Different. Unique. Enormous.

There they stood in a huddle in front of the entrance from the restaurant Tonle Mekong. Some had already arrived before 5 pm and since then, the group had grown obviously and uncontrollably. It reminded of an ant colony where an ant had found a delicious piece of banana and now the whole colony would gather there. Latest music hits boomed, mixed by our DJ. On the often used main road which leads past the restaurant, other locals stopped their motorbikes and Tuk Tuk’s to observe curiously what was happening. From above, the sea of people looked huge but relaxed. However, when you tried to get to the entrance, you had to realise how close together the crowd stood. A friendly “sorry” wouldn’t help, to fight your way through was more effective. Suspense was in the air. Not many could imagine what they would get to see soon. Excitement was written all over their faces. Excitement for an enormous spectacle, a different, unique celebration. Something, which they’ve never experience. Excitement for the Grand Opening of the ICF Cambodia.

Three weeks earlier, we were holding freshly printed tickets/flyers in our hands. In a meeting we discussed distributing strageties. We attached a certain value to let them know that it was something special and that the receiver should really come. Some doubted that we could give away 3600 free tickets at all.
Ten days later we ran out of tickets. None was left. A team of about 60 people had handed out 3600 tickets within a few days! Needless to say, that especially the expats asked how this could have happened. From the locals we wanted to know, who gave whom how many flyers. It came to light that everybody would give it to friends who would give it to their friends and so on. However, the question remained, will enough people actually come and fill the hall?

Those who were in charge for the seating plan had given their best to get as many people as possible in the restaurant. The first problem was that the restaurant had promised us a higher number than what was actually feasible. Furthermore, the restaurant didn’t even have so many chairs. But we wouldn’t be ICF, if we were frightened off our visions by that. We emptied the gallery which had reminded of a waste disposal site in order to create more space. The manager we provided with the task to order chairs from another restaurant. The seating plan itself was calculated very tight. One wing we provided with mats to sit on instead of chairs which brought quite a lot seats more. People who would be sitting there didn’t have a good view of the stage anyway, thus we ordered a live stream together with the other technical equipment. Eventually, everything should be the best. After all, aren’t we here to represent God and is he not perfect?!

The massive crowd outside was growing. Around 6 pm we let them slowly in. The flow simply didn’t want to stop. Now – at the latest – would all doubts belong to the past. After 1400 adults we had to close the gate, the capacity was exhausted. However, outside were still hundreds of people standing. We tried to explain friendly that we didn’t have space left. Sadly, they didn’t have much sympathy for that. Also, our invitation for the next Sunday fell on deaf ears.
The number went beyond all expectations: Inside were 1400 youngsters and adults sitting, excluding our team of about 100 volunteers and the staff from the restaurant, additionally, there were about 200 children, who their parents had taken with them. On the forecourt we had set up a huge tent for kids church. There were another 327 children having fun in the jumping castle and later they would enjoy an entertaining evening with stories, music and dance.

Different videos from other events led off into the show. Our gifted „Mini-Boy“ then gave his best with a fantastic dance. As his name indicates: he is small but eminently capable. On that followed a Countdown for which 100 people/groups had been asked to sit on a yellow painted chair with a number (100-1). Perfectly rounded down it was by sweet Emma and Koni junior, who walked on stage with the 0 and sat there on the chair. The audience bursted into spontaneous applause. During the first worship song “Catching Fire” the visitors caught beach balls which the singers had kicked into the crowd and let them quickly disappear. Not only the culture difference turned up but also the fact, that they aren’t used to such special effects. After a warm welcome by MC Steve with translation into Khmer our dance crew showed their talent. Within a few weeks they had learned a professional show. For that, Mini-Boy had even invited his friend from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Afterwards, our six singers worshiped with playback music and video. Eyes widened, some were gaping in astonishment. This modern music, these dancing lights, this energy and passion of our singers under whose feet the whole stage was trembling, were unfamiliar. Most come from Buddhist background where the hymns reminds of sad bawling.

It was pastors Sophal and ND turn to speak next. Our translators made sure that everybody would understand everything. First, Sophal talked about here past. She explained, how she had been abandoned as a Cambodian baby and then adopted by a Swiss family. Furthermore, she described how delighted she had been to come back to her homeland. There are only a few Cambodians who return to Cambodia after those fights and wars – and probably, even less with social motive. For that reason, her story was even more moving. Sure enough, she had earned respect from many people.

Her husband ND overtook the microphone after thunderous applause. He introduced the crowd to the church ICF Cambodia and especially stressed the style with the six references „at the heartbeat of time“,„giving the very best“, „experiencing fellowship“, „nothing is impossible“, „excited about life“, „developing potential“. They were underlined by short film portraits from some church visitors. During the preparation, we had hung up for each reference a banner. Those would now be lowered thanks an ingenious mechanism. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t perfect, however, they completed the scenery perfectly. Sighs of relief… Setting up these banners had been way more time intense than expected and had needed cohesive forces. In order to a mishap and a bent pole as result, we not only had to buy a new one, but also to fix everything again.

Some weeks ago, we had met some pastors from other churches in Siem Reap and asked them to make a short video message. In there they welcomed ICF to town. We now played those films with which we made the statement, that we respect each other and moreover that we work altogether for Gods kingdom.

And then, finally, the highlight of the evening was next in line. Two singers carried a long, red ribbon to the stage. The audience was asked to stand up. While those were carefully observing the happening, some of our team became nervous about all the wow-effects. A short countdown was on the screen, at 0, ND cut the ribbon hold by Sophal. At the same time, the song „Higher“ began, the remaining singers ran on stage. While heaps of glittering confetti were raining down, people were dancing, singing, clapping. The lights were crazy, the hall was on fire. Suddenly, balloons fell from „heaven“. They were soon bursted by the crowd. That was an unplanned but awesome special effect since this made everything even louder. Some of us were extremely relieved. The balloons had been our worst problem child for the whole day. What always had sounded like an amazing effect in the meetings, was difficult to put to practice. Everything had been well prepared; two nets had been sowed together with small pipes, cable ties and ropes. With a compressor, which wanted every now and then a break due to overheating – or insufficient quality –, some volunteers had blown up hundreds of balloons. Since the restaurant was used until Saturday evening, we had to hang up everything on Sunday itself. Our little monkey Miriam was for that reason for hours climbing underneath the roof. A bit later, somebody brought the idea that we should test it. The result was sobering, disappointing and of course unplanned: The rope had too much resistance and it was impossible to move it at all. Their brains started fuming when they sat together, seeking a solution. At some point, they realised, that they had no other option than to send Miriam up again. She had to tighten the net again until the rope had less resistance. Finally, we could pull the rope through and thus it worked like a zip. It sure was arduous work, however well worth it for that wonderful effect.

The crowd eventually calmed down when the song was finished and ND and Sophal came back on stage with Chay and Vuthy – both leaders in other churches. The couple asked them to pray for the ICF. The final word belonged to Leo Bigger, the senior pastor from ICF Zurich, who wished us via video all the best.

Steve then invited all visitors to ICF Cambodia on Sundays, motivated them to go to the photo and video booth, promoted our Facebook page and announced dancing at 9 pm. We had ordered 2000 t-shirts with awesome “At the heartbeat of time”-design. Those were now handed out on the stage while the buffet was basically attacked by the people. Since we didn’t have enough chairs, they had to take theirs and bring it into the other hall. Needless to say, that chaos was pre-programmed. Actually, we had calculated how many chairs would fit in which hall and had marked them with ribbons in accordance with that. However, as Steve was explaining the system, some already stood up and took their chair and sat down directly at the buffet. Our team tried to tell them friendly but firmly where to sit. That was not always easy. All were hungry and most of them had never seen such a wide variety of food. Usually they have rice for breakfast, lunch, dinner. This was the paradise. Unsurprisingly, they filled and overfilled their plates. Anyways, eventually, most of the chairs were on the right places.

It was similar on the stage. Theoretically, the plan was that they go up on one side of the stage, write down their phone number, take a shirt and leave the stage on the other side. However, this definitely didn’t work like this. Honestly, you could feel that there was only the thought about the shirt left in their minds and the rest didn’t matter anymore. They tried to jump up from every side – some even went through the backstage area. Many volunteers tried hard to make clear that they need to join the queue. Others built human chains so that they wouldn’t be overran. Needless to say, that it wasn’t difficult to give all t-shirts away.

As promised, the DJ startet a bit later. During about half an hour, the hall was one great dancefloor. Anywhere you looked, whether at the dancing people or those watching them, you saw smiling and satisfied faces. Many had slipped on their new shirt and showed it proudly to the camera. Confetti was thrown at each other. They were wildly dancing, clapping, singing, celebrating. It was one immense party. The earth was shaking. The beats boomed from the speakers. The atmosphere was spectacular. The energy from each of them unbelievable. The joy genuine.

That joy spread out like a fire. At the exit, ND and Sophal were standing and saying goodbye to everyone with a warm smile. The visitors walked back to the parking lot which was bigger than a football field but also packed.

We hope, that this Grand Opening has planted in every single listener a little seed. A seed which will grow to a plant. We pray, that the people have realised that it wasn’t just a show for any invented God but the presentation of the only true and living God, for whom we as ICF work. We pray for curiosity and a urge in the hearts of the visitors – and everybody who hears about it, that they want to learn more about him.

The best is yet to come!

PS: all photos taken by myself.

Link to the great Countdown with the yellow chair:
Countdown for Grand Opening

Video of the Grand Opening: