Tell me honestly- do you know where Cambodia is?
Don’t cheat and look it up. Look at this world map and point to it…
I bet you have no clue. And don’t feel bad if you don’t know what continent it’s on either- lots of people I’ve talked to in the last couple of weeks have asked me that.
The Western world has basically forgotten Cambodia, despite thousands of years of art and culture, five centuries of dominance as an empire, and a recent genocide.
Did you learn about the Khmer Empire when you were learning about ancient Rome? Probably not. But they existed at the same time and both dominated the trade and politics of their regions of the world. Great works of literature were written in the Khmer Empire, and the Khmer excelled in architecture, attracting many foreign scholars.
Did your world history class in high school talk about the Khmer Rouge, who purged the country of all education, religion, finance, healthcare, business outside of agriculture, and foreigners from 1975-1978? Mine didn’t. And my class certainly didn’t mention that, though one in four Cambodians was killed, all but five Khmer Rouge officers escaped indictment. Many survivors live in the same village as the very officers who massacred their parents, brothers, sisters, and children.
When you visited Long Beach, were you aware that you were in the largest Cambodian community outside of Cambodia? Many Cambodians arrived as refugees in California during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
These are just a few of the things I am learning as I read about Cambodian history. I’m starting to understand the context of some of the shocking statistics I read.
52% of the population is under the age of 25. Only 9% is 55 or above. (See date of genocide)
90% of Cambodians are ethnically Khmer, a result of ethnic cleansing.
37% of adults are illiterate.
1 in every 29 children dies before turning five.
There is just 1 doctor for every 5,000 people.
Cambodia has the second highest suicide rate in the world.
40% of Cambodians suffer from mental illness, nearly twice the amount as in the US.
14% of the population has post traumatic stress disorder.
Only 2% of health centers offer mental health services.
Human trafficking is rampant in Cambodia. Men and women, young and old, are enslaved as laborers, beggars, prostitutes, street vendors, and factory workers. 75% of sex trafficking victims in Cambodia are children, some as young as 5.
These statistics break my heart. 35 years after the Khmer Rouge’s reign, Cambodia is still struggling to get back on its feet. Theravada Buddhism, the belief of 97% of the population, isn’t a particularly hope-filled religion, either. Theravada Buddhists believe that “to live is to suffer”; all in life is transitory and changing except for universal suffering. They see themselves as stuck in an endless cycle of death and rebirth until achieving the “freedom” of nirvana, a state of emptiness and total loss of identity. Most Cambodians see only monks as being able to achieve nirvana, so their good works count only towards being reborn into more fortunate circumstances. They have no hope of truly escaping suffering, and even monks cannot hope to consciously experience a life without suffering, as nirvana is essentially devoid of consciousness.
The hope of Christ shines bright in the midst of this. Christ offers a permanent end to suffering, not based on how well we follow the rules but based on Christ’s perfect record and death on our behalf. We have assurance of freedom from this difficult life as well as assurance of a conscious, eternal life where we can fully live out our true identity.
Despite the fact that the gospel wasn’t brought until the country in 1923, there are about 750 churches in multiple areas. Though the Khmer Rouge killed all but 2,000 Christians, the Cambodian church has slowly grown and multiplied to 250,000 believers. Over 75% of Cambodia’s 14,000 villages have no Christian presence yet, but both locals and churches around the world are sending missionaries to these villages.
Please join me in praying for Cambodia to experience true freedom in Christ. Pray for the churches there to be bold in sharing the gospel despite the government’s declaration that evangelism is illegal. Pray for those who are persecuting Cambodian Christians to see Christ so clearly that they too become evangelists. And pray for Sobhan to someday send missionaries out to the surrounding villages to bring hope.
And in case you still don’t know where Cambodia is…