nothing could have been more further from the truth.

He was born in the village of Bung Thom (Big Pond), Mat Prang District, Kampot Province, in 1947.  Cheng was born into a Chinese Christian family as an only child.  His father and his grandparents came to Christ in China before his father, aunts, and uncles fled to Cambodia in 1945. They left because of the fighting toward the end of World War II and the beginning of the civil war between Chaing Kai Shek and Mao Tse Tung in 1945. When they arrived in Cambodia, his father married a Cambodian/Chinese woman from Kampot.

When Heng Cheng was one month old, his father quarreled with his uncle (most likely over the issue of his father taking a non-believer as a wife) and took off to Takeo Province to work as a stevedore on the docks along a finger of the Basaac River. His mother passed away from malnutrition three months after he was born. Cultural practices for post-birth mothers sent her to her grave early.

His father had no interest in raising a three-month-old child so he sold Cheng to a Vietnamese man who took him to an area just inside the Vietnamese border. The Vietnamese man raised Cheng for a year before a visiting Cambodian government official asked to adopt the child. He did adopt Cheng and brought him to Phnom Penh. His father told his brother (Heng Cheng’s uncle), that Cheng was now in Phnom Penh with the government official. Two years later his uncle asked the government official to release Cheng into his custody so he could raise him within the family. His uncle already had five children and Cheng became the youngest of the brood.  Cheng thought his uncle was his natural father for many years. He thought he was just the younger brother of all his older cousins. His uncle took him back to Kampot where he lived until he was grown up. Cheng remembers worshiping in Pastor Seang Ang’s Church in Kampot with David Ellison in the early 60s. In 1965, his uncle died of a disease and his oldest [M14] cousin, who he believed was his older brother, began to look after him. When he was ready to graduate from high school in 1970-71 he went, like all provincial high school students who wanted to graduate, to Phnom Penh to take exams. After passing his exams, he went back to Kampot because he didn’t have the money or place to stay to continue his studies in Phnom Penh.[12]

A larger reason Cheng left Phnom Penh was the fighting between FANK[13]and the Khmer Rouge, which no one could successfully avoid. He became a soldier in the Special Forces of Lon Nol’s Republic, fighting against the Viet Cong and Khmer Rouge. He served as a Captain in Mike Force until 1973, when he was wounded in the lower calf. [Mike Force consisted of Cambodians trained by American Special Forces units, who rode around in trucks with “Tomorrow We Die” signs pasted on the sides. In one particular battle Cheng lost all but twenty men out of the one hundred in his company.] That same year, just before his stepmother died in Kampot during an artillery barrage between the Khmer Rouge and Lon Nol’s FANK troops, she told him his whole family history and said he should look up his real father in Phnom Penh.  Cheng’s father, she said, had checked up on him a few times a year until he was grown, but had agreed not to get involved in the situation. He was remarried and had four children.

Around that time Cheng quit soldiering because he was sick of war and because his eldest cousin, who had raised him after his uncle died, wanted him to continue his studies.  He began studying at the Faculty of Medicine in Phnom Penh.  He did meet his birth father in the city on one occasion but did not pursue a relationship, refusing to live with him and bitter at not being brought back to be raised in this father’s family. In 1975, Cheng was living with other students at Wat Langka in Phnom Penh, studying at the Faculty of Medicine. The Wat was getting a little crowded with other students, so he and his student friends rented a house near Psa Tmei (New Market) across from what is now the Soriya Mall. His older cousin Samrit [M15] Samoeurn, the cousin who raised him, was at this time a CMA church leader in Ang Tasom, Takeo. He helped Cheng with the rent expenses. When the Khmer Rouge invaded in April, Cheng headed down Route One, over the Chbar Ampeau Bridge, and toward Vietnam to Prek Eine, just past Kean Svay, where he stayed for 20 days, then on to the west bank of the Mekong in Neak Luong where he stayed for a month. Cheng then crossed the Mekong and journeyed on to Prey Veng, Tda Hoey Commune, Zone 24, where he stayed until October 16, 1976. On that day, knowing that the Khmer Rouge wanted to kill him because he was educated and knew medicine, Cheng fled to Vietnam just before they came (In [MI16] 1977, the Khmer Rouge Nearday[14] (northwestern zone) and the Khmer Rouge Esan (northeastern Zone) came down to purge Khmer Rouge Bophea (eastern Zone) that had been suspected of sympathizing with the Khmer Viet Minh. Thousands in the Eastern Zone cadre were purged.  Uon Seila uncovered mass graves of the purged cadre just northeast of Kompong Trabaek when he was a teenager).

When Cheng reached the Mekong Delta/Kampuchea Krom region of Vietnam, the Vietnamese put him in jail. They investigated him, found out he was not Khmer Rouge, and released him. He traveled north to Ho Chi Minh City, where he lived in a Cambodian Wat, Chan Rangsay, for a month before renting a house with other Cambodian refugees. In 1977, he worked as a middleman (‘Kok Chea’)[15] selling medicine on the sly for a living. Then he helped smuggle Vietnamese, Chinese and other immigrant people out of the country by boat to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, The Philippines, and other non-communist countries.

In September 1977, the police caught Cheng’s older smuggling partner. Meanwhile, one of his aunts, who had moved to Saigon in the 1960’s for business, went to find Cheng. She was a Christian and she tried to get Cheng to come back to the Lord. Cheng himself was not sure if he had ever been a Christian to begin with. His aunt had started a Chinese cell group in Vietnam when she came in the 1960’s. In January of 1978, Cheng started attending church with his aunt. Sometimes he’d worship at the Catholic Church, sometimes with the Watch Tower people and sometimes with his aunt.

On Dec 16, 1978 Cheng truly gave his life to Christ and bit by bit he backed out of his involvement with civil war politics.  Cheng then began to attend church consistently and became involved in a Vietnamese CMA church. Midway through 1979, CMA created an underground Bible school and Cheng went to the classes to check it out, though not too seriously.  They would hold class on the bus, on a boat on the river, and sometimes in various churches. They had classes in the city and in the country. They were extremely creative about the venues of their Bible school. The Bible school had about twenty regular students at that time and Heng Cheng became [MI17] one of them after he decided to become more committed.

In 1981, Heng Cheng became a youth leader in a C&MA ‘open church’ in Saigon, where he became [MI18] a youth pastor in 1983.[16]In 1984, he found an attractive Vietnamese wife to marry, and at the end of that year he and his wife returned to Phnom Penh. Shortly after his return, he started a church in 1985 which would later be called the Jerusalem church, a Vietnamese-Cambodian church. In 1990, Jerusalem came under the AOG, and Heng Cheng became the assistant pastor. He helped train church leadership, followed up new believers, took care of church administration, and visited the sick. He was also responsible for relations with other churches. The senior pastor at that time was Andre Kwang, a Vietnamese national. The church began to grow, but since Cheng was accused of being a spy for the Vietnamese, and the Cambodian Christians feared association with him would get them in trouble with the government, no other churches paid much attention to Jerusalem or bothered to include them in joint fellowship opportunities. But in 1993, Cheng gave a testimony at Global Network, when Cambodia Christian Services were preparing for the “March for Jesus,” planned for early 1994. During that planning meeting, Cheng stood and made a fiery speech about the lack of unity in the Christian community and how Christian brothers and sisters had ostracized him and his church because of unfounded suspicions and prejudice. In his effective testimony, he recited Rev 5:9 &11 to them:

And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

“You won’t receive me and my church but the blood of Christ purchased me and my people and added us into a group from every tribe and tongue.  If you won’t accept us, we aren’t going to lose sleep over it.  Jesus has already accepted us and we are already a part of a much bigger community than yours. Have it your way if you think you must.” After Cheng’s powerful and moving testimony, those who attended noticed tears in the eyes of Pastor Mam Barnabas and knew Cheng’s speech had touched his heart. During the remainder of that meeting, it was decided that the Jerusalem church was to be responsible for the worship in the first “March for Jesus” in Cambodia.

In late 1996, the newborn Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia invited Cheng to become the General Secretary of the EFC.  In 1997, he resigned as assistant pastor of Jerusalem Church to fill the post of General Secretary at the EFC. He has served the EFC well for over ten years now, tackling the most difficult problems between churches, between the church and the government, and between national and expatriate Christians.

Cheng has been licensed and ordained by the Assemblies of God Church and has four children, one girl and three boys.

Since Heng Cheng is now over sixty years old, I asked what he wants to do for the remainder of his life. He told me he would like to become a writer and use his vast experience to teach the younger generation of church leaders how to capture a full Christian worldview in order to properly lead the church to transform Cambodian society. He also wants to teach this generation of young church leaders about the importance of holistic ministry. Lastly, he wants to use his valuable experience as General Secretary of the EFC to teach Church leaders how to work together, solve problems, work with the government and other missionaries, and bring reconciliation among all groups.

When I asked him if he had a word for missionaries, the Reverend Heng Cheng said: “Missionaries should thoroughly understand the Cambodian culture, customs, nuances of language, the worldview of the Cambodian people and the spiritual warfare involved in serving the Lord here in Cambodia. If they come just learning enough language to make a simple presentation of the gospel, without doing the above mentioned things, they will only create additional problems for the church and our society rather than helping. Missionaries who have not invested time in learning deeply about Cambodia may give us many headaches which will eventually evolve into conflicts which can drain the church of precious time and energy.”

Cheng concludes, “Many foreign missionaries want to plant churches when the nationals are able to do it better. They have the right and freedom to do so, but it would be more effective and wiser for them to walk alongside the nationals and help them do it, rather than to hire a few translators and go out on their own.” 


Ponchaud, Francois,  Lectures, Phnom Penh, 2003.

Audio CDs of Interviews of John Ellison by Robert Shuster for archives of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton College Oct 2, 1992, courtesy of Ruth Ellison.

Cheng, Heng, Rev. Personal Interview, 2004 at the National Pediatric Hospital.

Written by: Cambodianchristian.Com

Filed Under: Book, Chapter 1, Cry of the Gecko - By Brian Maher

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