When Lilian Kimani left Kenya for Thailand in August 2006 to open a teachers’ agency for her brother, she was clear about staying only three months before returning home. But as it turned out, God had other plans for her in the neighbouring Cambodia.
After witnessing idol worship in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, she started to feel a compelling sense to do something about it. As she resisted the urge, not seeing what business she had moving to a foreign land, she felt led to read Acts 17:26-27 after which she started to seek God’s will through prayer and fasting.
Finally, convinced that God was sending her to Cambodia, the 58-year-old divorced mother of five – three girls and two boys aged 36, 33, 29, 27 and 25 – made her way there and got a job as a teacher and supervisor with Christian International Concern (CIC), a children’s ministry. The institution had an orphanage with 90 children and about 10 staff members over whom she also became supervisor and deputy director. Her salary at the time was $800 (about Sh85,000).
Evangelist Kimani worked CIC for three years and got to learn Cambodian culture, language and religion, which was mainly Buddhism. She also trained and rehabilitated former street children and did church work.
“Unfortunately, due to the heavy workload at CIC, I experienced burnout and opted to retire on medical grounds. Eight months later, the orphanage was closed down,” Kimani told the SHEPHERD in a phone interview.
In April 2011, she started a church in a small village about 15 kilometres from Phnom Penh, the country’s capital. Most of the villagers were very poor so she started raising funds through Kenyan churches, friends and well-wishers to feed and clothe those who attended her church.
In August 2013, she got an opportunity to do an intensive four-month course on missions in the Philippines with the International Missionary Training Centre. She says the training fuelled her burden for mission work.
In 2014, just as she was preparing to travel to Kenya to seek financial support, a CIC partner from Hong Kong reached out to her.
“She came at a time when my church badly needed a financial boost. She bought me an air ticket to Kenya and pledged to continue supporting the church I had started. Instead, she took over the ministry,” claims Kimani, who is today a Bible student at ACTS Bible School in Nairobi.
Before she left Cambodia for Kenya, the church had almost 40 members and more than 100 children, and they were trying to raise money to register with the government. These plans were however put on hold while she travelled to Kenya.
Kimani ended up being in Kenya for five years because the help she had hoped to receive was hard to come by. During this time, she got involved in outreach missions in Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania, and also did some missions courses.
She travelled back to Cambodia on December 9, 2019, little knowing that her work would be turned upside down with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When I got back, I found most of my converts gone and had to start the church again from scratch,” she recalls. “I began looking for the members and luckily found a few. I also started one-on-one witnessing and street preaching.”
She says her church now has about 10 adults and close to 30 children. “We meet in a rented room but I am now looking for about $3,000 to buy some land and put up a structure. Since I returned to Cambodia, I’ve received about Sh60,000 (about US$563) from friends and well-wishers but that is hardly enough to cater for outreaches, rent, food and clothes to help the poor here.”
When the first case of coronavirus was reported in the country on January 27, the Cambodian government banned all public gatherings. Kimani now holds two-hour prayer fellowships daily in church members’ homes.
“We make sure to wash our hands and observe social distancing, just in case. And I wear a face mask when I’m doing ministry in public places,” she says.
Her passion for evangelism also takes her to the streets of Phnom Penh two Fridays a month where, together with other missionaries under an organisation called Glue Crew, she shares the gospel with male sex tourists. The trip costs $15 (about Sh1,600) from her base to the capital and back.
According to Wikipedia, Cambodia has long been a destination for male sex tourists from Asia and western countries. Prostitution, although prohibited by law, is rampant all over the country and especially visible in tourist hotspots. The Christian population constitutes less than two per cent of the 16.3million inhabitants. However, a June 2013 study by the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity found that Cambodia is the ninth-fastest growing Christian community per capita in the world.
So despite the challenges occasioned by the pandemic, paganism and deviant lifestyles, Kimani is not about to abandon her ministry station where she shares the gospel, prays for the sick and offers material support to the locals.
“I believe my divine assignment is putting a smile on the face of my Lord as I live out the scripture that says the just shall live by faith,” she says. “There is work out here and I pray that more Kenyan missionaries would take up the call. Why preach to the same people every day when there are millions of people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ even once?”
Kimani remains optimistic that her ministry will weather the storm and emerge victorious as she continues to seek financial support and prayers to enable her keep presenting and representing Christ in a country where idols are worshipped.