New protocol agreement for Cambodia
CAMBODIA – A new protocol agreement signed in September by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia (ELCC), Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) will guide the next three years of confessional Lutheran mission and ministry in Cambodia.
President Vannarith Chhim of the ELCC hailed the agreement, calling it a “great blessing” for his “small church from a small country” to partner with the LCMS and LCC in ministry. In particular, he stressed the Cambodian church’s thanks for the aid North American Lutherans will continue to offer in theological training.
Despite having 32 congregations and approximately 3,000 members, the ELCC has only six ordained pastors. Consequently, the church relies heavily on the leadership of 14 male lay-leaders (who require additional training before they can be ordained), five deaconesses, and ten female evangelists. LCC has long supported the ELCC’s missions and social ministry work, with particular emphasis on providing theological education for church workers through the Lutheran Institute Southeast Asia (LISA). The LCMS operated a missionary presence in the country from 2006 until earlier this year.
Around the year 2000, Lutheran Heritage Foundation offered to interested pastors of all denominations in Cambodia the opportunity to take classes on Luther’s Small Catechism, which had just been translated into Khmer. Rev. Dr. Leonard Harms, then LCC’s Missions Director, became involved with managing these classes, becoming the director of LISA. The men and women taking these classes decided on their own to form the ELCC in 2009.
“We are thankful to God for strengthening the ELCC, LCC, and LCMS by His Holy Spirit to carry on His mission jointly in Cambodia,” said Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel, LCC Executive for Missions and Social Ministry. “It is a testament of our three churches’ desire to coordinate our work in Cambodia—to work together in spiritual and human care of many in this region of the world.”
“As we do so, we will rely on the Cambodian church to lead the way,” he continued. “They know the needs of their nation better than we do. May God bless our work together, that it bear much fruit for the Kingdom of God. And we pray the Lord’s blessing upon President Chhim and the entire ELCC as they bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Southeast Asia.”
Cambodia is primarily Buddhist, with only three percent of the population identifying as Christian.The ELCC is a young church but one committed to the Gospel. They are also deliberate in cultivating a strong Lutheran identity—translating the Book of Concord into the Khmer language, to guide their church in an authentically Lutheran faith.
They “deeply desire to be confessionally Lutheran but are still learning what that means,” said Darin Storkson, Senior Regional Director with the LCMS Office of International Mission in an interview with The Reporter. “They are probably already in line with [us] doctrinally,” he continued, “and they are trying to learn how to express that in practice.” President Robert Bugbee of LCC agreed, noting he is “impressed with the doctrinal soundness” of the young church.
In addition to theological education, the protocol agreement “unites the three churches in a common bond of faith and confession” in a number of areas, including evangelism, emergency relief, social ministry, and short-term missions.
For more information on the protocol agreement, read The Reporter’s article on this story.