The Backslidden Missionary


To western people, all the Pnong people in Punih village would appear to live in poverty. However, by Pnong standards, Kak and her family are actually quite well off. They have a good roof over their house, which is pictured above. It’s large enough that it has multiple rooms; it has a large cooking area underneath the house; and it features electric lights. The family has a well with an electric pump and at least fifteen cows. They even have a Honda Dream, a beautiful motorcycle with a top speed around 100 kph (60 mph). 

There’s something else special about Kak, too: her personality. She is very friendly and hospitable. When the first missionaries came to the Pnong project, twenty years ago, Kak was one of the first people to greet them and invite them to eat rice with her family. She helped them learn about her language and her culture, and the way of life of the Pnong people. In time, the missionaries began to share about their God: a God more powerful than the evil spirits, a God who loved so dearly that He sent His Son to die to save His rebellious children. And Kak listened. When the missionaries started a church group in the village, she came. Kak loved learning about this intriguing, loving God, so unlike any deity known in Cambodia.

Soon, another exciting thing happened: Kak’s daughter got engaged. Kak invited all her family and friends, including the missionaries, and dived into planning. The wedding day soon came, and the guests arrived. Traditional music blasted from a speaker at the bride’s house, above brightly colored canopies which had been erected for the wedding ceremony and the following banquet. The bridesmaids and groomsmen finished dressing, their vivid clothing and ornate jewelry shimmering in the light. The bride and groom came forth with their families, dressed even more exquisitely than their attendants, and the festivities that accompany weddings in Cambodia began.

The time soon came for the ritual sacrifices to ensure the favor of the spirits. Since the couple were second cousins, something typically frowned upon, the sacrifices were especially important. However, Kak hesitated. She knew that performing the sacrifices would go against the will of the new God she was learning about. But the guests insisted: failure to perform the sacrifices would bring the anger of the spirits upon the whole community. Inside, Kak struggled. She knew that without the sacrifices, her family would be held responsible for any future tragedies or deaths in the community. Finally, she gave in, and joined the ceremony.

In the days and weeks following, Kak’s enthusiam for Christianity diminished. It seemed that she feared God could not forgive her for knowingly going against His will. Whatever the real reason, Kak has not participated regularly in church or Christian events since that day.

Neary and Suty

While Punih village, Kak’s home, was situated in the hills, making for a cool and sometimes windy climate, Dumchi village is located below the hills. It is hotter there, and the landscape is flat. Traditional-style, elevated homes sit throughout the landscape. Fields surround these homes, extending toward the horizon: some cultivated with rice, some unused and filled with grass, dotted with trees. In one of these homes, Neary and her husband Suty lived with their young children.

Neary was sick. Suty had done everything he could think of for her. He’d summoned the traditional doctors (like “witch doctors” in some old mission stories), but they hadn’t helped. They’d sacrificed, but the spirits hadn’t helped either. Suty was desperate to find something to help his wife, and now, they had almost no money left. Finally, his aunt had a suggestion: Suty and Neary should become Christians. In response to his aunt’s recommendation, Suty quickly contacted us, and began studying the Bible and learning about our God. Suty and Neary came to love the God they discovered. They decided to dedicate their house to God. With our help, they ceremonially cleansed their house of all associations to the spirits, and dedicated it to God.

Suty knew that his neighbors were watching him. They hadn’t seen anyone turn away from the spirits like this, and wanted to see what would happen. They knew the spirits would be upset. But the only change was in the lives of Suty and Neary. With God’s help, Neary mostly recovered from her illness, though she may always be somewhat weak. She and Suty seemed happier, more joyful. Their house was more orderly. Their children were cleaner. Soon, one of Suty’s friends decided to begin studying the Bible. Progressively, over the next few years, a group began to grow. It’s now a house-church style group, with over 20 people attending every week. This is the group I worked with my last year in Cambodia, in Dumchi village.

And it all started because of a suggestion from Suty’s aunt. Aunt Kak.

We have called her “the backslidden missionary”. Because even though this whole group could be traced back to her, she has never fully devoted her own life to God. She sees the blessings God longs to give. She has recommended Christianity to others. She made sure her son Nar could go to our Christian school, so he could learn about God. And yet, for some reason, she has held back.

Maybe it’s the guilt. Maybe something else. I don’t know. Is she gone forever? I don’t believe so. Just as the Holy Spirit used her to reach Neary and Suty, I believe He is still working to reach her. Will you join me in praying for Kak, and perhaps others you know who are like her, to see God’s love, and to accept His forgiveness?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Adventist Frontier Missions or any other organization.

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