Establishment of Lutheran World Mission / Lutheran Church in Cambodia

Since the 1990s several leaders of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches in Asia have had discussions about starting a holistic outreach ministry in the Mekong region – the region where the Mekong River flows 4,350 kilometres through several countries to the lower basin and into the South China Sea. These countries are Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan (southern part of China) that have a total population of over 300 million. Later the group realized that several other Lutheran churches and mission agencies from other parts of the world also had the intention of reaching out to the countries in the Mekong region.

As such, in year 2000, under the initiative of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the first Mekong Mission Partners’ Consultation (MMPC) was held in Bangkok, Thailand from 29 September to 5 October. Thirty-four (34) participants from 14 countries representing LWF member churches, related mission agencies and organizations, ecumenical partners and consultants met ‘to learn, discuss, and consider ways in which cooperative mission programs and projects in the Mekong Region might be initiated or facilitated’. This joint cooperation was deemed a new and exciting mission endeavour as it involved LWF member churches and mission agencies from both north and south / east and west – Australia, Cambodia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Norway, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States of America. Lutheran seminaries in the region (Lutheran Theological Seminary, Hong Kong, Sabah Theological Seminary, Lutheran Seminary Thailand, etc) and other ecumenical partners such as the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), representatives of ecumenical churches in the Mekong region had also been actively participating in the process from the beginning.

After some initial fact finding through survey and field trips, the MMPC established the Mekong Mission Forum (MMF) in 2002. This Forum comprises of representatives from the various Lutheran churches and mission agencies. It meets on an annual basis to strategize and carry out the programs and projects to the Mekong countries according to country interest groups. The initial interest group keen to start or have existing work in Cambodia were Lutheran churches/mission agencies from Australia, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Singapore. To avoid duplication, the emphasis of the MMF was to network and strengthen existing Christian churches and groups regardless of denomination.  The first attempt by the Cambodia interest group was with the Kampuchea Christian Council (KCC) where capacity building was deemed most acute by the KCC at that time. However, after a couple of years, due to some internal problems within the KCC, the task was aborted.

Attempts were also made to work with other church groups such as the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), but this too, did not reap the desired result. Finally in year 2004, members of the Cambodia interest group decided that they would work towards the start of a Lutheran church in Cambodia. Dr William Chang, a pastor of the Lutheran Church in Singapore (LCS), was appointed to spearhead the project where exploratory and field trips to Cambodia were organized for interested MMF partners.  After a couple of years of surveying and engaging in community works through mobile clinics and Gospel outreach in different provinces and villages, Krus village in the province of Kampong Chhnang (about 2 hours from the capital city of Phnom Penh) was identified as a suitable base to anchor the ministry.

With the need to register with the Cambodian government in order to continue the local work, LCS went ahead in 2008 to register the Lutheran World Mission Limited (LWML) in Singapore for the work in Cambodia. This led to the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for LWM to operate as a foreign NGO in Cambodia.

With the goal of starting a church and diaconal ministry, LWM applied and became a member of the Evangelical Fellowship in Cambodia (EFC) under the name Lutheran Church in Cambodia (LCC). In 2008 LWM bought a piece of land in Krus village, and a church cum diaconal centre was built with support from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bavaria (ELCB) and LCS. In 2010, the building was completed and housed LCC’s first congregation and diaconal centre – Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (GSLC) cum Life Centre.

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (GSLC) continues its holistic mission through Gospel and diaconal outreach to the community in Krus and other surrounding villages. A Sunday worship service was started with about 24 adults and 40 children in the Sunday school. Initial diaconal services include English classes and a Daily Bread project which offers a daily, a balanced meal from Tuesday to Friday for about 50 children from needy families and several elderly people in the community.

In 2011, with several youth from GSLC furthering their tertiary education in the capital city of Phnom Penh, LWM decided to start a City Church (congregation) cum hostel ministry for university students. Today there are up to 60 students staying at the Rainbow student hostel . Bible studies and fellowship nights are held each week and there is a regular Sunday service for the City Church. Lutheran Church in Cambodia (LCC), lead pastor, Daniel Orn lives at the hostel with his wife and family to care for the needs of the students who come from different provinces of Cambodia.

The number of people baptised into the family of God and who are now members of the Lutheran Church in Cambodia continues to grow steadily each year. Nine were baptised into the body of Christ and received as members of LCC in GSLC in its first baptism in July 2010; 37 in 2011 and 33 on 1 January 2012 which included the first group of 10 students from LWM City Church/hostel. The most recent baptisms where for six young people, held at the opening of the newest ministry centre in Tang Krang in Kampong Cham province in July 2016.

This ministry continued to grow as more people came to know about Jesus Christ through the new Christians and their witness to family and the community. The next phase of this expanding ministry was the purchase of land alongside the Rainbow hostel / City Church in Phnom Penh. It is planned that this land will eventually be the site for a Lutheran preschool (kindergarten) and ministry training rooms, together with classrooms for teaching English and computing. LCA International Mission (formerly the Board for Mission) voted to underwrite the LLL loan of $500,000 which was granted in order to ensure sufficient funds were available to purchase the land and pay for all legal costs involved in ensuring that the land remains safely in the hands of the Lutheran Church in Cambodia. The members of the LCA in Australia and LCNZ, together with members of the LCS and ELCB gave substantial donations to this exciting program and the loan was not required. Lutheran Education Australia have supported the exploratory planning for the Lutheran pre-school through the provision of expertise. Much work and significant finance will still be required in order to design and construct the new facilities, but it is hoped that we will be able to raise the funds required for this exciting development in 2017.

On 6 May 2014 LCA Mission Director Rev Neville Otto and Lutheran Church in Singapore (LCS) Mission Coordinator Mrs Sally Lim /Kee, Pastor Daniel Tina Orn of the Lutheran Church in Cambodia (LCC) and Rev Vannarith Chhim, the fromer president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia (ELCC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the establishment of the Federation of Lutheran Churches in Cambodia.

Land has now been purchased in Kampong Cham province to provide a base for the mission and ministry programs that have already been taking place. A visit from members of Immanuel, Woden and LifeWay Epping and Newcastle congregations in July 2015 has resulted in finances being provided to build a manse, ministry shelter, fish pond (for income generation) and a fence to surround the land. The new ministry rooms were dedicated and opened in the village of Tang Krang, Kampong Cham province in July 2016, in the presence of overseas partner churches and LCA International Mission guests and pastors and members of the Lifeway Epping and Newcastle congregations and Immanuel, Woden congregation.