A Darkness In Siem Reap

Khmer pastors wave from the balcony of the HBC in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Khmer pastors wave from the balcony of the HBC in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Good morning from the HBC in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I am sitting in class, listening to pastor Jeff as he teaches the word – Matthew 9-10. Good stuff. And just in case you’re thinking, “What is pastor Steve doing writing his BLOG in class and not listening to pastor Jeff?” Well, yes, I can do two things at once. Perhaps even three things. Maybe four. I don’t know, four may be too much. Uh. What was I talking about again? Oh, yeah. Hmmm. Anyway. It is Wednesday morning here. I already taught my class. I get the privilege of teaching Galatians each morning and 1 Thessalonians in the afternoon. As Jeff is teaching Matthew, he is reiterating what we are learning in Galatians and 1 Thessalonians. The concepts are very familiar. Either he is stealing my notes or the Holy Spirit is working here. Hmm. Where are those notes anyway? The Spirit is definitely working. I taught this morning on the flesh vs. the Spirit in Galatians 5. It is a bigger battle than any MMA fight.

Pastors learning at HBC
Pastors learning at HBC

The flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. The strong desire of the flesh wants to do the things of the world; the strong desire of the Spirit, to do the things of God. Which one will win? The one I feed the most. Speaking of food, Jeff made an awesome egg, turkey, ham, cheese, burrito this morning. Anyway, walking in the Spirit is so important. If we feed the Spirit in our lives, by yielding to His will, then our spiritual lives become strong. If we are constantly doing fleshly things, then we are going to be fleshly people. Good stuff. Well, good stuff if we walk in the Spirit, that is.

The bridge over the moat at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The bridge over the moat at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Over the weekend we went to Siem Reap. Saturday, we walked through the various ruins and temples. I am told that Angkor Wat is where Pol Pot got his inspiration for his revolution. At one point in Kampuchea, which is what Khmer people call their country, there was a great kingdom. In fact, that ancient kingdom ruled from Thailand to Vietnam. Pol Pot wanted to restore that kingdom. It was a kingdom where the king lived in prosperity and the people lived off the land. Pol Pot’s problem was that there were too many people who were educated and living in cities to go along with his plan. So, he decided to rid himself of educated people and anyone who had “soft hands” and let the farmers and the workers rule. The king at the time of Pol Pot’s revolution fled the country. Pol Pot basically set himself up as king, even though he never called himself that, and ruled over the people. When his reign was finished, he would have slaughtered 3 million of his own people — all the educated people, the artists, teachers, and those who knew how to do business. At the end of his reign, the Vietcong invaded Cambodia and cornered him in Angkor Wat with those last few of his loyal followers. He was able to escape into the forrest and the Vietcong took over the country. They basically saved the Cambodian people and brought back their old king. However, they set up a prime minister, who has the real power. This man, still reigns to this day. All of this happened only 36 years ago.

The western entrance through the wall into the temple grounds of Angkor Wat.
The western entrance through the wall into the temple grounds of Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat was built to be the capital of the kingdom and the state temple for king Suryavarman II, who ruled Cambodia from 1113-1150. It is a fascinating place. There is a moat that surrounds and keeps the temple and it’s grounds protected from forest and enemy alike. As we approached the bridge across the moat, the first thing I noticed was the enormity of the structure. It is almost overwhelming that people could build something this large so long ago. We crossed the bridge and entered in to the first structure, the wall surrounding the temple grounds. Angkor Wat is in the forest. It is surrounded by water, but even at this time of the year, which has milder temperatures than normal, the heat and humidity is stifling. Walking into the wall provides shade from the scorching sun. Within a few minutes, though, we were through the wall into the courtyard.

The bridge inside the walls of the temple grounds. Our guide described this as the "Rainbow Bridge."
The bridge inside the walls of the temple grounds. Our guide described this as the “Rainbow Bridge.”

There is another bridge, but this one has no water around it. It is surrounded by fields, which, we are told, is were the original marketplace stood. At the end of the second bridge, we climb some steps to the outer courtyard of the temple. Within a causeway, there is a huge bas-relief. It depicts the story of a spiritual battle between the demon king and the good king Suryavarman II. The demon king is actually the good king’s brother. The good king called upon the monkey king to come and help him in his fight. The monkey king is not good, but is willing to help. The Cambodians believe that monkeys, because they are constantly stealing and causing mischief are the reincarnated souls of those who were evil in their previous lives. The good king wins the day and builds the temple for the god Vishnu, which is part of the Hindu religion.

A bas-relief depicting the war between the demon king and the good king, who were brothers.
A bas-relief depicting the war between the demon king and the good king, who were brothers.

The temple was originally dedicated to Hinduism, but later became a temple dedicated to Cambodian Buddhism, which still retains some Hindu beliefs. After walking through the courtyard of the temple, we enter the inner structure, where there is a place to beat your chest and rid yourself of your sins. (To which Bre says, tongue in cheek, “Wish Jesus would have known about that, he wouldn’t have had to go to the cross.”) We walk past worshippers of Buddha and a huge Buddha statue that is dressed to impress. Yes, they clothe the Buddha statues here. It’s kind of freaky, when you walk buy one that is clothed. It almost as if the statue is alive. The smell of incense is in the air. It is overwhelming at times. We walk past smaller Buddha statues. Cambodian Buddhism is not like other Buddhism. While Tibetan Buddhism follows the teachings of the Buddha, in Cambodia, they actually worship the Buddha himself.

Structures on the temple grounds of Angkor Wat.
Structures on the temple grounds of Angkor Wat.

Up and then down some steps, and we were standing before the temple. It was closed due to a holiday. Things are closed here often for holidays. I am told there are four Buddhist holidays per month. The sloth in me is beginning to like this place. Actually I do love these people. They are an amazing people who are full of passion. I so desire that they would all come to know Jesus. Not to say that they are all good. Actually, there are wicked people here like anywhere else in the world. The devil has his playground here. But God can take these people from darkness into light. God can give them hope through the peace that comes from surrendering to Jesus. Many have. Many more need Jesus.

The temple was huge. I am told that if we were able to climb its steps, (which, I might add, are not up to OSHA standards) we would have a magnificent view of the surrounding area. Really wish we could have done that. Perhaps next time. After lunch, which was awesome, by the way – hamburger and fries – we hailed two more Tuk-Tuk’s and off we went to a place called by the locals, “Tomb Raider” because the film was shot here. During the filming, Angelina Jolie fell in love with Cambodia and the Khmer people. She is an advocate for this country and has adopted two Khmer children. Tree roots cover some of the structures here, giving them a mystic beauty. I am reminded of the cue at the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland as we walk up to the first structure. I wonder if they got the idea for that temple from here? Hmmm. Again, a beautiful place.

The next stop is called Bayan. This place is stunning. The structure itself looks like Angkor Wat: structures with stairways and doorways without doors and hallways leading to courtyards.

The entrance to the temple at Bayan.
The entrance to the temple at Bayan.

But on closer inspection there is something staring at us. It is the walls. Carved into the walls and the spires are gigantic human faces. Each one seems happy, so I guess we’re okay. Idols are everywhere. Bas-reliefs, statues and the like. They are all worshipped in this place. It reminds me of what the Psalmist said – “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, The work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; Noses they have, but they do not smell; They have hands, but they do not handle; Feet they have, but they do not walk; Nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them.” (Psalm 115:3-8)

The entrance to a dark room with a Buddha idol.
The entrance to a dark room with a Buddha idol.

When Angkor Wat was overthrown by the enemies of the Kampuchean kingdom, they moved the state temple to Bayan. Although it is a beautiful place with beautiful architecture, it was perhaps the darkest place in the journey. In one room the Buddha was dressed and incense was burning. What appeared to be a golden crown on his head glimmered in what little light burrowed through the thick darkness of that room. I took a few steps toward the room and turned immediately back. The darkness was thick and at once I felt as if I was on the enemy’s ground. Demonic forces seemed to be at home here. As I walked away from the entrance to the room, Curtis and Bre were walking toward me. Bre immediately turned around as well and she said she noticed the same thing — a thick darkness around that room.

Again, Bayan is a beautiful place. You literally come face to face with ancient Cambodian culture. It was probably my favorite architectural piece, but my least favorite spiritually. I haven’t felt right since we visited this place. I feel an oppression of the enemy. I daily have to put on my armor – Ephesians 6:10-18 – and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) There is a real spiritual battle going on. There is a real devil that is not happy about any of us following Jesus. Pray for us that we would be even more bold to give the Word of God in a powerful, Holy Spirit filled, uncompromising way. Pray for those who minister here on a regular basis. They are truly serving in Pergamos, Jesus described Pergamos as where Satan’s throne is. If the devil has a throne today, it is in this place. It is in the 10/40 window where so few have heard the gospel. Pray that those who are here, like Curtis and Bre, Randy at Water Of Life, the Khmer Pastors that we are teaching, and countless others, Khmer and Foreign, that they would all guard their hearts and minds and that they would be able to take ground for the cause of the gospel.

A stunning sunset in Bayan, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
A stunning sunset in Bayan, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

So, we exited Bayan and stopped along the bridge to view the sunset. It is absolutely beautiful as it sets just beyond the forest at the edge of the moat. We headed back toward the hotel and stayed for one more night. The next day, a Tuk-Tuk drive toward the bus station, then we board the bus for the ride back to Phnom Penh. We arrived in the early evening and were ready for some dinner. We grabbed a couple of real Italian pizzas from the local Swiss guy. At least his business partner is Italian. Wow! This pizza is the real-deal. Great pizza. After I am absolutely destroyed by Curtis once again at Madden 25 on playstation, he graciously gives me a ride back to the wonderful, amazing, Long Thaily Guest House. Where, by the way, I was dealing with a ton of ants! Yes, they were everywhere last week. They were on the walls, they were on my iPad and iPhone, they covered the bed. I had to get the Guest House people to come up and change the sheets and spray to get rid of the ants. On Sunday, I noticed that there were more ants! This time they were crawling out of the wall sockets. I really didn’t know what to do. It was late and I was ready for bed. Most people were in bed already. I grabbed my OFF Deep Woods spray and sprayed every last one of them on the wall. Guess what? No more ant problem. Now, however I have run into another issue.

A Gecko climbs on the ceiling of a stairway up to Curtis and Bre's apartment. A similar Gecko was my roommate for about a week and a half at the Guest House.
A Gecko climbs on the ceiling of a stairway up to Curtis and Bre’s apartment. A similar Gecko was my roommate for about a week and a half at the Guest House.

I have a friendly little Gecko in the room. Actually, he’s about six inches long, so, he’s really not that small. I am trying to get a picture of him, but he is proving to be allusive. Well, he makes a sound at night that keeps waking me up. I have been playing worship music as I go to sleep, and last night uncle Gecko… (I named him uncle Gecko. Why you ask? Because of the ant problem, of course.) Anyway, I think uncle Gecko wanted to sing along with Scott Cunningham. Uncle Gecko was particularly loud last night. Geckos are strange creatures. They slither, kind of like snakes. I wasn’t prepared for that. I am used to lizards that walk. For some reason, though, I am really wanting to get insurance through Gieco. Not really sure why. Hmmm.

Okay, I guess that is enough for today. Monday and Tuesday were teaching days. Tuesday… (wait a minute, are you still reading this? I thought that was enough for the day! Okay, if you’re still reading, then I’ll continue…) Tuesday, I was using an illustration and asked if the pastors had learned anything from me. They said that they had learned very little. Wow! That’s a hit to the ol’ self-esteem. I thought I was the most awesomest teacher ever! I kept trying to figure out what they meant. Adam, our translator told me that he understood everything that I was saying and that he was explaining it the same way that I was saying it. But they all said they weren’t learning. I felt discouraged for about five minutes. Actually less than that, really. I really wanted to know whether they were experiencing a lack of knowledge or a lack of understanding, or both. Today I decided to test their knowledge. I asked several key questions about the previous day’s lessons. They answered each question perfect. I then asked them if they understood what I was saying. Then, each one began to explain to me what they had learned. Hmmm. Their problem was that they didn’t think they understood, but they actually did. Whew! That was close. I guess God was trying to teach me humility. Sometimes I think I am above humility. I take pride in that. Anyway. God shows me that I am not the awesomest teacher. He is. I am not the one that brings understanding, the Holy Spirit does. My opinions matter very little. But God’s word is what is important.

Okay, well it is getting late and Bre is making an incredible chicken and rice dinner. Looking forward to hanging out with the Johnson clan for a little while tonight. May the LORD Jesus richly bless you. May you be filled with His Spirit and have knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. May the LORD bless you and keep you. May he make his face to shine upon you and give you peace. Pray for Cambodia. Pray for the provincial pastors that we are teaching. May they continue to understand the word and be able to clearly teach it to their congregation. May the LORD bring many to Jesus through their ministries.

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