By Bill McClure
Today, in the United States and around the world, “church” is where you find it: storefronts, hotels, theaters, bars, nightclubs, coffee shops—almost anywhere in addition to the more traditional church buildings.
One of the most unusual locations is in a former Cambodian brothel—a structure used in the much-publicized child exploitation, commercial sex area of Phnom Penh. With God’s blessings, that storefront is being used to bring the light of Jesus Christ into the very darkest parts of the Cambodian capital. Now a new church meets there.
Svay Pak is a down-at-the-heels area at the edge of Phnom Penh, but at the center of Cambodia’s illicit sex trade. A Vietnamese reporter wrote of the area, “Its sole distinguishing feature is that it is lined with brothels full of underage girls . . . it is a place where pedophiles from all over the world go to indulge themselves.”
In fact, more than 40,000 children, mostly young girls between the ages of 5 to 14, are the unwitting, unwilling victims of this shameful business that takes advantage of poverty and lack of education and panders to the base, darkest prurient interests of men’s hearts. To label it “near the gates of Hell” is no exaggeration.
MSNBC’s Dateline aired an exposé explaining how some of these children enter such a profession. As a 14-year-old girl from Vietnam, finally freed from a brothel, “was walking home from school one day she was approached by a woman offering work in a café. But the café turned out to be a brothel. With no money and no way to get home, she didn’t have much of a choice and was forced into sex with grown men, many of them American. She said, ‘I thought, I am here to serve coffee, not be a prostitute. But the boss told me that I had to be a prostitute. She forced me, and I was scared. I did not want to go with those men, but being beaten was worse.’”
This new church, which will minister to such girls, and when possible, to their families, was started through the ministry of Dr. Moses Samol Seth and his wife, Samantha. They founded Agape International Mission (AIM) in 1989. Church growth was one of their major goals when they moved back to Cambodia, and to date, AIM has helped plant more than 500 churches. This is the first in Svay Pak.
Since 2005, Don and Bridget Brewster and James and Athena Pond have helped with the work of AIM in Cambodia. Both families were active in the leadership of Adventure Christian Church in Roseville, California. They left to move to Phnom Penh, and in 2006 the Agape Restoration Center (ARC) and the Agape Transitional Living Center (TLC) both opened.
Kaign Christy, Cambodian director of the Internation-al Justice Mission (IJM), leaders in the effort to rescue these children, said: “ARC and TLC opened in Cambodia at a time of critical need for quality, secure shelters for rescued victims of child sexual exploitation. They have filled that need wonderfully. Their shelters and programs are professional, nurturing, and effective. The stories of rehabilitation and hope that result from their efforts are profound and moving. It’s our privilege to partner with them in this work in Cambodia.”
All who are involved in AIM’s ministry and in this new Svay Pak Church believe what Jesus told the apostle Peter: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Prayer and financial support from God’s people is needed to help this new church succeed and survive as it stands near the gates of Hell.
Bill McClure is director, Gospel Broadcasting Mission, Onalaska, Wisconsin. For more information visit www.aim4asia.org.