Cambodian Perceptions, Part 1
When I meet someone from another country, especially Europe, I oftentimes ask them questions about how they perceive America and Americans. I find this very interesting. Cambodians have numerous perceptions or assumptions about America and her citizens. I would like to share with you three in particular that have an effect on ministry in Cambodia, in hopes that you will find it interesting, humorous, and eye-opening. This post is the first of three installments in this series. I will examine one point per post. Just as a reminder, many of the things I will say in these posts apply just as well to many Asian and/or pagan nations, not just Cambodia. Also, these perceptions are true of many other western nations, like Canada, Britain, France, etc. OK, ready? Fasten your seat belts!
Many Cambodians think that:
All Americans are Christians.
This perception is very common. The rationale is very simple. If you put on the glasses of someone from an Asian country, you immediately see why they think this. In many Asian countries, there is a religion that is very predominant, sometimes claiming more than 95% of the population. In many ways, that religion is intertwined with the ethnic group. The statistical fact is that about 79% of Americans are “Christian.” This means that they belong to a religion within Christendom, be it Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, etc. The remaining 21% are mostly unaffiliated.
Now, we hear something like this and we laugh, because we know that the vast majority of Americans are not born again. Yes, they are part of a Christian religion, but yet void of eternal life, according to the Bible. Now, put the glasses on I mentioned above. Say you met a Cambodian on the street in the U.S. In the conversation you say, “You are from Cambodia, so you are Buddhist, right?” He replies, “Yes, I am.” You ask, “Aren’t like 95% of Cambodians Buddhist?” He replies, “Oh no! They are not real Buddhists. They are in the Buddhist religion, but they are not real Buddhists.” I would walk away scratching my head wondering what in the world the guy was talking about. Isn’t a Buddhist a Buddhist??? I mean, if you are go to the Buddhist temple, you are a Buddhist. Yet, this is how they see us many times. They do not understand that what we preach is not just a religion, but knowing the God of heaven, and is distinct from what the world calls “Christianity.” The great majority of Americans go to a church of some sort at some time during the year. They call themselves “Christian.” To the Cambodian, they are Christians. And so, this is 79% of Americans. So, looking at it from the perspective of their religion, it is easy to see how they come to this conclusion.
So, how does this practically affect the ministry of preaching and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ in Cambodia? Because Cambodians view their religion and nationality as very closely related, they sometimes consider those that believe on Christ as abandoning their people. To them, if you are Khmer you are Buddhist. If you are American you are Christian. The raw statistics back up this idea. They think that your religion and ethnic group are interrelated, just as they view their own. They don’t typically oppress those foreigners that are Christian simply because they acknowledge that in the same way that Khmers are Buddhist, foreigners are Christian. This is also true of even strict Muslim nations. It is when a Khmer becomes a Christian that problems arise. When a Khmer believes on the Lord, they are sometimes viewed as turning their back on the Khmer people, of which 95% are Buddhist, and joining with foreigners. There is a saying which is used to describe people that have become Christians: “kbat chiet,” which means “betraying one’s nation.”
This perception begets other issues as well. Consider these American things: American Idol, Britney Spears, Black Eyed Peas, Audio Adrenaline, Avatar, and the list could go on. These things are American, and therefore considered Christian, because after all, 79% of Americans are Christian. So, it is no wonder that in Cambodia and many other nations, there is a common belief that Christianity propagates all sorts of ungodliness and moral filth.
Let me give you a small example to finish. I was in a convenience store some time ago. The cashier knew me because I had been in there many times. So he asked me how many kids I had. I told him 5 and one on the way. Boy was he surprised! The reason he was surprised, he explained, was because he thought that foreigners believed it was bad to have more than 1 or 2 kids. Where in the world did he get that idea?? He probably heard that from the tree-hugging, God-hating, baby-aborting, population-controlling, atheistic infidels at UNESCO or another wacky, ultra-liberal, global, western organization. So, the assumption was that all white people believed that mess. So, combine that with the idea that white foreigners are Christian, you have a ready-made dish that says that Christianity teaches this stuff.
Now, we know that the devil has set up false Christian religions that are doing a very effective job of damning millions of souls to eternal fire. Cambodia is no exception. To a large degree these Christian religions are responsible for these perceptions, as they take the false gospel of political or social reform under the guise of Christianity. Yet, we endeavor to take the true Gospel and sound doctrine to those here and wade through the lies that the devil has used to blind men’s minds to keep them from the truth.
I have already exhausted my space for this point, yet there are so many other things to say. The next installment is very closely related to this one. So it is essential to understand this point, as it is foundational for the next. Stay tuned.