A message from Chris McKinney on his trip to Cambodia equipping local church leaders on the DCPI Church Planting Essentials
God Showed Up
As the pastor rose to greet the crowd, Christopher LaPel leaned over and whispered into my ear, “This pastor was a Khmer Rouge commander.” The pastor spoke, and several men in attendance stood and were recognized with applause. “That was the mayor of this village, and the man before him was the mayor of the town to which this village belongs. They both used to report to the pastor when they were in the Khmer Rouge. The pastor had invited his former comrades to today’s building dedication service, and he’s thanking those who are here.”
From what Christopher told me, many Christian ministries in Cambodia are not comfortable working with people who were formerly members of the Khmer Rouge. These were followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea which is remembered especially for orchestrating the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979 in which 1.5-3 million people (25% of the population) died of torture, mass executions, forced labor, and malnutrition.
What is remarkable about Christopher’s ministry is that he was himself a victim of the Khmer Rouge. His family was forcibly relocated from Phnom Penh to the Battambang area of Cambodia, where both his parents and one of his siblings died. Christopher managed to escape Cambodia under cover of the Vietnamese invasion of 1978. He became a Christian while working in the refugee camps in Thailand, and as a Khmer American he became pastor of the Goldenwest Christian Church in Los Angeles. He leads Hope for Cambodia, a ministry that plants churches and equips Christian leaders.
Not only former Khmer Rouge members and their victims were represented at church that Sunday. As I looked around the crowd I recognized a leader from a sister church two hours away, a former member of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, an anti-communist political and paramilitary organization.
The gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NIV), to the Khmer Rouge and to their victims and to the Cambodian Freedom Fighters. History has conspired to turn people against one another in Cambodia, but the love of Christ has proven powerful enough to bring grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation to all. That indeed is hope for Cambodia.
DCPI Training in Cambodia
My favorite part of training Church Planting Essentials is when the participants break up into small groups where each person
shares their vision, plan, and timeline for planting a church. I am inspired by how the Holy Spirit is moving in people in such creative and diverse ways. But that May afternoon in Battambang, Cambodia instead of sharing with one another, the participants blew off the assignment. Out of about 140 leaders, I saw exactly two sharing their vision. The others studied the assignment page as if they hadn’t been fully briefed on the assignment each day of the training event, and a few even went to their rooms to change clothes.
I struggled with feelings of embarrassment (I’d built up this moment to a group of ministry partners from California who came to see our training in action), anger (why can’t people just do as they’re told?), confusion (this was the first time I’d seen this sort of response at this point in our training), and malice (they wouldn’t be so nonchalant when they realized they wouldn’t get a completion certificate!). I asked the California team to pray as the Khmer leaders began to return to the main meeting hall.
“Lord, I need you. I don’t know what’s going on right now, and I don’t know what to do about it. Lord, these are my dear brothers and sisters who have been planting churches, but right now I’m feeling angry and hurtful. Help me to be gracious and encouraging. Lord, help me to be like Jesus, and to communicate his love. Holy Spirit, please show up now. Help this training to have an amazing impact on the church planting of these leaders…” As I entered the room and approached the podium, I was desperately checking in with God.
“How many of you shared your vision, plan, and timeline with one another?” I asked the group. Almost everyone raised their hand. “Would someone like to come up front and share now with the whole group?” Quite a few were willing to share. I called on one brother, and he came and shared for about 7 minutes. I offered some feedback on his presentation, based on how it was interpreted to me. Others in the group also offered some encouraging and positive feedback. Then I called on several participants to come up, lay hands on the church planter, and pray for him. Next a woman came and shared her vision for planting a church; she only spoke for about 3-4 minutes, but she was very passionate and the crowd was convinced. They gave her some uplifting evaluation, and she sobbed as several prayed over her.
“Weren’t those some amazing presentations?” There was an incredible “vibe” in the room after the two reports. “I just saw a man and a woman sharing, while everyone else listened intently. Then several of you took turns speaking in response, sharing words of encouragement. Finally, I saw a group gather around each of our speakers and pray. None of this is what I saw during our vision-plan-timeline time. We’re going to break up into our small groups again, and this time let it look like what’s been happening up here.”
People quickly went to their small group meeting places, and immediately what I saw persuaded me that they “got it.” People were standing and sharing with their groups, pointing to written timelines and hastily-sketched logos. I saw group members giving feedback. Most beautifully, I saw groups in prayer, hands laid on the head or shoulders of one of their members.