Today’s article was written by Andy and Bev Bishop—the first international workers to officially serve with CAMA. From 1974–2003, Andy and Bev worked to extend Christ’s compassion through relief and development, and from 1975–1978, Andy served as the first appointed director of CAMA.

Before CAMA

Before the start of CAMA Services, compassion and mercy took on many forms over the course of nearly a century after Pastor A. B. Simpson began ministering to immigrants on the docks of New York City. His vision was to minister to the whole person through both word and deed. One form of this holistic approach to ministry was seen in how international workers were encouraged to get basic medical training to meet not only their family’s needs, but to also help the nationals they would interact with on the field. However, it was during the Vietnam War era that the need to meet both spiritual and physical needs became an undeniable priority for The Christian and Missionary Alliance (the C&MA) to address.

Coming Alongside the Conflict in Southeast Asia

The 1970s marked an intensification in conflict throughout Southeast Asia. Having served in Vietnam since 1911, Alliance international workers began reaching out to internally displaced refugees with different forms of relief. As secular agencies actively served those in need, an Alliance committee—consisting of Dr. Nathan Bailey, the president of the C&MA at the time; Dr. Louis King, the vice president of the C&MA; Grady Mangham, the regional secretary for the C&MA; Dr. LeRoy Johnston, the personnel secretary for the C&MA, as well as a few others—was formed to study how The Alliance could best come alongside the lives who were being affected by the regional conflict. They determined that the C&MA needed its own ministry entity to more effectively come alongside the hurting.

With over two million Cambodian refugees in and around Phnom Penh, we were appointed to Cambodia to help start the Phnom Penh Christian Hospital. As the hospital was built, we and other Alliance international workers cared for drastic medical needs as medical staff and helped the national Cambodian church administer aid and evangelize amid the fighting.

A Dangerous Situation

When Phnom Penh fell to the communists in April 1975, mass executions began. Thousands fled to Thailand. We were refugees too. Leaders from both World Vision and The Christian and Missionary Alliance who did not leave when the international workers were evacuated were rounded up and executed. The environment was volatile. Experts said it was only a matter of time until Thailand fell to communists too. It was the domino theory, and people were frantic. 

Thailand was faced with a dire dilemma of how to deal with the thousands of refugees who had come from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. There was a fear that helping the refugees would create additional animosity from the communists, yet the doctrine of the majority religion in Thailand called for neutrality while the United Nations demanded that Thailand shelter those in need. With all these competing factors, the Royal Thai government was faced with a distressing and dangerous situation.

Responding to the Needs of Refugees

After arriving in Thailand, Gene Hall—the director who had overseen the Khmer field for the U.S. C&MA—and I (Andy) bought a vanload of food and mosquito nets and visited a Cambodian refugee camp along the Thai border. Conditions were deplorable.

As Gene went on furlough, I phoned Grady Mangham. I laid out the situation and asked the C&MA for a plan. Grady said, “Wait a moment.” He came back and said, “You have been appointed director of CAMA Services.”

“What is that?” I asked.

Grady replied, “We don’t know yet.”

“What are the instructions?” I asked.

Grady responded, “You’ll figure them out.”

“What about the money?”

“We will pray for you.”

“How about staff?”

“We will appoint Bev.”

I said, “I have $10,000 of hospital funds,” and Grady approved using the funds to start CAMA’s refugee response work in Thailand. After a two-week survey of the needs, I reported back to Grady that $20,000 would be needed every month. Grady said, “Well, now we know how much to pray for.”

The Lord Provides

Soon after, a Dutch group that had helped the C&MA in Vietnam sent funds to support CAMA, and World Vision also sent money from their Cambodian ministries to assist. Like others, they were concerned that the refugee situation in Thailand was too dangerous politically to get directly involved in and looked to CAMA for help.

One day, I saw an article in the Bangkok Post that a man named Colonel Kamol Prachuabmoh had been appointed by the king of Thailand to handle the refugee situation. I arranged a meeting with him and asked permission for CAMA to help the refugees. Citing the C&MA’s long history of ministry, the C&MA’s expertise with the ethnic backgrounds of the populations who now filled the refugee camps along the Thai borders, as well as my own training in public health, I committed CAMA to providing care for the refugees and shared that CAMA would also want to evangelize as we came alongside those in need.

Colonel Kamol responded, “As long as your relief work is as good as your evangelism, you will have no problems with us.”

The colonel added, “You will hear a lot of negative things about this situation. Don’t listen to any of it. Also, some of our officials may want bribes—just refer them to me!” 

He then arranged for a permanent visa for the both of us so that we could stay and work in Thailand indefinitely. God was answering prayers!

Sharing the Gospel in Both Word and Deed

CAMA went right to work, and God provided CAMA with workers who knew the language and culture of the refugees. Wayne and Mini Persons, C&MA workers from Laos, developed the response efforts for Hmong refugees. John and Jean Ellison, international workers who had been coming alongside Cambodians in Thailand, became the CAMA workers to serve among those refugees. George and Elsie Wood would go on to serve among the Vietnamese boat people.

By the summer of 1975, refugee care was growing in Thailand. However, the camps along the Cambodian and Lao borders were receiving uneven amounts of distribution from the many relief agencies who were working to serve the refugees. In a meeting with Colonel Kamol, I suggested inviting all these groups to sit down together and coordinate efforts to ensure that all those in need received adequate aid. Colonel Kamol agreed and asked me to be chairman of the group.

There, at the Alliance guest house in Bangkok, representatives from CAMA, the Royal Thai government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the U.S. Embassy, and a dozen other volunteer agencies came together to discuss how we could better serve the refugee camps. I opened that very first session with prayer. After the discussion commenced, Colonel Kamol brought up that using the word “refugee” was a political problem for Thailand. I shared how following World War II, a similar problem had arisen, and the solution had been to use the term “displaced people.” Thus, the Committee for Coordination of Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand (CCSDPT) was born. The group pledged to share resources and to support one another with the goal of meeting the rising needs the best that we could, and the concept was so successful it went on to be adopted by UNHCR and used in many other countries. For the next 15 years, CAMA would be a part of the CCSDPT in Thailand and took part in repatriation work when the refugee camps closed.

As physical needs were met in the camps, the gospel was shared, and the Word was made accessible as the Thai Gideons gave CAMA their newly printed New Testament. They had Bibles to share printed in Lao, Vietnamese, and Cambodian. The Word was the only reading material available in those languages within the camps. It was eagerly received and even put to work as schoolbooks to teach refugee children their national languages. God was moving so quickly!

Years later, Colonel Kamol hosted a dinner for Louis King, the C&MA president at the time, and Grady Mangham to thank them for CAMA’s response in Thailand in their time of need. He said, “You always kept your word. God sent you to us.” CAMA Services would go on to receive medals from Thai Red Cross and the Royal Thai government. Dr. King would also receive recognition from the United States Department of State for CAMA’s work with the refugees.

CAMA Goes Global

The need for CAMA’s services grew rapidly. As CAMA’s existence was recognized, requests from other fields where the C&MA was at work came in. We were relocated to Paris to start CAMA in Europe and to continue the oversight of the Southeast Asian refugee ministry. In a short time, a multi-missional CAMA team operating under CAMA leadership formed, and through Operation Heartbeat, we ministered to refugees arriving in Europe in France, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, England, Italy, and Spain.

Back at home, C&MA President Nathan Bailey challenged the Alliance family to sponsor refugees needing resettlement within the United States, saying that the C&MA needed the refugees more than they realized. In response, the C&MA resettled over 10,000 refugees. Out of the influx of refugees from the regions where the C&MA had previously served, new ethnic districts developed. To this day, not only are they active church planters, but they have sent international workers back to serve in their countries of origin.

50 Years Later

Now, over 50 years later, CAMA has grown from two international workers extending Christ’s compassion to refugees in Thailand to over 60 international workers serving a variety of needs across 19 different countries. Thanks to your partnership, the gospel has been able to be shared in both word and deed to those in need. And throughout all of it, Lord has been faithful to enter some of the most hopeless situations and redeem.