I wrote this for a CMS handout distributed at the Sydney Diocese synod last night for mission hour.
‘Come and help us in leadership training!’
This is the most common request to CMS from partner churches across the globe. In many locations, the need for leadership training far outstrips the ability of the local church to provide it, and so many church leaders aren’t well trained to build up God’s people or to reach out to the lost. Dave and Leoni Painter, along with fellow CMS missionaries Rolf and Bonnie Lepelaar, have been teaching at the Phnom Penh Bible School in Cambodia and are involved in training future leaders of the church.
The Cambodian church was decimated in the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge regime, and then during the civil war that followed in the 1980s. Out of a total population of 8 million, over a million Cambodians died from executions, overwork, starvation and disease. And only 16% of all the Christians in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge came to power survived this terrible period.
The killing and upheaval ended in 1991, and has been followed by a period of rapid economic development and reconstruction. The church has also grown dramatically since then, with churches planted in each of Cambodia’s provinces. However, Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Many Cambodians also live in fear of evil spirits and bad karma, and struggle with the array of social problems that plague Cambodian life.
The growth of the Cambodian church presents new challenges. In 1999 there were over 300 evangelical churches, with more than one church starting each week. But there is a great need for mature leadership. The loss of so many educated people in the Khmer Rouge slaughter, and in the social turmoil the Khmer Rouge left in its wake, pushed many new Christians into leadership before they were ready for it. Often, the first person to become a Christian in a Cambodian village will be made the church pastor for their village – without any training, and before they have developed Christian maturity.
CMS responds to this great need for theological education and ministry training by sending faithful and well equipped servants, such as the Painters and Lepelaars, to build up and develop local leadership. By mentoring and teaching theological students and pastors in Cambodia, a foundation is being laid for the future of the church in that country.