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Cambodia’s Hungry Ghosts

Posted on Sep 6, 2011

When we visited the countryside with some students from a local Reformed Bible College this past Sunday we were surprised to find so many drunken people of all ages wandering around.  We could see drinking everywhere, and those that were drunk ranged in age from old (60+ here) to those who were obviously still in their pre-teen years.   I later noticed a shrine with an unidentifiable god (perhaps a Buddha or a Ganesh) and a “feast” spread out before it resplendent with food, beer and even a cigarette!  I realized it must be some ancestor worship day but not the standard ones, so I guessed (rightly) that it must be the “Hungry Ghost Festival.”

One of our VBS translators (Socheat) was the leader at this mission point, so when there was a break I inquired concerning the situation.  He confirmed my suspicion and told me many of his students (pre-teens) wanted him to cancel classes, so they could join the party (and get drunk!).  He had politely but firmly refused and asked them to come to his Bible, English and Chinese classes instead.  He had, at least for a few hours, kept them from the debauchery of the day.

The “Hungry Ghost Festival” is a traditional Chinese Buddhist festival and holiday celebrated in many countries.  It is celebrated by many Buddhists, Taoists and Chinese folk religion believers and is linked to the region’s ancestor worship.  On this day they believe the gates of heaven and hell are opened, and the ghosts can visit the living.  Some also view it as a day when the condemned in hell can be pardoned.  As a result rituals are performed; incense is burned, and ritual food offerings are left in shrines and spirit-houses.  Often the families hold feasts and empty seats are set for deceased relatives to join and bless them.  In some areas the poor are also fed to appease the wandering ghosts and to earn a better standing in the next life.

Please pray for the light of the gospel here. — Rev. Mark Baldwin

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