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!