In 1993, Cambodia opened its doors to mission organizations and development agencies. While outside help was needed after the horrific years under Khmer Rouge rule, no one realized how the agencies would splinter the Cambodian church.
Agencies began funding different groups of leaders, churches, and programs. Mission organizations started up denominations. The church that had once been united fractured.
Rev. Heng Cheng has made it his mission to reunite Cambodian Christians. Today he is general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia (EFC), an alliance of about 70 percent of Cambodia’s Christian churches and organizations. The divide still exists, but it’s closing.
Cambodia’s situation is not unique. Other countries have seen similar divisions in their churches and communities. But a movement is starting to bridge the separation. It is a movement to empower local Christians to work together to restore God’s kingdom.
Joel Huyser, a missionary with Christian Reformed World Missions, compares the movement to an ecosystem in which each part contributes to the overall health.
“We have done many good things both through our denominational agencies and as individual congregations and Christians,” Huyser says. But he says that maybe we could do even better by working alongside others to cultivate “gospel ecosystems” in neighborhoods, cities, and nations.
This idea has sparked a new ministry strategy: transformation networks. Transformation networks focus on city- and nation-wide transformation, beginning with individuals and spreading to their families, churches, workplaces, and elsewhere until change takes root in every sector of society.
Christian Reformed World Missions, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Back to God Ministries International, Christian Reformed Home Missions, Partners Worldwide, and the Timothy Leadership Institute have been identifying countries in which they, along with others, can build on foundations that have already been laid. Some of these countries are Bangladesh, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Cambodia.
The goal is that transformation networks will spur deep-rooted and visible changes. Some of the hoped-for results include churches that teach and demonstrate the whole gospel, people practicing biblical values in their spheres of influence, mutual trust-filled relationships, justice for the poor and marginalized, and mutual learning and encouragement between local and global transformation networks.
Such deep-seated change is not something that happens overnight. It takes time, prayer, and people committed to working to make a difference. As Huyser says, “It takes a ‘gospel ecosystem’ in a village, a city, or nation to produce a movement that can bring real change. It demands everyday people walking hand in hand with their neighbors and contributing their own gifts and talents.”