February 24, 2010

The X-Patriate Files – Chapter 13

Cry of the Gecko

Chapter Thirteen                               The X-Patriate Files


The Kerrs, long time attendees of the ICF (International Christian Fellowship), formerly known at the ECF (Ecumenical Christian Fellowship) happened to have had a good relationship with one of earliest members of the EFC. Ms. Onesta Carpene came to Cambodia in 1980. Onesta, an Italian Catholic woman says that the first regular gathering of foreign Christians was in Cambodia since the liberation of Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge began to happen in early 1980. In the beginning, this group consisted of about 12-15 regulars. These expatriates were from World Vision, CIDSE, Church World Service, and World Council of Churches. At that time, teams were so small that there was usually only one or two expats representing their organization. There were no official leaders and they first began to meet in the Church World Service Office in the Samaki Hotel (now the Hotel Le Royal). No official permission by the government to meet was requested in the early years but the government knew about it, and seemingly had no problem as long as they kept it quiet, foreign, and semi-private. Everyone took turns each week preparing the group for the worship service. Visiting pastors or priests would always be invited to lead worship and communion. Communion was held on a monthly basis as it now is at ICF.

In 1988, says Jane Traninger, was the time when most foreigners were lodged in the Hotel Samaki, as the Le Royal Hotel was named during the Communist era.  Although left to deteriorate during the Pol Pot years, it still stood as a reminder of French colonial days.  Christians used to meet there every Sunday evening in the LWS (Lutheran World Service) office.  Catholics, High church, Low Church, Free Church, we were all “just ordinary Christians” without an official minister or leader.  It was the interdenominational character of the group which thrilled me most. Pastors passing through would often be asked to baptize a baby.  By late 1990, priests, ministers and pastors came to work full time in Cambodia, each shepherding their own sheep. That special era of one sheepfold for all expat Christians in Cambodia was over.

Helen said that ECF when she arrived in 1989, was made up of Christian professionals doing secular relief and development work who simply found themselves in the minority and wanted to worship together.  It reminded her quite a lot of the early church in the book of Acts.  Although there were about 3000 Russians in the expat community, there were less than 100 expatriates from other countries. Twenty-five percent of the hundred were ECF attendees.

In 1989, there was a Catholic priest by the name of Father Tom, who was very enthusiastic about the EFC (Ecumenical Christian Fellowship) during that time. Joel, an evangelical with a Christian NGO commented: “In 1990, when our family came, the service didn’t have a name yet and it was held only on Sunday evening. I was at the leadership council meeting when the ECF name was adopted and that was some time in 1991.” The Catholic believers were already attending mass on Saturday night but many Catholics still made an effort to make it to the ECF on Sunday afternoons.

Helen Kerr remembers one of the most significant events of the ECF was in 1989, when a day of prayer for when the 100,000 or so Vietnamese occupational forces pulled out of Cambodia. Many were worried that the PRK could not stand up to Khmer Rouge alone. The ECF sponsored a full day of prayer with people rotating in and out by the hour to pray that Cambodia would hold it’s own against the Khmer Rouge.

In April of 1989, the government proclaimed an “open market” policy and the PRK was changed to the SOC, State of Cambodia. Cambodians could now speak to foreigners but in October of 1989, organizations had to register with the government if they planned to have contact with the Christian church. Some organizations were hesitant.  Jane Traninger, formerly of the World Council of Churches did have quite a bit of contact with the underground church since 1988 but was miraculously never turned in.

On Easter Sunday of 1990, ECF had 60 instead of their usual 25 gathered to worship the risen Savior on the rooftop of the Monorom Hotel. They had a sunrise service and a meal together afterwards. The service leader led the believers in a responsive reading that required the response of, “HE is Risen,” and the congregants answered tepidly. The service leader urged them to put their hearts into and they all couldn’t believe they were shouting, “Christ is Risen” at the top of lungs on a hotel roof in a restricted communist country. On this occasion and at normal ICF service back in those days, bulletins, scripture readings, and song sheets were copied in Spanish, English and French. Helen recalls all the hotel staff standing at various doors listening to the service with great interest.

Helen remembers that there was little contact with the outside world. One of the only fax machines in the country was at the Cambodianna Hotel. She tells how ECF attendees, Jonathon Clemmens and his wife, Ruth Keidel were expecting a baby in 1990, and how Ruth flew out to Saigon, then to Bangkok where she stayed at the Bangkok Christian Guest House.  A week later someone found a fax buried in the pile that told of Ruth’s delivery the day she arrived in Bangkok. The person congratulated John on his new baby and he said:  “You must be mistaken. I haven’t yet received word from my wife that we had a baby!” The person who saw the fax told Jonathon to get over to the Cambodianna and check the fax pile and sure enough, his wife had a baby but he found out a week later to the day.

In 1989, most western people lived in the Samaki Hotel, the White Hotel or the Monorom. Only in 1990, one could rent your own house. It was at that time that the ICF was meeting in the office of Church World Service in the Samaki Hotel. Joel remembers the whole make-up of the international community was extremely different in 1990 than from what it is today and Christian organizations were mainly represented by MCC, LWS, ACR, CWS, AFSC, with WV being seen as the more radical Christian NGO of the bunch. He also remembers meeting in the cramped Church World Service office where 20-30 people were jammed in and the speaker or service leader sat in a chair just inside the bathroom door.  Prior to, and during 1990, the predecessor to the ICF was rather ecumenical, and Joel remembers somebody giving a ‘meditation’ on Ghandi and this made some of the more conservative evangelicals at the ECF uncomfortable, and hence some moved on from there at that time.

The process of selecting speakers and service leaders for the ECF in those early days (1990) was rather interesting. What happened was that half of the attendees put their names in a hat. The name picked was that person’s partner to lead a future service.   The service varied from week to week according to the how comfortable the pair was to do certain things.  Sometimes there was just singing and scripture reading, or a more formal liturgy. At other times there was some sharing, teaching or preaching.  The French separated themselves early on but other nationalities found at the ICF were Cuban, Spanish, American, Japanese, German, Scottish, British, Belgian, French, Finnish, Irish, Filipino, Indian and Nepalese. The Spanish, Russian and French speaking Catholics were just a much smaller percentage of the international community, and some have suggested that they may no longer have felt comfortable at ECF as more English speaking believers began to fill up the service.

Toward the end of 1990, the ECF made their first move in 10 years. Christian Outreach became the new place where ECF met but soon became too crowded, and they then moved into the Phnom Penh Bible School on Street 174 in 1991. In February of 1992, the author remembers attending International Church at the PPBS with Kreg Mallow officiating communion. In July of 1991, Mother Teresa spoke at the ECF while she was here. Mother Theresa visited Phnom Penh Twice in the early nineties. By mid-1991, a lot of the Catholic believers in ECF had departed due to a non-Catholic speaker making as statement about Catholics which was misinterpreted. As the numbers of Catholics had been dwindling for some time prior to that, the Protestants serving on ECF committee invited Mother Teresa to speak, and kept inviting the Catholic brothers and sisters to come, as well as extending invitations for the priests to speak on numerous occasions.  Joel adds; “At about this same time, Catholic priests had begun offering mass in their home, and by then a majority of the ECF were evangelicals.” It seemed as though as more foreigners arrived, they went to worship where they most comfortable.  Joel pointed out; “The same thing happened in Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok, and Hanoi;  When there gets to be enough of one particular type of believer, whether Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, Catholic, Conservative Baptist, or whomever, they start having their own services.”

In 1991, ECF set up a council and people rotated in and out very quickly. Many had to move on due to their contracts expiring. The expatriates in the early 90’s were still, as a majority, short-term people.  The International School of Phnom Penh surveyed families around 1992 on how long they expected to be in country. The average response was about 18 months. Also, during 1991, ECF began to see a large amount of children accompany their parents to church and they felt the need to provide some sort of a Sunday school program. From the Phnom Penh Bible School, they moved to Global Network which, according to Helen was crowded, noisy and dusty…and on the top floor, maybe the fifth, it was a real hike!  The room was very wide but not very deep so the speaker had to rotate his head from left to right in order to make eye contact with the people. Many were glad to move to the ISPP north campus in 1993.

Joel told us, “The first title that the committee of this early group of believers gave the church service in 1991 was, ‘The Ecumenical Christian Fellowship.’ But by 1992 or so, the increase in the numbers of evangelicals and evangelical missionaries greatly outnumbered the mainline Protestants and the Catholics. Joel is not sure when the ECF changed its name to the International Christian Fellowship but it must have been somewhere around late 1992 or early 1993.

Mary Westergren, who arrived with her husband Steve and son Eric, in January of 1990, adds remembers Harvey and Becky Matchullis arriving in Phnom Penh in August 1993, along with their three children, Ryan, Rachel and Bethany. This was a real “leap of faith” for the ICF, as there was not sufficient support for a pastor and family at the time, but certainly a need for a shepherd.  Harvey and Becky continued to be supported financially by the C&MA throughout their two years here in Cambodia.

Harvey recalled that a typical Sunday attendance at the ICF in those years, 1993-1995, was about 100, with a high attendance of 140 or so. “We met in the auditorium of ISPP. I recall teaching many Sunday school classes in those early years in less than ideal classrooms. Becky had a passion for children’s ministries, so that was a priority of the ICF.”

Mary asked Harvey what some of the highlights were for him during his days with the ICF. He recalls the prayer support of the ICF during the time that FHI’s Melissa Himes was taken hostage by the Khmer Rouge in March of 1994 in Kampot province. He also mentioned the cooperative spirit in working with the other denominational churches, especially in sharing in combined Christmas and Easter services.

Further developments in the ICF in those years, according to Harvey were “putting together the initial constitution and leadership structure for ICF. I believe those early years established the identity and viability of the ICF as a long term ministry to the international community.”

Agnes and Jim Verner, serving with SAO since 1993, remember when Harvey and Becky Matchullis arrived as the first resident pastors of ICF, SAO provided a place to stay until the pastor and his family found suitable accommodation. Also, Jim Verner counted it an honor to be asked to join Maurice Bauhahn, Anne Greve and Alan Haslett in drafting ICF’s first constitution.

The Verners loved the early days when NGOs were invited to lead and preach on designated Sunday evenings. “We were a small group back then and everyone felt so much part of, and responsible for, a close-knit family circle. We always appreciated the Copples who seemed to carry much of the burden to keep things going, as later also did Sherry Lyle and others.”

One might point out that the weekly church service among the expats here in Cambodia had started in the early ‘80s, so it had been long term already but was not so structured because of the restricted context.  Into the early 90’s, Winston Ussher, an MAF pilot was fond of calling the ICF a ‘loose fellowship’ during those days. There was a tension among the members as to whether to keep ICF a ‘loose fellowship’ where stressed and busy people could come and crash, and get their boost of God’s Word for the week to keep them going without having ‘to do anything,’ or make the ICF a more institutional structure.

Steve Westergren comments; “Who would have thought that a little group of expats, meeting for prayer and fellowship and worship, would one day look like the ICF? It is absolutely amazing that the ICF has grown from a handful of people, to two services with two full time pastors and many part time staff.

We are very grateful for the ICF. When we came to Cambodia as church planters we did not envision our involvement in an English speaking, largely expatriate fellowship as a possibility. We applaud the ICF body for continually seeking for ways to keep an afternoon fellowship alive. Our four children have grown up in the ICF. How thankful we are for this blessing to our family.”

Jim and Lyndi Schmick arrived in Cambodia in September of 1993 and left in January 1996.  “While this seems like so long ago, and for such a short time, it still was a special time in our lives. I knew many of the members of ICF from having worked in the border camps in Thailand, so I found the security of long time friends, which was very important to us as we began our married life in a new country.  After a long and sometimes stressful week, I always looked forward to Sunday night at the ICF. Another thing that I really enjoyed at the ICF was the opportunity to worship with and become friends with people from so many different cultures.  Where else could you worship side by side with brothers and sisters from Ghana, Ireland, Austria and Australia?  This was truly a highlight of our time in Cambodia.”

“In 1993, I (Jane Traninger) returned to Cambodia at the time when the UN was in the country to oversee elections, and it was good to see the whole Ghana contingent at the ICF, which had grown and grown and moved to larger premises.  I was working out in the provinces and only attending the Sunday services in Phnom Penh every two months or so.  This meant that for me ICF was a very special time of fellowship with a large number of Christians.  I could enjoy singing led by groups of musicians and groups of singers, and special prayer time, and hear a good message to take with me back into the province.”

Those who have been around for a while remember some of the members of what we now call the ICF at that time being the Copples, Westergrens, Graylings, Miriam Fryys, Bernadette Glissen, Onesta Caparene, Maurice and Sue Bauhanm, Jane Traninger, Leike,  Diny van  Bruggen, Jai Sanka Sarma, Alice Compain, Tom and Margie Morris and Margaret Slocum. Onesta Caparene one of the founding members of what is called the ICF today was former Director of Australia Catholic Relief, goes back the furthest.

In late 1995, Graham Chipps accepted the call to pastor the ICF after the Matchellus family felt the need to return to Canada. Graham is still pastoring and the ICF now has two services and many ministries, both to expats and Cambodians alike. Graham is an exceptional pastor, and has helped many individuals and groups reconcile their differences, as well as helping expatriate Christians become more effective and relevant in their ministries. Graham is looked up to and also well sought after by the Cambodian church leaders for his insight, wisdom and maturity.

Christian Witness in a Restricted Context: The Early Years

In 1985, Sally Rymer, before she was Sally Shaw, took [M1] a discipleship training course with YWAM in England.  Just after this, while watching the film “The Killing Fields”, Sally felt a very clear calling to share God’s love with Cambodians.  Within two months she was working with YWAM as a midwife in Site 2, north camp, on the Thai-Cambodian border.  This camp was under the control of the KPNLF, [M2] Khmer People’s National Liberation Front. This is the resistance force backed by the United States among other nations associated with Son Sanne, former minister in the Lon Nol Republic. KPNLF was also known as the “Free Khmer” or Khmae Serei.

Sally and the other YWAM workers traveled to the camp each day but were required to stay away on the weekends.  On work days they held Bible studies with their Cambodian workers, but only occasionally could they be involved in Sunday services.  However, Sally was able to have a part, along with Mr. Peter Davis, in the spiritual nurture and discipleship of Mr. Uon Seila, formerly program manager for World Vision Cambodia’s Training of Timothys and now director of the EFC Youth Commission.

Sally left her ministry to the Cambodians in the Thai refugee camps and studied Khmer language in London before coming to Cambodia to work with World Vision in July of 1988.  Because of the political tension as the war raged between the PRK, the Khmer Rouge, KPNLF, and FUNCINPEC, Sally and other expatriates from the camps were prohibited from even mentioning that they had served and lived among the Cambodian refugees in the Thai border camps.

Back in 1988, there were not many expatriates from Western countries, and all were required to live in either the Samaki Hotel (now Le Royale, the same name it had prior to 1975) or the Monorom Hotel.  Sally remembers many expatriates from World Vision, Oxfam, Unicef, Mennonite Central Committee, Church World Service, and Lutheran World Service. World Vision had around ten expatriates in 1988.  Among these were the country director of World Vision, Glenn Beckwith and his wife, Sue and Maurice Bauhahn, Luchie Pamaran, Dr. Sarah Davidson, Dr Dean and Esther Kroh, and Connie Van den Ende.

Life at the Samaki Hotel was very quiet except for some nights when there was gunfire in the nearby streets, and all had a sense of community.  Everyone was invited to a party whenever someone had a birthday.  Whenever there was a World Vision visitor coming from abroad, many of the World Vision expatriates would turn out to greet the newcomer at the airport. In those days it only took 10 minutes to get there! Mr. Bun Leng, the very first World Vision Cambodia employee, was Sally’s driver, and WVC’s second official staff person, Kheiv Sarath, now an ADP [M3] manager in the Kompong Speu operation, was the Ministry of Health person assigned to keep an eye on Sally. There were no World Vision national staff at that time, and at the end of 1990 when permission was granted to move out of the Samaki Hotel, World Vision was able to hire Khmer staff for the first time[M4] .

Among the first Cambodian staff was Mrs. Molly Yos. Sally remembers having meals with Molly, her sisters Yos Im Sithan and Yos Sokun, and their niece Ms. Mark Samart. Eventually Samart, Sokun, and Sithan’s daughter Ms. Chan Sitha, all became World Vision staff.  Meanwhile, Sally’s British friend Jane had met and married Molly’s brother Antipo while she was working in France with Cambodian refugees. Sally began her work with World Vision, replacing Sue Bauhahn, in the RINE program (Rehydration, Immunization, Nutrition and Education).  The first center was located at World Vision’s National Pediatric Hospital in Phnom Penh.  Sally later worked in RINE centers in Kompong Chhnang, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Kompong Tralach, Kompong Speu, Oudong, Kandal, Takeo and Kompot.  Sally always traveled with government staff to these outlying locations, and was able to have a Christian witness through personal relationships, genuine care and concern, prayer, handing out tracts, and personal evangelism.

During these visits Sally was supposed to stay in the government hotels but in many cases these were in disrepair.  Sally therefore had the unique opportunity of staying in the homes of local Cambodians.  By wearing Khmer clothing, eating Khmer food, and speaking Khmer, she was able to build lasting relationships with some of them. Although the country director at that time was hesitant about any sort of evangelism or distribution of Christian literature, Sally’s way of relating a Christian witness to people was one that the Lord really seemed to bless: one of humility and genuine concern for the people of Cambodia.

Verbal proclamation of the gospel was illegal in this Cambodian context where any religion other than Buddhism was practiced. During the early eighties, Dr. Fred Jeppe-Smit working at the National Pediatric Hospital with World Vision got into trouble for sharing his faith, and a Frenchman by the name of Jean Clavaud who worked for the World Council of Churches was actually expelled from Cambodia for sharing Christ with the Cambodian people[M5] , but Sally’s style of witness came in the form of praying for the sick.  When Sally was staying at the Oudong Hospital she would often pray with sick patients. Sally felt the need to be cautious but once Christianity was legalized it became much easier for Sally to give out Bibles and tracts, and to share her faith, than when Christianity was illegal.  But at the end of all her RINE training sessions, she would clearly explain the goals, history and identity of World Vision, which was undeniably a story of grace built upon the foundation of the gospel.  Sally would also carry gospel tracts produced by the C&MA, OMF and the Bible Society to hand out when the occasion presented itself.  Dr. Sour Kim An who today is a very faithful Christian woman who worked many years for World Vision, was a regular recipient of Sally’s stash of tracts.  She confessed to never taking much interest in them, passing them on to neighbors and friends instead. Who knows how many seeds were sown through that process? Dr. An worked for the Ministry of Health and she and Sally often traveled to the provinces together. They had a good friendship, and Sally was able to share her faith with Sour Kim An personally on a number of occasions.

Sally loved to wander around the New Market and Toul Tom Pong Market, making friends with the girls who sold their various wares in the market stalls. She built good relationships with many of them, shared her faith with them, and even attended some of their weddings.  Even today, after many years of living outside Cambodia, people recognize Sally as she frequents the stalls of Toul Tom Pong Market in Phnom Penh on return visits.  Sally tells of Yorng Setha (Bong Eang) selling flowers at the Olympic Market: Sue and Maurice Bauhahn [M6] would pass her letters and Christian literature to give to the believers in the underground church. Sue and Maurice introduced Sally to ‘the flower girl’ and Sally carried on the tradition of smuggling things through her.

As Sally says, it would be impossible to measure the spiritual impact or the extent of her Christian witness during the restricted years, but we do know that she played a vital part.  Sally was active in the encouragement of the underground church and planted countless seeds in the hearts of many who are Christians today because of her witness.

In December 1989, Dr Douglas Shaw came to Cambodia to work with World Vision. One year later he married Sally and they worked together until the end of 1992 before returning to Australia. Sally and Douglas Shaw returned to Cambodia in 2001 with their two children, Matthew and Christopher, and then adopted a Cambodian child who they named Polly, and continued to give their lives toward seeing the Kingdom of God expressed more clearly in Cambodia. They returned to Australia in 2006 and may someday yet return to Cambodia. Before leaving, Sally began a ministry to disabled Cambodians called Chrysalis, which is now a locally operated NGO.


Copple, Joel, ECF Documents, Phnom Penh 2004.

Email Correspondence with Jim Schmick, Jane Traninger, Harvey and Becky Matchellus,

Jim Verner, Mary and Steve Westergren, 2004

Interviews with Doug Shaw, Joel Copple, Sally Shaw, John and Helen Kerr, 2004.

Written by: Cambodianchristian.Com

Filed Under: Chapter 13, Cry of the Gecko - By Brian Maher

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