“It’s like deja vu all over again.” I’m sure the old Yogi Berra quote will resonate with most Western pastors, who have stared at empty seats, as they read this. We had 1500 chairs set up for a 7:00 pm Easter evening service. I arrived at 6:55pm and there were 150 people there at best. “What a bust!” I’m thinking as I greet the few faithful attendees. Never before had we over estimated an event in fourteen years of Cambodian church history.
After a wonderful, packed-out Easter morning service I couldn’t help but wonder if the coincidental simultaneous beginning of the Cambodian New Year, and the mass exodus to the countryside which always accompanies it, had beaten us. I was mystified.
I sat down as the first performance of the Easter event (A variety show that featured the resurrection of Christ) put together by the “Young Lions”, walked on stage. Feeling that this was going to be a small scale disaster I began praying our kids would not be too discouraged. The program began with a girl who leads worship at our Cham Chao Church as a few additional people began coming through the gate. Then the MC, “Seri Yen”, one of our “Young Lions” from the Don Bosco Technical School in Sihanoukvulle, a girl we helped raise most of her life, welcomed those who had come. Unmoved by the small crowd, with great enthusiasm she talked of the great evening ahead, with her co-host Pastor Khouch lending support.
The second singer came through the curtain at the rear of the stage, I didn’t recognize this beautiful young woman in the long purple and yellow striped gown. She paused, bowed, and thanked Mak and Pa Thom (Sou and I) for helping her, and proceeded to belt out this professional grade song. I thought people were going to tear the gate down trying to get in. It turns out she is a famous recording star and actress who came to know Christ at one of our church homes. I was humbled and honored, thinking, “I don’t even know this girl.”
Then, one after another, former kids we’d raised, churches started with our kids that were not even Foursquare, skits, dances, dramas, songs, preaching, and an altar call with dozens of factory workers responding, ending with a fashion show at 10:30pm. By the end of the program, we didn’t have to worry about empty seats, nearly all of them were filled. It blew my mind! Sou and I just looked at each other in amazement. We had no idea of the impact that this movement has had on Cambodia. Pastor Peter says that more than 10,000 kids have lived in our church homes, and they are all over Cambodia taking Jesus with them.