Young women of the Susanna Wesley House, a Christian dormitory for university students, plant a tree at Mondulkiri Church in October 2020. PHOTO: Courtesy of Methodist Church of Cambodia
By Elliott Wright
March 9, 2021 | ATLANTA
Join me in a visit to the Methodist community in Cambodia, a church that developed from a vague possibility 30 years ago into a vibrant fellowship overflowing with children, led by Cambodian pastors and laity.
We can’t fly into Phnom Penh, the capital city, for an on-the-ground visit, but we can experience Methodism in Cambodia online. A marvelous website, organized by the United Methodist Cambodia Initiative, explores worship, education, community ministries, evangelistic outreach and the history of the Methodist Church in Cambodia.
Think of this article as an internet tour of how Cambodian Methodists experience their faith and engage in God’s mission in their country and culture. Many of the statements and quotes here link to the website and to extensive reports on mission witness and service.
History of Mission Development
The Khmer, who comprise most of Cambodia’s population of 16.5 million, are an ancient people whose land and society in contemporary times are caught up in the colonial and ideological struggles that swept Southeast Asia. An estimated 1.5 to 2 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979.
Bombing by the United States in the Vietnam War era devastated the region. The idea for a Methodist presence in Cambodia first arose in the 1980s, when the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) responded to acute human need there.
The Methodist Church in Cambodia (MCC)
The Methodist Church in Cambodia (MCC) became an autonomous denomination in 2018, with strong links to five mission agencies that collaborated in its origins and development. For United Methodists, it was one of several Global Ministries’ mission initiatives in Southeast Asia. The Cambodian church retains close ties to Global Ministries.
Collaborators in Cambodian Mission Initiative
Learn more about the work of these churches and agencies online (where available):
Connexio: United Methodist Church in France and Switzerland
(Website in French and German and English translation)
Korean Methodist Church
(Website in Korean and English)
Methodist Church in Singapore
(Website in English)
World Federation of Chinese Methodist Churches
Statistical Report: Methodist Church in Cambodia (MCC)
- 10 districts (2/2021)
- 133 congregations )2/2021)
- 129 clergy (59 elders; 70 lay preachers (2/2021)
- 3,171 full-time members (2018)
- 6,828 average Sunday worship attendance (2018)
The membership and attendance figures will be updated at the annual conference in September 2021
The MCC is present in most of the countries’ provinces. See map at https://www.umccambodia.org/mcc.
Factors of Success
Thomas Kemper, general secretary of Global Ministries from 2010 to 2020, cites four primary reasons for the particular success of the Cambodia Mission Initiative:
- Collaboration among the five sponsoring mission agencies, which reduced competition and concentrated financial and personnel resources.
- The diversity of agencies also led to a rich diversity and blend of Wesleyan theology and polity.
- Swift development of and dependence on Cambodian church leadership both lay and pastoral.
- True Wesleyan linking of evangelism/church growth and social/community ministries
- Early introduction of basic Methodist worship and doctrinal sources in Khmer, the national language. ( See the Khmer vision of membership vows )
Key Emphases and Programs
Community Health & Agricultural Development (CHAD), a program with the goal of improving the health, well-being, food, and economic security of individuals, families, and rural community.
Women’s Empowerment, with a focus on church and society, providing incentives for economic empowerment through education and social involvement.
Street Children Ministry, one of the oldest and most widely known components of the Methodist work in Cambodia, the goal is to share the love of God by funding children’s education, teaching vocational skills, and providing health care to the sick and undernourished. Linked newsletters, going back four years, tell the stories of ministry activities and individual children. The ministry serves some 400 children a year in multiple locations. Website
Susanna Wesley House is a residential facility in Phnom Penh for Methodist-related students who have completed their secondary education and have entered colleges. This three-story dormitory provides a safe place for 22 young women and men.
Scholarships Education has been an important objective in the development of the MCC. It is seen as a key to producing church leaders and counteracting the cycle of poverty that keeps communities from gaining self-sufficiency. Application for scholarship support is made easy online, designed for local Cambodian applicants. The program currently assists 101 students from kindergarten through college, with 64 being in universities; 80% of recipients are women.
We are grateful that many of our scholarship recepients have become core members of The Methodist Church in Cambodia (MCC) to serve God and God’s people.Rev. Andrew Lee
TWO NEW PROGRAMS (LAUNCHED IN JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2021)
Project ARK (Advancing Resilient Khmer)
Project ARK (Advancing Resilient Khmer) is a human rights ministry that targeting human trafficking that results in abuse of women, including trapping them in prostitution. It seeks to reduce poverty as “a culprit of human trafficking by equipping and restoring livelihood and dignity through the construction trade while introducing quality, affordable family homes into the Cambodian real estate market.”
For details visit their website.
Shine Project is for young women (16-25 years of age) who were not able to go to university due to lack of funds but seek training in a meaningful vocation. Shine will offer job training and licensing in Khmer cooking or the hair/makeup industries. Applications are available online.
For details and a folio of photographs see the website.
The United Methodist Cambodia Mission Initiative as a whole and many key programs individually can be supported through the Advance, the designated mission giving channel.
“It’s been really challenging since early 2020. Recently (February 2021), another massive cluster infection was identified, resulting in closing all schools and churches for at least two weeks and suspending of all public gatherings. Many stores are closed and the local economy is directly affected by the changing situation. I can still see an increasing fear and anxiety among people.
Global Ministries has, since the onset, worked with MCC congregations, families, and people living in the neighborhood of MCC churches to provide a series of relief projects. We have seen poor people become poorer, and in particular, many women and children are in dire need at this time. Together we have offered health education seminars and provided a package of necessity items such as rice, masks, sanitizers and soaps. In addition, we have reached out to local people in Buddhist communities. It was a great opportunity for us to share the love of God with people in real ways, giving them relevant help.“
– Rev. Andrew Lee
Global Ministries Mission Personnel
Global Ministries currently sponsors four missionaries and one Global Mission Fellow to work with the Methodist Church in Cambodia.
The five and their responsibilities are:
|Rev. Andrew Soon Lee||Country coordinator, an ordained elder of the California-Pacific Annual Conference|
|Clara Biswas||Street Children’ Ministry coordinator, who is originally from Bangladesh|
|Helen De Leon Camarce||Treasurer of Cambodia and Southeast Asia Missions, who grew up in the Philippines|
|Patrick Booth||Co-director, Project ARK (Advancing Resilient Khmer), who I from Ohio and Texas|
|Hyein Lee||Global Mission Fellow from South Korea, who works with Susannah Wesley House|
Keep up with their work through blogs and newsletters, easily accessed here.
Take a mission trip via the internet – explore, thank God and pray for the Methodist people of Cambodia as they go about God’s mission in their land and communities.
Elliott Wright is an information consultant and writer with Global Ministries.