Tommy Downs

Tommy Downs

A Servant of Jesus Christ

Ambassador of Christ

On December 27th, my sister Harmony brought forth her first son, Wolfgang Alexander Morgan. 9lbs, 3oz, delivered by her husband Reece.


A few days later, I left with my siblings Bonnie, Willie, Gracie, Faith, and 4 of our friends to go to Florida for the Overland Missions yearly conference. We stopped in Alabama like always and visited my Aunt Rhonda and Uncle Kenny on their rodeo ranch. My parents and Andrew met us there and I took a few people with me to get to Jacksonville Florida early. As things turned out, my family had one AirBnB and I was left with the other one which I filled with various missionary coworkers and made them breakfast every morning. It felt weird taking responsibility for all these people, but I enjoyed it, and they appreciated staying there. Normally my siblings take care of things so I don’t really bother, but here I was without siblings.

The conference was exhilarating and encouraging and it was awesome to hear the different testimonies of what God had done that year. I got to catch-up with a lot of old friends and made a lot of new ones. After the conference, we all stayed at a resort as an organization and had meetings and get-togethers. It was a beautiful time and I’m proud to work and play with such wonderful and diverse people.


Afterward, Mark and I went to Cocoa and stayed at my friend Kim’s house and fixed some things around her house and did evangelism with her at the bus stop. I led a man through the salvation prayer there and we encouraged him to know God, another man recommitted his life to Jesus, others yet heard the gospel and we pray that they seek God thereafter. Kim took great care of us with amazing italian style food and in two days time, she took us to the airport and we flew off to our respective homes.

Cambodian Christian Fellowship

My brother-in-law, my parents, and I got the opportunity to visit a Cambodian church in Chicago. It was refreshing praising God and speaking in my second language once again and my family got to see me in my native element amongst the Khmer people. There was authentic Cambodian food as well there which they really liked. (I eat a lot of questionable foods; so nobody believes me when I tell them that a certain food is really good.)

Khmer church

Dr. Kenneth Quinn

While in Cambodia I had discovered that my home state of Iowa had a long history with Cambodia and South East Asia in general. So I thought I might as well explore those connections while back in the States. After rescheduling multiple times over the course of a couple months, I finally got the chance to meet Former US ambassador to Cambodia Dr. Kenneth Quinn. He was a man of 80 years, still strong, enthusiastic and sharp. He showed me around the marvelous World Food Prize Laurrete building where he had worked for 20 years before retiring 2 years ago. He still came in quite often to help with the transition to new leadership it seemed.

The art was outstanding, beautifully crafted, most of it commissioned by himself. The building was in the most ideal part of town overlooking the river, it stood as a monument to people who brought great improvements to agriculture and had saved the lives of 100s of millions like Norman Borlaug, George Washington Carver, and others. We sat down and he began to talk about these great men, how Ghandi had written to George Washington Carver for consultation on his vegetarian diet, how Borlaug had produced a wheat that started the Green Revolution, and how Nekkanti Subba Rao had discovered miracle rice (IR8) which grew twice as fast and yielded 4 times as much as other rice.

Dr. Quinn at "the world food prize" in Iowa

“What’s it like being an Ambassador in Cambodia?” I asked.

“It’s nothing like being an ambassador anywhere else.” He replied

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that at the time our embassy was a couple regular houses and that bullets were flying over our heads and we were in the middle of a civil war in the 90s. And I was praying, praying harder than I’ve ever prayed before that the bullets would hit me instead of my family. When you have a family you’d do anything for them, you understand.

I started getting calls from Americans living in Cambodia who were scared for their lives. I had 160 Cambodian staff members and they were all terrified. They had acute PTSD. I had asked them once to raise their hands if they’d ever lost a close family member to the Khmer Rouge, every single one had. I asked them how many of them had been forced to work in a Khmer Rouge camp, every single one had. So I reassured them that I would die to protect them and get them out if anything happened. Fortunately I didn’t have to come through on that promise, but they trusted me, and I would have.

At one point, I got out of the house, got in my car, put up my American flag and drove all around the city looking for Americans and Cambodian Americans to rescue and saved a bunch of them.”

Dr. Quinn was born in Brooklyn, and grew up in Dubuque, Iowa. He was in the first graduating class at Wahlert Catholic Highschool and graduated from Loras College after. Having no money, but dreaming of European galas and fancy events, he took the free state exam to become a diplomat. He jokes that someone else’s score must’ve been mixed up with his and that’s why he passed. But Europe was not in his future, instead in 1968, they taught him Vietnamese for a year and dropped him off in rural Vietnam. His job was to defeat communism in the 8 villages which were assigned to him and curry favor for the US.

“Is it true that you defeated the Khmer Rouge using roads?” I asked.

“It is, let’s get into that.” He replied, “We had the ‘miracle rice’ seeds, but the Vietnamese were subsistence farmers and so they couldn’t risk messing up their food source to try growing our new rice. And why should they have trusted us? I was just a white guy with no history of farming in my life. But as it turned out, wherever we built a new road to, those places prospered and started growing the miracle rice. The old roads were 60 years old, originally built by the French, so by now they were very bad.”

The four villages that had good roads were now prospering and communism fizzled out in those areas, this was an epiphany for Dr. Quinn.

“If you take a map of world hunger, and overlay it with a map of terrorism and conflict, and then overlay that with the world rural road map, you’ll find that they’re all coterminus. Meaning that where the roads end is where poverty and corruption and violence begin.” He explained.

He talked about the great roads of all these past societies that allowed them to prosper, allowing ideas and everything to propagate.

“The roman roads are why the gospel was able to travel so quick.” I interjected.

I couldn’t help but think that maybe that’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. Roads connect people together and fight perhaps the greatest evil of them all, isolation. When people are separated from each other there’s no accountability, no community, it’s a lonely place. Likewise there’s millions of people who are separated from God because no one has made a road to get to them. I want to be like John the Baptist making a straight way for the Lord, to be an Ambassador of Jesus Christ, letting him make the appeal through me for them to be reconciled to God.

I showed Dr. Quinn my shirt I had made which said, “I have diplomatic immunity.” He chuckled in approval. I went on to recite Romans 8:2 “For the law of the spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.”

In April 1973, Dr. Quinn reported that from Vietnam he saw plumes from 30 villages in Cambodia that the Khmer Rouge had set on fire. He warned the US about the Khmer Rouge, but they didn’t believe him. They thought he was on drugs or something. The Khmer Rouge were effective at killing 3 million of the 7 million people in Cambodia. Only a little over a hundred people who had gone to college had escaped the genocide. The culture would’ve been completely wiped out by the oppressive communist regime had not the Khmer Rouge reached too far.

“They got cocky and attacked some villages in Vietnam because they hated Vietnam. (Now they insist that part of Vietnam belongs to them. There was a king of Vietnam who married a Khmer princess and they gave a bit of Cambodia to Vietnam they say.)”

Because of that, the Vietnamese who we couldn’t defeat in the Vietnam war, swept in and took over Cambodia. They put Hun Sen and some other Cambodians they trusted in charge.

But the Khmer Rouge still had control of the north and west of Cambodia and I was asked by the US how we defeat them. Well, we couldn’t defeat the Vietnamese with bombs from the air or boots on the ground, but I remembered back to that incident with the roads. So I got 13 million dollars in aid money and used it to build roads to the far stretches of Cambodia. I was out there removing mines myself to show support. The Khmer rouge had put mines in the ground, in the trees, everywhere, but they had trained me in landmines for Vietnam.

And so we cleared mines and built roads and the Khmer Rouge was defeated.”

In the 90s, Dr. Quinn worked to get Cambodia to unify into a single government and the UN oversaw the election, so it was fair and all that.

Cambodian Buddhist Temple

Afterwards, I went to visit a Cambodian Buddhist Temple which was really more of a house. The monk was friendly and curious, we talked in the Khmer language for 2.5 hours. We talked about Jesus, creation, Adam and Eve, the origin of evil, and the death and resurrection of Christ. He in turn taught me some things about Buddhism and I got a better understanding for how different they really are. In Buddhism, you depend on yourself whereas Christianity is about depending on Christ because you cannot do it yourself.

While the monk and I had a great visit together, my sister Gracie had fallen asleep and so the monk and I teased her about it.


I have very little time in the States left, a little over a month, however I have to raise quite a bit more in monthly support yet. But that’s exciting because when I go back to Cambodia I’m going to find Cambodians that I can in turn support and raise up to do ministry alongside and reach Cambodia with even greater velocity.

So much more I could say, but I’ll keep it brief-ish for now.

An ambassador of Christ,

Tommy Downs.