Karma versus Grace in Cambodia

3 September 2012 |

by Colin Macpherson, Langham Literature

The inescapable law of Karma

In Cambodia a famous saying sums up the inescapable law of karma: ‘Do Good, Get Good’. The ‘iron law’ of karma teaches that people who do bad deeds will receive bad in return, and people who do good will receive good. This may be quick in coming, or may carry over to a future existence or even to future generations. You must be careful not to pile up too much bad merit – in a future life someone may torture you like you harmed that insect as a child!

But indigenous Christian publishing house ‘Fount of Wisdom’ is turning the traditional cocktail of Theravada Buddhism and animism on its head. Being Cambodian themselves they know best which ideas need challenging and how to do it most effectively. With support from Langham Literature they are preparing to publish a commentary on the book of Romans under the title ‘RECEIVE GOOD, DO GOOD’. It explains how Romans 1-11 sets out the foundations of the Christian faith – a gospel of free grace and freedom from sin through Christ. This is the good we first receive. Then in chapters 12-16 Paul gives clear, practical guidelines for how the gospel must then transform the way we live. The law of karma is one of works and fear; the gospel of God begins with His grace. We receive salvation freely from God, and then have the Spirit’s power to imitate Jesus.

It is a message that is being understood, and lives are indeed being transformed in Cambodia. The church has grown from only a few hundred in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge slaughter, to around 250,000 today. The author of the commentary on Romans works in Ratanakiri province where many tribal groups are turning to Christ and away from spirit worship. Villager Klan Ly, 56, said she had completely abandoned her fears of black magic after finding Christ. ‘Now Jesus protects us and my old Buddha cannot use the black magic on us anymore’. In the village of Somkul, about 80 per cent of the community have given up on spirits and ghosts in favour of the Word of God. A small wooden church has emerged where the word of Jesus Christ, or ‘Yesu Yang’ to the Jarai, is now preached. Those who preach and study it are thankful for the books produced by Fount of Wisdom. Thon Chanthol, currently a student at Phnom Penh Bible School said:

‘The books which Fount of Wisdom publish are so useful, especially the ‘Bridge Bible Commentaries’ which help me when preparing sermons. Other books I have used include ‘Know Who You Believe’, ‘God’s Big Picture’ and ‘Dig Deeper’ These books have really helped me to understand more about God and how to live as a Christian.’

Fount of Wisdom is a prime example of how an indigenous publishing house can effectively speak into a culture, through books that bring God’s word into the local context. Local believers can open up God’s truth in culturally relevant and appropriate ways. Fount of Wisdom also regularly sends books to pastors in Ratanakiri as part of their ‘Pastors’ Packs’ initiative.

Langham Literature is assisting Fount of Wisdom through a programme of training, mentoring and financial support for the production of selected titles in the local language. Funds are now being sought for the production of titles such as ‘How to Read the Bible’ by M Tay, and an exposition of Revelation 1–3 entitled ‘What Christ Thinks of the Church’ by John Stott.

Please pray for Fount of Wisdom in their task of helping grow and strengthen the church in Cambodia. Pray that they would have vision and wisdom. Pray that their books would penetrate deep into the tribal corners of the country and that God’s Word would penetrate deep into the minds and hearts of the local peoples. Pray that they would be freed from the fear of bad karma, and be transformed instead by the free grace of God.

Ethnic Jarai villages carry a cow to be butchered to appease the spirits
Ethnic Jarai villages carry a cow to be butchered to appease the spirits The church in Somkul commune where ‘Yesu Yang’ is now preached