The last 40 years of the 20th century was a very turbulent time for Cambodia. In 1975, Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge (Red Khmer) came out victorious and took over power in the country. Pol Pot cut off Cambodia totally from the outside world.

Background History

The last 40 years of the 20th century, Cambodia experienced as a very turbulent period, the years from 1975 to 1978 being the worst, however. Fights had been going on for a long time between the partisans supported by Hanoi, and government troops supported by the US, but in 1975, Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge (Red Khmer) came out victorious and took over power in the country. Townspeople were removed forcibly into the countryside where they had to grow rice for the collective. Each person got a small portion of rice twice a day. Pol Pot did not want educated or independent people and consequently (out of a 7 million population) wiped out between two and three million people, doctors, nurses, teachers, monks, pastors, etc. Several died from hunger and exhaustion in the many camps. Many were imprisoned – for instance in Tuel Sleng in Phnom Penh – where they were tortured and later taken to one of the notorious ‘Killing Fields’. At Choueng Ek for instance, excavators today find mass graves with men without their heads and a grave with women and children. Close to this grave, the torturers stroke heads of small children against a tree to get their mothers to tell what they knew – and killed them even if they did not know anything.

Typical street in Preah Sdack shortly after downfall of the Pol Pot regime.

Cambodia was totally secluded from the outside world. The country had no hospitals, no health clinics, and no schools resulting in a full generation of illiterates.

In 1978, the Vietnamese army overthrew Pol Pot but kept the country hermetically sealed. In 1989, Vietnam withdraw from the country and not until 1991 did UN interfere by creating a peace plan. In 1993, Cambodia got a constitution containing four important points: Royal power, democracy, freedom of religion, and ban on Khmer Rouge. Introducing Royal power was no problem as the King after his escape to China was free to return. Khmer Rouge had already fled into the mountains close to the border of Thailand and knew the risk of capture, imprisonment and torture.

As to freedom of religion, corporal punishment to convert from Buddhism to Christianity does not exist but it is not as simple as that. Apparently, if you are a Khmer you are a Buddhist. If you convert you are a traitor. If you apply for a public job and tell you are a Christian you will not get the job.

History of the Church

1555Dominicans from Portugal introduce Roman Catholic teachings.
17th centuryRoman Catholic priests from France arrive and establish the Catholic Church.
18th centuryA French priest translates parts of the gospels to Khmer.
1923The first protestant missionaries arrive in the country.
1933Translation of the New Testament to Khmer.
1940Translation of the entire Bible. Not edited until 1954.
1965Nearly all protestant missionaries leave the country as Prince Sihanuk accuses all Americans in Cambodia of working for the CIA.
There are now 4-500 Christians.
1970Prince Sihanuk loses his power to the pro-American military man Lon Nol, and the missionaries may return.
1973Many people flee to the capital. Missionaries and national church leaders hold an evangelical crusade in Phnom Penh where thousands are converted. After this, many small church congregations grow up, most of them with lay leaders.
1975Missionaries must leave the country again. Now 10.000 are Christians. 17 April the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh, and the secretary general of The Lutheran Church of Cambodia is executed, together with many church leaders.
1975-78The Khmer Rouge executed about 9.000 Christians (90%), or they died from malnutrition and illness.
1979Tormenting of Christians is still going on and most of the last Christians escape to camps at the border to Thailand.
1980-88Being Christian is now illegal. The few scattered Christians had almost no possibilities to gather, and yet continue as an underground church.
1990Being Christian becomes formally legal.
1992Christian relief organizations are returning. Churches are reestablished. You can preach the Gospel even if a technical prohibition still exists. Theological education starts at Phnom Penh Bible School.
1993The New Testament appears in a new translation – 20 years after the work began. The new government declares religious liberty in a new constitution.
1996Out of a 10 million population, 6.000 are Christians.
1998The Bible is published in a new translation easier to understand for average people.
2002Earlier, the authorities always said Buddhism and Islam. Now you often hear Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.
2004Some say there are 50.000 Christians; however, the number is uncertain.
2008About 200.000 Christians (1, 5% of the population).
2014About 300.000 Christians (2% of the population).

Agricultural and village development

In 1992, Chairman of Danish Santal Mission Thorkild Schousboe Laursen and Secretary General Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen flew into Cambodia from Thailand. They saw a devastated country in need of a total rebuilding. The Santal Mission decided to send missionaries and financial support to the new working area, Cambodia, at first in cooperation with the Christian relief organization World Concern. World Concern had been in the country since 1984.The first project was establishment of a sewing school for young women otherwise subjected to prostitution.

The World Concern Sewing Skill Training Project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

In 1993, the work in Preah Sdach, Prey Veng Province, began with health, water and latrines. A family health project aiming at the establishment of a health committee in every village and educating many locals to participate. Equally, a midwife project aiming at further training of local ‘mother to daughter’ educated midwives.

International Cooperation Cambodia – ICC

In 1995, the International Cooperation Cambodia (ICC) was established. ICC was an international church organization consisting of four cooperating organizations – later on others joined, and Danmission withdraw to work together with local organizations.

The Danish Santal Mission Secretary General Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen in conversation with Missionaries Bodil and Jørgen Lindgaard at Preah Sdach, Cambodia, February 1996.

The same year (1995), Danmission took on Bodil and Jørgen Lindgaard to a farming and village development project named The Pile Mission (Pælemissionen). They worked in an international team and trained many locals to participate in the work. The health project expanded to include further training of local nurses in the health centers. The farming project focused on growing of rice and vegetables, planting of fruit trees, fish farming, animal husbandry, clean drinking water, and water for irrigation. Village committees began working in 29 villages with about 3,400 inhabitants. Every village established a loan fund where families were able to borrow an amount to invest in activities profitable for the family and the entire village. Clean drinking water was in short supply, and training of local drilling teams resulted in about 2,000 tread pumps in the district and about 200 irrigation systems making it possible to grow rice and vegetables more than once a year. Several farmers attended courses in growing of rice, vegetables and fruit trees, animal husbandry, fertilization, and fish farming. Everything with the aim of helping villagers to improve their health and raising the living standards of the families by themselves.

At the beginning there were no Christians in the area. In 1997 Beatrice and Juanito Basalong, nurse and pastor respectively and South-South missionaries from Lutheran Church Philippines (LCP), joined the project. Juanito and Keth Chandara (locally engaged) started English lessons for a team of young people. After a while, some of these came and asked for a course only dealing with the subject, Jesus. This was the beginning of the first youth club. Later they were trained to be Sunday school teachers – Sunday schools were starting – grown-ups were taking interest – house congregations were starting – laymen were training to run these groups. With scholar-ship from Danmission, some young people had their training at Phnom Penh Bible School.

Abundant Life Church

By now a small church, Abundant Life Church (ALC), has been established. In 2006, Sao Am became the first pastor in Preah Sdach with about 100 baptized Christians. Danmission is still supporting ALC.

Association for Development of Community – ADC

A locally established NGO (Non-Government Organization), Association for Development of Community (ADC) was aiming at training Khmer people to take over all functions in the project in order to continue the work independently of ICC. By the end of 2002 locals had taken over everything.

In January 2008, a new project PARCE started in villages bordering on Vietnam. Here they worked with saving up, farming, health and Bible study groups under ICC and supported by Danmission. The work centered on building smaller self-supporting groups teaching families in villages to organize and be responsible for their own development, to express their needs and claim towards local authorities, to optimize their growing methods in order to make sure they had something to eat every day. Locals took over the project by the end of 2015.


In 1999, Danmission started work in Ratanakiri in the north eastern Cambodia. Nutritionist Evangeline and Highland Agronomist Daniel Wagang were South-South missionaries from Lutheran Church Philippines (LCP) and sent to Cambodia, 2000-2004. They worked among the Krung tribal people who  have no written language and difficulties in managing in a society with Khmer as the only teaching language. Assignments of the Wagangs were agricultural development and evangelism.

The Church in Cambodia is growing steadily, but the work is still in need of help and support.

Jørgen and Bodil Lindgaard
June 2016

Translation Marianne Boisen – 02-03-2017

View more photos from Cambodia here


Bodil and Jørgen Lindgaard. Missionary couple sent by Danish Santal Mission to Kathmandu, Nepal, 1992-1995. And sent to Cambodia, 1995-2001, where Danish Santal Mission and World Concern had started development activities from 1993.

Rev. dato: 19. June 2018
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