We’re really pleased to feature a guest post from Danny Webster on the blog today.
Danny is currently in Cambodia, along with Anita Mathias and Rich Wells, visiting communities being transformed by local churches in partnership with Tearfund. They’re blogging their insights and reflections from their daily experiences and interactions. If you haven’t been following their journey I highly recommend you take a look here.
In Cambodia the Church is the hope of the Community.
In 1975 when Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia he abolished religion along with education, culture and living in cities. I’m in Cambodia as part of a Tearfund bloggers’ trip. We’re visiting communities working with their partner, International Cooperation Cambodia (ICC), and seeing the difference church mobilisation can make to communities.
When Pol Pot declared it Year Zero he sought to obliterate every part of the nation’s history and culture and remove any allegiance except to the Angkor state. He wanted everyone to be equally poor, the population were forced from cities and put into forced agricultural labour programmes and housed apart from their families in dedicated shacks.
This morning, before visiting a couple more villages which are part of the ICC’s programme, we went to visit one of the largest killing fields which is now a large museum and memorial to the atrocities that took place.
We saw piles of bones, saw the graves which housed hundreds of children, saw the tree that babies were smashed against. We saw the tree from which the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot’s regime, hung loud speakers playing traditional music to drown out the screams of those executed.
It was horrific.
And we asked one another how it can be that man can do this to fellow man, Cambodian to Cambodian. What is it that provokes such extreme disregard for life?
And I have no answers.
But it does help me understand Cambodia a little better. The projects we’re visiting all revolve around churches envisioning and mobilising their communities to action. It’s based on a Swahili word, umoja, which means togetherness. Churches work with ICC, which provides training and support for the pastor and a volunteer facilitator, but the hard work comes from the communities. It’s their responsibility to work with church members and pull them together to work for the good of all. It’s their job to work with the community to see the needs that are most pressing, the dreams that are unrealised and the resources unused.
Togetherness is a hard thing for Cambodians to see as a good thing. They were forced to come together once before, in service of a regime too horrid for words.
Seeing churches committed to their communities, hearing that parents are worried their children are not getting the education they need, and churches responding by putting on extra classes after school. Seeing families coming together to support a tailoring business, pooling their investments to help a business get off the ground.
It would be inspiring in the best of contexts. But in a country that was dragged through the trauma Cambodia did it is exceptional.
Religion was abolished. But the church is not dead.
In a country where the vast majority are Buddhist, and probably a just fraction over 1 per cent are Christian, the temptation for the church to stay on the side-lines could be strong. But it refuses to. There are challenges aplenty for the church here, there are people who tried out the Christian faith but have returned to Buddhism, there are tiny churches, there are Christians needing discipleship, who – as we were told – don’t give you the right answers when you ask them who Jesus is.
But I’ve seen a church alive. I’ve seen followers of Christ committed to making him known in their villages. I’ve seen believers desperate more come to believe. And I’ve seen a church committed to serving the whole community and seeing God’s kingdom come, little by little, in the world around their homes.
You can follow my fellow bloggers and I at www.tearfund.org/bloggers and if you are so inclined, a gift of £3 a month would really help Tearfund train up more facilitators who can help the church change their community.