Sowing in Cambodia’s Killing Fields

Cambodia, 1973 – a young man wakes up in darkness. It’s three a.m. and he’s lying down on the hard floor of a semi-truck, enveloped by the pungent smell of raw fish. Radha Manickam is twenty-years old and was kicked out of his father’s home a few months ago. He could put up with Radha’s recent conversion to Christianity, but his baptism was the last straw. In his father’s eyes, he’s embraced the colonizers’ religion. Every night Radha sleeps here, and every day he works up early so the truck can be used for the fishermen’s work.

Today, Radha is much older. He’s married with five children, five grandchildren, and is the director of Cambodian Ministries for Christ International. He’s active in his local Cambodian church in Seattle, works with eleven Cambodian-American churches in the pacific northwest, and serves churches and pastors all across America and Cambodia (thirteen out of twenty-five provinces and counting). His journey here was long, but he is humbled by God’s miraculous provision every step of the way.

The Genocide of His People

Radha was born in Cambodia to Indian immigrants. He grew up with eight siblings and began taking English classes at a church. It was there that he received Christ as his Lord and Savior. By God’s grace, his father eventually took him back home. All was well until April of 1975.

The Khmer Rouge forces of Pol Pot, who were fighting against the Cambodian government, overran Radha’s hometown in Phnom Penh. They massacred everyone related to the military, civil servants, and those deemed as intelligent and threatening. Radha was forced to dig graves for the dead and endured harsh manual labor with little sleep. Millions of Cambodians died due to the grueling conditions, starvation, illness, or execution. He lived on rice-and-water soup and kept a tight lid on his Christian faith to avoid being associated with pro-American sympathies and be killed. He was able to visit his hometown once. Most of his family was dead, leaving Radha utterly shattered.

Pol Pot realized the population wasn’t replacing itself, meaning the pool of laborers was growing slim. The Khmer Rouge began arranging marriages for the public. Radha was terrified and begged the Lord to not be unequally yoked with a non-believer. Woman after woman rejected him and if one more matched failed, he would be executed. His last match, Samen, said yes to him. The couple had no idea they had each received a Christian spouse. Like Radha, Samen’s previous match attempts were unsuccessful. But Samen wasn’t an ordinary Christian. She was the daughter of one of the most prominent pastors in Cambodia. The Lord’s sovereignty in their marriage would continue to reveal itself.

From Refugee to American Pastor

After Vietnam intervened to remove Pol Pot, Radha and Samen escaped to another province and then eventually to the Thai border. They fled through hundreds of miles of jungle while Samen was seven months pregnant. At the border, Radha worked with medical teams and refugee camps. Beyond his newborn, the Lord gave him a precious gift — an introduction to his future work in ministry. It was in these refugee camps that Radha served in his first evangelism team, worked as a youth minister, and later became an elder. God was only getting started with the Manickam family.

The Lord eventually called Radha and Samen to America. In Long Beach, Radha served as a minister to the Cambodian Evangelical Church of the Christian Missionary Alliance. He led the Southern California District for the Cambodian Evangelical Church. And then, Radha was called to Seattle to pastor the largest Cambodian church in the pacific northwest area, Khmer Evangelical Church. Radha’s faithfulness had brought him far. But God was still not done with him.

Cambodia Today

Cambodia, 1989 – Radha eyes a woman selling her finest flowers. It’s a typical market, with the chatter of customers bargaining in Khmer mixed with the scent of familiar foods and spices. He isn’t interested in groceries or even flowers. But he needs to speak with that florist.

By this time, Radha’s home country was growing heavy on his heart. He travelled from America to Cambodia to get in contact with the underground church. This proved to be difficult as Cambodia was still communist, and no one trusted Radha enough to speak with him. After being shut out by so many, he was desperate to speak with a florist he’d heard was a Christian. She was surprised when she heard him, a stranger, say her name. He asked her about a pastor and could tell he was going to be shut out again. So, he mentioned the name of his father-in-law. And suddenly, the doors were open.

By God’s grace, Radha began working with underground churches all around Cambodia and still does today, although now the country is no longer communist and can legally meet. Through Cambodian Ministries for Christ International, Radha does church networking, develops leadership material, helps congregations find buildings to meet in, and assists pastors in crisis, all in Cambodia. In 1993, he joined the Missions Door family and his ministry is fully funded.

Cambodia has many spiritual needs and limited resources. While there are over 60 churches in Phnom Penh, this country is still one of the least reached for Christ. 98% of the population is Buddhist, and false teaching is rampant. Their newest Bible version is like the Catholic Bible, so their ministry needs funding for reprinting. The genocide brought on by the Khmer Rouge took the lives of many leaders, leaving the already scarce churches with little leadership training programs apart from Radha’s Bible school that he started. Pastors are often vocational, working as farmers, and some have very little to eat. Freedom of religion doesn’t seem to apply to Christians who are treated as second class citizens. Converts to Christianity may be disowned by their parents, abused by their husbands, or abandoned by their wives.

Pray for Radha as he divides his time between America and Cambodia, for Cambodians to know Christ, and for their pastors to be equipped and cared for. If you’d like to support Radha, visit his page or his website to learn more. We don’t think God is done with him yet. We’re honored to support him and are excited to see what else God has in store for him and Samen.