International Ministries

A Rocky Road to a Genuine Interest in Christ

March 10, 2004 Journal

We ask for your prayers for the days ahead for we expect the situation here may soon become rather serious.I have just discovered that at least two of my staff whom are under Pastor Sok's influence have been telling villagers such things as listening to Christian radio is wrong, prayer is unnecessary, to study the Bible is wrong, and to go to a church other than theirs is wrong.At least one suggested the police may be coming to catch people in the new church.And it appears that they have been doing this on their work time.

One of the men saying such things is our TB project administrator, whom I wrote of before.We have generally been happy with his work but I don't see how we can tolerate this kind of public talk.I will be speaking with him and others soon to see if there is any chance this can be resolved, but I fear I may have to let them go.One of them has already been warned and the others know very well we would not want them to say such things publicly.

Unfortunately, I expect taking such action will probably elicit a sharp response from various quarters.An increased effort to discredit our agency's name and work would not be a surprise.One possibility is an attempt to encourage the government to intervene or restrict us.Pastor Sok himself has suggested before that local believers outside his church should fear the police.Last month I was followed by the police (briefly) for the first time to my knowledge.When Debbie's parents came to visit last month, I was visited by the police two different times and was asked extensive questions about their visit and their purpose here.I think someone may have been encouraging the police to check us out.I am concerned that if I take action against these staff it could be possibly misconstrued as forcing them to be Christians, which would invite government intervention.

I am very disappointed that these staff, once seemingly devout Christians, are following the pastor's increasingly poor teaching, but am now more alarmed with what effect their teaching has on the villagers.It is particularly disconcerting that this comes at a time when more people than ever before are showing an interest in Christ.This is largely due to Christian radio programs, increased work migration to other areas where there is more Christian witness and freedom, and local Christians sharing in the villages.We believe God's Spirit is moving.However, I have no doubt in my mind that Satan is now increasing his efforts to confuse and distort God's good news.It is just as Jesus warned, "he is a liar and the father of lies".

Another sensitive issue is Sok's preaching.In the past, I have never discouraged anyone from attending Pastor Sok's church.In fact, I have encouraged many to return or to persevere in their attendance.I have done so because the alternative for most people was no church and no fellowship at all.I also have wanted to avoid appearing to be trying to damage Sok's church, steal sheep, or cause open conflict.Public conflict is a very volatile issue for it can jeopardize other churches in the whole country. Open conflict and scandals in Christian churches tend to lend support to those in the government who want to limit or control the Christian church in Cambodia.Yet it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to justify encouraging people to attend Sok's church or attend myself because the teaching has steadily worsened.I fear that my own infrequent attendance may suggest to others that the teaching is okay.

Last Sunday Pastor Sok preached that prayer, Bible study, and passing out tracts were not good.He has said again anyone studying scripture does not need to come to his church anymore.The week before he asked everyone to raise their hand if they accepted the Holy Spirit teacher as being a direct messenger from God whose message was fully true.He denounced anyone who did not believe so as an unbeliever.Chi is a widow whom helps us shop for our food in the market and villages and helps with our laundry.She studies with our staff and me.Last night the pastor approached her and asked, "who lead you to study the Bible?"When she replied it was her idea, he said, "then it was really not from God then - it was just your own idea."She is now feeling very confused and is afraid God may be angry with her for studying.She is not alone.

I plead for your prayers at this time as I prepare to deal with these false teachings among my staff and in our study sessions.I feel quite sure there will be some kind of backlash.We feel in great need of prayer covering at this time.


One piece of good news is that a Mr. Pien has approached me and asked to enter our scripture classes.He has worked with me for years. He cares for our gardens and acts as courier (there yet is no functional postal system). He attended church many years ago for a short time but left after he was severely rebuked in public.His interest appears much more genuine now. Thank God and please pray he will truly come to believe.

Debbie's parents visited us for five weeks and we had a very good visit with them.Grandma home schooled the boys and grandpa fixed lots of broken things.The boys loved having their grandparents around.

We just started construction on a 5-room school two days ago.Villagers and local authorities have been very supportive and have worked hard to collect their share of their contribution.

By His Grace,

John Coats