A woman who identifies as a man, “Tom” is a 60-year old former soldier. “Khmer Rouge?” “Awt-tay” (No), she assured. Living with her extended family who addresses her as “Pa” at an entrance to Angkor Wat, she climbs trees to gather unusual forest fruit to sell in front of the house (common in rural Cambodia).
Just a couple of miles from home, the heavily touristed “ancient palaces” of Angkor Wat were built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century when our region was the capital of the Angkor Empire. The pride and heritage of Cambodia, the temple complex is one of the few parts of the country where jungle and trees have not yet been cut to make way for farming.
Cambodians visit for free. Foreigners pay a hefty $37 fee. After 5:30pm, all enter for free. A few months ago, Rebekah suggested biking there with neighborhood kids. Similar enough to a Cambodian look, she passed the guard station without question. When the guards stopped me, I took a seat at the nearest house with a fruit stand out front to wait until 5:30. That’s where I met “Tom”. Toward the end of a getting-to-know-you conversation, I shared my ex-gay testimony.
When I returned to follow up, she said she had recently received Covid jab #1 (of 2) and had been suffering with symptoms, including agitation of a pre-existing heart condition. Later she shared that she falls out of a tree in the line of work roughly once per year. The Lord led to get her some medications and pray with her. That seemed to pave the way for the next visit. Our lives but a vapor, any of us could be taken at any moment. It was a good time to talk about the Lord.
Cambodian culture calls for extended conversations. Lasting around two hours, this was one of them. Note that this is a relatively new, budding relationship. My Cambodian witnessing partner was key in bridging the cultural divide. The two immediately began small-talking. The family shared fruit from the forest with us. Typically that means we have a conversation about which fruit is sweet and which is sour and who likes sweet and who doesn’t like sour.
We bought some pineapple from them and bonded. Cambodian women softly say “Jaa” for “Yes”, while men bark “Baht”. Tom says “Baht” and speaks of a “propun” she had in the past (word used for “wife” but likely not legally married). In favor of first building a firm relationship upon which to share a gospel that is alien to her, I overlooked such references. I pulled down my mask a bit to show a smile, crucial to social interaction in Southeast Asia. Roughly 30 minutes into the conversation, I noticed that her body language (legs crossed, ankle to knee) matched mine. This is very unusual posture within the culture. It seemed like a good time to begin with our questions.
In seminary, I have studied Buddhism and verified the claims of academia with Cambodians. Understanding what counterfeit paths Satan has ingrained in people is vital to effectively witnessing within a given cultural context. The root problem for Buddhism is suffering. The meaning of life is to end suffering. Buddhism teaches that suffering is rooted in one’s attachments and desires, which must be broken, in order to break the unsatisfactory cycle of reincarnation and enter nirvana.
An Apologetics class requires several field assignments. The Lord has used them to drive evangelism. We asked, ‘If there is a God who is good and loves us, why is there so much evil in the world?’ She said it is because people covet and gave examples regarding motorbikes and cars. This is in keeping with Buddhist teaching that holds covetousness as the highest wrong and source of suffering. We asked, ‘Do you like freedom? Do you think it is good?’ Yes, she agreed that freedom is good. We asked, ‘So that genuine freedom could be obtained, don’t you think we must have the option to do right and wrong, to be good or evil?’ She agreed.
She said God revealed Himself to her in a dream. She said people might say it was a ghost, but she knew it was God. Tom went to her bedroom and returned with the tattered cover of a children’s Bible storybook illustrating baby Moses. She said someone borrowed the contents and spoke highly of it – ‘true, good’ stories.
She said she follows all religions. We read Exodus 20:3-6 where the Lord commands us not to worship idols, graven images or any other gods. She did not rebuttal. Using her watch as an example, I asked, ‘If one person says that is a watch and another says it’s a shirt and another says it’s pants, can they all be right?’ She agreed and said that she believes in “Preah” (God). I reiterated that Jesus is the one and only God. She agreed. Then I shared the gospel message. She seemed to agree, but it is common here to verbally agree in order to be polite and avoid argument.
Looking at the tattered shell of that children’s Bible storybook, I asked if she wants a Bible. “Baht,” she replied. Then I asked if she would join us for church. She said she needs to be home when customers come. Her large family is more than capable of handling the few customers that stop by during this slow season. But her answer to this question was key. It exposed fear. Taking such a bold step away from Buddhism would be viewed as rejection of family, dishonoring ancestors and culture. I asked if we could pray with her. We did. The following morning, I returned with a Bible.
The road to Tom’s house was closed for a while for the Delta Variant but then re-opened. When I stopped by to visit before our most recent lockdown, she was feeding chickens out back. She pulled up a chair for me, and we talked for a while. She said she reads some of the Bible ‘when she remembers’. She asked for clarification on whether or not Jesus likes homosexuality. I told her that Jesus loves everyone but that He created male and female, not a “third sex” (common term for LGBT here), that two men together or two women together is sin. She quickly cut me off and changed topics.
Just like in the U.S., younger folks tend to be much more open to the gospel. At 60 years old, it would be quite a miracle if she were to come to Christ. Praise the Lord for opportunities to share the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ! Continuing to pray for Tom…
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
Disclaimer: This is not an effort to convince anyone to get vaccinated, only an expression of my personal convictions.
July of 2021, vaccines made it to our town in Cambodia, available (and free) to foreigners. Chinese-produced Sinopharm was the option. Beggars can’t be choosers; I was thankful to get a vaccine.
Unexpected byproduct of the shot: I stood up and went on a five-minute rant in full-blown Mandarin Chinese. A bystander was able to translate, said that I dedicated my life to the Chinese Communist Party in honor of the late Chairman Mao Zedong. It was the strangest thing! Just kidding. Like many, I felt tired and had a headache for a couple of days.
In the spirit of cost-benefit analysis, here are my convictions regarding why I opted to vaccinate:
Refusing vaccination negatively impacts evangelism. COVID has thrown a wet blanket on face-to-face evangelism. Because one of the first major outbreaks in Cambodia came through delegates visiting from Hungary, some tend to distance themselves from a Westerner who wants to have an extended conversation. ‘Your country has a lot of COVID, right? When was the last time you were in your country? You get vaccine yet??’ (steps back)
Refusing vaccination negatively impacts discipleship. A Christian’s choices reflect Christ to unbelievers. For example, we have a youth ministry in a nation that is 95%+ Buddhist. The community examines what Christians do – ex. putting their kids and by extension, families at risk for COVID. Trying to prove some political or fear-based conspiracy theory across a cultural and spiritual divide would likely be viewed as selfishness and significantly distract from the gospel.
What about Pfizer or another non-Chinese vaccine? Traveling abroad to get shots (2-week quarantine, then jab #1 + 2-4 weeks wait for jab #2, the Visa process during Covid, etc.) would be a difficult, costly undertaking.
Conspiracy theories. Earlier in my walk, the enemy was successful at convincing me of a variety of conspiracy theories. He used them to manipulate and make a fool of me… and by extension, the message I am called to preach (John 10:10; Eph 6:12; 1 Pet 5:8). Though I certainly do not trust the world system (2 Cor 4:4), most notably China, I try to err on the side of Scripture, caution and reason when it comes to conspiracy theories. Granted, this COVID situation has been a foreshadowing of what is to come. But unless it matches what the Bible says about the mark of the beast, then it’s not the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16-18). Irrational fear proves the Christian is not really trusting the Lord (2 Tim 1:7).
Follow the Lord or His wayward bride? At 43 years old, I should have by now outgrown peer pressure. The church is essential for worship, fellowship and growth. We are commanded to worship together (Heb 10:25). Having learned the hard way, I am thoroughly convinced that we cannot allow our relationship with the church to replace or supersede our personal relationship with Christ. The Lord put church leaders in charge. We are to submit to their authority (Heb 13:17), as long as their directives align with the inspired, inerrant Word of God (Acts 5:27-29; 2 Tim 3:16); Acts 17:11). As Paul prophesied, in these last days, many foundational doctrines, designed to protect us, have been exchanged for fables that appease popular culture (2 Tim 4:3-5; Rev 3:20). Running in fear of the full counsel of God, she fights useless distractions. Please God, not the world or His wayward bride (Gal 1:10; 2 Tim 2:4).
Can world governments kill me? When a Christian gives his life to Christ, he gives his life to Christ (Phil 1:21). I am ready to go. A pastor once preached that the Lord will not take a man until his work on earth is finished (Jer 29:11; John 17:4). In my past life, I ingested enough toxins to kill a herd of cattle. By His grace, I am still here and saved… not to sit wondering why but to seek Him (Heb 11:6) and carry out assigned duties (Rom 10:14,1:16; Eph 2:10). The Lord has a plan for me (and you), and I trust that I (we) will be here until He is finished using me (us). The Lord has guided me around a lot of dangerous situations. Making this decision prayerfully, I trust that He would have halted it, if it were not His will.
We certainly live in the last days: “…the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” Matthew 24:3-8
Any of us could die at any moment. CLICK HERE to find out how you can know enduring peace, God’s purpose for your life and be sure you will go to heaven when your brief time on earth is up.
“The Lord is… longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
Praise the Lord for salvation by God’s undeserved grace alone through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone!
“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Hebrews 10:38
ExGay Testimony & Suggestions re: How to Reach out to the LGBT.
Requested by Preacher Jong Madlang-awa with a Filipino (church) audience in mind. The message is universal.
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 1:7
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Galatians 6:7-9
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15