Like many developing countries, Cambodia’s population is made up largely of youth and children; the average age of a Cambodian today is 21, and more than 33% of the population is under 14, and about 60% are under 24. In addition, the church in Cambodia is growing rapidly (going from 150 evangelical churches in 1994 to more than 2600 today), but is very young. More than 13% of church leaders (mostly young Christians themselves) don’t even own a Bible. In a recent study 64% of church leaders said they only understand a little or some of Christian doctrine. The same study showed that 45% of believers who accepted Christ and were active in a local church, are no longer involved in church in any way. 28% of those who leave the church said it was because of a lack of faith and understanding of God.
Clearly it is imperative that we provide children in Cambodia’s churches with good moral and social training as well as sound doctrinal training, in a way that is relevant to their situation and easy for them to understand.
Nara and Grandpa Choy
To help address this need we have developed the Nara & Grandpa Choy radio series and discipleship curriculum. This program includes six months of weekly programs and lessons designed to raise up a generation of Christian young people who are solidly grounded in the Word of God, and able to stand firm in their faith.
“Nara & Grandpa Choy” was inspired by “Dan & Louie”, a children’s program originally developed by Pastor Dan Betzer to teach Bible stories in a way that would capture the attention of children. The original program features an older, wiser man, Dan, helping Louie, a ventriloquist dummy, by telling him Bible stories that illustrate a lesson or principle that he can apply to his situation. These programs have been amazingly successful with both children and their parents. In order to better fit the culture here in Cambodia, we have made some changes from the original series; for example, Cambodia does not have ventriloquist, so we changed Louie to Nara, a real boy, and we changed Dan to Grandpa Choy, Nara’s grandfather. But the key element of an older person teaching and helping a child by telling stories to them remains the same, and that fits in perfectly with both the Cambodian culture, and with the Cambodian learning style!
The Radio Program
“Nara and Grandpa Choy” centers around a young boy, Nara, and his grandfather, Grandpa Choy. In each episode Nara finds himself in some type of problem or dilemma, and shares his situation with Grandpa Choy. Grandpa Choy and Nara then “travel” trough their imagination to the Bible Storybook Castle, where Grandpa Choy tells Nara a story from God’s word. Finally, Grandpa Choy shows Nara how the story teaches an important lesson that he can apply to his own situation. The stories come alive through clever dialogue, a full range of sound effects and an exciting musical score. Each episode is approximately 15 to 20 minutes in length, and is broadcast weekly on a local radio station operated by Far East Broadcasting Cambodia. This station has a 10,000 watt transmitter that reaches more than 50% of Cambodia’s population directly on FM and nationwide on short wave (a recent survey of Cambodian Christian leaders showed that more than 75% of church leaders who listen to radio listen to FEBC).
The Sunday School Curriculum
The corresponding Sunday School / discipleship curriculum builds on the issues raised in the radio program. Each lesson expands on the story from the radio program, and uses large scale original artwork to illustrate the story. Additionally student participate in object lessons, memory verse activities, songs and more. By using a combination of storytelling (the primary means of communicating ideas and information in a low literacy society like Cambodia), humor, fun activities, mnemonic devices, memory verses, original children’s songs, and more, a program is created that re-enforces key issues and truths in the hearts of Cambodian children.
Topics addressed each week were specifically chosen to directly impact key aspects of life and faith in the Cambodian community. Nineteen episodes were designed to address 19 key barriers to the faith found in the Cambodian folk Buddhist culture (as identified in a study conducted by Jean Johnson and Diane Campbell, 15 year veteran missionaries to Cambodia). The remaining 7 topics were chosen based on research done by George Barna and the Barna Research Group on the intentional development of a Christian world view. Topics addressed include:
- Does God Exist?
- What is the character and nature of God?
- Why was the world created?
- What’s the nature and purpose of humanity?
- What sort of spiritual powers and authorities exist?
- Spirit worship
- No acknowledgement of separation from God
- What happens after we die?
- No acknowledgement of a God who judges right and wrong
- No prominent sacrificial system to help understand a God-given sacrifice
- Merit making in Buddhism causes one to depend on self-effort for salvation instead of grace
- Everything depends on Karma
- One religion is as good as another/ what is truth?
- Buddha was born before Jesus
- Fear of losing your own culture.
- Difficult to comprehend a God who loves us and is involved in our lives
- Preoccupied with survival and success for today and the here and now
- There is Sin, and it’s not about getting caught.
- Bad habits/Bad choices – drugs, gambling, lying, cheating, bad relationships etc..
- Apathy & resignation to your fate & lot in life due to Karma
- Jesus is the foreigner’s religion
- Afraid of negative effects of disturbing or not appeasing the spirit world.
- Superficial belief (seeking jobs, support)
- Disinterested in a faith that involves regular frequent gatherings & daily disciplines
- Christians are supposed to hate their parents.
- Afraid of persecution – just want to keep the status quote
In addition to the actual radio broadcasts, the entire program (including CD copies of all radio programs, music CDs, and a training DVD) is available at a number of distribution locations. Nara & Grandpa Choy has been presented at various denominational pastors meetings, children’s worker training sessions, and at a number of teacher training seminars held in various provinces. Nara & Grandpa Choy has been adopted as the official follow-up curriculum for One Hope Cambodia, distributed to more than 40 outreach locations for Cambodia Global Action (a local NGO run by the Assemblies of God of Cambodia), and the children’s ministry commission of the Assemblies of God of Cambodia has made it a goal to have Nara & Grandpa Choy used in every Assemblies of God church in Cambodia. Today we continue to promote Nara & Grandpa Choy, hold training sessions for teachers, and we are planning to produce a family devotional version for use by individual families in the home.