The rice fields became known as the “killing fields,” where Cambodians were forced to work during the dictatorship of Pol Pot. The Khmer Rouge guerrilla army massacred an estimated two to three million people—more than 15 percent of the population.
Thirty-five years later, Cambodia is still recovering from the gory civil war that lasted three years, eight months, and 28 days. The genocide nearly wiped out Christianity when the Khmer Rouge, in their desire to obliterate anything having to do with urban society, executed anyone with religious affinities. Of an estimated 10,000 Christians in 1974, only a few hundred remained.
Post-war years of oppression have made Cambodians spiritually hungry and open to the gospel. Although Buddhism is the predominant religion, Christianity is spreading throughout the country. Today there are approximately 470,000 Christians, and the number continues to grow.
College and Seminary in Phnom Penh
Cambodia still faces a lot of need. Ninety percent of the population lives in impoverished rural areas, with an average annual income of $256 USD. The Khmer Rouge’s elimination of education created a long-term lack of professionals and those with higher education. The church has felt this shortage, as many who desire to lead churches don’t have the necessary training.
In 2011 a group of retired pastors from the Korean American Presbyterian Church addressed the dire need for theologically-trained church leaders in Cambodia. They established Westminster Theological College and Seminary (WTCS) in Phnom Penh, the capital city. The school offers bachelor’s and master’s programs to (currently) 30 to 40 students.
Four times each year WTCS also provides a Pastoral Education Program with intensive theological and pastoral training. Each session draws 60 to 70 pastors from all over Cambodia.
Help through Packing Hope
Daniel Kim and his wife Young, also members of the Korean American Presbyterian Church, were introduced to WTCS through his brother-in-law, Rev. David Yuhan, who is Vice Chancellor of the seminary. After Daniel retired from pastoral ministry in 2003, the couple began serving as itinerant teaching missionaries. Although they live in California, they spend many months each year traveling overseas to seminaries and Bible schools to teach and train future church leaders. They’ve traveled intermittently to Cambodia since 2005. Three years ago they became faculty members at WTCS and now plan to stay in Cambodia three months out of each semester.
When the Kims’ journeyed to Cambodia in October–November of 2013, they brought along a case of ESV Global Study Bibles provided by The Gospel Coalition International Outreach’s program Packing Hope. The couple hand-delivered a Bible to each WTCS student and observed their heartfelt gratitude for this gift and eagerness to use it.
When Daniel visited WTCS last May, he was pleased to see the students referring to the theological notes in the back of the Bible to aid in their teaching preparation and personal Bible study. One student, Caleb Zhu, said the new Bible is helping him “to understand God’s Word clearly and deeply.”
The seminary plans to expand the building and the student population as the church in Cambodia advances. “Workers are needed to teach, train, and mentor young men and women to become Christian leaders who would plant and build the Cambodian church, nation, society, and beyond,” Daniel says. He asks God to send more laborers into the harvest.
The fields of Cambodia, once “killing fields,” have given way to fields ready for sowing seeds of the gospel.