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.