What Valor Is Not

The crack of gunfire rebounded just inside the school building’s walls. Instinctively, the guard recognized what was happening. He cowered, waiting  outside the building, until the relentless sounds ceased.

Several things suggest the guard didn’t fulfill his expected role. His primary duty was to keep the students secure from danger. He wore the uniform. For years, he had accepted a paycheck for the job, knowing of the possibility of just such an event. I don’t even have to mention his name or the school where he worked. You already know who I’m talking about. And what you think of him isn’t positive.

You’ve probably been in a group of people talking about someone like this. One guy proclaims his bravery and says, “If I were in this situation, I would rush in there and disarm that shooter before he knew what hit him…” You know the one. People shy away from admitting that they feel uncertain what they would do if they were in that school guard’s position. Then this guy who always talks before he thinks proclaims his bravery. Everyone knows he is almost always the first one to break and run in the face of danger.

“Stolen Valor” is a term applied to the phenomenon of people falsely claiming military awards or badges they did not earn, service they did not perform, Prisoner of War experiences that never happened, and other tales of military derring-do that exist only in their minds. The person who never served in the military but wears a uniform to public events, complete with medals, is stealing valor from those who actually served. He accepts the attention and tells stories he may have heard on television.1 If caught, he always has an explanation. “Oh, I just wanted to show my own appreciation for people who served because I have so much respect for them.”

Becoming proficient in playing certain war-like video games has nothing to do with valor. It’s a game, and there are no dangers involved, except wasting money and time instead of doing something productive. There is no bravery or sacrifice in such a game. While they are sometimes used by the military to train troops to fight, outside that realm, they are counterproductive to useful life.

Doing something that seems brave to receive acclaim for it is not valor. There is such a thing as counterfeit valor. Counterfeit valor will always have an angle of personal gain of some kind. And nobody becomes valiant at the moment valor is needed. If there is valor, it has developed over much of the life of the person.

Today we live in the shadow of superheroes. A new one is created for the theater regularly. The ones we knew years ago undergo metamorphosis to be able to do battle with the great powers of darkness. (As if the real world doesn’t have enough of its own darkness to deal with!) People in the theater seats are in two categories. They may glory in the unrealistic story of such a being winning over impossible odds. Or, they may become inspired to become a real hero, just because they see parallels with the society we all live in.

Valor is not only found in the military and when people are at war. It must also be said that not all people of valor are Christian. I am convinced that God is working in all people to build them and to draw us all to a closer relationship with Him. Christians are not perfect people. God is working within each one to form His Character in us. We all react differently. We are individuals. We each respond to stimuli differently than others do. He is leading all people through their experiences. It is up to us as individuals to respond to His leading.

In the Bible, Naaman was commander of the Syrian military. God had worked through him to defeat Israel and teach them a lesson. One of the captives his forces took was a young Israelite girl who now worked in his home. Still, he was called a mighty man of valor.2 Through the narrative, we see how God directed events to soften his heart.

There is a lot to learn in Namaan’s story that we will explore later. For now, be careful of two things. The first is that we don’t consider ourselves higher and better than who we really are. Second, remember that God is working to develop in you the highest character to live the very best life and to accomplish the most amazing things in our lives. You can be a powerful blessing to those around you. Where does it all begin? That’s the next installation of Valor life.

For now, Live Valor.

Questions to ask yourself. If you feel like it, you can even share some of your responses in the comments.

  1. Looking back, when do I see God forming a step toward valor in me?
  2. How would I like to see valor affect my life?

1 Thomas Ruyle, https://www.stripes.com/news/veterans/what-is-stolen-valor-1.107359

2 2 Kings 5:1, 2 NKJV

©2020 Gary Wagner

What Is Valor?

Dateline: Garissa, Kenya – April 2, 2015

Early in the morning, a female university student was herded with other students from her worship time to a central place on the school campus. One question was asked. “Are you a Christian?”

Her honest answer welled up within her. A response not merely memorized or one given casually as if to a classmate. Clearly, her life was at stake. Almost precisely fifteen years earlier, the same fundamental question was asked of another female student at Columbine High School in Colorado.


 I arrived in Kenya two days after the tragic attack. The whole country buzzed and mourned with the pain of the 149 senseless deaths at the university. For many, it created a resolve to battle against the evil which caused such a catastrophic loss of young lives.

What makes a person, no matter their age, respond to such a question in a way that they know may cost them their lives? Surely not because they think they will survive. It isn’t a matter of wanting to be popular with the in-crowd. It isn’t because they believe they may be able to sell their story and become rich and famous. No. Something greater gives them the courage to face life and death and stand true to the character that has been built within them.

Do you remember that time in your life – perhaps you were about twelve years old – when something terrible happened? You saw it or heard of it. You wished you could do something to stop it. You wanted to act, but how? You were just a kid. But there was a spark of valor in you even then. You wanted to overcome injustice. That’s the way valor begins.


What is a mighty man or woman of valor? Is it important? The Hebrew word in the Bible for valor is chayil. In most cases, people who are mighty warriors are the ones labeled as men of valor. There are other meanings. This is my partial definition.

Valor that is exhibited is the result of a person with a history of intentional decisions to be surrendered to the highest moral power. This individual is willing to act against strong odds for the benefit of others, even at a potential extreme expense – physically, socially, financially – or other real loss to one’s self. Often, it is recognized through the courage to stand and to act in the face of extreme danger.

To see valor in action means an intimate relationship has been developed between the valiant person and God. It has been growing unseen and can, but does not always include self-sacrifice for the benefit of others to the glory of God. Such a person may be called a martyr. However, death is not necessary to be a person of valor.


There are stages of valor. Early phases may not have been intentional on your part. They could have been activated by the actions or intentions of others against you or another person. These moments resulted in the decision to evaluate, learn, and grow from it. You may have done nothing.   

This begins to form a series of individual victories over the actions and intentions of others. It develops a refusal to accept the personal role of ‘victim’ in the situation and in life. You may be growing to be valiant and find yourself in a situation that calls you to valor on the part of someone else.

Have you developed to that stage of action? This kind of situation can play a significant role in preparing you for your own valiant behavior in the future.  There is no stigma in not being fully developed in valor. God matures us in all ways as we are ready to accept Him to do so.

 Growing in valor is a process, but you can’t build valor in yourself. When you make the decision to allow God to renew His perfect character (Image of God) in you, you make a conscious choice to change. Perhaps developing valor is the same thing. That means even though you decide to allow Him to create it in you, it’s God’s work in you. But you must make the decision.

Valor recognizes the previous sacrifice of others. An inclination to valor may come from a recognition of what someone did for us. Or from seeing or recognizing something done by someone else. Therefore, valor gives rise to valor. Our example in valor is Jesus. He died on the cross for you and me.1 Now, He has the right to build us to be like Him if we accept.


Now, as never before, God is working to build more men and women of valor. We need to understand not just what valor is, but what it isn’t. That’s the next topic in our discussion. Then, what about women? What about the two women at the beginning of this article. Does the Bible say anything about women of valor? Absolutely. Stand by for more on that.

The Screaming Spark–Part 2

On October 31, 2017, I posted Part 1 of this article on The Screaming Spark-Part 1. You can read it here if you wish. Since then, I have struggled with Part 2. I got busy with other things and just didn’t get back to it until now. I think there may be a reason for it. I’ll tell you about that later.

Five hundred years ago, in Martin Luther’s day, one of the most potent forces on Earth was the Roman Church. Luther faced significant opposition to his work. He was slated to be executed for his beliefs but escaped with the interdiction of a friend. While he was hidden from the searching eyes of the church, he translated the Bible into German. This act alone was mostly responsible for the unification of most of the many Germanic tribes of the region.  They became a powerful nation after that.

The Bible in the language of the people changed more than the geopolitical world. The people were able to learn that their salvation was by grace through faith, and not by their adherence to the rules of a church. Gradually, Luther and others sought to reform the church with their newfound Biblical beliefs. The church literally fought the reformers. Many died in the battles. They spread throughout Europe until a new church rose from the ashes. The Protestant Reformation had begun. One new church was followed by others.

Five hundred years later, the Reformation celebrated its 500th anniversary on November 1, 2017. This world-changing event took place because a young man named Martin Luther followed his convictions and stood for the right. An encounter during a thunderstorm eventually led him to stand before spiritual leaders and demand reform. 

Luther’s honesty with himself and others drove him to be faithful to his promise made during the thunderstorm that he would serve God. There was nothing easy about Luther’s life after he surrendered it. But the way God used him is nothing short of miraculous. Martin Luther’s decision did not only change his life. It changed yours. It led to the Protestant Reformation that filled the world with a dramatic change in every part of our lives. Even the Roman church benefitted from some of the changes that occurred.

The work of Luther happened because he allowed the spark of God’s image, which is in every human, to grow into a flame that burned hot and bright in his life. You know you were meant to be and to do something more than what is going on in your life now. The spark within you is screaming out. Respond. “God, you have a plan for me. I surrender to you to build me to be the man (or woman) you want me to be.”

I experienced that growing spark. In Part 1, I told you about an experience during a rocket attack in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 1973. Those times have a way of reminding us that there is a God who cares and can help us. Somehow it also seems to reveal to us our need to surrender to the will of God and ask for time to live it out.

The events may seem mundane as you live them, but God has a plan for the man who will follow Him. For me, my work was right there. Some of the young men I was teaching were  Buddhist monks. One was named Lem Someth. I’ll just shorten the story for now. I’ll share other parts in later posts. Someth turned to Creator God and began to serve Him.

I met Someth again seven years later when he led twenty people across Pol Pot’s killing fields to bring them to safety in Thailand. God had arranged for me to be there, directing relief work in the refugee camps. I was the only one who would recognize Someth as he entered the camps. I asked him to walk with his group to a different village nearby and begin to serve as pastor of a bamboo and thatch church built by my predecessor.

In the next few years, I knew Someth taught hundreds of people who had experienced their own lightning strikes and rocket attack experiences. They lived through Pol Pot. It wasn’t until thirty-nine years later that I learned how God had used him. In March 2020, I revisited Cambodia. I found there a nationwide Christian church over 3,500 members strong being led by many people Someth had taught in that camp.

What was my role? Just being where God asked me to be when He said: “Go.”

A  nineteenth-century author penned these words about individuals who listen to the screaming spark and respond.

“The greatest want of the world is the want of men–men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.”1

Being the man or woman of character God made you to be will undoubtedly be an uphill climb. That’s no problem if you want your life to amount to something. My guess is you don’t care as much about ease as you do about making a difference.

We are commanded to help others ignite their lives.

People may or may not know that the spark is smoldering within them. But it is! You have that spark. Every person living was implanted with the seed of a roaring flame. It is in you. You can’t ignite it. Neither can you, of your own initiative, put it out.

Have you been honest with yourself fulfilling the deal you made with God? Or is He still waiting for permission to activate the potential He placed within you?

In upcoming posts, we’ll explore ways to understand where God may be leading you. Let me know if you have any questions.

Live Valor

1 E. White, Education

A Tribute to My Mother, Emma Rose

Mothers are unique. Yours is yours and mine is mine. Even if we had the same mother, her relationship with each of her children is different. That’s what makes a mother unique to each child. That’s a good thing. Along the way in our lives, most of us get to where we prefer our mother over those who are mothers of other people. It becomes more that way the older we get, and the older they get.

I remember my mother with fondness and love. There was one night when I was about ten or twelve. Three of my younger brothers and I had not been particularly obedient as the evening hours grew late, and Dad hadn’t come home yet. I don’t remember the details well. What I do recall is that we had done something wrong for long enough that Mom sent us all to bed early. Some punishments she left for Dad to take care of, but I had learned not to push things that far. The price was too high.

On this night, even lying in bed I still felt powerful enough that I exclaimed out loud from our room to her in the adjoining living room. “We’re supposed to obey you because we love you, not because we are afraid of you!” I guess I thought those words would hurt. Maybe she would change her mind. There was no response. But the words did hurt.

It only took an instant for them to begin hurting me, too. I quickly became ashamed of myself for being so brash and hurtful to someone I loved. Especially since I deserved the punishment. I also recognized that she had done me a favor by not waiting until Dad got home to deal with it. I began to cry out of my shame. Still no response.

Finally, I got up and walked sheepishly into the living room. Mom was sitting there as if she knew I would be there sooner or later. I apologized, cried a little more, and fell asleep with my head in her lap. Things were different after that. I had a lot more respect for Mom. That doesn’t mean I was a model son. That never happened. But, she was a model mom.

Men, whatever the incidents were in our own lives, we have to know that we owe a great deal to our mothers. Mothers not only suffered giving birth to us, but as they raised us and feared for what might happen to us. For what we might become. If you are adopted, you can be sure that your mother anguished just the same over you. Most likely if you are taking time to read this, you are turning out pretty well. You care enough to read about a tribute to my mother. You must care about yours too.

My mother has been gone now for eleven years. There is a resurrection coming. I look forward to rejoicing for part of the coming eternity with her. Part of what being a son means is that we recognize the great debt we owe our mother. Being a man of valor includes being surrendered to the God who can build you to be a man she can be proud of for eternity. Are you letting Him build you to be that man?  If not yet, now is a great time to begin. Live valor.

Masks Are Good, But . . .

Have you noticed the striking difference in the increased number of people who are wearing masks? Have you compared today’s numbers to those who wore them during the height of the COVID-19 drama? One possible reason is that masks are more available now than they were a month ago. Perhaps this is the reason why governors and community leaders are calling for citizens to wear them when they go into public settings.

This is an excellent opportunity for us to experiment with our own views on masks. Some people in the States will likely decide it is a good choice for them to always wear masks for their health and safety. There are populations, primarily in predominantly Asian countries, where it is common to see some people wearing them year-round. I hope this does not become the norm for us. But why?

Of course, health and safety are good reasons, particularly if a person has a compromised immune system and may be susceptible to illnesses carried by others. For the rest of us, however, here are my thoughts.

Having lived in some of the  countries mentioned above where it is common to wear masks, I noticed that over some time, you don’t see people who wear masks. There is something about covering part of the face that seems to cause the person to practically disappear from the casual scan of the crowd. I wondered why that might be. Is it just that I became accustomed to seeing some faces covered, and other faces still show facial features? Perhaps the answer is in the question.

Is it possible when we see a cover instead of a face, it makes the person seem less human to us? I noticed that it does take away the individuality of the masked person.  That is an essential part of being human – that of being an individual, distinguished from other people around us. Why else do bank robbers like to wear masks?

There can be benefits to this ability to walk around incognito. Still, what happens when we begin to see large numbers of people as being somehow less than human? How does it affect our perspective of our fellow life traveler? Naturally, the first thought for many will be, “I would never look at another person as less than human just because they wear a mask.” My response is, just wait until you have gotten used to seeing them. Then tell me whether you don’t notice the faces more than the covers.

Once you get to this point, how does this affect the way governments or leaders might look at masses of people in masks? Would there be any benefit to them for large numbers of people accepting a role as something less than individuals? Sheeple? Part of the mass instead of being actual people? If we begin to move in lockstep with groups instead of being responsible for ourselves, what happens to us in our own minds?

Have You Noticed?

I am not a political person. That doesn’t mean I have no interest in political issues. It means politics are not my calling. My God-given purpose is to prepare others to be ready for Jesus to come. I am taking two avenues. The first is to show the need for all of us to worship God as Creator. The second is to lead men to be the people God is calling them to be.


Have you noticed you are different than you were a month ago? We can all see to one degree or another the different directions our lives can take as changes around us force us to become different people. We follow the leader (whatever leader) by not leaving home, not going shopping, not eating out, not going to church, not visiting relatives, not having surgery, closing down our business, going further into debt, etc., ad infinitum. Do you see any problems with this? If you live in certain states, you will get to enjoy these pleasantries for who knows how long.

            Our weeks, months and maybe even longer of lockdown have affected nearly all of us in one way or another. We have become different people. Many have simply accepted the heavy-handed commands to stay at home, to stay six feet away from others, to wear masks. We change our total lifestyle for the sake of protecting the nation from a fate no worse than recent annual cases of flu that we hardly even notice.

            We now have a new norm in our lives that some will embrace? Too many people who want to control us.  And to what end?

We have seen a  glimmer of what a totalitarian state looks like. Do we recognize that it is coming upon us like a steamroller? Do we see that for the control freaks in our government and social leadership this was a wonderful serendipitous opportunity to practice what they have been hoping for generations to thrust on our nation?

            If I followed this reasoning any further, this would become a political post. That’s not where I’m going. So, what does a man who seeks to honor God and to lead his family do in such a situation? I’ll have to admit, it’s tricky. I’m still considering it. Here are some thoughts that can help us in any difficult circumstance.

            1. Determine whether your actions may adversely affect your goal to be the person God has called you to be. That means to your family, friends, and to yourself. How will your actions show that you are becoming that person or some other person whose future positive influence may be diminished.

            2. Pray to be sure you are not just following what benefits you. “Seek the Kingdom of Godabove all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Matthew 6:33 NIV

            3. Obey those in charge over you “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.” Romans 13:1, 2 NLT (I expect some of you to have questions about this. Keep reading.)

            4. Know the laws of your nation/region (state)/locality. Determine if your leaders at different levels are abiding by the laws that govern them. If not, challenge them with respect, using appropriate methods.

            5. Seek guidance if you decide there may be a need to take additional action. “So don’t go to war without wise guidance; victory depends on having many advisers.” Proverbs 24:6 NLT

            6. Be sure that what you do honors and represents God.

            7. Be ready to suffer the slings and arrows of unrighteousness. “But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it.” 1 Peter 3:14 NLT

Frankly, if you are new to trying to follow God in matters such as these, don’t intentionally run headlong into this, or any other skirmish. Watch, learn, pray, prepare, train. Exercise on smaller issues. Seek God to continue to build you. Your time will come. There will yet be greater battles.

Live Valor.

A Great End to a Dark Day

Today was a different day for me. I spent it remembering the millions of Cambodians killed during their civil war from 1974 to 1980. It was a brutal conflagration. The players were the Khmer Rouge (KR) under Pol Pot, the Cambodian government soldiers, the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF), the Vietnamese military, and of course the Chinese and the Americans. Naturally any time you get a group like this fighting there is going to be a lot of destruction.

Some may say, “But the Americans weren’t involved in Cambodia.” Officially that was true, but as it turns out President Nixon was bombing the country for years. I learned about it by seeing the results from the air in a Cambodian military helicopter. Nobody else had a plane that dropped as many bombs at a time in as recognizable pattern as did our B-52.

Some villagers who were displaced believed the bombing was against them. When I went to provide relief supplies to refugees fleeing before the KR it was clear that the bombing was against the advancing Khmer Rouge forces. They destroyed villages and drove the people from their homes. When the Congress learned of the bombing they forced a halt to it.

This precipitated my first evacuation from the country in 1973. The bombing was supposed to be to stop the KR from taking the capital city of Phnom Penh where I lived. As it turned out, when the bombing ceased the KR relaxed their forward motion.

In 1975 right after the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese, Cambodia also fell to the KR. I guess the “domino effect” was real. This is when the real killing in Cambodia began. While I was in the country the population was reported to be about 4.5 million. Estimates of how many were killed by the KR are as high as 3 million.

Among these were students from our English school, members of our church and people we knew.

My first stop today was to the Choeung Ek Genocide Center. My son Justin and I took a tuk-tuk. It wound through many back roads to a place about twelve miles from the hotel. This is the actual location of the horrifying “Killing Fields.” The remains of nearly 9,000 people who were cruelly murdered and cast into mass graves are now preserved in an elegant building to be sure these people are not forgotten. I have heard of this place since it was first written about in 1979.

I know what happened to some of my friends who we had to leave there. Some are in the US, Australia and France. I have also heard of some who starved to death. They worked but got almost nothing to eat. It would be good to know about the rest of them. They are not forgotten.

As we headed to the second location, our driver began talking about his family during the dark years. He was nine years old when they started. He had to work in the fields. There was no rest and very little food. I won’t share the rest with you. Most of us would rather block that kind of details from our thoughts.

The second location was the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It is a dark place. The KR turned a high school not far from our English school into a prison and torture center. The people who died at Choeung Ek came through here first to give up any information they had or could make up. One feature was row after row of pictures of some of the people who passed through here. I carefully studied each picture to see if there was someone I recognized. Thankfully there wasn’t.

When I got back to the tuc-tuc I asked the driver if I could speak with him about his experience. He agreed to be recorded for the interview. His name is Sombat. He had become a soldier for the KR before the war was over. He told me a lot of his feelings of the war, the former government and the present situation. Some of his comments startled me. You may hear of them in the future. Several times he looked at me and said, “I know you understand.”

It was because of that statement that I asked him to drive past our former English school. It wasn’t far from the hotel. When we stopped in front of the building I told him I used to live there. As we spoke of that, I asked him, “Did you go to Thailand?”


“What camp did you go to?”

“Khao I Dang. It was in 1981, 1982.”

“Did you ever go to the hospital there?”


“Do you remember the S.A.W.S. on the hospital?”


“That was our hospital. I was the director.”

This chain led to much more excitement.

“I had a stomach problem and had to go to that hospital. The doctors made it better. And my mother had a problem with her eyes. The surgeon fixed them.” He could hardly control his joy.

“Were you in any other camps?”

“Yes, I was in Nong Someth.”

“Did you see the big church built there?”

“Yes. I went to that church to learn English. We can speak English because we studied there at the church.”

“That was our church. My friends were teaching there.”

Meeting this tuc-tuc driver was no coincidence. The discussion was a thrilling end of a difficult day. The work done in the camps still benefits those who repatriated to other countries, and many who still live in Cambodia. The blessings keep piling up.

Not everyone gets to see such remarkable evidence of their service to God. This example took thirty-nine years to come to light for me. I know others who served there will be overjoyed to hear about it too. But as long as you have served Him, He has been recording the blessings to reveal them to you when Jesus comes.

Keep serving. Don’t be weary in the interim.

Wait for it. Occupy ‘till He comes.

If you don’t serve Jesus yet, now is a great time to begin.

reMaster. reImage. rePurpose.

Valor Packed in Meekness

Some might say valor and meekness are contradictory. I challenge that. They are perfect together.

Someth Lem was a Buddhist monk when I met him. If anything, they are known for meekness. They walk the streets in the morning with a bowl in one arm, asking for the food they will eat that day. The practice is designed to teach them meekness. I know I would hate to depend on others that way.

Someth is not the pushover some might see in his manner. I don’t know how he would be in self-protection, or in quelling a fight. I don’t believe he would be interested in serving in the military. But while these characteristics may sometime show up in a battle situation, there is much more to valor than this.

In 1974, Someth became a Christian. His character didn’t seem to change a bit. Right away he was a leader among his new peers. God had already built that in him. In 1975, his family was caught in the drama of the Pol Pot killing fields. They had lived in Phnom Penh and fled to what they believed was a safe location near the Viet Nam border. It wasn’t safe at all. Plan B was absolutely required.

But Plan B meant retracing their steps the whole distance they had fled, and then doubling that, traversing all of Cambodia to the Thai border. There were two formidable armies throughout the country. The Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot and the Viet Cong. To be seen by either meant at least traumatic enslavement, and likely death.

Someth gathered his small family and about sixteen others for the trek. Some were small children, making it more dangerous because they couldn’t understand the need to be quiet at a moment’s notice. He would scout out a route and a “safe” place for the rest to wait until he could find the next shelter. When the family was safe, he left again to find the next safe harbor. This was repeated over and over again. 

It took two years to make the trip. His plans had to be methodical and perfect. Being sighted once along the way could have been deadly. On top of this was the need to supply food for the trip.

When they got to the border of Thailand, they had to wade across the river into their new sanctuary. But both enemy armies monitored the river. Many pilgrims just like Someth’s group lost their lives in this last link of the trip.

They made it. Not one person lost.

Someth learned that I was in the country working to assist the refugees. He sent me a message asking for help. I rejoiced over the reunion. Then I asked him a question you might not understand. We had built a bamboo and thatch church in a village about fifteen kilometers away. We had no one to lead out in it. And there were no members to attend. But the church was there, and the people were there. I asked him if he would be willing to take his family back into Cambodia between the enemy armies, turn upstream, and come back out at the other village.

The United Nations wouldn’t allow me to take them by car on the Thai highway to get there in safety. Going back through hell was the only way. He said yes.

When he arrived, Someth began immediately to give Bible studies and to encourage the other refugees in their new situation. It was far from easy but compared to Cambodia it was a piece of cake. He and his wife lost a beautiful baby daughter in that village because of UN regulations that prevented us from getting life-saving surgery in Bangkok for her. 

Many of the people he studied with accepted Jesus and became Christians. Some of those chose to travel on their own back into the villages they had left. Those people needed Jesus too.

Meekness is more the rule to be companioned with valor rather than the exception. So many just don’t feel like they are hero material. Being macho has nothing to do with valor. Being who God made you and acting on it, especially when the going gets rough, that’s valor. 

The Connection is Made

It was early May,1973. I walked into my first Bible class in the school in Phnom Penh. Sitting eagerly before me were a dozen orange-robed, bald-headed Buddhist monks. They were generally proud of their English prowess. Taking this class showed them how much they understood the language. We didn’t focus at all on the conversational aspect, but on the Biblical text before us.

In a social gathering later, they would explain to me what I already knew very well. They weren’t really taking the class to learn about the Bible. They just wanted to pay less and still practice their English. “Ah,” I replied, “but you are learning the Bible.”

Two of them showed real interest. One in particular was going through great personal struggles and family loss. “Why isn’t Buddha helping me?” “Maybe you are being drawn by the God of heaven.”

Someth finished his time as a monk and showed up the next evening wearing a baseball cap to cover his shiny head. He had a lot of questions about this new God. Over time he would surrender to the love of His Savior. After he was baptized I spoke with Someth about working as my assistant and interpreter. He agreed. He did an excellent job.

Less than two years later, Pol Pot focused his attention on the capital city. He already had most of the country. It was frightening to hear the accounts of his methods of purifying the country. He became known as the purest practitioner of communism. He was not afraid of purging everyone who might have any interest or capability of striking back at him. He and his troops were brutal. During the next five years the Khmer Rouge would mercilessly kill approximately 2 million of the nearly 5 million people in the country.

Someth had made his way with his family to near the border of Viet Nam. He had hoped to find some safety there. He found none.

He began a slow march bacross across Cambodia to chase the rumors of peace and protection in Thailand. He took his small family and about 16 other people and led them through the killing fields. He would find a “safe” place to leave his charges and hike on ahead to find the next safe place for them. All the while, trying to avoid the blood-crazed soldiers.

He would collect his family, take them to the new-found place and repeat the process again. Over and over again. It took them two years to traverse the whole country. Crossing the river into Thailand would be a problem. Both Khmer Rouge and Viet Cong troops were waiting along the frontier for those who dared try to escape them. Many lost their quest at this point, just before victory.

Someth somehow successfully got his whole group across the river and found a nearby village where they could rest. There he found people from SAWS (the Seventh-day Adventist World Service). He had helped distribute relief supplies to many through this group. He found the representative and asked, “Do you know Gary Wagner?” “Yes, he is our director. His office is in Bangkok.” He sent me a cryptic note. It said simply, “I am here. Help” The message was delivered.

It took a couple days before I could get to hm, but I went as quickly as I could. It was a sweet reunion. After the celebrations of refamiliarity, I asked him a hard question. “Someth, there is little in this village I can help you with. We have built a church in the next village and we need a pastor. I would like to take you there, but the United Nations will not allow me to take you from this village by Thai roads to the next village. Can you take your people back across the river, upstream about 15 kilometers and come back out there? I know it is very dangerous. You don’t have to do it.” “Yes, I will do it”

And he did.

There is so much to tell, but this is getting long already. Someth began teaching the people of the newly sprung up refugee village about Jesus. His congregation grew to over 200. At one baptism the Thai Mission president came to do the baptizing. What a day of rejoicing. The group picture shows how many were baptized. Someth is far left, circled.

Today I was sharing my pictures with the staff at the Cambodian Mission office for their worship. They know so little of their ecclesiastical history. No one has written it. As I told of this baptism and showed the group photo a voice came from the audience. “There is me in the picture!” I asked him to point himself out. He is circled in the center of the group. Hang Dara was led to this village and to this church by a thief who had intended to rob him and possibly kill him. He didn’t want to become a Christian, but finally through Someth’s patient teaching he accepted Jesus.

Why was Dara in this audience? Today he serves as the executive secretary (number two man) in the Cambodian Mission. For these many years I have wondered what God would do with the sacrifices made by people like Someth. Today He made the connection for me. What an amazing revelation. What an amazing God!

Short Trip, Moving Day

Today’s short trip was very moving.

I was sitting at the Saigon airport, waiting for my flight to Phnom Penh. In some ways, it hasn’t changed much. The waiting room (gate) for the flight was in the exact same place that I waited in 1973, 74 each time I flew to Cambodia. I got to know it pretty well then. I remember waiting there four times back then. When it was time to board, they would lead us out onto the tarmac in a single line (at least it was supposed to be a single line), weaving around the equipment and climbing the stairs into the waiting plane.

Today we went out and boarded a bus that took us out to climb the stairs. The plane was parked further away now. As I got to the top of the stairs, it was suddenly warmer than it had been. I had a flashback to that day in April, 1973 when I arrived for the first time from Korea.

I had spent ten months of a twelve-month stint in Busan teaching English and Bible at our language school there. They asked me to come to Cambodia to be director of the school. All its staff were finishing their stint and preparing to leave. They needed someone to start from scratch and carry on. I turned it down twice, but they kept asking. Finally I got the message that it was God who was asking.

Here I was after a three-day puddle-jumping trip. From Busan to Hong Kong. I stayed the night there at our hospital. I really enjoyed walking the streets of Hong Kong – especially the open-air markets. It’s a great way to get a real sense of who the people are. Then the next day to Taiwan. Once again I stayed at our hospital.

When the plane finally stopped at the Than Son Nhat airport in Saigon, I was apprehensive and excited. I had heard the name of this airport for years on the news. It was the airport for the U.S. forces traveling into and out of the country. It was a military airport. I asked myself “how will this be different than if I had come as a soldier?” The fourteen-month experience gave me a deep appreciation for our fighting men and women, and for our country.

Standing from my seat and walking through the smoking section. Yes, planes then had smoking sections – or maybe more accurate, they had non-smoking sections. Not that it mattered. When people smoke on a plane you sit in smoke in all the seats. I approached the door. I wasn’t ready for what I would experience. Coming to the entry/exit, I was hit with a tremendous blast of heat. I could feel the pressure like someone had shoved a mattress at me. “Welcome to Southeast Asia. Have a great year.” And I did.

The biggest difference is that this is no longer a military airport. Parts of it are new. And there is a domestic airport next to it. That may have been there before, but I never used it so I’m not sure. There was only one vestige of the military airport. I went into the mens room across from the gate. It had a window to look out, so I did. Parked behind the building was an old WW2 folding wing plane (pictured). I was surprised to see it, and thankful for the window.

This feels like a pilgrimage. I feel so blessed to be able to come. I left 47 years ago, just months before Pol Pot ravaged the parts of the country that had held out while I was here. Perhaps it will give me the chance to put behind me some of the ghosts of friends who lost their lives to the Khmer Rouge soon after my departure. Whatever the case, I may write about it. I didn’t intend to write this much today. Must have been cathartic.