BIBLE SOCIETY NEWS | Andrea Rhodes
2015 commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge genocide, an event which traumatised a whole nation, leaving a legacy of distrust, hatred, pain and sorrow. But the older generation don’t talk about their painful experiences and the younger generation remains uninterested and disconnected from the past. In addition, church leaders recognise that their congregations need to foster a culture of forgiveness as many Christians still struggle to forgive those who have hurt them, nor do they know how to confess the hurts they have done to others.
In response to this situation, the Bible Society in Cambodia brought together a wonderful team of pastors, actors, musicians and dancers for a very special cultural performance, entitled, ‘Bridge to Peaceful Relationships’. A wide variety of Cambodian song and dance styles, both traditional and modern, were used to make the Bible’s message of forgiveness and reconciliation come alive.
Connect to God’s Word
By using Cambodian names, music and costumes, the aim was that Cambodians would really connect to God’s word and see its relevance to their lives. Pastor Mam Barnabas and Pastor Uong Rien composed several poems based on Scriptures for the performance.
“When God redeemed me, he also redeemed my culture and my art,” says Pastor Barnabas. “We are to bring the best of our culture to serve the Gospel and we are entrusted by Christ to do the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
The 3,000 seat Diamond Island Theatre was filled to capacity, with another hundred or so latecomers having to stand at the back. Staff at the theatre said they had never seen the cavernous auditorium so full. The performance opened with a spectacular drum dance by the Cambodian Christian Arts Ministry. For the next two hours, the audience was treated to a powerful drama portraying God’s plan of redemption for mankind.
The focal point of the performance was the story of Stephen in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul’s subsequent persecution of the church and his later acceptance into the church family after they had forgiven him.
Repent of the hardness of their hearts
“The Khmer way is to remain angry and not forgive, which causes many problems in society as well as in the church,” said Pastor Bin David, who, along with Pastor Barnabas, did all the musical arrangement. “Yet Christians must learn to repent of the hardness of their hearts and to love their enemies.”
Early feedback after the show indicates that this goal was reached. People were moved to tears when they witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen and the heartless persecution of the first Christians, and it brought to mind the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge. However, the final scenes of reconciliation between Paul and the church leaders showed them the power of forgiveness.
“It reminded me that we should forgive others, no matter how terrible the crime,” said one woman.
Bringing together 125 performers from nearly 10 churches for regular rehearsals was an enormous logistical feat. Most of them had never been involved in a stage production but they poured their hearts into it and put on a fantastic performance.
“The performance was covered in prayer and it was almost miraculous to see the transformation in the actors when they were on stage,” says Sokha, a Bible Society staffer who worked on the technical side. “They gave everything to God and he led them. God can do all things.”
The fact that the production has served as a “bridge” between the older and younger generations has been another highlight for the organising church leaders. These young people are the third generation since the dark days of Pol Pot and this experience is a step towards creating dialogue between the generations. At the same time, they have “lived” the Bible’s message of reconciliation, a valuable thing when many youth today do not want to read or listen to the Bible.
Touched my heart
“God planned a great thing,” says one of the actors, Elizabeth. “As with all the actors, this story has touched my heart and has changed us to forgive more, trust God and become one in Jesus. My brother said he would go back to church after being away for four years because of a disagreement with Christians, and I’m so excited about that!”
Malis, another actor, shared that she had been in conflict with another member of her church but as they had to perform side by side on the stage, the powerful message of the drama convicted them to ask for forgiveness from each other and now their relationship has been beautifully restored.
Mr Thuok Peou, a professor in the Fine Arts School, was the acting and voice coach for the volunteers and was amazed at how well it all went.
“I teach students every day who cannot act and perform like the volunteers in this production,” he says. “They were completely inexperienced in the arts and on a big stage, so they prayed a lot and I believe those prayers helped them to act very well in a very short time. I have never seen anything like this before!“
The Bible Society in Cambodia will continue follow up through dialogue with church leaders as well as through social media. A video of the production will be made available to churches throughout the country. A second performance is scheduled for 31st October in Siem Reap to coincide with the second annual Global Advocacy Exchange.
Images courtesy of Bonnie Lepelaar from Bible Society Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.