The birth of EFC Youth Commission was born largely of one man’s vision to see the Youth of Cambodia, discipled, trained and mobilized as a force that would stem the decay of the Khmer society and function as a preservative, salt and light within the Cambodian contemporary youth culture. This man was the Rev. Chhon P. Kong, Khmer expatriate who escaped from Cambodia to the Thai border in 1979. He was repatriated to a third county, the United States, where he pastored a Cambodian Church for 12 years. Chhon with Radha Manickam, were perhaps some of the first overseas Cambodian Christian Leaders to return to Cambodia in 1989 when the doors opened. On Chhon’s second short-term mission trip, Chhon brought me (Brian Maher) along with him. Working with the youth both on two short-term trips in 1990 and 1992, I was convinced that the future development of the country was largely in the hands of the Cambodian Christian youth generation. Chhon & family moved to Cambodia in 1992 under Mission to Unreached Peoples to run Cambodia Christian Services. Chhon had been successful in helping me catch a vision for Khmer youth in 1990 so my family and I came shortly after Chhon with the same organization in 1994. The two of us planned to set up a ministry to the emerging leaders of the local Cambodian churches under Cambodia Christian Services which became the Evangelical Fellowship in 1996.
At the Cambodia Christian Service’s annual meeting in February of ‘95, Chhon, as General Secretary, made a call for volunteers to join me in establishing the CCS Youth Working Group. Responding to this call was Swiss National, Harry Zuberbuhler who had come to Cambodia in ‘91 to begin YWAM’s ministries here. Time was set aside for those attending the CCS Conference to come together and discuss the possibility for future youth ministry among Cambodian young people. Before the conference I done some research and interviewing which helped inform our mission for working with Cambodian Youth and during the Conference, Harry and I began what we would call the "Youth Commission" and soon after Mr. Uon Seila joined us. Harry and I worked together as co-directors with Seila as our cultural advisor. We began with a handful of committed and talented Cambodian youth such as Uy Pheara, Ouk Vannarah, Chea Vuthy, Khan Rasmey, Chhinho Saing, Bun Sambath, Hang Rasmey, Son Ti, Seng Vuthy, Tith Vannseam, Thong Romanea, and Kim Tha.
Mr. Uon Seila was our resident expert advisor on the cultural relevance of our goals, direction and content of teaching. Seila steered us toward a focus on teaching sexual awareness to Christian Young people for two reasons: the blow up of AIDS and other STD’s in Cambodia and the fact that the only way to learn about sex was on the street. Cambodian young people did not even have basic information about reproduction and bodily functions that we in west learn in eighth grade biology. Seila began teaching what Harry called BGR (Boy-Girl Relationships) in our weekly youth training program that turned out to really meet the needs of Cambodian emerging leaders. Seila later published a booklet for the Youth Commission on Sexual Awareness called, ‘Sacred Love’, written from a thoroughly Biblical perspective.
Our first event in April of '95 was an alternative Khmer New Year's Event in Kean Svay, a picnic area just out of town on the Mekong. At this first event there were 13 churches represented and about 250 youth.
The Youth Commission operated under CCS or a year, doing youth leader training, and special youth events. Chhon, Harry and I had been wanting to do a youth camp from early on and Seila had the opportunity to attend a Scripture Union Youth Camp in Malaysia and brought back many helpful ideas so in 1996, we ran the first National Cambodian Christian Youth Camp ever in the history of Cambodia. This was held in the seaside town of Sihanuokville. The Youth Commission also held it’s first provincial seminar in the province of Kompong Chhnang, using the emerging leaders who regularly attended our youth leader training program in order to disciple them and give them hands on experience. In late 1996, CCS closed shop in order to give room for the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia, a movement birthed from within Cambodia, to grow without competition. The Youth Commission then came under the Umbrella of the EFC. In mid ‘96 we had two Khmer interns. First, Mr. Tep Samnang, a young man studying at the Phnom Penh Bible college and then a Phnom Penh Bible School graduate, Mr. Bun Chan Veasna. Soon after, Harry and I hired our first full time youth worker, Miss Sidara Ieng.
We have had many very successful national youth conferences since then and many provincial seminars and a number of sexual awareness seminars here in Phnom Penh for Christian youth as well as other programs and activities. We also gathered youth from Christian Churches each year to take part in National Environment day to teach Christian youth about stewardship of the environment and community service. We also began a ministry to the child commercial sex workers. These children are a part of World Vision Cambodia’s New Ship Ministry. The girls of the Youth Commission minister love and the Word of God to these girls on a monthly basis. In 2000, we began ministering to the orphans at UNICAS orphanage. Both ministries were arranged so that young people could catch a vision for holistic ministry.
In February of 1998, Mr. Harry Zuberbuhler left the field leaving me as sole director but I was on home leave from June 1997 to June 1998 so Rev. Steve Scoffone of International Teams filled the gap until I returned the following June. With Seila's help, we put together a Board of Directors. The board came together in 1998, consisting of some national pastors, missionaries, and gifted Cambodian young people with Uon Seila serving as board chair. Also, in 1998, Dawn Landes from Mennonite Central Committee began to volunteer her time to help with board and staff development. In 2003, Mark Fender of International Teams and Todd Smith from New Zealand also came on as official advisors. In 2004, Graham Symons of ICC replaced Dawn Landes as Financial and Capacity Development. Elijah Penner of MCC began to serve as our liaison to Mennonite Central Committee.
In 2004, former chairman of the board and one of the founding fathers, Mr. Uon Seila, accepted an invitation to come on as a full time co-director of the Youth Commission. This move brought us closer to national ownership and ultimate sustainability. The same year we began to teach drug awareness and a trainer of trainers (TOT) program for those elders in the churches who want to teach their youth groups about drug and sex awareness.
With grants from Mennonite Central Committee, Global Family, and TearFund, we were able to hire six adequate full time staff members to allow the Youth Commission to build a good foundation for proper accounting, report writing, planning and organizational development. We are grateful to MCC, TearFund and Christian Reformed World Relief Committee who have helped with funding and training of our staff and board members.
The EFC Youth Commission endeavored to disciple Emerging Leaders and bring unity among Christian groups both Khmer and expatriate by including all Christian churches and Christian organizations in our planning, program and events. We want to teach youth about leadership, being salt and light, and how to minister holistically to the church and society. We endeavored to give Christian young people the tools to create vision among them selves, and how to interpret cultural trends within the contemporary youth culture and minister the Good News accordingly. We are thankful for the all the help we have received in human resources here in Cambodia from Servants, ICC, CRWRC, InnerChange, World Vision, SAO, TearFund, Samaritan’s Purse, and Action Int’l. We are also indebted to local church leadership; Rev. Heng Cheng, Pastor Mam Barnabas, Rev. Chhon Kong, Pastor Nara Runnath, Dr. Yem Tevyneath, Ms. Sen Samphos, Ms. Sen Navy, Mr. Uy Pheara, Ms. Yos Bophal, Ms. Navy Chhan, Pastor Heng Pisit and Prey Sokoin for their excellent contributions over the years.
In 1999, the Youth Commission put on a provincial seminar in Rattanakiri for some tribal groups. During this time, Seila was walking through an area where they were digging for gems with Rev. Heng Cheng, General Secretary of the EFC, when he almost stepped on a mat that had some gems on it. They were all crusty and covered in dirt so Seila didn’t recognize them as gems, but Heng Cheng warned Seila not to step on them because they were, indeed, gems. Seila found it hard to believe so Heng Cheng later brought him to the town of Banlung to see those crusty gems processed, cut and polished. This impressed Seila and over the next few years and as our youth training began to stagnate, Seila thought how training young people should be multi-faceted, not just academic. He thought we might add mentoring, field work, labs to a more specific form of training that focused on leadership development. Seila mused that most pastors saw their young people as pests, similar to those crusty gems Seila thought were useless pebbles so he was moved to gather those crusty pebbles up, cut them and polish up and return them to the pastor with great value.
Meanwhile, New Zealander, Todd Smith became familiar with the Youth Commission’s programs and offered to help develop Seila’s vision for a new type of training. Todd consulted many curriculum development experts in Cambodia and then began to develop the curriculum, asking qualified individuals to provide lessons according to his template. Many of us supplied lessons that Todd edited. We then had teacher training for those that would teach what would be called, as Seila dubbed it, the Diamond Program. “DP” was launched in 2004. The Diamond Program is a one-year ‘in-service’ training program for emerging leaders which focuses on leadership development for emerging church leaders. Participants are first recommended by their pastor, and then interviewed by the DP directors before acceptance into the program. 30 emerging leaders are accepted per year and about 23 actually graduate. Each participant meets with a mentor on a weekly basis and our mentors are trained and oriented on a quarterly basis.
Part of the idea of DP is to bridge the cultural gap between young emerging leaders and the pastors who are often in conflict. The young people how to use computers and speak English and many of their pastors do not. Their pastors have been through the Khmer Rouge Regime and have much wisdom because of their life experiences to offer the youth. DP has been intentional about putting out emerging leaders who are willing to humble themselves and serve their pastors and much feedback from the pastors has proved this to be a successful endeavor.
In 2004, we opened our first satellite office in the provincial city of Kompong Cham, overseen by Mark Fender (Int’l Teams). We are grateful to First Presbyterian Church Bellevue, Westminster Chapel, and Calvin Presbyterian (Seattle) for sponsoring the expanding work of the Youth Commission in the provinces which is also proving to be quite effective per feedback from rural pastors.
By 2006, the DP Project proved to be very successful and students began to ask to be taken to a deeper level of leadership development. Todd, Seila and I began to put together a leadership curriculum for DP 2 based on Personal Spiritual Formation, Dynamic Reflection, Praxis and Field work. Instead of personal mentors, a group of DP students would meet together weekly as peer mentors to discuss the lesson and pray for each other. This ended up being a witness to the community as they were meeting in public places.
Testimony IV: DP 2 Graduate
I am so glad to study in DP II training and I thought that it is very importance training for me and other students because when I studied the course I can serve God strongly both at church and work place.
More than ten months that I learned in DP II, I knew that God changed me a lot both spiritual and daily actions. God also taught me how to live with others and understand about the worldview of the difference people. The lessons are very good; it improved me to grow in Leadership skills and became a faithful servant of God. I have a vision and commitment to expand God Kingdom in my nation, Cambodia. I also learned about Personal Spiritual Formation that helped me to know that pains, sufferings, difficulty I met in the past were an experience for my life and I know how God shaped my life. Moreover, the course helped me to focus on both spiritual and social activity, before I thought that Christian have to focus on only spiritual. I reflected that, now, DP II helped me to become a humble leader who serve not for popular.
I will use the lessons to help teach people around me and I will apply the practical insights such as exposure trip to see and help the poor. And I will do my best to share good news about God to people as much as I can because I remembered that when I conducted a survey on Other Faiths people always ask me who is God.
Also in 2006, Craig Greenfield from Servants to Asia’s poor put their Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program under the wing of EFC-KEY which is a ministry that mobilizes emerging leaders to mentor orphans in villages in the provinces Kandal, Takeo, Kompong Cham, Kompong Thom, Kompong Chhnang and Phnom Penh. BB&BS is serving 230 pairs (pair mean adult mentoring a child) of Big Brothers/Sisters and orphans. Now there are 3 pairs in Battambang. Plans are to expand in existing provinces, especially Battambang.
In 2007, at our annual planning and review, the name, EFC YOUTH COMMISSION was changed to EFC-KEY (Kingdom Equipped Youth) and a Satellite KEY office was opened in Kompong Chhnang City to run the Diamond Program and other KEY ministries. This same year DP 2 was launched with 20 emerging leaders who have gone on to do great things; Hang Abraham, Bontok Seila, Ms. Khantey, Nov Bora, etc.
Also in 2007, KEY began a Drop in Center across from Indra Devi High School for teens at risk. This has been unexpectedly successful as up to 60 teens per day come for computer lessons, music lessons, English class, French class, and to find a safe place to hang out playing chess or ping pong while waiting for their classes to begin or for their parents to pick them up. The name of the center is Bright Spark and KEY has helped ‘drop ins’ form a soccer team that plays in tournaments organized by the KEY Sports ministry which Todd Smith helped get off the ground during this same year. Ten students have given their lives to Jesus through Bright Spark.
Our Social Awareness Program morphed into the Community Impact Program which mobilizes emerging leaders and Khmer Youth to respond to community needs and disasters such as fires and land evictions. Community Impact trains church elders to become trainers concerning drug and sexual awareness in their churches. The next Training of Trainers 3 month course will be “First Responder” training through Medical Teams International, which is similar to EMT training.
KEY now has 15 full time staffs that are overseen by their Director, Mr. Uon Seila, who has three expatriate advisors that help with different areas of KEY. They are: Todd Smith, Lynn Ogata, and Brian Maher.
KEY is now training its 7th class of Diamond Project Emerging Leaders, 3rd Class of DP 2 Emerging Leaders and will soon run their 16 annual Emerging Youth Leaders Camp. Plans for the immediate future include opening another satellite office in Kompong Thom and adding an advisor to Big Brothers and Sister’s Program. KEY is open to partnering with organizations who value discipleship and developing the capacity of this generation of Cambodia’s emerging church leaders.
We thank God for the dedicated people who have been a part of this ministry.
Brian M. Maher