Cambodia Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Churches

Wong Yew Seng (黃有誠) and Wu Chook Ying (吳竹影)

Basic Demographic Information

Official Name: ??? Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church

Church Administrative Unit: ???

Date Officially Formed: November 1, 1959

Founding Minister: ???

Church Website: ???

Current Address: ???

Date on which Current Sanctuary was Established: ???

Current Membership: 5,549 for all of Cambodia

Cambodia (Khmer) (柬埔寨) was a Buddhist country and remained neutral in the Vietnam War throughout the 1960s. Because of its neutrality in the Cold War conflict, Cambodia received large amounts of the American and Soviet aids to construct highways and buildings.

Fred Lloyd Pickett (費畢克) and his wife, nee Ada Irene Reeder, sailed from the US for French Indo-China in September 1929. They spent a few months in Saigon (西貢), now known as Ho Chi Minh City (胡志明市), to study the French language. In April 1930, they went to Phnom Penh (金邊), capital city of Cambodia, to work among the Cambodians. Mrs. Pickett was a registered nurse, and she tried her best to give medical treatments, medicines and consultations to friends. So far the number of treatments amounted to three hundred fifty in half a year. But the government refused permission for the church to open a regular clinic, because Mrs. Pickett held an American diploma, and not a French one. Requests were made to the government for Mrs. Pickett to take her examination in French, but no official reply was received.

When the government refused to give Pickett permission to build a church, he established a church of 32 Cambodian members at Tinh Bien (奠邊), a village near Chaudoc (朱篤) in the neighboring Cochin China (交趾支那), now southern Vietnam. In February 1934, he was transferred to Bangkok to serve as director of the Siam Mission, where he served till April 1936 when he and his wife sailed for America for furlough. During this period, Pickett made occasional visits to Cambodia to keep in touch with the work there.1,2

At the Malayan Union (南洋聯合會) biennial session held in Singapore in February 1937, the entire French Indo-China field was formed into a regular local mission. F. L. Pickett was elected the mission director. In February 1938 he came from Saigon to Singapore to attend the annual council of the Malayan Union executive committee. While being seriously ill, he was able to return to Saigon by steamer, but entered immediately hospital upon his arrival in Saigon. Through the kind intervention of Mr. Palmer, the American Consul in Saigon, Pickett was admitted to the French Military Hospital and was given the best medical care available. He remained in the hospital for about 40 days and during that time he underwent two surgical operations. But he fell asleep in the Lord on April 1, 1938, just a few weeks over 41 years of age.3

The next foreign missionaries posted in Cambodia were Robert Bentz (羅賓茲) and his wife Martha Erna Brokecker of France. They were united in marriage on October 19, 1936, and two weeks later left their native land to work in French Indo-China. They arrived in Singapore on December 19, 1936. They were expected to arrive earlier in the year, but were delayed on account of the illness of Mrs. Bentz. They were assigned to Cambodia and took up residence at Phnom Penh, where they entered upon a study of the language. Here they made good contacts and were preparing the way for future aggressive evangelistic labors.

On February 21, 1938, a son, Raymond Andre Bentz, came to brighten their home. A few months later, she was stricken quite suddenly with a fatal illness only a few days before her death. She was admitted to the hospital at Phnom Penh. A short time before she lost consciousness, she united with her husband in prayer, in which she expressed her desire that God’s will might be done. A few hours later she lost consciousness, in which state she remained until the time of her death, some three days later. She died on August 8, 1938, at the age of 26 years, 8 months, and 24 days. She came from a family of devoted Sabbath keepers. Her parents joined the Seventh-day Adventist church when she was still very young. She was baptized in early youth and remained a faithful member until Death called. In early 1939, Miss Martha Koempel, a former missionary in northern Africa, arrived in Phnom Penh, as the bride-elect of Robert Bentz. Since the French government does not recognize any religious marriage, “Brother Bentz and Miss Koempel were first united by the civil authorities in Phnom Penh; after which a modest ceremony was performed” in the home by R. H. Wentland (溫德倫), director of French Indo-China Mission.4

A letter written by three people on September 8, 1953, was sent to the president of the Seventh-day Adventist Mission at Saigon. The letter read as follows, “ Dear Brother [L. G.] Storz (施道智), We, the three undersigned, are pastors and workers of the C.M.A. (Christian Missionary Alliance) Mission in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and are happily receiving the doctrines of the SDA Mission, especially the Sabbath truth. We beg, of you, my brother, to send us quickly a missionary to Phnom Penh to teach us, help and guide us to start a missionary work in our country for the Cambodia people.” [Author’s note: Pastor Storz then was home missionary and Sabbath school secretary in the Indo-China Mission. It was in 1957 when the Malayan Union was renamed Southeast Asia Union, and the Indo-China Mission became the Vietnam Mission that L. G. Storz was its president.]

Commented Storz, “Paul’s vision in Troas of the Macedonian gentleman requesting that a teacher be sent to help, re-occurs in different forms, styles, languages and countries the world over—–even in our time.”

A few years earlier, in 1948, L. G. Storz paid a visit to Phnom Penh on an itinerary to search out our few scattered believers. Having found one sister who knew a few words of French, he gathered them together on Sabbath and observed with them their first church service since 1942. They wept for joy telling him of their happiness that he had come to work for their people. How hard it was for Storz to inform them that he was just a visitor and would be leaving them in a couple of days. “You will have to wait a bit longer,” Storz said, “until our mission can support another missionary for Cambodia.”

In 1956 Storz said, “Over eight years have passed. They are still waiting, (I admit shamefully). A few have given up waiting…. Cambodia is still waiting…. In 1953 I took our Chinese colporteur Brother Tran Tran (陳鎮), up to Phnom Penh and located a chapel for him where he could begin the Chinese work on a self supporting basis, as there were many Chinese there. Through Tran’s faithful and fruitful efforts, a company of Chinese believers met faithfully each week.

“It was at this time that the aforementioned letter was received from the three Cambodian men whom I had never met prior to that time.” Storz continued. “These men have since proved themselves faithful to our mission. They left the Sunday church—–not as a result of a personal squabble, but as a result of the process of truth, the Spirit of God, and time, all acting effectively upon those fruitful hearts. In fact they were excommunicated from the C.M.A. Mission for insubordination. They refused to cease frequenting the Adventist Chapel in quest of more literature. These brethren are men of talent and consecration. They are now firmly founded upon the true rock. One has translated the Voice of Prophecy Bible Correspondence lessons into the Cambodian language. Funds are now needed for their printing and for conducting the school. Another man is serving us faithfully as a colporteur, as we have no funds to employ him otherwise.

“God is using these men, but they need much guidance and help—–more then we can give them from this distance. At this time the presence of a foreign missionary in Cambodia is more urgently needed than ever. Relations between Cambodia and Viet Nam are not what they used to be, and it is nigh impossible for any mission in Viet Nam to give effective help to Cambodia. Travel is restricted, and currency problems increase. The only solution is for us to finally concede to the Macedonian call to which we have given a dead ear—–these many years.”5

After the war many Chinese migrated to Phnom Penh. In 1950, Ho Wai Yue (何韋如) became the pastor of the Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church in Saigon. Soon he was invited to hold a series of evangelistic meetings in Phnom Penh. A place was rented for meetings. Unfortunately, political instability and chaos forced him to leave Phnom Penh without holding any meetings. Meanwhile Tran Tran continued to care for the work among the Chinese. The meeting point moved a few times. Eventually Tran Tran rented a third floor of a shop house on Phlauv Preah Bat Monivong (莫利瑝大道, in 1964 as Phlauv Mao Zhedong毛澤東大道). He lived in half the space and held services in the other half.

In October 1957 the Southeast Asia Union Mission sent Ralph E. Neall (倪羅福) and his wife to work in Cambodia—–the first postwar foreign missionaries to arrive there. When the Nealls arrived in Phnom Penh, the group of believers consisted of a few Chinese families who were meeting on the third floor of the shop house on Phlauv Preah Bat Monivong. A church elder from Bangkok, Lin Chung Hsi (林忠喜), who had been a denominational worker in South China, ran a plastic factory in Phnom Penh and gave strong support to the work in Cambodia. The Nealls lived with the Lin family for quite a while since their arrival at Phnom Penh. Around 1974 the Lin family migrated to Australia.

On November 4, 1957, Mrs. Beatrice S. Neall wrote to Elder and Mrs. H. C. Currie (柯爾義伉儷), “We looked at a big barn of a place for 15,000 riels which we figured would hold us, the new Chinese pastor, and his wife, the chapel with Brother Tran Tran and his wife and seven children. But that was not the place we decided on.

“The day our shipment was to be moved in we decided to make an urgent effort to locate a place of our own so we wouldn’t have to clutter up the Lings’ place and also move our stuff twice. We went out with Dame Ranova, an exotic woman who professes to be a friend of the King…. She speaks English and French, and no one knows exactly where she comes from. She showed us a two-story house…. She thought one floor would rent for 10,000 riels plus extra for fixing it up…. When we arrived home, Mrs. Lin wanted to know how we had fared. We told her there was nothing. Then she got a bright idea, for which we are grateful. The essence of it was that she would move her dining room out of our bedroom and let us have the whole room (16 by 36) plus the room on the top floor for a kitchen, with the roof for hanging our clothes and mediating. We were thrill. Really, every time we have been house-hunting, we are delighted to come here.

“Soon a gang of coolies was at the house struggling over enormous crates. Ralph was energetically ripping them open and gloating over the contents. I thought I had become quite detached from this world with its materials things; but I must confess that when we I saw the refrigerator and stove and piano and egg-beater, I felt the pull of worldly possessions again. Of course it was a long time before all the parts were in refrigerator and the transformer was hitched up, etc., … The stove is still in sixteen pieces; but tomorrow the gas man will come and hitch it up….Today was the historic day when we did a wash in the new Maystag…. There was quite a bit of breakage and damage to our staff. The packers in Oswego didn’t know much about overseas shipping and how stevedores specialize in dropping crates, so many dishes and things were broken. The articles that the G. C. [General Conference] packed in New York came through in fine shape. They really knew how to pack….

“About the market and our food. All my salt shakers are obsolete; the salt we have here is soggy gray stuff which is wrapped in newspaper, tied with grass, and served with a spoon. Sugar is packaged the same way, but we boiled it with water and use the syrup. (Sister Lin assures me that germs can’t live in salt.) When I went to buy bread at the bakery, a girl lifted a burlap bag from a big basket and took out three long loaves of white French bread, which she wrapped with newspaper and tied with grass.”6

After spending a month visiting the northern territory of the Southeast Asia Union around October 1958, reported H. C. Currie, “There is so much one could say about Laos….. To continue my journey, it was necessary to come back to Bangkok, and then from there take a plane to the capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia—–Phnom Penh. This is a land of red tape and bribes. Ever since Pastor and Mrs. Ralph Neall and their two children arrived a year ago, they have been attempting to get our denomination registered with the Cambodian government. But because they have not seen the way clear to pay out bribes, they are still entangled in plenty of red tape.

“Brother and Sister Giang Tu Minh (江自明) arrived about six months ago, and it has been a struggle ever since just to get permission for them to stay. We still do not know what the outcome will be, but we do feel that God has a work for them to do, and we are earnestly praying that a way will be opened for them to continue on. [Editor’s note: Giang Tu Minh is now known as Davis Kong working in Hong Kong. He was a 1957 graduate of the Chinese Ministerial Course at Southeast Asia Union College; he and his newly-married wife arrived at Phnom Penh to work among the Chinese.]

“The Nealls have both been diligent students of the Cambodian language. What a thrill it was Sabbath morning to have Brother Neall translate my sermon into Cambodian, with some able assistance from his good wife, who was sitting in one of the front pews. Our meetings are conducted in a rented chapel—–the second floor of a shop-house. This is very unsatisfactory, of course, and they desperately need a more suitable meeting place. The Sabbath I was there, we were able to organize our first church in Cambodia with eleven charter members.”7

Regarding the new church entity, Ralph Neall reported, “A new Seventh-day Adventist church has been organized in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After fifteen years without an active church organization, Elder H. Carl Currie organized the new church group on November 1, 1958. The Christian’s privilege of leading men to Christ was the theme of Elder Currie’s sermon on this occasion. Giang Tu Minh, ministerial intern and recent graduate of Southeast Asia Union College, was elected as elder of the new church. he and Lin Chung Hsi (林忠喜), the deacon, were ordained to their offices at the close of the service. There were eleven character members.

“The Lord is blessing the Chinese Voice of Prophecy Bible School under Brother Giang Tu Minh’s care. Sixty per cent of new enrollers are returning their test sheets, and are being reported even from outlying cities of the country.

“Services are being conducted in the Cambodian and Chinese languages. While no Cambodians are among the present membership, there are interests who should be ready for baptism in a few months.”8

In 1959, Pastor Neall held a series of meetings for the Chinese people, through translators. He reported, “The evangelistic meetings for the Chinese people in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, continued well attended after five Sunday-evening services. Interested young people, including many Bible Course students, are coming from all parts of the city. With the writer as speaker and Mrs. E. Ada Lin and Brethren Giang Tu Minh and Tran Tran as translators, Christ has been presented as Creator and Redeemer of all men. Future meetings will display the prophecies and distinctive truths of the three angels’ messages.

“The church’s own chapel house, well-located in the center of Phnom Penh, is the meeting place for these services. However, the church looked forward to the day when, the registration of the Mission completed, evangelistic meetings can be held in larger public auditorium.”9

It was a hot Saturday afternoon, April 11, 1959, when a group of about thirty members and non-members started from the church to a place about 25 kilometers [15 miles] from Phnom Penh, which does not include a short walk from where they parked our cars. Under the care and guidance of Brother Giang Tu Minh, Mr. and Mrs. Wu Tao Lian (吳道連伉儷) were added to the church, the first baptism since the arrival of Pastor Neall and family in the city of Phnom Penh.

The group followed the dusty trail surrounded on both sides by trees and banana plants, until they came to an opening overlooking one of the most beautiful life-giving rivers in the Far East, known as the Mekong River. After spreading out mats on the ground, Giang Tu Monh conducted in the singing of a few songs. The Pastor Neall, with Mr. and Mrs. Wu Tao Lian, solemnly stepped into the calm water Seeing the three walk out of the water with smiles on their faces, they knew that the two newly baptized members had found peace and happiness of heart at last. Those present began to shake hands heartily with the new-born children of our large Christian family in various of the world.10

In mid 1959, Mrs. Beatrice Neall wrote, “For some time our work in Cambodia has been hedged in with difficulties. When people have asked us about our progress of the work here, we have had to tell them of the obstacles and perplexities we face. Our problem has been in getting our mission registered with the government. Without this recognition our activities are greatly limited. Our books are not approved for publication, public meetings are forbidden, buildings cannot be erected, and long-term visas for our workers are not granted. We prayed and worked hard for this registration for a year without any results. Our Chinese pastor, Brother Giang Tu Minh, has been subject to embarrassment by the police on a number of occasions when his temporary visa expired and the government was slow to issue a new one.

“One of our first duties on coming was to find land for a mission house and a church. This has been difficult. There are restrictions on foreigners owning land. Much land is undesirable because of surroundings flooding, lack of electricity and water, and excessive cost. After we have been here over a year, we still had not found a suitable piece of land. Land for a church was even more perplexing than land for a house, since it had to be in the city where the people are, and where costs far exceeded the money we had on hand.

“We started a series of meetings in the little room we rent on the third floor of a shop-house, but without results. Like Jacob we were inclined to say, ‘All these things are against us.’ But when things are at their worst, we know that God is about to make bare His mighty arm and work for us. We saw God begin to work for us when we started evangelistic meetings again in February. By this time Brother Giang had been conducting a Bible Correspondence School for some months and had some good interests. These meetings were to be preached in English by Pastor Neall and translated into Chinese. Two weeks before the opening night he came down with a bad case of the flu and was still confined to bed the day the meetings were to start. The handbills were given out in faith that day, and the newspaper ads were not withdrawn. Brother Neall seemed to be imbued with new energy as he stood before a crowded room and preached on ‘The Stars Speak’ to an eager group of young people. Mrs. C. S. Lin translated with equal energy. We are happy to report that the interest is still good after more than two months of Sunday night services.

“A week after our opening meeting, Elder Currie came to Phnom Penh to spend a few days with us. During his visit here much good was accomplished, bringing a new spirit of harmony into our church. The final decision on a house lot was made, and a basic plan for the house was drawn up, saving weeks of correspondence. During his visit here we received word that the Council of Ministers had voted to grant our registration, pending receipt of information from the United States government on the status of our church in America. Surely the Lord was beginning to work for us.

“Shortly after this, we received a letter from some people whom we had never met, in a place where we had never been, telling of their special prayers for us. Elder E. L. Minchin, of the General Conference, during a series of revival meetings in Montemorelos, Mexico, had told our people there of our difficulties and requested prayer for us. ‘Our faculty group from the hospital and school prayed for before his sermon,’ wrote Mrs. Richard Welch, wife of our doctor there. A remarkable revival took place in Mexico, and the results were felt on the other side of the world in Cambodia.

“God’s blessings have continued on our work here. On April 11, our new church gathered by the riverside to witness the baptism of Brother and Sister Wu, a consecrated couple whom Brother Giang found and brought into the full light of the Gospel, We believe they will be a valuable asset to our work here.”11

During the 1960 biennial session of the Southeast Asia Union, R. Neall rendered a report for the Cambodia District. He said, “On August 21, 1959, His Majesty King Suramarit (蘇拉瑪裏特) signed the government ordinance granting official recognition to the Seventh-day Adventist Mission in Cambodia. This recognition marked the answer to sixteen months of prayer, letter-writing, and calling on high officials in the government. [Editor’s note: Suramarit was king of Cambodia from 1955 to 1960. Before and after him, Sihonouk (西哈努克) was king of Cambodia.]

“The Phnom Penh Church was organized with 11 charter members on November 1, 1959. The first baptism in Cambodia since the war was held in Mekong River on April 11, 1959. One of the two persons baptized at that time entered the colporteur work and has since sold more than 160,000 riels’ worth of our literature. Two more were baptized on December 26, 1959.

“Two pieces of land were purchased this year—–one for a mission home, and the other for a church in Phnom Penh. We moved into the house in December 1959. We believe we can finish a church seating 100 persons in 1960.

“Brother Giang Tu Minh, our Chinese minister, is in charge of the Voice of Prophecy Bible School in Cambodia. 34 have graduated from the course since it began in July 1958, of whom 3 have now been baptized.

“As this is written, we face the prospect of having to leave the country in less than a week because our residence permit has not been renewed. We are seeking God’s help on this problem, and feel sure it will be favorably settled by this time this report is published. The Lord called us to Cambodia, and we know we have a work to do here. The permit was finally renewed.12

A series of meetings for the Chinese people was held in 1959, speaking through translators. In 1960 R. E. Neall conducted a new series without a translator for the Cambodians, and Giang Tu Minh preached to the Chinese on alternate evenings. R. E. Neall reported, “Nearly 50 Cambodians crowded into the Phnom Penh chapel house, and another stood outside in the rain, for our opening evangelistic meeting on May 28. The subject ‘When Men Visit Other Worlds,’ was illustrated with Kodachrome slides of rockets and stars. The same subject was given a week later for the opening Chinese evangelistic meeting. The address was translated into Chinese by Brother Giang Tu Minh, who has labored faithfully in Phnom Penh since his graduation from Southeast Asia Union College two years ago.

“Meetings are continuing with excellent attendance four times a week—–twice for Cambodians and twice for Chinese. The series is planned to run at least 10 weeks. The most effective means of advertising has been a series of spot announcements on the local radio station. The only other advertising used was an attractive handbill printed locally by offset. The chapel is more than filled without additional advertising.”13

Sabbath, April 22, 1961, marked the baptism of the first Cambodian convert in Cambodia in more than 15 years. She was Lim Saing Huay, a servant of Pastor and Mrs. Neall for the last three years. Two Chinese young men, Tran Yin and Chan Chien, were also baptized in the service held on the banks of the Mekong River. After a short talk on the meaning of baptism by water and the Spirit, the candidates stepped forward, led by those who had guided then to Christ. Tran Tran and his wife came with their son Ah Yin. Chan Varman, who was baptized two years before, led his younger brother Chan Chien. Mrs. Neall accompanied Huay. Later, four responded to the call asking for those who wished to prepare for the next baptism.

A few days before the baptism, Mrs. Edith Giang, wife of Giang Tu Minh the Chinese minister, sewed new baptismal robes. These added much to the dignity of the service.

Reported R. E. Neall, “Other news from Cambodia centers around the new church building. Funds are in hand for building, and the contract is being drawn up as this report is written. The church plans that the next baptism will be held in its own building.”

During the month of April, 1961, a new piano arrived from Japan, a gift to the church from Dr. and Mrs. Dysinger, former doctor in the American Embassy Phnom Penh.

Elder E. L. Minchin, Associate Secretary of the Missionary Volunteer Department of the General Conference, visited Phnom Penh on May 1 and 2. His ministry to the members was blessed by the Spirit of God, and several young people decided to follow Christ. Pastor Minchin was the father of Mrs. Dysinger, and he was much interested in visiting the city where the Dysingers worked for two years.14

In early 1962 Brother and Sister M. G. Tortal (杜多) arrived from the Philippines to take up their evangelistic duties in Cambodia. Located in Phnom Penh, they took up their first major assignment—–language study.15

Some time in 1962, a non-SDA clergyman wrote in a Christian magazine. “I don’t know who thought of the Bible Correspondence School plan first, but whoever it was had an idea straight from the heart of God.” There were then in the Southeast Asia Union four such schools, located in Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Saigon, and Singapore. R. E. Neall was the director of the school in Phnom Penh. He said, “In Cambodia the man who is now correcting the Voice of Prophecy Chinese lessons is a graduate of the Bible School. The only two colporteurs at present working in Cambodia are Voice of Prophecy graduates. Another graduate while not yet baptized has just finished translating the Voice of Prophecy lessons from Chinese to Cambodian.” It will soon be possible to offer the lessons for the first time in the Cambodian language, making it the eighth languages used in the Southeast Asia Union.16

The first Sabbath of the 1962 Chinese New Year [February 3, 1962] marked the first service in the first Seventh-day Adventist church building in Cambodia. Manuel G. Tortal, newly arrived from the Philippines, preached his first sermon in Phnom Penh at that time. “The new church, which will seat 150 persons,” reported R. E. Neall, “when the pews are completed, is located near a chalet belonging to Prince Sihanouk (施哈諾克王子) on the road to Saigon. A baptistery and changing rooms have been included in the building. The lot has space for workers’ homes, a welfare center and school rooms. The new chapel replaces a third-floor shop house which was used as a meeting place for many years.

“The new year marked the arrived of two new workers with their families. They are Brother Tortal with his wife, and Brother Wong Yew Seng with his wife and their two children. Mrs. Tortal, (nee Editha Sumicad), an alumnus of Philippine Union College, was one of the pioneers in the founding of Mountain View College. She served as Dean of Women for ten years, or until Manuel persuaded her to exchange her Dean’s life for a minister’s life. Brother Tortal pastored a district of 22 churches before coming to Phnom Penh. He and his wife have already made excellent progress in the study of the Cambodian language. Brother Wong Yew Seng gained his education in Singapore and his wife (nee Lock Mei Chan [駱美珍]) in Penang. He graduated from the Chinese Ministerial Training Course at Southeast Asia Union College [in 1958] and became the pastor of the Chinese church in Sandakan (山打根), North Borneo (北婆羅洲, now Sabah [沙巴]). He has had extensive experience in evangelism, Ingathering, and in the colporteur work. He has begun a number of Bible studies here, and is busy extending the Bible Correspondence School. [Editor’s note: Giang Tu Minh and his wife had been transferred to work in Seremban (芙蓉), Malaya.]

Although the Phnom Penh church then had three pastors for its 19 members, there was plenty of work for all. There were 40 to 50 people worshipped at the church every Sabbath. Most of them were Chinese businessmen. “The population of Cambodia numbers between five or six million. Christian missions have made some progress among the Vietnamese and the Chinese of the population, but very little among true Cambodians. Buddhism is the state religion, and the people are quite satisfied with their ancient beliefs. ….

Pastor Nealls’ family entered Cambodia in 1957, coming from district work in New York and Bermuda. He said, “Our first years have been spent in language study, getting the mission legally registered, building the mission home and church, evangelism and preparation of Cambodian literature. The Voice of Prophecy Bible School is active in Chinese section, and the Cambodian translation of these lessons is now going to press. These lessons should help us search out the honest in heart among the Buddhist millions of our mission field. Two books re now being printed in the Cambodian language to be sold by our colporteurs.”17

When Ralph E. Neall returned to Phnom Penh after his one-year furlough, he accepted Wong Yew Seng’s suggestion that the Wong family should settle in Kampong Thom (磅通城), about 100 miles from the capital city, to open a new mission field. The main reason was that the work in Phnom Penh did not require three ministers, and that Wong, being a Chinese by race, was much easier than the other two workers to work among the Chinese.

When Wong Yew Seng arrived at Kampong Thom, he, being a stranger, had to start everything from scratch. He distributed pamphlets, recruits students for the correspondence courses, and tried to make friends with the people. Whenever he met young people who were interested in studying English, he invited them to his home for free English lessons and told them the gospel. Whenever he met people in need of help, he helped them.

On one occasion, an inquirer’s wife was very sick because of menstrual disorders and she could not afford to see a doctor. When Wong Yew Seng first saw her, he realized that she lacked vitamins. Then he bought her some vitamins and asked her to take them all throughout the day. Afterwards, she felt much better. Wong Yew Seng also helped her to find a doctor and paid her medical expenses. She fully recovered and the couples were so grateful that they decided to be baptized and joined the church.

When the work at Kampong Thom was just going to develop, political situation in Cambodia became extremely unstable. The Cambodian government was initially neutral in the Vietnam conflict but it became more left-wing. Then the state began to attack all right-wing organizations. The authorities discriminated against any religious organizations. If the religious communities were not on the left, they were condemned as right-wing groups. Though Seventh-day Adventist Church adhered to the principle of church-state separation and never got involved in politics, the government saw the church as being from American and condemned it as a right-wing organization. Consequently, the Phnom Penh church became a target of attack in the anti-American, anti-rightwing movement in the early 1960s. This politicized environment made it impossible for the church to carry on evangelistic works. Wong Yew Seng had no choice but to withdraw from Kampong Thom, and on June 1, 1964, he left Cambodia. At that time, he thought that his departure was only temporary. He never imagined that he would never return to Phnom Penh. Political changes eventually closed down all Adventist work in 1965, and no overseas workers were allowed in Khmer Republic. During the next few years many of the church members migrated to other countries, leaving a very small nucleus of believers in Phnom Penh.

It was in the fall of 1970 that the Adventists were able to reenter Cambodia. Pastor and Mrs. Johan C. R. Adam from Indonesia came to Cambodia to reopen the work. During the recent hostilities, government soldiers and their families occupied the church. Through the help of a kind government official, the church had been restored to the members. Extensive repairs were done, and services were again held in the church. Reported Adam, “We had a service in the church on the 17th of April [1971], and we praise God for His grace in leading the old members back with their friends to worship God. This encourages my wife and me to dedicate ourselves to His work in Cambodia.”18

By that time the Cambodia District was no longer connected with the Vietnam Mission, but became a detach district under the direct supervision of the Southeast Asia Union Mission. Edwin Moore started an English language school in Phnom Penh. By 1975 the school had more than 500 students. In 1973 a national couple, Ng Gan Theow (黃彥超), the first baby born at Youngberg Memorial Hospital when the hospital opened its doors to the public in 1948 and a 1972 theology graduate of Southeast Asia Union College, and his newly-married wife, Ivy Foo (胡美儒) arrived from Singapore to Phnom Penh. They re-activated the Bible Correspondence School, started by Ralph Neall, which offered courses in Chinese and Khmer.19

The government made an agreement the SAWS (Seventh-day Adventist World Service, later Adventist Development and Relief Agency) organization for relief commodities to be distributed to refugees in the country. In late 1974 Matthew Ferguson and his wife arrived to serve as volunteer workers with their primary responsibility in the relief area. An overseas family was called from the United States in early 1975. Although there was only one church facility located in the language school building, there were two services held every Sabbath, one in a Chinese dialect and the other in the Cambodian language. There were all together 33 church members.

In 1975 the victory of the Khmer Rouge ended, for all practical purpose, Adventist work again. “The Khmer Rouge led the Cambodian people into the darkest period of their long history. More than one million perished as city dwellers were compelled to move to the country and labor on collective farms. Nationwide, 3,2 million people lost their lives as the purges led to executions.

“Then in 1979 the Vietnamese invaded the country from the east, driving the Khmer Rouge into the jungles. On the west side of the country, refugees flooded into Thailand. Refugee camps under United Nations protection sprang up all along the border.”

Since 1979 dozens of Adventist volunteers worked in these refugee camps. Foremost among these was a woman the refugees called “Mother Judy.” Judy Aitken worked in the camps for several years while serving as a missionary in Thailand, bringing the hope of the gospel to Cambodia. “In mid-1990 Marc and Cathy Coleman of Adventist Frontier Mission joined the Cambodia ministry. In 1991 Marc instituted a lay Bible worker training program in these camps. He trained more than 50 members to share their faith and gives Bible stories.

“The factions that had carried on civil war in Cambodia for more than ten years signed a peace accord in October 1991. The following April the United Nations began repatriating refugees, with the last refugee camp in Thailand closing” in March 1993. Almost all of those trained lay Bible workers returned to Cambodia.20

In 1992 the Southeast Asia Union Mission set up the Cambodia Mission. Two years later, M. Daniel Walter, mission president, reported, “The church in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, has grown steadily over the past two years, and now has a regular attendance of more than 80 people every Sabbath.”21

As of June 30, 2010, there were six churches with a membership of 5,549 in the Cambodia Adventist Mission, there should be some Chinese Adventists among them.


1. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Commentary Reference Series, Volume 10, p. 278

2. Far Eastern Division Outlook, July, 1930, p. 6; November, 1930, p. 10.

3. Far Eastern Division Outlook, June, 1938, p. 6.

4. Far Eastern Division Outlook, January, 1937 p. 8; October, 1938, p. 7: April, 1939, p. 12.

5. The Messenger, November-December, 1956, pp. 5, 6.

6. The Messenger, February, 1958, pp. 5, 6.

7. The Messenger, November, 1958, p. 2.

8. The Messenger, December, 1958, pp. 4, 5.

9. The Messenger, May, 1959, p. 5.

10. The Messenger, June, 1959, pp. 3, 4.

11. The Messenger, July, 1959, pp. 1, 2.

12. The Messenger, February, 1960, pp. 4, 5.

13. The Messenger, July-August, 1960, p. 7.

14. The Messenger, July-August, 1961, p. 1.

15. The Messenger, March-April, 1962, p. 8.

16. The Messenger, May-June, 1962, p. 4.

17. The Messenger, September-October, 1962, p. 1.

18. The Messenger, July-August, 1971, p. 9.

19. Far Eastern Division Outlook, March, 1973, p. 15.

20. Adventist Review, June 3, 1993, pp. 27, 28.

21. Far Eastern Division Outlook, September, 1994, p. 1.