Sin Somnang grew up in a Buddhist family in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh. In 1995, around age 15, he became the first of his family to become a Christian, and he now serves as pastor of a ministry he started for the poor and uneducated in his hometown.
He’s also chairman for the Love Phnom Penh Festival with Franklin Graham, happening 7-8 December.
“It is God’s time to bless our land where we have been sojourning almost 40 years since 1979,” he said.
That’s the year Vietnam forces captured Phnom Penh, just four years after the Vietnam War. The military intervention by Vietnam forces began the fall of the Khmer Rouge, a brutal communist regime that outlawed religion.
Somnang has already seen evidence of God’s blessing in his country. Multiple family members have accepted Jesus as their Saviour, including his mother who just received Christ on 23 October.
Part of Festival preparation is having Christians write down the names of people who don’t yet believe in Christ and committing to pray for them. Somnang had written down his mother’s name.
A First for BGEA in Cambodia
Over seven decades, Billy Graham took the Gospel to all corners of the world, even areas typically closed off to evangelism. Today, Franklin Graham and Will Graham are following in his footsteps, but even in the long list of places these three generations have visited, this is the first time a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) event is being held in Cambodia.
Hundreds of Cambodian children heard the Gospel in late October during a KidzFest event preceding the Festival.
Derek Forbes and his family have lived Phnom Penh the past nine months. Forbes has worked with the BGEA since 2006, helping plan Franklin Graham Festivals all over Asia, and is currently director for the upcoming Cambodia Festival.
“This has been one of the most challenging Festivals for me personally, but it has been good for my spiritual growth,” he said. “It keeps me on my knees and shows me that the enemy of the Gospel does not want the Festival to take place, but the pastors have been a joy to work with.
“The leadership believes so much that this is the perfect time for the Gospel and for Franklin to be coming alongside them in reaching the city.”
Since February, the local Festival team has held prayer rallies, trained church leaders in discipleship and evangelism, and taught more than 2,500 people how to share their faith through BGEA’s Christian Life and Witness Course. Thousands of children, youth, men and women have also been praying for specific people in their lives to come to the Festival and make Jesus the centre of their lives.
While Pastor Somnang expects “opposition and persecution from the living enemy,” he knows there’s something more powerful also at work. “We have the Gospel that can set our people free from poverty, oppression [and] lacking of hope.”
‘An Openness to the Gospel Like Never Before’
Somnang is convinced his community is ready to hear the Gospel next week.
“Cambodians would be positively pleased to hear and respond to the message because they are expecting hope and blessing to restore their community in the next generation.”
Cambodians are traditionally very spiritual. There’s the idea of karma and the belief that “supernatural forces have influence over a person’s fate,” Forbes said.
All over Phnom Penh are spirit houses—small buildings constructed for spirits to live in—placed near homes, shops and popular attractions. Locals visit Buddhist temples and give alms to bring good fortune.
There’s also a culture of “wait and see” before accepting something new as people look for “evidences of power and authenticity.”
And somewhere in the middle of all this, “There is an openness to the Gospel like never before,” Forbes said.
His Grace Remains
Like Somnang, Meta Him didn’t grow up in a Christian family. In fact, she didn’t accept Christ until 5 January, 2017, while working and going to church in Japan.
“A simple reason I received Christ is He spoke to my mind and heart that He is God. Then I received Him and keep going to the church every Sunday,” she said.
Back in Cambodia, she’s continued attending church and growing in her relationship with God. She serves as office manager for the Festival team.
“This Festival will be a blessed time for all the churches, together serving the kingdom of God, that we have never seen before in this country,” Him said. “Most Cambodian people are Buddhist, worshipping a lot idols, etc., but His mercy and love still remain in our nation. And I believe the power of Holy Spirit will work in their hearts [and] open their eyes to see Jesus is their Saviour and Lord.”