Christopher LaPel was raised in Phnom Penh, the son of a Buddhist priest who served as one of nine advisors to King Norodom Suramarith and later to Prince Sihanouk. In 1970 Prince Sihanouk was driven into exile by the Lon Nol regime and then in 1975 Khmer Rouge soldiers armed with AK-47 rifles and B-40 rocket launchers ordered the LaPel family out of their house with most other people who lived in Phnom Penh. That began a genocide which did not end until 1979. During that time Christopher lost both parents and his brother and sister. he eventually escaped Cambodia and came to a refugee camp in Thailand. It was there that he found Christ and later his wife Vanna. Christopher and Vanna were resettled in Lincoln, Nebraska where he worked in the Refugee Resettlement Program for five years. His three sons, Daniel, Donald, and Douglas were born here. In 1988 Christopher was called as pastor to the English and Cambodian congregations of Golden West Christian Church in Los Angeles, where he serves to this day.
Christopher graduated from Hope International University and began to make short-term mission trips to the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand. Two churches were established in the camps. When these people refugees were repatriated back to Cambodia, they took the gospel with them and with Christopher’s leadership began planting church after church. This led to Christopher’s vision to evangelize his home country as well as remaining at the Golden West Christian Church. He established the training site in Battambang, led in building a modern facility to the for the Leadership Training Institute and the Hope Bible Institute (a high school for future church planters), brought college faculty and trainers from the United States twice a year for special weeks of training for over 300 church workers, and church planting began in earnest. Today there are over 150 churches planted in Cambodia through the Hope For Cambodia Mission.
THE INCREDIBLE KILLING FIELDS CONNECTION
In 1995 at one of the Leadership Training Institute sessions, Christopher led a man named Hang Pin to Christ and baptized him. Hang Pin kept coming to the twice yearly church worker training sessions. In 1999 Hang Pin, as a converted Christian, confessed to Christopher who he really was. Hang Pin was actually an assumed name to hide his real identity. Hang Pin was the notorious Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his Khmer Rouge name, Duch. This man had been the 4th highest leader in the Khymer Rouge regime and headed up the secret police and the S-21 prison where over 14,000 people were interrogated by torture, killed, and then buried in mass graves in the Killing Fields. After Duch was discovered and imprisoned, it was 10 years before Christopher saw him again face to face. When they met, Christopher (who barely survived the Khymer Rouge era and who lost both parents and a brother and sister) did not react with hatred or anger. Instead, Christopher looked Duch in the eye and said, “I love you and I forgive you.” Christopher had led him to Christ and also led his sister to Christ. In September of 2009 , Christopher was called to testify in court at Duch’s Tribunal War trial. For an hour and a half, Christopher testified about the power of Christ to lead a person to repentance and of God’s grace. He talked about Christ’s ability to rebuild a life and of God’s grace. He did not ask for leniency for Duch, but he did speak for the reality of what had happened in his life. International lawyers, judges, and 500 spectators listened in rapt attention. Thousands more listened through social media. You can download and hear this live testimony on the internet. Today Duch is still in prison and has worn out one Bible which Christopher replaced with another. Duch will never be released from prison, nor should he be, nor does he feel he should be. He is the only major Khymer leader to confess his involvement and come forward to face the consequences. Duch’s sister remains an active Christian. Meanwhile the Khymer people need hope–and the Hope For Cambodia mission, led by Christopher LaPel, is broadcasting that hope is found in Jesus Christ.
Christopher LaPel’s ministry has been featured in TIME magazine, Hope International University News, Saddleback Community Church publications, and in testimony at the United Nations trial of Khmer Rouge leaders in 2009.