Killing Fields Living Fields

Yesterday marked the 40 year anniversary of when the Khmer Rouge stormed Phnom Penh and forced the population to evacuate to the country. During the next four years the Khmer Rouge tried to eradicate all religious groups especially Christians. This is an amazing book retelling the story of what God did through the Cambodian church. This is an updated version of the book.url

In 1970 there was greater freedom for Christians and this saw a growth in the local church. At the beginning of the Civil war there were about 3 congregations in Phnom Penh, which by 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took over had grown to about 30, totaling about 10,000 members. KR_evacuation

During the Khmer Rouge it is thought that 90% of all Christians and Christian leaders were martyred or escaped the country. By 1979 it was estimated that there were only 200 Christians remaining in Cambodia. The church was left vulnerable with many of its leaders systematically killed by the Khmer Rouge regime or fled the country.phnom-penh-in-1979-just-after-the-overthrow-of-the-khmer-rouge-regimeToday from the small remnant there has grown an estimated 250,000 Christians and around 750 churches. This massive growth means there is a huge need to train leaders, teach and create resources. The difficulty for many Cambodian pastors is that they need a paid job outside of the church to be able to support their family.

There have been many outside agencies and organizations which have been involved in supporting the local church over the last 40 years, sometimes this has been good and other times has created an unhealthy reliance on outside help. The desire of many people I work with is to see Cambodians leading the church with a depth of maturity and wisdom.1 (3)In the last 6 years we have been involved in a small local church, not in any position of leadership just attending and supporting the local Christians. It has been so exciting to see how they have grown and matured from being very young Christians to future leaders. There is a passion to write their own worship songs, the desire to reach out to others and rural areas, to work out how Khmer culture and Christianity fit together, how to serve and look after the poor and vulnerable in our congregation in a way that empowers them and how to live life in a way that honours God but also shows respect for their families.

This is so exciting and we are humbled to be a part of it, and have so much respect for our fellow Cambodian Christians who have been through so much pain and heartache in the past and still live in a society scarred by events in history. I am thankful that we serve a God who delights in setting people free from their past and my prayer is this will be something which is evident in Liberty Family Church but also in the Cambodian church as a whole.

References and extra reading:

Photos from:

  1. Book Cover
  2. Phnom Penh
  3. Phnom Penh
  4. Bible

40 Years on: Rememeber Fall of Phnom Penh to Khmer Rouge

Yesterday, Friday 17th April 2015 marked the 40 year anniversary of when Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge and the whole city was evacuated to work in the countryside in one of modern histories the biggest forced migrations. Some survivors gathered to burn incense at one of the mass graves at Choeung Ek on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Many people initially greeted the black clad Khmer rouge soldier, wearing their distinctive red checked kramas (scarves), with flags and cheering as they thought it was marking the end of a bloody civil war. Little did they know of the horrors which were to come.

For the next few days tens of thousands of people were forcibly marched out of Phnom Penh at gunpoint to the countryside in an attempt to create a Utopian society, for some of them this exodus was to last more than a month. They were told it would be temporary “only for a few days” and told they could survive on harvested vegetables, grains and rice. The reality for many of these educated city dwellers was death from starvation, forced labour camps, separation from family members and eventually many were executed in a bid to eradicate those who would be a threat to the regime.  Almost overnight, Phnom Penh , once known as the “pearl of the east” had become a ghost town.afp-cambodia-marks-40-years-since-evacuation-of-phnom-penh

Over the next four years it is estimated that 90% of Cambodia’s artistic, religious and intellectual communities and 25% of the total population were killed, making it one of the most brutal genocides of the 20th century.

Today looking at Phnom Penh and its economic growth, growing middle class and desire to achieve, trendy coffee shops and modern shopping malls you would not know it had been through such horrific atrocities only 40 years ago but looks can be deceiving. Beneath the surface there is a nation which has deep scars and a society where many people lacked the ability to know where to begin to start the healing process from such an atrocious part of their history. For a long time people tried to bury the past and didn’t or could talk about what had happened, until only recently even schools did not teach about the Khmer Rouge and many younger people began to wonder if it really happened.dcc78da4-c48c-49df-b14d-574f60eb725f-620x372

A few years ago on a visit, to Toul Sleng,  the notorious prison which had been a thriving high school, I came across a local school party who had come for a visit. They were astonished at what they found and said they had no idea about what had happened so recently in their country. I will always remember what one of them said, “Today I am ashamed to call myself a Cambodian, I could maybe understand if this had been done by another country but for my own people to do this to each other,that I cannot understand”.

For me though, in my time of  living in Cambodia, I have heard many sad stories but I have also heard so many stories of hope and seen the way Cambodians are trying to improve education, revive the arts and music, improve working conditions and how people have been learning to come to terms with their past and move on. There is still a long way to go but things are changing.

Killing Fields Living Fields: Cambodian Church Post Khmer Rouge


Photo References:

  1. Incense
  2. Exodus
  3. Toul Sleng

Khmer New Year 2015

The scent of incense is thick in the air as I drive around the strangely quiet streets, where there is normally hustle and bustle now I see a few cars and motorbikes probably on their way to family celebrations.

roadThe majority of houses are shut up because families have gone to visit family in the province and most shops are closed except it seems the ones who sell food and drink or thankfully petrol! The market corner near the pagoda is subdued with a few sellers hawking last minute fruit and vegetables, in complete contrast to yesterday where there was a traffic jam. At the pagoda the prayer flags flutter in the breeze and people can come and make offerings and ask the monks for a blessing on the New Year.pagoda 2pagoda 3pagodaflags 3flagsflags 2

In every house where people have stayed in Phnom Penh, there is a table set out with candles and offerings of food and drink for the Khmer New Year “angels” and sometimes flashing light and tinsel. This is one of the biggest holidays in Cambodia and a time when family gather in their homes to spend time together.offering table


We know we have been in Cambodia a long time when…

Some of us wear jeans in the hot season

Some of our children choose pork and rice for breakfast over croissants and donuts

28 degrees is a nice cool day for the hot season

We eat more rice than pasta and potatoes

Forget how to drive a car and prefer a motorbike

Can’t sleep properly if there is no fan sound

Will equally choose sweet iced coffee or iced tea over the hot variety (I also like bubbles/tapioca pearls added)


I think it creeps up on you. When you first arrive in Cambodia, everything is new and interesting or difficult to adjust to.Your senses are assaulted with noise, smells, sights and people everywhere. It is difficult to say when you feel you have settled in as it is different for everyone. 5f8ef0c2032493f6ba1a268ffa65a5d4

I think that having a positive attitude and giving things a try balanced with remembering traditions and special things from your home country helps to live well in Cambodia. Learning from Cambodians and asking for help when you need it and using local knowledge for things we have no clue about. When I first came to Cambodia God gave me a picture about walking like Cambodians. The Cambodians say foreigners are known for walking loudly and quickly where as Cambodians will take a much slower and quieter pace, pausing to look around as they go.

In a new culture I think it is a good approach to take a slower pace, to pause and look around before making judgements about how things are done and appreciate the great things about the culture and people. I know there are loads of things I have learnt in my time so far in Cambodia from my Cambodian friends and more I will still have to learn. So if you are new to a country or have been around awhile then take time to pause and look around at the good and amazing things, but also be prepare to work alongside indigenous people to make good changes which will have long lasting benefits.