I have found His purpose in my life

Mam Banabas

Hope in the Dark Minute

“There is a time when our lives are in such desperation with no choices. It is like Rev. Mam Barnabas’ life, which can be restored in the dark minute. Is it an accident?”
Through the generations, history contains many stories of famous people who came to be not only a country’s leader or the leader of a movement, which are on display for all time. However, in the society of Christians, it is those who commit their lives for the sharing of the good news who are considered as leader. And very often, these people have just as an amazing story.
At a meeting with THE LIGHT TIMES magazine at his home, Rev. Barnabas, a well-known personality among Cambodian Christians. He is famous as “God’s man for the good news” and has been influential in the lives of a generation of Cambodians. He was been a messenger of the gospel before the Khmer Rouge Regime and continues to be so. He has nine children and 23 grandchildren.
He says that he was the beneficiary of a supernatural event after he was arrested by that dark regime. While we wonder if it was an accident or a miracle, he is quite clear. What did God have in mind for his life that He would bring him to such a meeting?
In 1972, Mam Barnabas worked as a spy, He was sent to observe every major meeting of Christians in the city. Then on one occasion after monitoring a major evangelical event in the city, Barnabas experienced God’s touching of his heart. He decided to choose to follow Christ. But how could he continue as a spy while being follower of Christ? He was still working in his position as a spy and kept reporting the Christian activities to his minders. No long after the Khmer Rouge regime took control, many Christian activists were thrown into jail for trial and execution. It was surprising that Barnabas was one among them.
Hope quickly faded for prisoners, as nobody ever saw them again after their trial. All were killed. Then came Rev. Barnabas’s turn. He had no hope; his life was over. After being called from his cell, he sweated all over his body with the hopelessness of his situation. He knelt in prayer, meditating on God’s words, for one last time giving his last life to Him. He felt a calm overcome him. He was brought out. But something was different. Hope started to rise again when the security ordered to bring him back without torture or killing him. If he was not experiencing a miracle, he did not know what, but his life was spared.
Beginning with that three-year stay in prison, his belief grew. The Holy Spirit gave him the power to share the gospel of love with both prisoners and guards. This lead him to lead people to follow Christ.
It’s true that people feel they have no hope. But for God, He has the way out. God planned Rev. Barnabas’ life just as he has planned ours, even when they seem dark. God wants us to trust in him, just as did Rev. Mam Barnabas.

Relational restoration

He first heard of Jesus at an evangelistic crusade in Phnom Penh in April 1972. Then he was a Communist in his early twenties, and for the previous two years had been indoctrinated to be anti-American and anti-God. All Communists had one cause—the love of their nation. Americans were seen as imperialists, therefore they were their enemy. From March 18, 1970 to April 17, 1975 the government of the Khmer Republic had welcomed “the enemy” to our land. He was at the crusade as a spy, to find out how many Americans were involved in the event.

“I disguised myself, and chose a seat far from the aisle. The preacher that day was Dr. Stanley Mooneyham, president of World Vision International, a nongovernmental aid organization. God used the occasion to let me hear the gospel, ” said the now minister of the gospel, Rev. Mam Banabas.

Dr. Stanley spoke on the story of the prodigal son. While listening to his message, Banabas was led by the Word and the Holy Spirit to see himself as that prodigal son. Communism trained him never to cry—“But on that day, the Word of God moved me to cry over my sins,” said Barnabas. “Two ushers noticed and approached me. One said the sinner’s prayer and immediately I felt a warm feeling of being accepted.”

He had gone into the convention center a Communist; he came out a born-again Christian. But immediately he faced opposition. “My uncle told me, ‘Now that you are a follower of Jesus, let Jesus feed you!’ So for the next six Sundays, he didn’t give me any food, but the fire within me pushed me to go to church, where I was warmly welcomed. The Communists often sang about brotherly love, but I found the community of brotherly love I was looking for at church.”

Rev. Banabas’ father had been a Buddhist monk for 14 years. His father had many sad experiences during our country’s 93 years of French colonization. He thought that all Christians were “Catholic.” “He asked me, ‘Son, why have you chosen to become a Catholic?’ To him, becoming a Christian meant hating one’s mother and father and forsaking one’s family. He believed this because under French colonialism some Cambodians who had become Catholic had taken these words from Luke 14:26 too literally. He feared that Banabas would hate him too, now that he had become a Christian. Banabas asked the Holy Spirit to help him give an answer to his father.

A Christian for just six weeks, he by then had a Bible. “Soon after I converted, I approached the manager of the Bible Society for a Bible. He told me that if I sold enough Bibles, I could buy my own with the profits. So I worked hard and bought my Bible. I told my father, at church I am being taught to honor my parents.”

His father asked him to prove this to him. Banabas prayed for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. “I found the relevant verses in my new Bible—Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:1–3. I told my father, “ ‘I’ll honor you while you are alive. Why wait until you are dead to pay offerings?’ My father was satisfied and said, ‘It’s not bad if you still obey.’

“While my parents were quite tolerant of my decision, they issued me a challenge: ‘What are you going to do about your relationship with your brothers and sisters?’

“I’m the seventh of nine children. One of my sisters has always been jealous of me, as I was often the center of attention.” His sister did not speak to Banabas for three years, so there was division in his family. He recalled a sermon in which the preacher spoke about leaving your gift at the altar to reconcile with your brother or sister. Again my parents asked me to prove this then do it. Banabas found the verse he needed (Matthew 5:23, 24). He was challenged to ask his sister for forgiveness, and did so, and their relationship was restored. He thanks God they could be reconciled, as just three years later, she was murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

I have found His purpose in my life

On April 17,​1975 the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh.

I walked until he reached the village of Prey Veng and proceeded to another village near the jungle at the Vietnamese border. There, however, I was arrested by the Khmer Rouge.

The Lord had told me that only seven of my close friends would survive, so when the eighth friend passed away I knew I would soon be released. At midnight, my name was called. Normally, those who were called out at midnight never returned. They were interrogated and tortured… often to death. I told my friend to inform my home village that I had died. I was brought to the military headquarters and had to face ten top officers. They asked me whether I spoke English. I said yes. They asked whether I was a Christian. I said yes. They had all the reasons to kill me. However, they said instead, “Give him a generous supper.” I thought they were fooling me with their generosity. Then I remembered Psalm 23 — “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” After that the officers tuned their radios to the BBC World and asked me to translate the news for them. Then they gave instructions for the guards to take better care of me and to protect my life. A few days later I was released, together with the other 126 prisoners. It was the year 1977.

I was evacuated together with hundreds of people from the East to an area near the Thai border, where I experienced the Killing Fields. The young people had to undergo a forced mass wedding, about 300 at a time, and were killed after that.

Miraculously, my life was spared. In February 1979, I returned to Phnom Penh and led an underground church. There I met Boury, a widow with 6 children. Her late husband was killed by the Khmer Rouge a few years before. We got married in 1980, and a year later the Lord blessed us with a baby girl whom we named Shalom (peace in time of troubles). In January 1985, I fled to a Thailand refugee camp with my wife and three daughters and remained there until March 1993.

During that time we planted 15 churches, equipped 50 Christian leaders, and helped pastor a Vietnamese church in another nearby camp in Thailand. When the Paris Peace Accord was signed, we were welcomed back to Cambodia.

It was in early October of 1993 that I first came to Malaysia. I was supposed to attend the International Fellowship of Intercessors in Manila, Philippines. I applied for my visa at the Philippines’ embassy in Malaysia and was advised to stay in the country. As a result, I stepped into the Sungei Way Subang Methodist Church (SSMC) in the middle of the church’s Prayer Day. That was how my partnership with SSMC began. Later that year the Lord connected me to another church in Malaysia, the New Life Restoration Center. I was just a returnee from the refugee camp, but I received the grace of giving from these churches. God did not wait. He started opening doors and putting the pieces of the puzzle together. As a result, three fruitful ministries have been established. These are the School of Practical Ministry Cambodia (SPMC) begun in 1994, the Living Hope in Christ Church (LHCC) begun in 1995, and the Institute of Church Planting Cambodia (ICPC) begun in 1998. Thus far, by June 2007, we’ve had nine graduating classes from the Institute of Church Planting Cambodia and these graduates have planted over 310 churches to date. The Living Hope in Christ Church has thus far birthed 42 daughter churches. Truly this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

God has a purpose for me and I have found His purpose in my life; I am to be a transformed person networking with others to help finish the Great Commission.

As a broken man saved by God’s grace, I am to live for His purpose.

  • Mam Banabas’s Service Background:

He served the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia (EFC) as Board Vice Chairman from 1996 to 2006. He has served in the Bible Society in Cambodia (BSC), and as Board Chairman since 2001. He has served as an Advisory Council Member for World Vision International Cambodia since 2004. He has served Ambassadors for Christ International (AFCI) Cambodia as National Director since 2001, and as Regional Director for AFCI Asia since April 2007. At an appropriate time in 2008, a new National Director will replace him at AFCI Cambodia.

By Joanna Sze, SSMC,and further edited by Barnabas Mam and Bruce M. Haight, and translated by The Light Times.

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