Missionaries Go Home # 2: From Cambodia
What would you think about a retired doctor from Los Angeles who befriends a local Cambodian woman and pays for her schooling? Wonderful, what a generous deed, right? What would you think if you found out that this man is paying for her schooling on the condition that she go to church every week and convert to Christianity? Perhaps the words “bribery” or “shameful” come to mind. This is a true story, and a typical example of what missionaries will do to get converts. Their goals are all the same; to convert people to become brainwashed born-again, fundamentalist Christians.
On 30 March, 2006, I posted an essay, “Missionaries Go Home” (Provide Link?). I was motivated to write Part 2 after a group of Thai Christians tried to censor “The Davinci Code”, and after my experiences in Cambodia last week.
A few weeks ago here in Thailand, a well-organised group of evangelical Christians nearly succeeded in censoring the movie, “The Davinci Code”. This group, which represents less than 1% of the Thai population, tried to convince the Thai authorities to cut the last 10 minutes of the movie. Because the Thai Christians didn’t like the ending, they tried to deny the right for everyone else to be able to see it. Fortunately, the decision to cut the film was narrowly reversed, but the evangelicals still succeeded in having Thai subtitles changed for parts of the dialogue that they didn’t like. Ticket clerks at the cinema box office also had to hand out glossy pamphlets of Pro-Christian propaganda to all ticket buyers.
How does this tiny group have so much influence? Imagine how much influence they would have if they were 5 or 10 percent of the population! They love to tout the concept of “freedom of religion”, which to them means proselytizing and disrespecting Buddhists and others by trying to convert them. They have this freedom, yet they want to limit everyone else’s freedoms. If this Christian population in Thailand grows, you can expect a lot more of this kind of nonsense. Look at America, where teachers can’t teach evolution in some parts of the country because fundamentalist Christians don’t agree with it.
Why do they want to censor a fictional movie that they have no intention of seeing anyway? The answer is obvious; they think that people who see the movie will be harder to convert. They want to destroy any alternate theories or ideas about their religion. Though some of the ideas presented in the “The DaVinci Code”, may be implausible, they are certainly no more implausible then the central tenants of Christianity. Think about it: the belief that god sent his son to the earth to be tortured for your sins (and everyone else’s ever born), the belief in the “resurrection” of Jesus, the belief in eternal damnation in “Hell” for “non-believers”, the belief in all biblical stories as infallible truth, etc. I discussed this with an American missionary woman, and she said it was the Thai Christian community trying to censor the movie, not the missionaries. Well, duh! Who created these Thai evangelical Christians? It was the bloody missionaries that made them in the first place.
I met the Cambodian girl, Thydath (this is not her real name) mentioned in the opening paragraph, in Phnom Penh, two years ago. (Just to clarify, I have no romantic involvement with this girl.) At the time we met, she was working in a restaurant along the Tonle Sap River earning just $40 a month without any holidays. She wasn’t even allowed to keep her tips. I ate at her restaurant every morning and had many conversations with her. One Sunday, I asked her what she did before work. She told me that she felt bad because she slept late and didn’t go to church. Several people from her church dropped by her house to see why she wasn’t at church (a common practice at evangelical churches). I asked her how long she had been a Christian. She said she is still Buddhist, but she has to go to church because she didn’t want to upset her friend. This “friend” from Los Angeles (mentioned in the first paragraph) met her in the same way that I had, except his motive was to convert her to Christianity through bribery. He started by paying for her English lessons, which were just $20 a semester. Then, he started bringing her to a church planted by some of his American missionary buddies. After he went back to Los Angeles, he emailed her every week, asking her to describe what she learned in church that week. He wanted to be sure that she was still going, so that his investment wasn’t being wasted on a “non-believer”.
He continued to stay in touch with her, reminding her to go to church and telling her not to pay respect to any monks or Buddha images. That said, she still took me to see the ancient pagodas at Phnom Udong, about 1 hour ride outside of Phnom Penh. (There are many great sights in this area. It’s worth a visit if you’re ever in Phnom Penh).
I kept in touch, though infrequently, with Thydath over the past two years. I went back to Phnom Penh last week, and met her at her new job. She now makes $70 a month with 2 holidays per month, and she gets to keep her tips. We discussed the subject of church and school again. Now that she has gone to church for more than 2 years, the LA doctor is paying $1000 a year for her to go to nursing school in Phnom Penh. She still considers herself Buddhist but she is conflicted. She doesn’t like to lie to the man, so she still goes to church every Sunday. She feels very guilty if she goes to pray at a pagoda or talks to a monk. Fortunately, this girl is smart and she won’t be brainwashed so easily. Many people convert much easier than her. I asked her is she believes what they teach at the church and she said “sometimes”. I asked her if she believes non-Christians will go to hell, a central tenant to fundamentalist Christianity. She paused, and then said no. She also told me that sometimes she can’t listen to the sermons at her church because the moron evangelical preacher speaks badly about Buddhism and the monks, telling people to avoid them, avoid temples, and “bring others to Jesus”.
She knows it’s a game and that she has to do what this guy asks or else she can’t go to nursing school. His “plans” for her after she graduates is for her to go to another country to work, instead of helping the people in Cambodia who really need it. I feel bad for her because this man has huge control over her life because he pays for her school; about 40,000 Baht a year, an amount similar to what some foreigners send their Thai girlfriends every month!
She took me to the pagodas at Phnom Udong again (A new modern pagoda has been built next to the two ancient ones. Several of the old temples have also been rebuilt). She prayed at the pagoda, but was somehow nervous that her “friend” would find out. The only advice I gave her was to pray to whoever or whatever she wants without guilt. Play this man’s silly game, tell him what he wants to hear, but when she graduates, she doesn’t have to play his game anymore. Will she convert one day? Probably not but I don’t know for sure.
I met another churchgoer, a full-on convert at another restaurant. She said she never even read the bible but just listens to and believes what the preacher says. After telling her what I thought about it, she said her preacher would be so mad to hear what I have to say. I didn’t try to “un-convert” her, but I told her to think for herself; good advice for anyone.
Finally, the last missionary story I have comes from an email I received in response to my other essay. The writer mentioned a Cambodian girl in Sihoukanville who went to free English lessons offered by a missionary stationed in the area. After a number of weeks studying with the missionary, she wouldn’t pray with her family on the common Buddhist prayer days. Her father asked why she wasn’t praying and the girl said that her English teacher taught her that she can’t pray to Buddha anymore. Her father gave her permission to pray again and told her never to go back for more “Free” English lesson. I wish I had more stories like that one.
Missionaries love to talk about freedom and the right to practice their religion. However, for them, practicing their religion means spreading it, without regards or concerns to the local religions and culture. What do they do with their freedom? They disrespect the culture and religion of the countries they invade. In much of Southeast Asia, Buddhism is intertwined with the culture in very significant ways. The two cannot be separated. But that doesn’t matter to the fundamentalist Christian. For the missionary and their converts, there are two kinds of people; believers (the saved) and nonbelievers (the unsaved). They don’t live peacefully with others. Don’t let their initial friendliness fool you, because they are just planning the next campaign to convert you or others in your community.
So, when you see a foreign missionary, tell them they are full of shit, and then tell them to go home.
- Note: Phnom Penh is in much better shape than it was 2.5 years ago. It has many new building and it has been cleaned up some. There is even an ATM in the airport. Yes, it’s still an overall mess, but the improvement was quite obvious. Also, though there are many protestant churches in Phnom Penh, Most of them are on the outskirts and all of them combined probably don’t have more than a few thousand members, a tiny proportion of the 1,000,000 people living there. Of course, their goal is to spread and multiply, just like bacteria. It isn’t likely that they’ll have much more success than they do in Thailand, a very small but very visible minority religion.
If anyone has other stories like this that you want to share or if you are interested in opposing missionaries, send me an email.
Sorry, same old story, too busy to make any silly comments today.