The “Thinning” Revisited by pengtt

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									The Economics of Partnership
The “Thinning” Revisited
Dependency and Church Planting in Cambodia
by Jean Johnson




                                               I
                                                    n the 1990s Cambodia was still recovering from a horrific genocide
                                                    referred to as The Killing Fields. That period offered the remnant of
                                                    Cambodian believers and missionaries a fresh opportunity to plant
                                               indigenous churches that had the vision and capability to multiply within
                                               their context and beyond. Yet, I question whether missionaries, including
                                               myself, were able to make the most of that opportunity. The answer to that
                                               question can be found by understanding two time periods, the church before
                                               The Killing Fields and the church after.

                                               The Growth and “The Thinning” of the Church in the 1950s
                                               and early 1960s
                                               Don Cormack, the author of Killing Fields, Living Fields who witnessed
                                               ministry unfold in Cambodia, traces the history of the Cambodian Protestant
                                               church from the 1920s to the 1990s. He wrote a chapter called “The
                                               Thinning” which explains how the church of Cambodia grew in the 1950s
                                               and early 60s to 2000 adherents and then was “thinned” to merely 300
                                               believers during the mid-1960s. Some of the “thinning” had to do with a
                                               government crackdown against Christians, weak faith commitments and an
                                               atmosphere of apathy within the country. I wish I could say that these were
                                               the only issues that “thinned” the church of Jesus Christ within Cambodia.
                                               Unfortunately, “the doing of missions” contributed to the “thinning” of the
Upon graduating in cross-cultural              church in Cambodia as well. In the 1950s and early 1960s, there were viable
communications from North
                                               and growing churches in Cambodia guided by both ministers and lay lead-
Central University, Jean served
as a church planter for six years              ers. During this time, a key foreign missions board made a vital decision.
among Cambodians in St. Paul-                  Cormack describes this decision and what it revealed:
Minneapolis. She eventually served
                                                  ...It was at this time that the foreign mission board announced it was phasing out its
as a missionary to Cambodia from
                                                  monetary aid to the churches in order to encourage them to become self-support-
1991-2008 with the Assemblies of                  ing. This action was received with considerable dismay and reluctance by the Khmer
God. She is presently working as                  workers and their congregations. For a few difficult and testing years it appeared
an International Consultant with                  that practically every worker might be lost to the church, as one by one they left
World Mission Associates, promoting               their ministries to accept more lucrative employment elsewhere. Although it was a
indigenous church sustainability and              painful decision, and some might argue a time bomb which should have never been
multiplication.                                   left so long before defusing, the mission stuck to its resolve in the interest of devel

International Journal of Frontier Missiology                                                                       27:2 Summer 2010•69
70     The “Thinning” Revisited: Dependency and Church Planting in Cambodia
     oping a strong healthy indigenous           faithful disciples. This remnant               Civil War and the Khmer Rouge
     church, and not one forever tied to
     the apron strings of the foreign mis-
                                                 persevered and served God with pure            Genocide from 1970 to 1979
                                                 motives. In 1965, the church began             As the church began to grow in the
     sionary society.                            to grow and strengthen again. Pastor           1970s, so did the sounds and sights of
     It is little wonder, therefore, that all    Yeah was a part of this fresh start.           civil war. April of 1975 became the
     those who had ‘entered the minis-           He was determined in his heart to              darkest time ever for Cambodians, also
     try’ primarily because they saw it          not allow the church to be thinned             called the Khmer. The country was
     as a secure and respectable career,         out again.                                     suddenly under the spell of a notori-
     in which they could always rely on
                                                    ...And men like Pastor Yeah were            ous communist regime. A group of
     the patronage of wealthy foreign-
     ers for support or for other material          determined that it should never be          Cambodians led by Pol Pot—exposed
     or social perks, soon became disillu-          allowed to slip back into a state of        to the ideology of Marxism—formed
     sioned with the reality of grueling            lethargy and dependence. Surely             themselves into a totalitarian move-
     and thankless toil with no substantial         after forty years they were ready           ment known as the Khmer Rouge.
     reward. These were among the first              to stand mature in Christ! If and           The Khmer Rouge determined to turn
     to be thinned out, returning to secu-          when missionaries returned, their           the country back to the year zero in
     lar employment or taking positions                                                         order to create a perfect agricultural
     with other organizations willing to                                                        utopia. In an effort to turn back the
     pay them well enough.                                                                      economic and social time clock, Pol
     The education, social skills and English                                                   Pot’s regime evacuated all city centers,
     language they had acquired at Bible
     School did open other doors to them.
                                                  Despite the “thinning,”                       dismantled families and completely
                                                                                                destroyed the country’s infrastruc-
     This hireling mentality would con-           God definitely protected                       ture to the point of creating one large
     tinue to plague the church in later                                                        back-breaking egalitarian labor camp
     years, indeed right up to present day,         a remnant of 300                            throughout the country. Subsequently,
     but especially with the arrival in the
     early 1970s of Christian relief orga-          faithful disciples.                         the Khmer Rouge tortured and exter-
                                                                                                minated the educated and skilled such
     nizations and various cults all eager
                                                                                                as government officials, civil workers,
     for recruits, workers, and instant
     ‘indigenity’ to impress the homeside                                                       doctors, lawyers, teachers, bankers,
     support base with half-digested and                                                        librarians, musicians, and Buddhist
     popular missiological slogans, and             relationship with the church and
                                                                                                monks. Pol Pot’s regime eventually
     willing of course to pay well for the          their responsibilities would have to        executed people for the smallest infrac-
     Khmer ‘membership’. This patronage             be carefully negotiated. It would be        tions: singing out loud, snatching up a
     syndrome, so entrenched throughout             necessary to emphasize the impor-           bug to eat, collapsing from hunger and
     Khmer social, political and military cul-      tance of the Khmer church managing          escaping to find a family member.
     ture, was to become a fundamental              its own affairs, fully supporting itself,
     weakness in the Cambodian church,
                                                                                                The fields were stained with the blood
                                                    and realizing its obligation to take
     stunting its true indigenous growth,                                                       of Cambodian men, women and
                                                    the Gospel to all Cambodians, both
     distorting its perception of Christian         within and around the country’s bor-
                                                                                                children, hence the label “The Killing
     discipleship and service; exposing it          ders. (Cormack, p. 115)                     Fields.” From 1975 to 1979 the Khmer
     to attack and ridicule, and endlessly                                                      Rouge exterminated approximately
     dividing it by creating all manner of       The church had gone through much               two million Cambodian citizens.
     jealousies and misunderstandings            “thinning,” “growing through trials,”
     within the community of believers.          and now was ready to move forward.             The Struggle and Rebuilding
     (Cormack, p. 100, 101)                      1970 marked a year of freshness                after the Khmer Rouge
                                                 and hope.                                      Genocide from 1979
The foreign mission board’s decision
to wean away aid revealed the nega-                 ...Now 1970 was at hand, a great            The “year zero” experiment came to an
tive effects on the local Cambodian                 watershed year in the history of the        end in 1979 due to an offensive attack
churches caused by patronage strate-                Cambodian church, with the fields            by Vietnamese troops which forced the
gies implemented by missionaries and                finally ripening for harvest. When           Khmer Rouge to relinquish power and
                                                    that harvest season arrived there was       hide. The 1980s consisted of sporadic
mission’s organizations.
                                                    numbered in the whole of Cambodia
                                                                                                fighting with the Khmer Rouge,
                                                    only about three hundred Christians,
Determination Not to Repeat                         the same number as Gideon’s army.
                                                                                                withdrawal of the Vietnamese troops
the “Thinning” of the mid-60s                       (Cormack, p. 115, 116)                      and the grueling process of rebuilding
Despite the “thinning,” God defi-                                                                a shattered nation.
nitely protected a remnant of 300

International Journal of Frontier Missiology
                                                                                                          Jean Johnson        71




                                          T
Before this incomprehensible                       he very means for birth and growth can
genocide, the church of Jesus
Christ existed, grew, struggled and                eventually cause the local church to stop growing
impacted the people of Cambodia,
but tragically during the reign of
                                                   and even regress.
the Pol Pot regime ninety percent         motivation, stifled creativity, bare         sure, outside funding speeds up the
of Christians were executed. The          minimum local giving, unwillingness         first generation of church planting by
remnant of Cambodian believers who        to support local leaders, jealousy, com-    or in conjunction with foreign mission
survived eventually rebuilt their lives   petition, maneuvering, mixed motives,       efforts. However, from my experience
and began to spread the gospel anew.      undermining local value systems,            and observation, the very means for
                                          superficial conversions, deficiency in        birth and growth can eventually cause
Not Again! The 1990s                      lay leaders and volunteerism, lack of       the local church to stop growing and
to Present Day                            credibility, desire for self-recognition,   even regress. Below are some common
During this rebuilding time in the        being perceived as foreign-driven, and      examples of how the means can
1990s, Cambodia became like a             stunted growth. Jesus movements or          become an actual stumbling block for
magnet drawing relief agencies,           church planting movements do not            church growth and multiplication.
humanitarian organizations and            rise up out of this dysfunction.                • Money, supplies and gifts
missionaries. I was one of them! As                                                         are shared generously from
an appointed missionary, I entered        Due to travel to various countries,
                                          ample reading and conversations with              missionaries and foreign
Cambodia in July of 1992 and initially                                                      Christian workers among
served as a translator at the Ministry    missionaries, I believe this pattern of
                                                                                            those they consider poor and
of Health, while applying myself          dependency is not a unique problem                needy. Although the assis-
to church planting. I was anxious         to Cambodia, but is an overall “mis-              tance does alleviate some
to implement all that I had learned       sions” issue affecting many parts of              people’s needs, a deeper
while living among Cambodians in          the world. I invite missions executives,          mindset is being formed
                                          missions organizations, missionaries,             within the people: “We are
America. Unfortunately, I never heard
                                          short-term missionaries and mission-              weak and it will always be
Pastor Yeah’s exhortation to allow the                                                      this way.” Fatalism becomes
Cambodian church to manage and            sending churches to allow Pastor
                                          Yeah’s message to formulate our mis-              their identity.
financially support its own affairs.                                                       • Foreign funding is supplied
                                          sions strategies.
I went right to work managing and                                                           to provide income for local
financially supporting the church of       Over the last 16 years as I served                church planters. While this
                                          in Cambodia, God has taught me                    assistance seems advanta-
Cambodia. I distributed my share of                                                         geous for spreading the
handouts, paying rent for churches,       many lessons and I now “do mis-
                                          sions” differently. Not that I have all           Gospel, the local people view
providing resources, building others’                                                       these foreign-funded local
buildings, holding positions, import-     the answers or implement missions
                                                                                            evangelists as hirelings from
ing foreign forms and modeling            perfectly, but by the grace of God,               a foreign organization which
non-reproducible methods of minis-        I am learning how to intentionally                diminishes the local church
try. Although I had missions training,    plant indigenous and sustainable                  planter’s credibility.
I leaned more on my experiences in        churches from the beginning. I am in            • A salary from a missions
America. These actions led to creat-      the process of writing a book called              organization to support a
ing psychological and financial depen-     Intentional Planting of Indigenous                pastor seemingly empowers
                                          Churches in which I share more details            that local leader to imple-
dency among those I worked with.                                                            ment his ministry. While the
                                          about how missionaries can implement
So much awesome Great Commission          premeditated sustainability, multipli-            pastor is receiving subsidy,
work has been done and is being done                                                        the church is forming this
                                          cation, and indigenity.
in Cambodia. Yet, from my long-                                                             mindset: “The missionaries
                                                                                            are responsible for support-
term observations, an ample amount        The Very Means Becomes                            ing our leaders and we can
of those doing missions—to varying        the Stumbling Block                               never give to the degree that
degrees—have recreated the state of       From the onset, outside funding from              the missionaries supply.” The
lethargy and dependence that Pastor       churches, organizations, and mis-                 pastor finds himself leading
Yeah was so determined to prevent.        sionaries in the form of handouts,                a church that has no motiva-
Dependency is like a spider with          subsidies, donor-funded projects, gifts,          tion to give or to take respon-
many far-reaching tentacles, creating     salaries, building projects, and schol-           sibility for managing their
all sorts of “life-sucking” problems,                                                       own functions and resources.
                                          arships seemingly speeds up church
such as loss of self-dignity, lack of     planting within a given country. For
                                                                                                           27:2 Summer 2010
72   The “Thinning” Revisited: Dependency and Church Planting in Cambodia
     • Handouts which accompany                churches do grow, but many of them         advocating self-reliance among local
       the Gospel presentation are             grow in the midst of all the ill effects   churches from the beginning. IJFM
       intended to lead people to              of dependency. I call it “dysfunctional
       respond to Christ due to                growth.” My plea is that we evaluate       Reference
       love in action. Yet eventually                                                     Cormack, Don
                                               our means as cross-cultural ministers
       when a church is formed, the                                                         1997 Killing Fields, Living Fields.
       members give little and con-            and consider the long-term effects on
                                                                                                  OMF International & MARC
       stantly come to the church              the overall church of Jesus Christ. As             Crowborough.
       for money and help, treating            cross-cultural communicators, we may
       the church like their patron.           want to ask this question frequently:
       In addition, many people stop           “What should I do or not do so as to
       their faith pursuits of God             participate in the planting of local
       when their needs are not met            churches that have the vision and
       in the same way as after their
                                               capability to multiply disciples with-
       first introduction to Christ.
                                               out unhealthy dependency on myself
     • Foreign visitors, who want
       to see their donated money              or my organization?”
       at work, come to both visit
       and do ministry. They
       naturally use western forms,
       styles and resources to help
       the local churches advance.                  These national
       The local churches, in due
       course, adopt these foreign              churches do grow, but
       forms and styles. The com-
       munities surrounding these
                                                many of them grow in
       churches shake their heads
       and exclaim, “Why do our
                                                the midst of all the ill
       fellow nationals believe in the          effects of dependency.
       foreigner’s god?”
     • Forms of evangelism and
       ministry are used by those
       doing missions in which
       they rely on techniques and             Day 1 Affects Day 100
       finances readily available               I have a saying that guides my cross-
       to themselves. Yet, when                cultural work, “Day 1 affects day 100.”
       the local believers conduct             In other words, what we do from the
       evangelism and ministry
       they become discouraged as
                                               very beginning will either impede
       they cannot reproduce what              multiplication or enhance it within a
       was modeled to them with                given cultural context. The “thinning”
       their own local resources               teaches us that those doing missions
       and capabilities.                       cannot transfer vision, psychologi-
     • A missionary desires to                 cal ownership, and the capability to
       model pastoral leadership,              sustain and multiply to the local
       thus he serves as a pastor of           church; rather, these qualities need
       a local church. Upon trans-             to be intentionally affirmed, planted,
       ferring the pastoral role to a
                                               and modeled from the beginning
       local leader, the local pastor
       intensely struggles to gain             onward. Each and every local church
       respect and is unable to                throughout the world needs to believe
       charm his congregation with             the spread of the Kingdom of God is
       dynamic sermons, access to              dependent on their relationship with
       jobs, and financial helps like           God, intercession, sacrifice, unity,
       that of the missionary.                 faith, giving, devotion and passion.
Mission organizations have been able           Missionaries can participate in such
to establish national churches using           a movement by taking seriously their
gifts, labor, community services,              role of facilitating multiplication,
financial assistance, salaries, grants,         promoting the indigenous church, and
and building projects. These national

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