In late November 1994 an unquiet American came to Cambodia. His name was Mike Evans, and he was out to save souls. The crowd that turned out at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium was estimated at 180,000, and although I have doubts about that figure given that the capacity of the stadium is only 50,000, it was certainly a lot of people. Pre-crusade publicity had promised that the blind would see and the lame would walk, and so they sold their animals and land and took out loans with local money-lenders and came to Phnom Penh.
Things started going wrong on day 1. 30,000 people turned up, and Evans’ security was swamped by the crowd. The event seemed on the verge of turning from rally to riot. “We have a problem here… we will get this sorted out for tomorrow night… I want you to pray now…” The Phnom Penh Post takes up the story:
Finally realizing that things were getting out of control Evans – a big man – gave up his microphone and took off. He hurried down the platform steps and along a small alleyway between the back of the stage and a fence in front of the main stand, shouldering local people out of the way.
Attempts to interview Evans at this time were difficult. He responded to calls of “Mike, Mike” by looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide and clearly panicked, sweating and ashen-faced, answering “what, what?”, before darting through a gate to a late model van.
“Greg, Greg… where are the keys,” he yelled repeatedly , but ‘Greg’ either did not have them or was possibly still on the stage, which was now being overrun.
Evans, caught in “no-mans land” in the open – and still far too close to the main crowd for his comfort – was quickly surrounded by Khmers and, though standing perhaps half a meter or more taller, was jostled and pressed.
A Khmer evangelist grabbed Evans and said “this way.”
Evans, dressed in a fine dark suit and tie, ran as fast as his loping, straight-armed gait would take him. At least two Khmers fell as the Western faith-healer fled.
The second night saw tighter security. It went ok. But on the third night it all came unstuck. The crowd, finally realising that no miracles would be forthcoming, turned angry. A van was stoned, police cleared the stadium, 30 people were arrested carrying handguns and grenades, and Evans and his team retreated to the Sofitel. The Post again:
At the hotel, shaken workers were still trembling and dumbfounded, looking for answers and composure. The Post visited Evans’ room but he refused interviews.
His cohorts were pleasant but firm in their assurances that they would talk to the press after a meeting with Evans, but Evans was too worked up.
He emerged at the door, shouting at a security guard that the press should be removed. He appeared agitated.”This man lied to you. He is not with us.Take him away,” he yelled.
Greg Mauso [other sources give his name as Mauro, but the Post has this spelling throughout], part of Evans’ crusade tour, said: “Relax Mike, I’ll deal with this” and eased Evans away from the door . Mauso promised an interview but later in the lobby he had more pressing meetings with shaken volunteers who had been followed to the hotel by a 200-strong mob driving motos. Troops had to keep them at bay.
Evans exited by the back door and was hurried out to the airport to catch a flight to Bangkok. Local Christian leaders, who had begged him not to come in the first place, later judged that he had set back the cause of Christian missions in Cambodia by 20 years.