A Discussion with Pastor Ted Olbrich, Country Director of Foursquare Children of Promise and Stephen Billington, Co-Founder of Home of English International School
August 30, 2010
Background:This conversation between Ted Olbrich and Ethan Carroll took place over three-and-a-half hours on August 30, 2010, and also includes information from a brief follow-up phone call. Pastor Olbrich discusses the structure of Foursquare Cambodia while conducting a tour of the Church's Phnom Penh training facility, contributing enlightening insights into Pentecostalism's approach to reaching the “poorest of the poor.” He also discusses his belief in the failures of “humanist organizations” to achieve intended development outcomes. Stephen Billington, the co-founder of Home of English International School contributes to the latter half of the conversation, and Foursquare Cambodia President Pastor Peter Oun makes a brief addition in speaking about the Church's quail incubator micro-enterprise. This extended discussion presents the forthright perspective of one Christian organization working in Cambodia and its focus on children and orphans.
How long has Foursquare been in Cambodia?
I came here in October of 1998, so almost 12 years ago; it was all rice paddies here when we came. One small church had started here in 1994, out of Australia, with about 20 members. The pastor, like most non-supervised Cambodians, had learned how to milk the system and was on the take, so he’s no longer with us. We transferred him over to a Sports Ministry where he can rip them off.
Had you been active in Foursquare back in the U.S.?
I was a pastor for 12 years.
Where are you originally from?
Illinois, but I started out here after I finished my degree in agronomy. I took a job with a three letter company winning hearts and minds contracted to the U.S. Embassy up in Laos, so I spent three years in Laos. About a year and a half in, they decided they needed a rice expert. The U.S. Government was putting all this money into winning hearts and minds and the rice was the main economy, and they didn’t have anyone who knew anything about it. Technically, I wasn’t a CIA agent, I was a contract employee of the U.S. government; so I worked with the CIA. They decided that, since I had a degree in agronomy and had been out in the country for a year counter-parted to an Ag agent, I was their guy. So they sent me to the International Rice Institute in the Philippines for a quick Master's degree. My wife Sou and I moved down to the Southern region of Laos, with an agriculture development organization, which was really designed for the hearts and minds thing. That’s before I was in the ministry.
What is your relationship with the church back in the States?
I retired about two years ago, although nothing changed. Though I don’t receive a salary, I am the board-selected Country Director for Foursquare Children of Promise, which is a local, wholly owned, non-governmental organization of the Foursquare Church, which is run by a Foursquare Board of Directors. I sit in on the meetings but I have no vote. My wife is the Foursquare Missionary, so she is technically working with Foursquare Church, whereas I am working with the local NGO. But we’re run by the same board of Directors, so the lines get really blurry. In fact, we only keep one set of books; we run everything together because we don’t have enough staff. We do have a Filipino independent auditing firm that watches over our books. Our pastors don’t get paid much; most don’t get paid anything. The ones who run the church homes get $40 a month, plus rooms, board, and food. Peter is our president, appointed by an all-Cambodian board. He became the President in 1999; before then he was a Pastor. The first president was a crook and tried to steal two million of our property. Peter was our David.
Is Foursquare at all regionalized?
There’s a Foursquare church in Thailand, one in Vietnam, and none officially in Laos, though Laos is kind of like North Korea….
Are they at all coordinated?
Yes. Tomorrow, Peter and I are going to what they call the Eastern Council of Foursquare churches regional meeting, which is all the Southeast Asian Foursquare Churches, the national leaders. Technically only Peter is invited, but he won’t go unless I go with him because he doesn’t feel his English is good enough.
So this training center is where you do your central training meetings?
We are set up 23 districts, 93 divisions, and each division can have between 20 and 30 churches. We bring in the divisional and the district leaders here every month for training, and they’re here for four to five days. They then take that training back and teach it to their divisional churches; that way every month, all 3,000 plus of our churches have been given fresh training.
How many staff members do you have here at the training center during the majority of the year?
It’d be about 25.
And are most of them former orphans?
No, most of them are widows. The majority of our staff are widows. They’re women who might otherwise be begging on the street. We tell them we can’t pay them, but we can give them a place to live. That’s one of the problems I have with broad criticisms of orphanages which say “Oh, they’re institutionalizing children and they’re impersonal and they take children out of their communities.” We don’t do that here. Our orphans, for the most part, stay very close to their communities, at least as close as the nearest church home, and we don’t have all the problems with pedophilia that secular NGOs or even other churches have because we have a bunch of grannies taking care of them. Of course we have guards as well, to protect against theft, and also to keep the children safe, but the grannies are sleeping in the same room as the children every night. At most a third of our staff members here are orphans.
All these organizations that take kids and put them in a standard of living that is significantly higher than what they would have at normal income level are not doing the kids any favor. Because once they get to the point of departing from the home, they can’t replace that lifestyle and they will never go back to that village where they came from and be a teacher or businessman or help the community. We take great pains to deliberately not spoil our kids. We will not put air conditioners in their bedrooms. We don’t give them personal computers. We try to keep them healthy and happy and loved and clothed, and then honestly, they live better than the average Cambodian kid, but not enough better that they can’t be something like a school teacher. All of our children attend public schools, and many of them are at the top of their classes. Teachers love our students. We train our orphans in all kinds of trades; dental, medical, IT training (you know it’s the big thing right now), law, automotive, body repair, electronics, electrical wiring, hotel and restaurant management, handicrafts, fish and rice culture….
So I really resent the idea that “orphanages don’t prepare children to re-enter society.” And we get criticized all the time. Yes, they become Christian, but the criticism that we’re eroding Cambodian culture in some way just isn’t true. We teach apsara dancing and have a big focus on Cambodian cultural history in our homes. The children you see dancing up in Siem Riep are our girls! And when foreigners want to come see an orphanage, government officials always bring them to our orphanages.
Would you say that managing expectations is a big difference between what you’re doing and what other organizations are doing?
Absolutely, you have to do it strategically. You really need to think about outcomes. Every morning, the pastor has this kind of mantra he does: “You kids are the future of this country. Whatever you want to do, I don’t care if you want to be a farmer or a fireman or a policeman or a pastor. You be the best you can be, because you kids can change this nation. How is Cambodia going to stop being the poorest country in the world? Because you’re going to make it a country that isn’t poor. You go to school today and you study, and you be the best you can be.” They hear that, and they help each other.
Have you attempted to do any kind of follow-up work to see where your children are after leaving the orphanage?
Once they’re adults they go; they come back and say ‘Hi.’ But as far as a written follow-up, no. We have kids who are still 25 and are still in school—the ones in medical school—so it isn’t like we kick them out when they’re 18. If they’re working in some factory then they’re on their own. They’re working in the factory, they come to church on Sunday, we say ‘Hi,’ they come to holidays. We see them a lot; but just like your own kids, when they get to be adults, they’re gone. But of course if they’re on staff they’re with us, and a number of them are on staff. A lot of them have become pastors; with 3,400 churches we need a lot of pastors. We have probably about 60 and probably another 50 in the making of our orphans that are going into ministry, girls and boys. We have both men and women pastors, we don’t discriminate that way. Three of our 23 district supervisors are women. They never left, it’s their home.
Our homes generally have no more than 30 children, so I don’t know what these people are saying about “institutionalized care.” And you can see, they’re family! We don’t line them up for numbers in the morning, we don’t do roll-call, this isn’t institutionalization. The reason there are so many kids here today is because it’s their summer break. During the summer, a lot of children from our homes in the provinces come here to study music. If, after three months, they get good enough to play the keyboard so that it’s at least recognizable as music, we buy the church a keyboard and they get to take it back to the church. And the church will double in size within a year once they have a keyboard.
On your website you mention the various “microenterprises” your orphans undertake. Can you tell me more about those?
Our kids raise their own vegetables and livestock, but we run churches, not sweatshops. This is a way to teach our children skills, just like any family whose children do chores. So our boys make furniture, and then they have that skill for life.
Every one of our 108 church homes has something going on. Some of them may be as simple as having a tire repair shop in front of their church where the kids fix tires, bicycle tires, motorcycle tires, car tires. Almost of them also have vegetable garden production; they sell the excess vegetables at the market. We have probably 30 sites where we raise commercial quantities of pigs, and 50 or 60 fish ponds. We’ve learned how to do fish culture, where we have a breeder pond and we put the fingerlings into the main pond when they’re big enough that the older fish won’t eat them; that way you don’t have to drain the pound out and poison it every season to start a new crop of fish. We have different enterprises- there’s a home where they build beds, we have others that do welding, sheet metal work. It kind of depends on what the pastors’ skill mix is. A lot of them are agricultural.
We also are doing quail incubators now, which are an amazing way to assist someone make a living. We’re working on trying to get the incubators with grants—the current grant has made it through Diligence Phase, but it’s an $80,000 grant to set up a regular factory. We’re building these in the training center, and they’re building them as fast as they can. Here are some kids learning how to build the quail house. He’s making it for his church. One Church/orphan home has 96 home churches because of the quail.
Peter: When the quail are only 40 days old they’re able to produce eggs. The eggs will sell for 200 riel per egg. The quail themselves sell for between 1,500 riel and $1.
We have a factory where we bring in old broken down, junked-out American tractors and completely remanufacture them. We teach our young men every phase of the mechanics to do it, from machining, to welding, to automotive mechanics, you name it. They sell them, and they look just like new when they’re done.
We want to build our own agriculture school because we’re not happy with the local agriculture university. Too many politically correct donors who don’t really want to teach them how to raise food, they want to teach them how to do everything green and organic; which is fine, except they’ve still got to kill bugs, and it doesn’t teach them how to do the stuff that they really need to learn how to do to raise a decent crop of rice. So we want to combine the two to make something that’s practical and can actually feed the country, because if you do it their way you won’t get much of a crop. When we bought our land we could raise one ton per year if we were lucky, two and a half tons. Right now we’re up to 15 tons per year and we hope within five years we’ll be up to 30 tons per hectare per year, which is more than ten times the normal yield.
I would imagine that all the microenterprise initiatives would make it a lot easier to have your homes remain financially viable.
We make lot of it, but we also need about $2 million a year in donations to operate. We don’t expect the orphans to be self-supporting. We supplement each home with about $1,500 per month. That buys clothing, uniforms. We also pay the children $16.50, recently up from $15, a month as a direct contribution for incidental items; that doesn’t include medical, education, staff salaries, home maintenance, or transportation, or administrative, just direct funds that are given for toothpaste, food items. We give them free rice, a lot of food products. In addition they have whatever they raise locally and the money they raise from their own microenterprises. Our cash expenditure per child per month is something like $40. And that doesn’t include rice we raise, food we receive from America or donated medicines, and volunteer help. It is hard to value precisely but perhaps $50 per child per month. A couple of years back UNICEF asked our home administrators directly how much we spend per orphan, and the granny told them $15. UNICEF had a fit.
Where do you get donations from?
From different places, dozens of organizations. We get a lot from Gleanings for the Hungry; and other organizations like ADM donate cooking oil. But we have people who we work with, Food for the Hungry, Compassion International that line us up with these donors through our reputation. They know we don’t cheat, we don’t sell their food. The national Raisin Board gives us a container of raisins every year. The Butte County Rice Producers gives us about 80 tons of rice every year. Most of our support, probably 90 percent is non-Foursquare; I doubt we’ve ever gotten a container with anything from a Foursquare church.
I would say we get 40 to 50 container-loads, those 40-foot shipping containers, with foodstuffs, medicines, vitamins, cooking oil, a year from America. We get dried fruit, dried soup mix, pasta, cooking oil, vitamins; sometimes we have time to put the rice in there, canned fish.
Other supporters include Medical Missions International, Dr. Mike Callan whose Church of The Open Door is our number one advocate, and Union Church Hong Kong. We have money from Warm Blankets Switzerland, from Asia Link, in Norway, and Warm Blankets Australia. We get money from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Germany, Canada, and the United States. Maybe I’ve forgotten a country or two.
We have our own medical hospital, a mobile dental clinic, two dental chairs here, an optometric unit, and eight beds in the hospital. We have an emergency room and two decontamination rooms. Our best piece of equipment we haven’t even brought up yet, is a blood analyzer, which can test 27 different parameters of disease, everything from AIDS to Hep. B. (the two big ones). We purchased it with donated funds.
Who staffs the hospital?
We have two full-time; a pediatrician and a surgeon. We have four or five kids in medical and dental schools.
Church members? Paid by the church?
Yes, church members and full time employees.
We have 400,000 people, so we don’t treat all of our church members here. We’ve put medical clinics on in various rural areas where they don’t have adequate medical care; probably about 15 per year. So we load up large quantities of medicine, that’s why you see these tubs, and we bring in foreign doctors. The big ones will have up to 40 doctors and we’ll treat up to 18,000 people in one week. Of course, that’s where most of our medicine comes from. We bring in large quantities and we treat everything from AIDS to diabetes.
Do you all organize the rural treatment clinics?
Oh sure. We work with what used to be Northwest Medical Missions, now it’s Medical Teams International.
I’m also interested in some of your other partnerships.
We should have gone down to see Sisters of Charity. We work very closely with Mother Theresa’s order. I could have introduced you to…well I don’t like to embarrass them, some of our HIV positive kids. Once they get stable we have grannies that make sure they get their medication every morning. But if they get to be full-blown AIDS where they’re showing symptoms, they go down and stay with the Sisters of Charity.
In Phnom Penh especially and around here, the number one cause of orphans used to be HIV/AIDS. Until 2004, it was a death sentence. We just waited for them to die. Dad would go down and mess around at the local institution, pick up the disease, bring it home and give it to Mom, and general health was so poor that within a year they were both full-blown AIDS and dead. So they’d leave six or eight kids. Usually, in our homes you’ll find as many as five brothers and sisters in one orphan home. That’s what usually happened, although landmines, malaria and motorcycle accidents also are important.
2004-05 is when ARVs became widely available here, right?
We started bringing the cocktails in; we had some donors to do that. Sisters of Charity then got their own donors so they didn’t need our help. They still like us to bring diapers in for when kids… when the AIDS patients get full-blown they lose continence and need diapers. It’s hard for them to get the money for the diapers, so we try to bring a container of diapers in every once in awhile. But we take the healthy kids.
We have not tested all of our kids for it. Now we have this new expensive equipment, though like I said before we haven’t even fully installed it yet. We’ll be able to do blood analysis on all of our kids so we know who has what. We’ve found that Hepatitis B is epidemic. It’s a very very serious disease with no cure. It’s very contagious, and acts much like AIDS. The only thing you can do is a liver transplant. It’s not talked about much. They call it a sexually transmitted disease but these kids aren’t sexually active, they got it through the birth canal, or they got it from sharing a drinking glass or sneezing on each other, I don’t know. We’ve found in some homes, 5 percent of the kids have Hep. B, which is scary because you really have to go to work now and do a whole new regimen on sanitation procedures.
Are you able to keep individual records of all the orphans? On your website, you mention you have to keep a lot of data for your donors. What kind of data do your donors require?
Absolutely, you have to. We have a full set of books in every home. Photos, records, how much they weigh every month. We can go back to 1999. Where they go, where they were born, what happens to their parents, as much information as we can when we get on them. You can see we do a lot of paperwork. The kids are closely monitored health-wise; they’re weighed and checked every month, they actually get a physical.
We’re fully legal under the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation. They inspect our facilities every month. UNICEF would like to put us out of business, to be quite honest about it. They don’t like the fact that we turn Cambodian kids into Christians.
Why do you think that is?
Uh… they’re humanistic, anti-Christ, basically. There’s an anti-Christian bias from most Western European and a lot of American NGOs. They’ve got this idea that it is valuing nature to value Buddhism. It’s the “natural” religion of Cambodia, so anything you do to interfere with that, it’s a direct antagonism to them. They get very, very emotional. Our kids heard that UNICEF was coming one time and they wanted to demonstrate. They wanted to demonstrate, to march on UNICEF. I didn’t think it was a good idea.
When we first started, I had provincial governors seeking me out. They would tell me “We want you to build an orphanage in our province. We want to take care of the orphans.”
I said, “OK, but we have to start our church first.”
“No no no, we don’t want a church, I just want an orphanage.”
I said “Well then we can’t build an orphanage.
“Well why not? Build an orphanage, we’ll give you the permit, we’ll give you everything you need, we’ll even give you the land.”
I said, “I don’t want it. If we can’t have the church I don’t want an orphanage.”
“Well why not!? We’re going to give it to you!”
I said “Look at your government orphan home. The Director’s driving a Land Cruiser and the kids are starving to death. How in the world are we going to do any better than you, unless we have some moral standard on which to base proper care for the children?” I said, “The only thing that’s going to do that is a sincere, moral conviction that there’s a higher power to hold you accountable if you abuse a child. Unless you let us teach that, we will never start an orphan home here.”
“Ok, you can have your church.” And that’s how we started a lot of our churches.
Where would orphans go if it weren’t for the orphanages? Do you see a trade-off between the pagodas as a form of alternative care versus the orphanage?
Well they’ll feed them. Orphans show up, they’ll give them food, and they’ll let them sleep on the steps; but as far as really adopting them and taking them in as family, they don’t do that. And they don’t have women there. Kids need moms, grandmas. So that’s not a good alternative. It’s not that they’re bad people; it’s that they’re not equipped for it. Here’s the thing they won’t talk about: the underlying, dirty, dirty little secret, and it’s throughout Cambodian society, is if you’re an orphan you deserve to be an orphan because you were bad in a past life. So why should we be good to you? You deserve to suffer. And though they won’t state it, they have no remorse about, “You know I won’t give you anything because you’re an orphan.” And they kind of get teased at school, ‘the stray dogs’ is a slang term that’s used on them. See the good thing about our church homes is, you get 20, 30 ‘stray dogs’ all from the same home going to the same school and “You’re calling my brother a stray dog? Womp on you!” They tend to do very well in the public schools.
We’ve had a lot of our donors criticize us saying that the Cambodian education system stinks. “Why don’t you set up good Christian schools?” One: it would cost a lot of money, but two: we want to infect Cambodia with Jesus Christ, not take Him out! So why would we want to do that? We’d rather help to improve the Cambodian schools. So one of the things we’re doing, and I’ve got the grant, I wish I had it to show you because I think in two weeks I could tell you a different story than I’m going to tell you right now because we don’t have the money. But if what happens that I hope happens, we’ll be able to offer $50 a month for every student that goes to teachers’ training college as an incentive for them to go to college to become a teacher. And we’ll continue that as a supplement to their salary if they’ll go to one of our rural locations where we need teachers. So I think that we’ll get a lot of kids who will do that.
Similarly, we get requests, probably one or two a month for adoption. Most of them Europeans because in America it’s still illegal. But we don’t adopt, period. I’ll tell them why. First of all: why would we want to export our most valuable commodity? We want to rebuild this country, not destroy it. Secondly, the moment we allow someone to adopt a child, when they get up in the morning and they hear “you’re the hope of the future, you can change this nation,” their focus is going to change from “How can I become the best I can be?" to “How can I get someone to pick me to get me out of here?” And it would blow our whole operation. It is trafficking. It’s legalized trafficking.
So one thing I’ve noticed on your website, and I’ll just quickly read this quote:
“Socially, the Gospel will be demonstrated by teaching family values and strengthening existing family structures, according to Christian principles, to eventually absorb homeless children. In the interim the church will be proactive by, feeding, housing, loving, and training orphans, building facilities, and assisting destitute widows."
So I’m wondering if there is a timeline for the transition to doing more family building activities?
All the churches teach family values as part of their overall Christian education. We have homes with excess capacity. We are not going to go out and take in poor kids and call them orphans just to drag them away from Mom and Dad so we can get donors to give us money. That’s what a lot of them are doing. They lie! We’re not going to do that. In fact, we kick kids out quite often if we catch them. And they do lie to us! We’re pretty smart now, but we don’t keep them around if they’ve got parents. We send them home. Last time I checked, it was around 45 to 50 percent of the kids who were true orphans, about 30 percent were fatherless and their moms were prostitutes or had married Mr. Right and abandoned them but she wasn’t dead yet. Twenty percent were just totally abandoned, no one knows anything about their background. In fact, we do a lot of work with extended families, uncles and aunts, if we can get them involved in the church and we know they have the value system where they’ll take good care, or older brothers and sisters even.
It’s a problem, though, because a lot of times, especially, it’s a difficult thing. When you have a prostitute who doesn’t know who the father is, and dumps her off when she’s an infant in our orphan home because she didn’t want to mess with her; and twelve years later she’s this pretty young girl and mom thinks, “I can make a lot of money on her,” so she comes by and she says “I’m the legal mother, I want my daughter back.” Well, legally you have to give her back. It breaks your heart. I know of six girls that are prostitutes right now who don’t want to be prostitutes.
Legally, we get custody of our orphans; we actually go through all the legal paperwork. We’re probably one of the few orphan homes that does this, to legally adopt them. And even then like I say, if the blood mother shows up our papers are worthless. But at least we do have the rights for raising that child, and the responsibility. It’s a two-edge sword. But we’re willing to accept that. It’s just that sometimes it breaks your heart. It’d be like seeing your daughter get dragged off. You just want to kill somebody sometimes.
Whatever the locals would like to think, the brothels here are all illegal. You have these “Super Heroes” who think they’re saving the world by raiding brothels, but what are they really doing? They’re blind! Half the time, the people they’re helping are running the orphanages. Let’s think about how a girl gets to a brothel in the first place. First, they’re never called brothels; they’re beer gardens, massage parlors, happy massage parlors, whatever. So girls start working in factories from a young age, and are able to make up to $60 a month. But they entered under deals where the factory keeps the first four to six weeks of their wages. They send $40 home to their families and attempt to live on $20, so they’re malnourished and desperate. The only way to make money is with sex.
The pretty ones are sold into brothels by their parents; sometimes it’s parents’ only option. There, the girl’s virginity is taken. I don’t know what it is about Japanese and Chinese culture, but the businessmen seem to have the idea that having sex with a virgin will bring them strength and virility, and they will pay up to $2,000. The brothel owners will often take blood-filled chicken hearts and stick them into the girls in order to “re-virginize” them, at least to the point that they can sell their virginity again. After three or four times of doing this, the girl is put into the brothel system, where, by the rest of society, she is considered “broken.” She is no longer a viable candidate for marriage to a decent family.
The girls in brothels are sending the $200 or so back home to support their families. But then you have the “rescue heroes” who come in and raid the brothels before “re-educating” the girls, after which, get this… they become factory girls at $60 per month again! Then the pimps, who are sometimes paid up to $1,100 for these girls, go and beat up the family members because she’s gone now. So she can make more money as a prostitute, but her individual value is gone. To correct this situation, you have to change the way they value life and the way people think. You have to teach them a viable profession to replace the income they could be making. Teaching English is the best thing to do to. It’s the quickest way out of poverty, because then they can work at a restaurant or in the tourist industry.
Do you think that Pentecostal churches are uniquely able to reach the poorest of the poor?
Yes, I do, and I’ll tell you why, and this is the truth. You may think I’m crazy, but I really believe it. The absolute fact is that in America, the most difficult thing to teach in a religious context is spiritual reality. People don’t believe in spirits, they don’t believe in ghosts, they don’t believe in anything. There’s this God concept in which they kind of embrace this fuzzy guy in the sky. Here, everybody believes in spirits, and so when you have a power that is greater than any spirit they confront, they’re anxious to get to know who that is. So when you can get them baptized in the Holy Spirit they are no longer afraid of ghosts and spirits. We just started 210 churches this month in Rattanikiri Province alone. You remember reading about that goofy spirit that was killing kids because the miners were chopping trees down? Well, the only place they could come and find safety, and they really did find safety, was at our churches! Nobody died when they came to the church. Now you can say it’s coincidence, I don’t know what I believe, but they don’t think it’s coincidence. So they all want to be Christians.
How does Pentecostal doctrine—so the belief that the rite of baptism is central in eventually approaching salvation—how does that belief influence your development work?
OK, I’ll give you the 35-second version. And you should write this down so you can get it. Jesus was begotten in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit, okay? Gabriel visited her, said that which is born to you shall be born of God. The Holy Spirit shall come upon you. So when was Jesus the son of God? The moment he was conceived, as a human, he was God the Trinity before he lowered himself and became human. He entered this earth through the womb of a woman, begotten by the Spirit of God. So he did not have the ancestral blood of Adam of him, he had the blood of the Holy Spirit in his veins. He then was fully the son of God. So when he was seven years old and he ran away from the caravan he razzle-dazzled the Pharisees and all the big shots. And he knew more than they did and he’s giving it to them in the Temple, and Joseph is mad: “You know you ran away, where’ve you been, you bad kid?” He said “Where did you expect me to be? I’m about my Father’s business.”
And then the very next verse it says: “And he grew in stature and wisdom and favor in the eyes of God and man.” Now this is Jesus the carpenter, before he was 30 years old. God loved him. People loved him. All the neighbors loved him. That’s where every pastor, every person in this world wants to be. It’s comfortable in the carpenter shop. But then there was a big problem. His cousin John had the biggest ministry in Palestine. Jesus is this nobody carpenter out building furniture and houses or whatever he was doing. He goes down to see John, and John says “Behold! The lamb of God comes to take away the sin of the world.’ He says “it’s not right for me to baptize you, you should baptize me!” so John baptizes him, *Boom!* Holy Spirit comes in him.
Changed his life forever.
The very next thing, Luke 4: The Holy Spirit drags him to the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil. Used to make me mad at God! What’d you do that to Jesus for, God? Why you doing that? Here’s the deal: puts him on a 40-day fast. I’ve never done it. I’ve done it for a week, that’s long enough. I don’t like fasting. 40 days, you’re almost dead. So when Jesus is physically at his weakest, and when you’re physically weak you’re not very emotionally alert, either. So he’s physically and emotionally at his weakest, guess who shows up? Gives him three big temptations, and Jesus takes them out, three out of three. And I couldn’t figure this out and God told me: it’s to show you that its’ not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord. Your power is in the realm of the Spirit. The very next thing, read Luke 4: He walks into his hometown temple, picks up the scroll of Isaiah, and reads: “The spirit of the Lord is upon ye because he has anointed me to teach good news to the poor, to heal the sick, to open the eyes of the blind, to set the captives free.” And he lays the scrolls down, and what do these guys do? All these people that loved him, his hometown buddies, they try to throw him off a cliff! That’s it.
Pentecostalism is never going to be popular. But it’ll change the world. Jesus was just as much the son of God when he was in the carpentry shop. God loved him just as much when he was in the carpentry shop, but when he came out, the world hated him, but he changed it forever. And that is exactly where it’s at. End of sermon.
Foursquare comes into a community, brings the gospel, and there’s a pastor continuing your work; what’s there in that community that wasn’t there before other than the church? Or is the church the biggest thing that is a driver of positive change?
There is what I would call a gospel lift. People learn, you know it’s a slow metamorphic thing; you can’t really say this is the moment everything changes. Where they learn to share with those that have need, they learn to forgive each other rather than hold grudges and try to get revenge. We teach skills at the church, like fish culture, how to keep your pigs warm, how to raise your pigs so that they can get to pigs in six months rather than three years. This one church, just by allowing church members to bring their eggs in to get hatched in the incubator, added 90-some churches; before, the dogs and everything chased the chickens out of their nests all the time so eggs did not hatch. And of course, those people start making money when they start having their own quail and eggs and farming enterprises. We don’t do microenterprise loans; if we got enough money we might try to buy into ACLEDA bank. ACLEDA is in every community. We would like to get enough influence with them to be able to say “Look, you need to be able to make unsecured loans to these people for start-up businesses, even though they can’t prove they can repay it and we’ll guarantee it as a church.” I think we can get them to go for that. It’s going to take a few million dollars of money on deposit, but we don’t have it yet. Again, I’ve got a grant in place for that. Once we do that we can really have an impact. Women want to start a store, a beauty parlor, mill rice, raise quail, whatever it is. If it makes sense and they can convince the loan guy that this is a viable enterprise, we’ll make the loan, and if they don’t pay it back then we’re stuck with it but most of them will pay it back.
It seems like in a lot of what you do, you’ve identified that the root cause of many development challenges is poverty, and you’re going after it.
Poverty is our biggest devil. The devil, his name is poverty.
When you’re going into a community for the first time are you able to help people who aren’t going to become Christian eventually?
We help anybody. There aren’t any Christians in most places. Honestly, the way we start is we pray for healing, or pray for a miracle. Our people, we have the Young Lions, these guys are ferocious; I mean they’re fanatical. They are people of faith. They go in and they really do see blind eyes open, deaf ears hear, lame walk; and when that happens, it gets somebody’s attention. It’s not hard to start a church when you have people with that kind of faith, and these kids have it. I don’t even go with them anymore because I intimidate them.
What is the difference between the Young Lions, Young Tigers, and Young Fishermen?
It’s just age. It started as the Young Tigers (tigers are kind of the animal of Cambodia). We had this group of about 25 young pastors who had been orphans who had grown up in our homes. And they said you know, we’d like to get together because we feel like we’re brothers and sisters and we are strong in the faith, so let’s have our own group. They are the Young Tigers. But the high school age youth got kind of jealous. “We want to go!” Well the Young Tigers said “You can’t go, you’re not pastors yet.” So they said “We want a group.” “Well OK, you can be the Young Lions.” And they’ve really kind of kicked the Tigers’ butt. And then the Junior Highers said “we want to do it too!”
What is your relationship with the government?
Well it’s good, in that I’m out of the picture. I’m an under-the-radar guy. Honestly, it’s a double-edged sword. It’s like the big mouths that go around like IJM [International Justice Mission] and all the others, blowing their horn. The problem is they really can’t help people that need it because they’re singled out by the government. The government knows exactly who they are, what they’re doing, and they just play them like a three dollar fiddle. They’re sucking money out of them all the time. Money for this, money for that. They tell them exactly what they want to hear to get money from them. I won’t say these groups don’t get anything accomplished, but they don’t get much done. I would rather get a whole lot done and not have to mess with the government. To be quite frank the biggest problem here is corrupt government. If they find out you have money, they will milk you.
So I don’t go to the meetings. The Cambodians do. We run it as a Cambodian NGO, and the government likes us because we make them look good. When foreign dignitaries come through and ask "What are you doing about your orphan problem," they’ll take them to our facilities. Maybe they do tell them they’re government facilities, I haven’t heard them say that directly, but they kind of take credit for them and we let them. And they like that. Now when UNICEF comes around, “arrghhg,” they come out and throw their weight around, make UNICEF really feel like they’re straightening this mess out, and as soon as UNICEF is gone they say "Oh don’t listen to those assholes, we’re just takin’ their money."
Have you ever had any problems getting church permits?
Oh yeah, HA! Have we ever not? You buy them! Man, do you know why we’re the biggest church in Cambodia? No one else wants to do it! It’s too much stinking work! It’s a good thing we got a bunch of them five, six, eight, ten years ago. I mean, to get a church permit now, if you can get it, it’s probably $1,500. That’s for each home group, technically, each facility. Now what we do is run them as satellites out of the main churches. You can check with the Ministry of Cults and Religions, whether they count the ones that are district licensed or only nationally licensed. I think we have 225 licensed churches out of 3,000-something. But that still makes us the biggest church in the country! I don’t know who the next is, perhaps the Catholics, and they only have 25, but it’s just who wants to spend that kind of money. Now they’re making us redo them all again, so I don’t know.
My fear is that, well the Koreans are very aggressive; they’re almost militant. We are not militant evangelists. We believe in a God that loves people, wants to see them healthy and well, and whole and in relationship with the God of this universe. We say nothing bad about Buddha, we think Buddha was wonderful. We honestly, this is going to blow your mind, we have no problem with Buddhists becoming followers of Jesus Christ. I think Buddha would be a Christian if Jesus had been here when Buddha was around. I have nothing against what Buddha teaches, other than we don’t believe that you’re going to come back as a cockroach if you’re a bad guy. And we don’t think God wants to send people to Hell. We think he wants them in Heaven in relationship with him. We believe that there’s a Hell, but we don’t think God wants to send people there. We preach a holistic gospel. We preach a God who loves, accepts, forgives, and wants to give you another chance. That’s what it’s been so successful for us. Anyone that comes out of the Khmer Rouge era either carries a tremendous load of guilt over what they did or they can’t forgive or trust anybody. When you talk to them about a God who can wipe the slate clean and can give them another chance they want to know where they can sign up. We don’t rebuke people for their getting involved in their traditional ceremonies and things like that; we incorporate a lot of cultural Buddhist tradition in our church services. If you read Buddhist teachings it looks like Jesus plagiarized Buddha on the story of the Good Samaritan, so no, we’re not anti-Buddhist. I started all that to say that the Koreans are (I don’t want to be cruel to them) not as tolerant, and I’m afraid that there could be a backlash. If there is, the government could say "OK that’s it, no more Christian churches,” and only the licensed churches will be able to survive.
We’re not an international NGO. When they rubber stamped our Local NGO papers, they gave us permission to house orphans and teach the distinctives and practices of the Christian faith in our training centers. So, technically, they are not churches, they’re training centers for the teaching of the distinctives and practices of the Christian faith.
So is that how the orphanages are registered?
They’re registered as churches with the Ministry of Cults and Religions, but technically, we’re under three different ministries. We’re the only NGO in the country that’s under three ministries. We’re under the Ministry of Interior, which is the one who gave us our original license. We’re under the Ministry of Cults and Religions because of our church affiliation, and we’re under the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation because we have orphans. Now that one came kind of by default. We didn’t choose to be part of them and we don’t really have a license from them, but because we have orphans we’re kind of forced to be under them.
How recent is that?
That was about six, seven, eight years ago. They came in and they said, "You’ve got more orphans that anybody in the country and you’re not having anything to do with us. This is not right!"
And we said "Well, we’re under the Ministry of Interior, so go fight with them."
So they did and the Ministry of Interior said "Well yeah, we’re fine with them, what’s your problem?"
Well then they came back and said "Well you should be under us."
And I said "Why should we be under you?"
"Because you have orphans."
And I said "Well OK, what do you want to do?"
"Well we want to inspect you and make sure you meet our standards."
I said, "Well what are your standards?" So they gave me their list, and I went through it, and it had all these things about you know, no corporal punishment, and nutrition; I said "No problem with any of that, we don’t do any of that stuff, we’re glad to cooperate with you." But I said "There’s two things we won’t do." One is, the second line was "you will not proselytize," and I said "We proselytize to everybody," so I said "No deal. Scratch it or we’re not joining your club. We are a Christian organization."
We will never force a child to become a Christian, but we’ve never had a one not choose to be one. They’re like fish falling into a pond. And they become very enthusiastic. I mean if you actually ran into a God who healed the sick, raised the dead, opened the blind eyes of the blind, and the deaf ears that couldn’t hear and you saw that happen in your midst, wouldn’t you want to believe in a God like that? So, yeah! They become Christians!
So I said we aren’t going to do that, and the other thing we’re not going to do is, you say you want us to hire one of your employees to work in each of our locations. I said "We’re not going to hire one of your people. If I did and they goof off I’ll fire them so why would I want to hire somebody I can’t fire?" so I said I’m not going to do that. Well then they got mad and left, and about two weeks or a month later they came back and said "OK, we’ll agree to what you want." So we have a special memorandum of understanding where we’re allowed to proselytize and we don’t have to hire them.
Here the attitude honestly is, “You know, if you want to be a Christian it’s your karma. You know, you’re wrong, you know, you should be a Buddhist, but if you’re dumb enough to want to be a Christian, well it’s your karma.” And they’re not hostile. In fact, they like us because we take care of the orphans. This is the truth. You can check this out if you want to verify it. It was in Pursat province we couldn’t get a permit for a church home because one of the local officials was a vehement Buddhist and he knew we were Christians and he didn’t want us there. So he tried to block the home. The Buddhist temple went to the Governor and requested that we be allowed to build the home because they didn’t want to take care of the orphans and we would. And they got us the permit.
Do you have any problems where part of the community has received Christ and the other half hasn’t?
No. The only time we’ve ever had any kind of kick back was one time where a temple closed down because all the members actually stopped feeding the monks. They couldn’t get enough food so they all left and came back to Phnom Penh, so they were a little ouchy. I really don’t want to see that. But we have a lot of our pastors who are former monks. We have monks come to all of our medical clinics, and they’re always surprised “You’re going to treat us?” Sure!
Question for Steve: Are you a member of the Foursquare church? Or are you from a Pentecostal background?
I’m Christian. I don’t call myself Pentecostal. I subscribe to Charismatic ideas, but not Pentecostal.
Oh c’mon, take the label.
I don’t like it.
I don’t like it either, but I’m spiritual. I know what he means.
In your opinion, what is development? What does it mean to you?
Honestly, I don’t know that development is always economic. In my mind, it’s just as much social and spiritual, maybe even more so. So, my definition is to bring a culture of a society to the point where they can live together in peace and harmony without, I won’t say without anyone suffering loss or need, but without the means whereby they can come together to help those who suffer loss and need. And I think that’s enough. When I was in Laos I met an interesting guy, and when he says this I thought he was crazy. He said: "All you need to do to develop a community is build a road to it." And, I thought, “Idiot!” and then I watched it happen. The road came in, supplies came in, stores went up, this store brought in that store, pretty soon there’s a market, pretty soon they’re importing and exporting product. There’s a lot to be said just for the simple act of building a road. So it can come from a lot of different means. But the thing that I think will drive it the farthest and longest and will make the most lasting impact is to change basic human nature from selfishness and greed to self-sacrifice and love for one’s brethren.
But, one of the main problems with building village schools, we discovered was, beside the road, the next thing I would say is water. Water makes a total difference as far as the economy of the village goes. We have noticed that the availability of water makes a big difference. Some impoverished villages and much more prosperous villages, the only difference is water. That’s why he digs so many wells all over the place. How many wells have you dug so far?
Hundreds. Probably 1,000.
One particular village had three wells which didn’t work. Built by NGOs, mostly, and after they broke, the villages couldn’t get together to fix or prepare them. They have a source of water, but everybody won’t work together. And this is, for me, the problem. If they work together, they can have water. But everybody says “If I repair it then other people will use it.” So they don’t repair it. So they don’t have water. That village had the secret to develop right there with them, but they were unwilling to give, so they weren’t able to realize it. If you don’t get it that you also have to learn to give, you will stay poor your entire life.
I go by the idea that you can horde yourself poor or you can give yourself rich. That’s what I do. I give away half of my income every month, but I don’t want for anything and I always have more. I believe in that. The more you give, the more you get. These guys are starting to learn that, and that, for me, is the biggest thing that the village people are starting to come around to, the idea of helping each other. If you just wait for organizations to come in and they give you a well, and that’s great, but then it breaks and you sit there and “Oh well, that’s it, no water.” It costs $85 to fix one of those wells. Nobody wants to pay it. If I pay it, everybody else will use it.
If they had gone around and everybody had put in 1,000 riels, they would have had it. That’s the very problem with humanitarian development without the Church; without the value to sustain it. It’s the tragedy and the fallacy of humanism. It doesn’t work.
They do some good things too, but they often aren’t able to realize their goals. We know how you feel, and a lot of people feel similarly about UN organizations. They’re plenty wasteful. This is worldwide. Non-Christians too. They think that the UN is a very wasteful organization. Spending all these millions of dollars and accomplishing very little. They’re sometimes misguided in their efforts. It’s not just because they’re not Christian. It’s an opinion held by close to a billion people in the world who think that way, including many American people who are tired of funding a UN organization that is so wasteful.
Ted’s particular beef with them is that they come in here and instead of helping, they just try to throw rocks, which they shouldn’t do since they live in glass houses.
They’re the most overpaid, overrated, under-performing human beings on the face of the planet earth.
They go and help; the adage is: you give people fish, you feed them for a day; if you teach them how to fish you feed them for life. They have to give them more than that. Otherwise they remain the same. They don’t change the people. They only change their outward thing.
Unless they teach them to share fish with those who don’t have any.
So development, it’s an attempt to equalize humanity, to bring everybody up to an even playing field where we all have equal opportunity and equal access, ability to make money to send our kids to school. I honestly don’t have a problem with that. I’m willing to compete. The problem is that the developed nations don’t want to hear that. The politicians, people in the developing nations want to have it faster. On the developing side of Cambodia, for example, what it tends to raise is not an aspiration to better our lives and become better human beings, but “I want to get the motorcycle and the Land Cruiser.” It’s materialism. It corrupts people. It’s worse than poverty. In terms of changing character, materialism and hedonism are more difficult to fight than poverty.
Again, it will always be a divided thing. You’ll see some of the types of it helping the country. Look, I came here 14 years ago. There was no Internet, no real mobile phone service, phone lines, infrastructure was horrible. With infrastructure, they’ve leapfrogged over other countries. Cambodia is much more developed than Laos now. Development has pros and cons, we have pollution, we have traffic jams now, there’s the negative effects of the Internet… so it’s always going to be a mixed bag. The only thing we can say: we’re happy to see people have a better life than they had before.
It’s acceleration of the moral deterioration that we’ve seen in the West, maybe on light speed, because these guys that came out of the Khmer Rouge and had nothing, put their names on property and became generals. Their kids are running drag races with their Lexuses down in front of the National Assembly building, high on drugs, drunk out of their minds, no purpose to live for.
You give them everything materially, but don’t give them morals. That’s the danger for the country as a whole. You help them materially but don’t give them morals. It’s still a Buddhist country, but not that many people practice it. The Pol Pot regime wiped out everything. And the people who went through that, they realized that Buddhism did not help them during that time. So, and now, Christianity looks very good to many people because it has a joy, a happiness, it’s like a light at the end of a dark tunnel.
We have a Khmer Rouge commander who is responsible for killing 10,000-plus people, personally. I don’t think the War Crimes Trials will get to him, but if they do he might go to jail. But that man came to one of our major outreaches, where we treated 18,000 people. When he saw that he had tears in his eyes. He didn’t say a word, just sat there crying. I said “What’s wrong?” he said “This is wonderful.” And I didn’t know what to do. I just left him. The next year we were getting ready to have our next big outreach and Peter and I didn’t know where to hold it. Somehow, it just came into my mind- and you know where that comes from! We need to go to this former Khmer Rouge commander; so we went to this village, in the Cardamom Mountains, in Southern Pursat province. He was one of the last guys to surrender to the government. And we said, we’d like to have our outreach at your church. He just started to weep; he said “That’s what I’ve been praying for. I’ve brought so much suffering to this region. I want to do something to help it heal.” To this day, all of his children are in the ministry. He’s the district supervisor of over 300 churches. Thousands of people honor and respect him, when you’d think they’d want to kill him.
Can you tell me anything but Christianity that would do that? Tell me another case of someone’s life that was so radically changed. Another belief system or another religion. Tell me whose life was so radically changed that they gave their whole life to heal other people. Sorry, but I haven’t seen it. Been all over the world, lived in many countries, Buddhist countries, Islamic countries, I’ve lived in many place but I haven’t seen people’s lives so radically changed. I mean, it’s amazing. That’s a remarkable thing. There are many Khmer Rouge who have now become Christian, whose lives are now changed. It’s an amazing thing.
A third of our pastors are Khmer Rouge, some of the best. And they love each other! They get together, you can’t tell who’s Khmer Rouge and who wasn’t. You know, 30 years ago they’re killing each other.
Have you ever read The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, written by Steven Covey? He says something along the lines of, “The world wants to change people by changing their outward conditions. But God changes people by changing them from the inside, and then they go and change those outward things.” The UN is basically on the first thing, as they go and try to change the outward circumstance and situations of the people, thinking they will change. But without changing them within, no real change really happens.
You’re not going to achieve different results using the same methods with the same people who were there before. There has to be a change. Otherwise, you just go in as humanitarians, you go into a village and you do all these things for them.
You see this in the U.S., too. All over the United States, there were housing projects, trying to take people from the ghetto and take them out. So people from the ghetto moved into these brand new housing projects, and the projects got to be infamous. The word “project” incited fear. Nobody wanted to go in the projects; they were without law, run-down, the conditions were horrible, because they brought the ghetto into the projects! What good is that if you don’t change them at all, just give them a better place, it isn’t long before they bring it back. They became worse than the ghettos from which they had come. The living conditions were horrible, crime was horrible, police wouldn’t go into those places. I’m from St. Louis; they wouldn’t go into those housing projects because you’d need an army to go in there because it was dangerous to go in. Crime and all kinds of things. The living conditions were horrible. Brand-new housing projects to house the poor. And yet they made an even worse situation. You cannot just change the outside environment, there has to be more. Okay, say you want to do that, too, but you’re not Christian, fine, go ahead and do it, but let me see who else is doing it.
It’s like these idiots, the great idiots of Christendom. The great mythology of the twenty-first century is the idea that you shouldn’t build dependency. What do they think the Muslims are doing? Building dependency. And we sit back and do nothing and they build. “You want a job, we’ve got the factory, all you’ve gotta do is become a fill in the blank.” “You want your kid to go to college, we’ve got the scholarship, all you’ve gotta do is become a fill in the blank.” And the church is backing away from it. They want to remain “pure.” They think they’re morally superior if they don’t help the poor.
I don’t want to be a diplomat.
I’m not a George Marshall, I’m a George Patton.
I know it, but you need a PR guy to try to go in there. In my opinion, Foursquare is able to do what they do because they keep it simple. They keep a lot of the Khmer culture in it; they have a formula that works. A few years ago, there was an orphanage down on the river. A Dutch guy was involved with it. He tried to get me to help out. The Director finally went to jail for sex abuse. At one point a lot of the kids kind of escaped. I had a school I was renovating; I wasn’t using it, so I put them all over in the building because they were all leaving and they needed a place. I rented them a place in Tuol Kork.
This orphanage was like that: the “No Christian” thing. But what do we have at that orphanage? We have sexual abuse; we have all kinds of different things going on that shouldn’t go on, using the kids for their own advantage. Sorry, but a Christian or faith-based organization has moral standards. How many scandals have you had in your 100-something orphanages, cases of sexual abuse? I’m asking the hard questions here.
Well we had one pastor who we sacked who was accused and never convicted but we think he was guilty, though the girl denied it. One guy got caught trying to; got turned in by one of the grandmas. But he’s no longer with us. We have a zero tolerance policy.
One in a hundred-something orphanages. We’re not talking about rampant things like with some of these other people. You’re going to have a few things, but Ted has such tight control of things that it doesn’t really go wild. You don’t find a lot of abuse, you don’t find mistreatment.
I have no confidence putting my name on a place like the Dutch orphanage I was telling you about. I felt no confidence that things might not be going on there that shouldn’t be. If you wanted to call it humanitarian, they’re helping these kids, but I tried to help them and work with them, but in the end, it’s like “Sorry, I don’t want to have my name involved. I’m only trying to help, and should anything happen, my name is going to be on the front page of the newspaper.” I don’t have any hesitation in helping Foursquare orphanages. I don’t worry about there being things which will *splash* on the newspaper.
On one hand they accuse you of bringing Western standards to the kids and on the other hand they impose Western standards on the orphanage. It’s a double standard. They come with predisposed ideas of what they want to prove you’re guilty of.