Rev. Samith Mey, Pastor at “The Point” Church of the Nazarene, Cambodian Congregation,
San Jose, California talks from his personal experience.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”. Genesis 1:1
It was this verse that arrested me when I first opened a Bible in 1980 as a Cambodian, medical doctor serving at a refugee camp in Thailand. After reading that verse, my life has never been the same. I was captured by the thought that God, out of love, created the world and humanity….GOD. For I had never imagined that a God existed before the existence of the earth, nor did I think that the world was created at all!
Allow me to tell you a little of my experiences. I was born in the early fifties into the Eastern religion of my family. The country was peaceful, at least for a short time, while I was growing up. My parents started their lives poor with very few things, but quickly turned this around. Soon, they worked in the agricultural department in the second largest city in Cambodia, and then later with a small business. However, this all changed when my country fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. I started my education at an early age in a Temple school. There I saw funerals almost daily.
Later, I attended medical school in the capital, Phnom Penh. For some time I led a medical unit as part of a guerrilla’s jungle force, and witnessed more death and despair. Later, I served as a Physician Assistant with many medical teams from the United States at the United Nations Refugee Camp in Thailand. During these times, working with the sick and wounded, I was exposed to more suffering and death than an average person faces in his or her entire lifetime. Perhaps it was a combination of these circumstances that caused me to question the reason for human existence.
You see, I considered myself a simple believer, though I never liked going to the Temple. It was a place for the old, the dying, and the dead. I understood, from my parents, that if I were perfect, I would one day reach Nirvana, a non-existent state. They taught that if I were not perfect, I would cycle through reincarnations as another human being, or worse, an animal!
I was looking for the answer to these questions when I was in the refugee camp. While working with a Christian missionary doctor there, I began to talk to her. Soon after, I went to the Cambodian Christian Church at the camp to ask for a Bible from the pastor. I read the first page beginning with, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,” and my life has never been the same since. I am very grateful to the Lord for that day. As of now, almost all my family and relatives are Christian. Today, more than sixty people at my parents’ church are my relatives.
Cambodians follow the religion of their parents, even if they do not know much about the beliefs and practices. They go to the temple a few times a year to celebrate the New Year, and other ceremonies. They bring food to their dead ancestors. They listen to the monk’s chanting in the Pali language without understanding a word of it. They believe and hope they can get something good for their present life, and for their next. Their creation story tells that all snakes come from the first snake – that was always there. Because they don’t know that source of their existence, they don’t ask questions. Further, they truly believe what is told to them by parents and grandparents. There is neither written documents nor study available to them. They have no desire to research and find out the meaning of life.
I believe the concept of creation can be easily explained to Cambodians because they have a strong background of faith, as they are inclined to believe in myths and superstitions based on their religion. Even now, most Cambodians believe that a Visnu god, incarnated as a king, built Angkor Wat. In the Cambodian language, there is a word pronounced as, “chup,” that refers to creating something from nothing. This is the word that I use to explain how God created the world (Hebrew “bara”). The power of this word is not in the word itself, but within the attribute of the Person who does the creating!
There are many Scriptures that hit hard in my soul when I read them, because they fill the vacuum of my life and deepen my faith in God. Every time I share with Cambodians, I always use these verses to help them to believe in Creation. In Genesis 1:27, “In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” God tells us that we are particularly made and not the same as animals. Cambodians believe human belongs to the same class as animal and reincarnation can be moving from human to animal or vise-versa.
Also, I tell them of Psalm 139:13, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” This helps us to know that God begins His work on us when we were in our mother’s womb. Additionally, in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” God helps me to identify my struggle and hunger of truth when I was young. In Job 38:4 it states, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” This helps me to concentrate about faith in God other than keep opening myself to more speculations and doubts.
It requires much faith to believe and to accept the Creation and God the creator. Using word of mouth to tell the story would only work after establishing a relationship. This is when Cambodians may open their heart widely to receive the story of Creation and the Savior.