In 1973, Pastor and Mrs. Ng, two young missionaries fresh out of college, arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was to be their mission field for the next five years. Or so they thought. What happened next surpassed their worst nightmares as civil war wrenched the country apart. However, God never left their sides.
Last year, Pastor and Mrs. Ng accepted a request from Adventist Mission to film their story on location. “This was my first trip back to Phnom Penh since we left Cambodia in 1975 just before it fell to the Khmer Rouge regime,” Mrs. Ng said. “My husband had gone back once for some meetings, but this was our first time to revisit familiar places. Words can’t express how excited I was, yet at the same time, our return brought back some terrifying moments of the war closing in on the city.”
As the couple traveled from one significant site to another, a tsunami of memories engulfed them—especially when they revisited an old building that had once served as the SDA English Language Center where they worked.
As they climbed the stairs, Pastor Ng described the layout of the language center. “The first floor was where most of the classrooms were and the second had a small church that had been started through the ministry of the language center.” Pastor and Mrs. Ng had come to Cambodia to shepherd this church.
“A lot of people in Phnom Penh wanted to learn English,” Pastor Ng continued. “Our center was one of the largest in the city with more than 450 students. Here,” he said, pausing at the third floor, “is where the five student missionaries from the United States lived who taught English.”
When they reached the fourth and final floor, Pastor and Mrs. Ng pointed out a small apartment where they had lived. It was surrounded by a large, open area enclosed by a fence. Above it stood a small balcony, which could be reached by a staircase.
“This fourth floor holds the most vivid memories for us,” Pastor Ng shared as he and his wife looked out upon the city. “We spent a lot of time praying on the balcony during the frequent blackouts.” His voice was calm, belying the chaos that once raged around them when F-111 fighter planes and B-52s rained bombs and rockets on the city.
“We could have died a thousand times,” Pastor Ng said, a faraway look in his eyes. “Every day, we were prepared to die. We often pled for God’s protection on this balcony, and in His mercy, He spared our lives.”
Pastor and Mrs. Ng remembered one particularly harrowing night when they heard dozens of rockets hit the city. “We ran up to the balcony and saw the entire outskirts of the city engulfed in flames. We thought, This is it! This is it! Whichever direction we looked, there was fire.”
Nevertheless, God shielded the small group of missionaries. “I could see the mighty hand of God on every side, protecting us during these dangerous times,” Mrs. Ng said. “The precious promises of Psalm 91 had never been so dear to my heart as we claimed His living Word while missiles and rockets flew down all around us.”
Pastor and Mrs. Ng were evacuated to nearby Vietnam as they would be twice more in the future. Yet each time they escaped the carnage of war, the couple returned to continue sharing God’s love.
During their two years of service, Pastor and Mrs. Ng spent much time studying the Bible with the language students. There had been virtually no believers in Cambodia before the Ngs arrived, but soon 33 believers were worshiping with them each Sabbath.
While in Cambodia last year, Pastor and Mrs. Ng also visited a large hotel that held many memories for them. It had served as a refugee center during the war, and they had been instrumental in helping to meet the refugees’ needs.
We often visited the refugees in their rooms,” Pastor Ng recalled. “The rooms were pitch-dark because there was no electricity at the hotel, and as many as 17 women, men, and children would be crowded into one room.”
The situation in the city was dire. The Khmer Rouge had cut supplies from the outside world by blockading the Mekong River and the highways. Electricity in the city was in short supply, and fuel was rationed. They did their best to provide the refugees with clothing and rice, but the situation continued to worsen.
By this time, two student missionaries had left the country, leaving a total of five serving in the besieged city. Every Sabbath after sundown, one of them would ride a bike to the central post office to get their mail. One Saturday evening, one of the teachers returned with a telegram from Bangkok. It read, “All five get out immediately.”
How you can help
Please further Adventist mission work in Cambodia and Southeast Asia through your mission offerings (adventistmission.org/donate) and by supporting Global Mission pioneers and Urban Centers of Influence in the 10/40 Window (Global-Mission.org/giving).
Cambodia Fast Facts
• 1930: The first Adventist missionary enters.
• 1962: The first Adventist church building opens.
• 1975 to 1979: The Khmer Rouge regime rules under the Marxist dictator Pol Pot.
• 1992: Adventist missionaries reenter.
• 1993: The Cambodian church receives official recognition from
The telegram had been sent by the education director of the Southeast Asia Union Mission, Milton Thorman. “Pastor Thorman was visiting in Bangkok at the time and had felt impressed all day Sabbath that something ought to be done for the missionaries in Phnom Penh,” Pastor Ng explained. “So he sent a telegram ordering us to evacuate immediately. He did it on his own accord without committee authorization.”
The missionaries grabbed their few belongings and fled to the airport. “The airport was under constant attack to cut the city off from its last link to the outside world,” Pastor Ng said. “When we arrived, we saw black smoke billowing from rocket strikes, heard the screaming of sirens, and felt the concussion from the tremendous blasts. When we boarded the plane, we knew the city was doomed.”
Two weeks later, the Khmer Rouge marched in and took control of Phnom Penh and the rest of Cambodia.
“Almost all our church members perished during the Cambodia genocide that followed,” Pastor Ng shared. “Some walked all the way to the border with Thailand and survived. It’s been estimated that two million Cambodians were killed by this brutal regime.”
Several months after the fall of Cambodia, Pastor and Mrs. Ng received a letter from one of their church members who had managed to escape from Phnom Penh. In it, their friend wrote, “I’m praying day and night, not asking God to grant me any selfish request, but simply pleading with Him that somehow every single member in Cambodia may gather together.”
“Unfortunately, my friend’s prayer wasn’t answered on this earth,” Pastor Ng said. “But soon it will be, and what a day of rejoicing it will be when Jesus comes again! We’ll be able to see all 33 of our members who were baptized and remained faithful to the Lord till the end.”
After the war, a large, church-planting program sponsored by Global Mission helped rebuild the church in Cambodia. Today we have some 3,000 members, seven churches, a mission school, and a new Urban Center of Influence that you helped fund with your donations to Global Mission.
However, much remains to be done to share the message of Jesus’ love and soon return with the people of Cambodia and of all Southeast Asia. Please continue to pray for and support Adventist mission work in this region of the world.