February 22, 2010

What Are We Fighting For? – Chapter 7

Cry of the Gecko

Chapter Seven          What Are We Fighting For?


“In January at a rally of Buddhist students numbering 1,200, half of them expressed that they had become Christians. The leader of the Buddhist student organization announced that he also had become a Christian. There were many small-group Bible studies going on that encouraged personal evangelism, and the results showed up in the conversion of doctors, professors, professionals, academics, and Buddhist monks.” [1]

The writer of the Khmer National Anthem, Mau Vanna, became a Christian, during the same time as the Commissioner of the National Civilian Police Force, Pech Bun Nil, and also the President of the Supreme Court, Judge Men Ny Borin. Borin had been invited by the C&MA Country Director, Merle Graven, and made a profession of faith at the end of the service. The next Sunday at church, Borin got up to give a testimony saying, “For twenty-one years I sought for the truth and I found it in the Bible in 1966. Last week I made the truth my own-the light of the world lit my candle.”[2]

Peace talks with the North Vietnamese began on January 8th, after the reelection of Richard Nixon and heavy US bombing over Hanoi during Christmas time. On Jan. 23, Nixon announced that an accord had been reached to end the Vietnam War and less then three weeks later, on Feb. 12, the first release of American prisoners of war from the Vietnam conflict took place. It was then learned that Mike Benge of USAID was alive. Benge had survived the five years since the 1968 Tet offensive as a prisoner, much of that time being in solitary confinement in a Hanoi prison, and was released as a result of the Paris Peace Accords. Benge told how Hank Blood died of pneumonia and Betty Olsen of dysentery during 1968 while the three of them were prisoners in the jungle[MI1] .

On March 29th, the last American fighting troops left Vietnam, and KEC Pastor Seang Ang joined Rev. J. Paul Ellison in Kampuchea Krom.

[3]In Phnom Penh, the United Bible Society presented the idea of a new project, a new translation of the Bible that would be easier for people to understand.  A committee of five was chosen consisting of three Khmer translators and a stylist (all of the KEC), and a Roman Catholic exegetical scholar, Francois Ponchaud (author of Cathedral of the Rice Paddies).  Mr. David Clark was in charge of overseeing this work for the United Bible Society and they managed to produce a draft copy of the whole New Testament, and got as far as correcting the first four chapters of the book of Matthew before Cambodia fell into the hands of the Khmer Rouge.  Only a few chapters of Matthew’s Gospel were preserved.

In early 1973, at the same time as the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, and after the Kellers’ first two months in Vietnam, the Vietnam branch of SIL had its biennial conference in mountainous region of Dalat (northeast of Saigon by a six-hour drive). At the conference the members decided to send teams into Cambodia to do research on ethnic minority languages, followed by literacy work and scripture translation. Chuck and Sally volunteered to go there.  Before the Kellers went to Cambodia in October of 1973, they had been studying the Khmer language in Saigon. When they did come over, they continued their study of Khmer in Phnom Penh for a year before going to Pailin, southwest of Battambang. Pailin is still a semi-Khmer Rouge enclave even though Ieng Sary, brother number two is in custody pending the trial of the International Tribunal. At that time, there were an estimated 500 ethnic minority people of the Timpuan and Krung groups living in the Pailin area, the Krung at that time being known as the Brao. (Nowadays the term Brao usually refers to those who speak a dialect very similar to Krung and spoken to the north of the Krung area. Some of them had come to Pailin from their home province of Ratanakiri (in the northeast of Cambodia by the late 1960s. Others came there following U.S. Air Force bombing in Ratanakiri in 1970. U.S. forces had evacuated some of these hill people from Ratanakiri over to Pleiku; from there they had reached Phnom Penh and, eventually, the gem rich area of Pailin. Pailin, situated on the Thai border, is was an autonomous zone of over 10,000 former Khmer Rouge soldiers under the leadership of Ieng Sary (brother number three) who, by making a sweet deal with then Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen, defected to the Cambodian Peoples Party in late 1996. Pailin Governor Y Chhien, Noun Chea (brother number two), and Khieu Samphan, all former high-ranking Khmer Rouge, formerly lived in Pailin or Phnom Penh, enjoying their freedom and growing old with their grandchildren, and nervously awaiting news of an impending International Tribunal. Noun Chea and Ieng Sary were arrested in January of 2008 and joined Duch, the Killer of Toul Sleng in prison. The mysterious death of Ta Mok in prison in July of 2006 makes one wonder if anyone will make it to actually stand trial. Sam Bith who was responsible for the death of three expatriate backpackers in the summer 1994 died in prison in February 2008. Rumors have it that the top tribunal judge, a Chinese woman is being ordered by China to stall the process until Khieu Samphan and Noun Chea pass away. People are also wondering what fate ‘Duch,’ will meet, as he languishes in jail, full of dirt on many of the National Assembly members who are former Khmer Rouge or Khmer Minh.

Jean Clavaud had been teaching English to monks at the Putikat School in Wat Unalom in the late 1960’s and early ‘70s, and according to Yorng Soth, taught them Pali and Sanskrit as well. It was Clavaud and his son who were captured by the Khmer Rouge during 1973, and were jailed for a few months and forced to live in the jungle. Although he was sent to leave Cambodia in April 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over, he came back in 1980 with Evangelical Missions against Leprosy but was seconded to the World Council of Churches. Clavaud helped get letters in and out of the Cambodia for the underground believers as well as bring in Bibles and literature.

Major Chhirc Taing, General Secretary of the Cambodian Evangelical Church and a Christian Army officer in the Federal Army National Kampuchea, was a third generation Christian that came up through the C&MA. His grandfather, Kong Try and his father, Taing San were both believers. Paul and his wife, author Helen Penfold from the UK, were very close friends with Chhirc and they encouraged him to join them in a prayer movement which led to the formation of Cambodia for Christ, now called Southeast Asian Outreach.

Chhirc Taing left for the UK and took his pregnant wife who would give birth to their baby in Scotland. The pastor of Bethlehem Church, Sem Bun, wrote a letter to Chhirc Taing asking him to return. Chhirc agrees to return, leaving his wife in Scotland to have the baby. In July, before returning to Cambodia, Chhirc spoke at the Keswick Convention in England and challenges British Christians to get behind Cambodia in prayer and support. Cambodia for Christ is subsequently formed in the UK, was the forerunner of Southeast Asian Outreach (SAO) which is still active in Cambodia today.

Chhirc then visited OMF Singapore on his way back to Cambodia and he participates in a Directors’ conference and they take up his plea to send missionaries to Cambodia with the KEC, to work alongside C&MA missionaries. He helps confirm their commitment and OMF prepares to send missionaries to Cambodia in 1974; Andrew Way, Alice Compain, Andrew Butler, Don Cormack, Rose-Ellen Chancey (Blosser).[4] Daniel Lam, one of the key founders and financial supporters of the Phnom Penh Bible School, and member of Country Network was apparently influenced by Chhirc’s speech in Singapore as well.

Sky Pilot

On August 6th, an American B-52 bomber had been mistakenly had been given wrong coordinates dropped a load of bombs on the ferry port on the Mekong in the city of Neak Luong, destroying most of the port. Two weeks later, on August 19th, the Americans stop bombing Cambodia. Neak Luong soon became a stronghold for the Khmer Rouge to stage attacks up the Mekong toward Phnom Penh. Samouen Intal’s[5] childhood home was destroyed in the bombing.

Todd Burke, a young man from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and his wife DeAnn, first became interested in Cambodia while studying at a one-year Bible course in Oklahoma, City. Todd was then accepted at Oral Roberts University in 1972. At an accelerated pace, Todd finished, and graduated in May of 1973.  In early September of 1973, Todd made a trip to Cambodia, despite the many obstacles and hassles concerning obtaining a visa. For his short time spent in Cambodia, he would claim miraculous healings, demons cast out, and many other miracles. Later he would write a controversial book called, Anointed for Burial, about his experience in Cambodia before the curtain came down.[6] Although many take issue with what he wrote in his book, his book has been a catalyst for many in helping them decide to come to Cambodia to serve as missionaries.  Radha Manickam and Ung Sophal, both who were repatriated to America, came to Christ under this ministry.

According to his book, Todd Burke arrived in Cambodia and immediately tried to obtain a visa. He had a bit of help, mainly through the efforts of missionaries Tom and Louise Cornwall who had since departed from Cambodia, but they told him not to get his hopes up. After he got a seven-day visa, Todd went off to locate the Cornwall’s house and when the taxi pulled up in front, out came Mr. Kuch Kong, who had recently fled to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap with his wife San and their five children. Apparently a rocket had crashed through the roof of their house, and was stuck in the rafters sputtering. That was enough for Kuch Kong and his family. Upon meeting Todd Burke, and finding out he was a Christian, Kuch Kong handed him a document containing his personal testimony of how gave his life to Jesus.  Pastor Kuch Kong had also known the Cornwalls before they left Phnom Penh.

Tim and Barbara Freiberg of Wycliffe befriended Todd and oriented him to life in Phnom Penh during the last days. Upon arriving Todd began to plan a crusade in the Olympic Stadium and on the last day of his seven-day visa, his visa was not only extended, but he was given permission to use the Olympic Stadium free of charge. Todd was counting on a traveling music group from the states called the Luminaries to perform in the stadium for the crusade on September 28 to 30th of 1973. The director of the Cambodian Bible Society, Son Sonne, a gifted Bible Scholar, helped to supply gospel literature and tracts for the crusade.

During the 3 day crusade, which was attended by approximately 5000 people, cases of healings were reported, and Todd invited those people up on stage to test the validity of the miracle in much the same way Mike Evans would do in the same stadium twenty years later in 1994, almost to the month. Todd Burke reported that after the first night of the crusade, the Luminaries appeared on television and that President Lon Nol called following the session to say how touched he was by the Luminaries message and music.

Kuch Kong and another believer Sam Oeurn had suggested to Todd that if he wanted to reach people easily, he should open some English classes, mentioning that those classes would have an American teaching them. Eventually because of their evangelistic Bible studies, there were enough believers coming to start what they would call the Maranantha Church. Later, Kuch Kong would start the Solomon Church at the home of Ngeth Maren, and leave it to Pastor Dana, while Kong left to begin a work in Pailin for Todd Burke.  Solomon Church was resurrected in the late 80’s under Ngeth Maren, Mrs. Ngeth Sambo, and Sambo’s husband, Mr. Op Sokhom. Small groups of believers meeting together sprouted up in Battambang as some of Todd’s converts relocated there, and Sam Oeurn took over the work there. Today Solomon church is pastored by Moses, the son of Ngeth Maren.

According to Anointed for Burial, Maranantha Church started to outgrow itself and the Burkes negotiated to buy a large building for a Bible school which got going shortly after.  Months later, approaching the fall of Phnom Penh, the Burkes booked a flight out of Phnom Penh on March 29th, 1975. Pastor Kuch Kong escaped hours before the Khmer Rouge took over Pailin. He crossed over the border into Thailand which was a short distance from Pailin, but many Cambodian Christians died in the first few months of the communist takeover and even more would perish over the next four years.

Many people ask what Todd Burke is doing today so I asked a missionary who knows Todd personally.  I was told:

“There were miracles that took place under his ministry. Many came to Christ including Radha Manickam and Sophal Ung.  Todd left in 1975, a couple of weeks before the fall of Cambodia.  He started a mission called “New Covenant Commission”.  Two of the leaders in NCC later went on to have prominent roles in the Vineyard movement and help establish Global Network in Cambodia in 1991.

New Covenant Commission folded in 1988 or 1989 after some serious financial problems and mismanagement. Todd was never associated with Vineyard.

Todd was already going “off”, getting involved in business and using his position in the mission to promote his business, particularly among the Cambodians in the US.  He left his family sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s.  One of his sons was killed in a gun accident during that time. It was at the funeral that he told his wife DeAnn that he wasn’t coming back.

Todd is not leading a new age cult as some have said, but is heavily involved in the new age movement.  He said “Jesus was just a stepping stone to greater things”.  His wife DeAnn is remarried and living in the Midwest. I haven’t talked to heard or her from her in over ten years.”[7]

World Vision opened a field office in Phnom Penh and Pastor Yorng Soth’s three-year course of study at Takhmau Bible College is interrupted by the war three months before he is due to receive a certificate. C&MA planned to offer a four-year bachelors program the following year but the Khmer Rouge prevented that from happening.

The Paris Peace agreement was signed and the First American POW was returned. In August mid-August, US Congress halted all bombing of Cambodia.


In the Chau Doc area of Kampuchea Krom, Rev. Paul Ellison and Pastor Seang Ang encounters a group of Cambodian refugees who had fled from the communist controlled areas of southeastern Cambodia, while looking for a back-slidden Christian.  Pastor Seang Ang and Paul Ellison returned at 2 pm, and Seang Ang preached once, turned it over to Rev. Ellison, and as Ellison was finishing, he said that he would speak again, for he could sense the faith of these people, and after he preached, over 100 came to Christ. The two were able to return a number of times before Cambodia fell to the communists. Paul found out later that no fewer than eight of those who came to Christ in Chau Doc had grandparents who became Christians in Takeo.

Evangelist Ravi Zacharias was appreciated by both nationals and missionaries during 1974 and his ministry along with that of the Stan Mooneyham crusades, gave more credibility to Christianity in Cambodia. Not only did 600 Cambodians commit to following Jesus, but churches caught new energy from the young, dynamic, and anointed, Ravi Zacharias.

In March 1974, OMF’s Alice Compain and Andrew Way arrived in Cambodia and in May, Rose Ellen Chancey (Blosser) arrives, followed by Don Cormack and Andrew Butler in December. Mam Barnabas was Andrew Way’s first Cambodian friend and interpreter and Barnabas how remembers that Philip Scott’s (Director of YWAM Stung Treng since 1991) father, Isaac, helped the OMF people make the overland trip into Cambodia from Thailand and helped them out when it was time to be evacuated.

Alice Compain is invited to teach by the Khmer Evangelical Church (C&MA) at the Takhmau Bible School. She taught originally in French as Christian leader San Hay Seng was going back to the Philippines to finish his studies, which were interrupted in 1965. San Hay Seng was son of an idol maker in Kompong Chamhas been a student at Takhmau Bible school and became its director in 1965 when all the American C&MA missionaries had to leave during Prince Sihanouk’s disenchantment the United States. He continued faithfully to keep the school going along with help from French Alliance missionary George Fune from Vietnam. Then in 1974 he returned to Zamboanga, Philippines, to continue his training. From there he went to La Mirada, California, and joined the FEBC American team.

In Phnom Penh, Andrew Way sets up the OMF Youth Centre and other OMF personnel followed after, like Rose-Ellen Chancey, Andrew Butler, and Don Cormack joined him in teaching evangelistic Bible studie. Such young people like Yos Molly, Yorng Setha, and Yos Sokun committed their lives to following Jesus under the ministry of the OMF Youth Centre studying English Bible with Rose Ellen Chancey, Ruth Patterson, and Andrew Butler.  Eventually their whole families becomes believers.

Rose Ellen Chancey[8] recalls “I hadn’t been in Phnom Penh for an hour before I found myself teaching a Bible study in English, reaching Bible-hungry Cambodian young people. I couldn’t believe it.”[9]

By the summer of 1974, Mr. Son Sonne had planted five churches, and was beginning a sixth in the home of a new believer near his own neighborhood. During this time, there was a literal evangelism explosion resulting in more new follows of Jesus than the church had the capacity to nurture.

As the fighting grew closer to Phnom Penh, the many wounded and amputees over the last five years filled the hospitals. Of course, in a war, there were a shortage of crutches and wheelchairs. Christians reaching out to these victims of war in the hospitals were quite successful.  There was actually a church called the “Wheelchair” or the “Amputee Church.” Some Christians had been bringing amputees to church but getting them there was a huge logistical problem so two Christians approached Andrew Bishop, administrator of the new National Pediatric Hospital. Andrew, whose house was close by, offered them the use of his house for their amputees.  He and some other missionaries took a collection in order purchase what was needed to get the amputees to his house, which held about forty amputees who began to meet there for church. Andrew was able to obtain some crutches for some of the amputees, who received them with joy. Andrew saw to it that they learned how to use the crutches which transformed their lives even more, as they could now function rather than sitting around helplessly. Soon the amputees began to run their own service, preaching and teaching.

Jean Lockerbie, in her book, When the Blood Flows, the Heart Grows Softer, quotes C&MA missionary Gene Hall during that time concerning church growth and the odd places where Christians were gathering; “These people haven’t studied principles of church growth, they have not been privileged to attend Dr. McGraven’s School of World Mission (Fuller Seminary).” Yet church growth was phenomenal.

As mentioned before in Molly Yos’s story, there was a church they called “Noah’s Ark Church.” A brand new believer, Mr. Thay Thong had difficulty finding a place to sit in church so with Christians meeting in all sorts of places, it dawned on him that his old scuttled house boat might be an option. The old boat did actually resemble what some might imagine being Noah’ Ark.  The first service was attended by over 30 adults and 200 children, and they continued to meet there until the communist takeover.

During the Christmas of 1974, Merle Graven and the KEC organized special programs at the Olympic Stadium on the 24 and 25th of December. Sixteen churches set up booths depicting various Bible stories from Genesis to Revelation. Upwards of 8,000 may have attended including the mayor of Phnom Penh.[10]

Arun Sok Nhep

Arun’s Father became a soldier for Lon Nol’s Republic and was transferred back to Phnom Penh. Arun went to school in Phnom Penh, but as fighting intensified he was unable to complete his final year of high school. In early 1974, at the age of 17, he enrolled in a private college and also enlisted in Lon Nol’s Republic as an office clerk in the capital. He needed some spending money.

A few years back, Arun’s younger brother was led to Christ by a neighbor and brought his parents to Bethel Church where they both became believers. Arun was disgusted by the whole idea of Cambodians depending on a western religion, especially a religion that came with American endorsements.  Arun, having lived in the northeast provinces knew first hand of what it was like to flee for his life from B-52 carpet bombing. By the time the roar of the engines was heard overhead it was too late, it meant that thousand pound bombs were just about to impact the earth. Nixon not only secretly bombed that area in late ’69, but sent American troops into a sovereign Cambodia to root out NVA sanctuaries, which he knew was against international law. Arun Sok Nhep wanted nothing to do with a religion that led people to wreak such havoc and destruction. So needless to say, he was rather antagonistic toward his parents’ new found faith. While he was fuming over his parents and brother betraying their national religion, his friend was killed by a Khmer Rouge bullet on the day before Christmas. Only 24 hours before, Arun and his friend were laughing and carrying on together. This disturbed Arun and he began thinking about just how fragile life was. One night while he was in charge of guarding his office, he picked up his father’s Bible which he brought along, and started to read the book of Genesis. He read chapters 1-4 and got bogged down in the genealogies in chapter 5. But from what he read about God creating people and the world, he somehow knew he had found truth like he had never known before.  The next night while at home, he jumped into the New Testament and read the book of John and it was just as powerful, reinforcing the fact that the God who created people, loved people as well, enough to sacrifice His only Son to save them from their sins. A few days later there was a prayer meeting in his home and he asked Pastor Nou Yonn to pray for him and the pastor helped lead Arun to receive Christ as his Lord and Savior. In the few short months before the communist takeover, Arun grew to respect and love this pastor. He felt clearly that this pastor was a real man of God. He was very soft spoken and tender hearted. Arun understood that Pastor Nou Yonn had the spiritual gift of shepherding.

Arun soon began to attend Bethel Church, then located on Kampuchea Krom Road, and was very impressed that the youth group gave him such a warm welcome. He remembered his short time at Bethel very fondly and counts it as foundational for his Christian growth. He remembers Taing Vek Houng, the younger brother of the martyred Cambodian Church leader, Taing Chhirc, coming to run Bible quiz programs after Vek Houng finished some of his studies in the Philippines.  He was also very impressed as he attended his first Christian funeral. One of the elders in Bethel had passed away and during the funeral service, the family was not distraught but seemed to have an assurance that they would certainly see their loved one again. They had hope and not despair, and this would stay with Arun forever as a part of his early spiritual formation.

Alice Compain, who would work closely with Arun Sok Nhep in the future, remembered that in 1974, there were only 12 active pastors, though many more had been trained at the Takhmau Bible School. “The entire class I taught there from 1974-75 perished during the Khmer Rouge period, apart from Nhem Sokun, who died not long after reaching the states. Yet as I look around today, I see quite a few church lead­ers who were Christians before 1975, truly preserved by God’s grace.

Nevertheless, the majority of the leadership today had only become Christians since 1990, and this is true of virtually all lay pastors in the coun­try churches. They therefore have few mod­els to follow, which shows up in the way they organize their church groups like associations or societies with elected com­mittees.”

Pastor Seang Ang continued to evangelize in Vietnam from the time that Paul Ellison took him there. His son lived with Jean Clavaud and his family in Phnom Penh so that he could attend school in the city.

Pastor Yorng Soth Remembered the Logos ship, a part of Operation Mobilization, docking at the port in Sihanoukville for two weeks.  Teams were sent to do youth programs in Phnom Penh and hand out massive amounts of literature (Duolos docked in Sihanoukeville in of September 2006).

The C&MA estimated there were 10,000 Christians in PP at the close of ‘74, including 1,000 Christian refugees. The OMF Youth Centre was up and running, and ministering to many people. Many good things were happening prior to fall of Phnom Penh. Ravi Zacherias conducted a crusade in Battambang.  About 1,000 curious Cambodian people showed up to hear him. According to Pastor Yorng Soth, Ravi also held a crusade at Moha Srap Chatamouk in Phnom Penh where he played Amazing Grace on the accordion.

T.E.E.[11] began in Cambodia in December of this 1994, and Khmer Evangelical Church has its Christmas Pageant in the Olympic Stadium.

World Vision’s National Pediatric Hospital was nearly completed and Don Cormack arrives in December 1974, less than three months before OMF and C&MA missionaries leave Phnom Penh.

In 1970, in response to the appeal of Prince Sihanouk to Cambodians to join the war against the Lon Nol Republic, Hun Sen at the age of 18 joined the revolutionary movement, which liberated the country on April 17, 1975. Hun Sen was born on August 5, 1952 in Kampong Cham Province. When he completed his primary schooling in 1965, Hun Sen left for Phnom Penh to enroll in Lycée Indra Devi High School. During that time he stayed at the Neakavoan Pagoda.

On February 23rd, 1975, Dr. Nathan Bailey, President of the C&MA, sent word to all the C&MA missionaries in Cambodia that they had to evacuate the country as the Khmer Rouge had tight stranglehold on the city of Phnom Penh.  Other evangelical Christian organizations such as World Vision, OMF, Wycliffe, and Bible Literature International were preparing their foreign staff for evacuation as well.

One day before the Khmer Rouge Forces converged on Phnom Penh and overtook the city, on April 16, 1975, Hun Sen was wounded in the left eye. After months of recovery he married Bun Rany, and continued to serve the Khmer Rouge. But in 1977, after hearing about various purges, he left his family again and fled to Vietnam where he mobilized other former Khmer Rouge cadre fleeing to avoid purges, to start a movement aimed at liberating Cambodia from the Pol Pot’s murderous grasp. In 1978, Hun Sen became a founding member of the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK) which planned the overthrow of Pol Pot in collaboration with the Vietnamese. On January 7, 1979, the UFNSK backed by Vietnamese troops, liberated Cambodia and its people as it reached Phnom Penh, from the regime of Democratic Kampuchea.

Communist Spy Uncovers the Good News of the Kingdom

Barnabas Mam was born to a Buddhist family on [M2] January 1, 1950, in the village of the Stone Bridge (Spean Tmau), Kandal Stung District, Kandal Province.  His father was a well-known achaa [M3] (a Buddhist master of ceremonies) and a traditional healer. Barnabas became a ‘traditional healer’ successor at the age of 7.

After junior high school, Barnabas moved to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, and lived in a Buddhist temple under the guardianship of his uncle, a senior monk there.  Barnabas became a pagoda boy and Buddhist [M4] Master of Ceremonies at the age of 18.

In 1970, Barnabas joined the communist revolution in Cambodia. In April of 1972, the year Barnabas graduated from high school, he came to spy on a three-day crusade in Phnom Penh where 3,000 people attended each meeting and at least 6,000 were turned away because of lack of seating capacity. 600 professed faith in Christ during that crusade. The Spirit of God touched him as he heard the message of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 preached by  Dr. Stanley Mooneyham of World Vision International who began his sermon by taking off his watch and asking the audience if all the intricate parts somehow flew together randomly and a watch just happened to be the by product. They agreed it couldn’t happen and Mooneyham went on compare the watch with the Universe and told them about a creator God who created Cambodians and loved them. From there he segued into Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. Barnabas prayed a sinner’s prayer to receive Christ. A young Buddhist master of ceremonies and committed communist spy acknowledged that he was a child of God.

Barnabas decided to follow Jesus and attended Bethany Church near the pagoda where he lived. Bethany church was run by a group of elders who were highly-educated professionals and appealed to a more educated class of Cambodians. The uncle who brought him up was very disappointed and decided not to give him food to eat to make him stop going to church.  Barnabas experienced the cost of following Jesus from the very beginning of his Christian life.  His parents were also very angry with him, for they feared they would lose a Buddhist son and successor of his father’s traditional healing craft.  But since they noticed a big change in Barnabas’ life when he became a Christian, they no longer counted it a big loss to the family. However, Barnabas’ fellow communist activists counted him a traitor!

In 1973, Barnabas began his work with World Vision during Lon Nol’s [M5] Republic. He got his foot in the door through his friendship with Minh Thien Voan, acting country director. Minh Thien Voan taught him English through the book of John. Barnabas had already gone through the British “Essential English” by the time he finished high school. He came on staff together with a friend from Bethany, Ngeth Saman. Barnabas began as a cleaner, was transferred to the relief department, and then was promoted to accounting. Voan hired a special tutor for the WV staff with the most potential and Barnabas was one of six selected to learn English through the American program, “Practice for English.” Their teacher was an American-trained Cambodian named Chap You.  Through this program, Barnabas became especially interested in the American Revolutionary War.

Barnabas continued his English studies with C&MA missionary Ruth Patterson, who was a great encouragement to him.  From 1973 to 1974, the C&MA nursing school supplied teachers for World Vision clinics, and so Ruth invited Barnabas to study nursing in order to further his English skills. Ruth suggested that Barnabas read through the Psalms in English for six months. He read one Psalm per day, the same one in the morning and the evening for six months. He also began to attend the International Christian Church led by C&MA missionaries Norman Ens, Gene Hall and Chinese missionary John Kwang. Barnabas says that John Kwang was very instrumental as a role model for him in learning how to lead worship.

Another role model in the formation of Barnabas’ leadership skills was San Sonne, originally from Kampuchea Krom, a fiery evangelist and director of the Cambodian Bible Society. Barnabas, very desirous of a Bible but lacking the means, worked out a deal with San Sonne, offering his service as a porter until he could earn enough money to buy one. He carried San Sonne’s Bible and parchments as he traveled from place to place. San Sonne was able to impart some of his hermeneutical skills to Barnabas during the time they spent together.

In April of 1974, as we know from a previous section, Barnabas risked his life driving back through intense fighting and artillery while, teaching at the Takhmau Bible College. He arrived in Phnom Penh in time to say goodbye to his close friends, Chhirc Taing, and Minh Thien Voan who were martyred during the following days for the faith, in Kean Svay.

On April 17, 1975 along with close to three million inhabitants of Phnom Penh, Barnabas was evacuated to the countryside. He soon was arrested by the Khmer Rouge authorities in Kamchai Mear District, Prey Veng Province, and charged with being a servant dog of American imperialists, a son of a rich family, and a counter-reactionary Christian.  He was put into a reeducation camp where he was brainwashed and forced to do hard labor for almost a year and a half.  Every time he left his cell to be interrogated, he sang, “When the Roll is Called up Yonder,” on the way. He learned how to really praise and worship God while he was in prison.

Barnabas was transferred to Svay Dong Keo, located on the border of Battambang and Pursat Provinces near a place called Sovereignty Mountain (Phnom Tapadey). This was an extremely dangerous area. It was the northwest zone or “peayawp”, close to the Thai border where all the Khmer Rouge gathered for one last massacre of innocent Cambodians before the Vietnamese chased them over the border.

Barnabas was a personal assistant to the Khmer Rouge Commander in that sub-zone and they became close.  An order was handed down to the commander for him to kill all three hundred of the relocated Cambodians, including Barnabas. He told Barnabas that a fish cannot swim without water, meaning that he cannot live without other people, and that the Khmer Rouge were going to kill nearly all the people in Cambodia and thus destroy it, so he arranged for them all to escape before his leaders knew what they were up to. He and Barnabas were like Moses and Aaron, leading the three hundred Cambodians away from the injustice and oppression of the Egyptians.  They fled to the Tonle Sap Lake where they stayed in that general area for a month but they knew the Khmer Rouge were looking for them. At the end of that month, the Vietnamese tide rolled in. Traveling back to Phnom Penh during the ‘liberation,’ the three hundred bedraggled survivors witnessed the death of many Khmer Rouge cadres in retaliation from those they had oppressed.  Former Khmer Rouge cadre were clubbed and bludgeoned to death in the same way they had killed others. Barnabas and his group protected the Khmer Rouge leaders that saved their lives and when they arrived in Phnom Penh, Barnabas organized the group to sign a petition that he presented to the government in order to spare the life of their Khmer Rouge savior. The petition was granted. The KR leader stayed with Pastor Ban at the Stone Bridge area in Kandal Stung.

From 1979 to 1985, Barnabas served as one of underground church leaders in Phnom Penh.  He wrote songs of praise and worship and produced Cambodian music to broadcast from the Philippines to Cambodia over FEBC’s “The Voice of Love.”  There were many close calls passing those cassettes to expatriate Christians who worked for non-government organizations during that time

In January 1985, Barnabas fled to Thailand with his wife.  While crossing the sea, he was arrested by the Vietnamese Marines, but again God miraculously released him from their hands.  It happened three times, but again and again, God intervened on time.

In September 1985, Thai police arrested the Mams. From the police station, they were transferred to barbed wire cages in three consecutive holding centers (or prisons) where they met some other illegal immigrants who were held in isolation from the rest of the world.  God showed his unmatched mercy and loving care for all arrested immigrants by sending Christians to visit Barnabas in prison, bringing food for him to share with his fellow prisoners.  As the prisoners heard the Mams praise God and share His Word, many of them repented and prayed to receive Christ.

In November 1985, the Mams arrived at Site 2, the biggest refugee camp in Thailand, where they stayed for eight years, together with another 169,000 Cambodian refugees.  He planted a church there at Site 2. For years, in spite of hardship, deprivation and deadly shelling, he continued to pastor a Cambodian church and co-pastor a Vietnamese church.  Strengthened by Christ, he never stopped writing and producing music for the body of Christ.  He translated eight of thirteen episodes of the Khmer Picture Bible.  He met some YWAM friends there who helped him to preach the gospel with the power of the Holy Spirit.  He joined Campus Crusade for Christ for two years.  The Lord added 14 more churches to his pastoral care in the camp.  Barnabas trained 53 church leaders in the School of Workers in the camp.

In March of 1993, the Mam family repatriated to Cambodia and have lived in Phnom Penh ever since.  God linked Barnabas with Paulerk Sar to teach local pastors and church leaders who had not had the opportunity to attend long-term training at any formal Bible School.  They organized seminars for church leaders in Phnom Penh as well as in the countryside to equip them for fruitful ministry.  The School of Practical Ministries Cambodia (SPMC) was established and 50[M6] to 100 church leaders have attended each SPMC seminar.

Although Barnabas and Paulerk no longer minister together, Barnabas still does the work of two people: he continues to write, translate, and produce music and discipleship/leadership training materials (books, gospel audiotapes, videotapes) for the house of the Lord.  Barnabas is founder of Encouragement Resource Ministries, founder and director of the School of Practical Ministries Cambodia and pastor of Living Hope in Christ Church (a local association of 18 indigenous churches in Cambodia).  In addition, he served as vice chairman of the executive committee of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia for two terms and continues to serve as a board member. Barnabas had been active on the board of World Vision’s Training of Timothys and most recently was asked to serve as an official advisor to the country director of World Vision Cambodia. Barnabas travels extensively around the world to meet with churches and Christian organizations who have interest in Cambodia or who want to learn more about the history of the Cambodian church.  He also has been the opening, keynote, and closing speaker [M7] for ten out of eleven EFC-KEY[12] National Youth Leaders’ Conferences.  Finally, he has taught classes at Fuller Seminary as a guest lecturer and is now with Ambassadors for Christ.

Barnabas is one of the more mature and influential Christian leaders in the country. The national church and Christians interested in Cambodia can be grateful for Barnabas’ past, present, and future contribution to the growth, unity and maturity of the church.


Alliance Biblique Francaise, Article; Translation of the Bible. Paris France.

Christianity Today, Article on World Vision in Cambodia. March 14th 1975.

Burke, Todd and DeAnn. Anointed for Burial. Logos International. Plainfield, NJ. 1976.

Lockerbie, Jeanette, When Blood Flows, the Heart Grows Softer. Tyndale Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. 1976.

Mam Barnabas, Personal Interview, Swang Dara Restaurant, Toul Kork, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 2004.

Penfold, Helen. Remember Cambodia. OMF Books. Kent, UK. 1979

Sok Nhep Arun, Personal Interview, Goldianna Hotel, Phnom Penh. 2004,

Written by: Cambodianchristian.Com

Filed Under: Book, Chapter 7, Cry of the Gecko - By Brian Maher

Trackback URL: http://www.cambodianchristian.com/article/wp-trackback.php?p=319