Aussie missionary on bail in Cambodia – but not yet free
Meanwhile, his gospel work continues
Australian missionary Martin Chan is back in his Cambodian home with his wife Deborah Kim. It’s been 12 days since he was granted bail from the cramped prison outside the capital of Phnom Penh where he spent the past three months.
“It is really by God’s grace because initially, on July 4 when I was at the appeal court going through the hearing, the situation and the atmosphere made me feel that they were going to decline my bail,” Chan shares with Eternity. It was his third bail appeal.
“When I was in the prison, I got a lot of time to read the Bible and pray and also talk to … different inmates.” – Martin Chan
Chan continues: “On February 7, when they announced the result – the verdict – it was a big surprise for me … I was very relieved and realised this is God in control of everything.”
Chan and Kim have been working as missionaries in Cambodia for the past seven years, after leaving their home in Sydney’s north-west, where they attended Sae Soon Presbyterian Church, North Rocks.
Chan was imprisoned on fraud charges in November 2019 following the financial collapse of a school building project he was involved in, with Christian charity His International Services (HIS). The Cambodian construction company, PHV, filed a lawsuit against Chan and HIS director Jung Young Kim for halting the construction project “without a reason”. While Chan was only a volunteer, he had been appointed as a director and chairman of HIS.
In 2017, the case went to the National Commercial Arbitration Centre (a civil tribunal) and HIS was cleared of wrongdoing.
“The arbitration actually went through the appeal court and the supreme court, and both courts actually upheld the decision by the arbitration,” Chan explains.
“Within the arbitration award, there were two points saying that they did not find any fraud committed by HIS International against the company PHV. So that means the appeal court and the supreme court actually agreed that was the case.”
But then PHV brought criminal charges against Chan and Jung Young Kim. Chan – who left HIS after the arbitration – says he has not heard from Jung Young Kim since late 2018 when she returned to her home country of Korea, leaving Chan to face the case on his own.
In response to the criminal charges, Chan says: “It’s very unreasonable because PHV submitted the same claim [that they used in arbitration] but for criminal charges of fraud.”
HIS has not offered him any help. “I do feel disappointed in a way because when my wife was trying top ask them for help, they said given that this is the same case but [it] is two separate people being sued, they can’t provide any help,” Chan says.
Chan would pray in his cell while his wife prayed at home, so they felt they were praying together.
After sharing a cell with one hundred people for the past few months, Chan describes the experience of arriving home as “really surreal”.
“But I think I’m getting back into my daily routine now. Apart from some minor skin infections, generally, I’m okay.
“Spiritually, I’m pretty good because during the time when I was in the prison, I got a lot of time to read the Bible and pray and also talk to a few different inmates. I was able to evangelise to one of the Chinese inmates who came in much earlier than me.
“Also there was a Christian Filipino in my cell and I was able to encourage him as well, because he was being wrongly accused.
“He has been in jail now almost nine months. His family and also the pastor at his church have been visiting him once a week. They’ve been trying to help him to sort out the case, but it seems to be very difficult.”
When prompted to share more about daily life in a Cambodian prison, Chan says: “Once you’re inside, you feel like you’ve lost all your freedom, lost all your privacies because it is so crowded inside the cell.”
There were only two meals per day and time outside the cell was limited to 15 minutes twice daily. However, Chan adds he was given “a bit more freedom” than some other inmates – such as his wife being allowed to visit for over an hour, six days each week (compared to the usual 30 minutes, twice a week).
He also shares how every night from 7pm to 7.30pm he would pray in his cell while his wife prayed at home, so they felt they were praying together.
Chan is still waiting to hear when he will have to return to court to face trial. In the meantime, his bail terms state he must stay in Cambodia.
“We are still talking to the lawyers and legal advisors to see what we can do, the next steps,” says Chan.
Chan and Kim have received support from many locals, including one “influential politician” who helped write a letter to the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, asking him to intervene in the case.
In the meantime, the couple will continue to work in their optical business Grace Eyecare, south of Phnom Penh, and engage in gospel ministry.
“Two days a week, in the morning, kids come to learn languages and we run after-school classes in some subjects for children who can’t afford tuition,” Chan explains.
“And once a month we run an outreach and try to partner with a local church. We provide eye check-ups and a church member will do evangelism. We provide resources for the church to connect with people in the neighbourhood who haven’t heard the gospel, and then the church does the evangelism.”
“We don’t know what the future holds but God does.” – Martin Chan
If acquitted of the charges against him, Chan says he and his wife plan to stay in Cambodia to continue their ministry work – that is, after a brief return to Sydney “for a rest” and to “spend a bit more time preparing for what we can do in our next stage.”
“We don’t know what the future holds but God does. During my time in prison there was this particular song Because He Lives that encouraged me,” Chan shares.
The chorus of this song (written by Bill and Gloria Gaither) is: “Because He lives I can face tomorrow; Because He lives all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future; And life is worth the living just because He lives.”
Reflecting on his prison experience, Chan concludes: “I do believe that the three months in prison actually gave me the opportunity to see a lot of other things and to meet other people that I would not have met in my entire life.”