Last week I spent three unforgettable days with my family in Cambodia. There we saw signs of Jesus’ Kingdom shining in a land still under the shadow of death. I now find myself thinking daily what it would look like for the light of Christ to shine even stronger there and here-- so people can really see it.
Gracie and I were invited by Servants of Asia’s Urban Poor—a team of people from New Zealand, the Philippines, Australia, Japan and Canada called to live and minister in slum communities in Phnom Penh. The first day I led a short retreat for the staff and Gracie and I prayed for each of them. We visited some of the families in their homes amidst the squalor of the slum communities where they are seeking to live humbly among the poorest of the poor, bringing Jesus’ light.
A highlight for our family was being driven from place to place around the city in a Tuk Tuk assigned to us for our stay. Looking out at Phnom Penh we saw myriads of motorcycles, often with three-four people. They moved like tropical fish in schools, flowing through intersections, turning in front of on-coming traffic, often with people texting or talking on cell phones as they drove their worn-out motorcycles. A father and his three two sons laughed as we took their picture— the older boy clutching two turkeys on the seat between he and his younger brother.
We had an alarming visit to the genocide museum Tuol Sleng, the former office S.21 of the “Kampuchea Democratic” from 1975-1979. Pol Pot had established this office to detain, interrogate and eventually send off to the “killing fields” thousands of people deemed enemies of the regime.
We wandered through the cells and torture chambers, reading the stories of victims and perpetrators, looking at instruments of torture, and the photos of hundreds of young people who were executed. These photos still haunt me. Young men and women, their shoulders pulled tightly back as their hands were bound behind them, exhaustion and terror in their eyes. Many had been forced to lay for days side-by-side like sardines in rooms, shackled, forced to remain silent, before being tortured for days while being held in narrow wood-walled cells. Eventually their captors would tell them they were being taken to study. They were photographed, blindfolded then driven 30 minutes out of town to a big field with pits. There they were forced to kneel on the pit’s edge, where their captors executed them and buried them in mass graves. Somewhere between 750,000 and 2.5 million Cambodians were killed during the Khmer Rouge’s reign.
I have since read historians who argue convincingly that the United States’ secret carpet bombing of Cambodia from 1965-1973 is directly linked to Pol Pot’s rise to power (http://www.yale.edu/cgp/Walrus_CambodiaBombing_OCT06.pdf). The 2,500,000 tons of bombs dropped on targets in Cambodia (more than all the bombs dropped during WWII) traumatized the country—and unexploded ordnances (bombs) still litter the countryside today. Unexploded spiritual ordnances in the people and the land most certainly require detection and removal too—a massive task that needs to be done with great sensitivity.
Walking through the Tuol Sleng genocide museum disturbed me on another level—genocide on display as a tourist attraction. I first noticed this when a beggar with a severely burnt face and another maimed man approached us as we got out of our Tuk Tuk at the museum to join throngs of mostly foreign tourists to look on the shame of atrocities committed. The museum was poorly kept up: an introductory movie of the poorest quality, photos fading and pealing— reflecting the very shame that it exposed in it’s featuring of crimes committed by Cambodians against Cambodians.
That very day judges were deliberating on the sentence of Dutch—the head of that very prison—and the next day his 19 year sentence was announced—over 30 years after these events. In one of the nicer neighborhoods along the river, restaurants drew tourists by advertising free movies after dinner on the Cambodian genocide and “killing fields.” Shining light that exposes atrocities and shames perpetrators does not bring the desperately needed healing and deliverance—but rather numbness, resignation or even anger and further destruction and abuse. True repentance comes through the light of Christ.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” preaches Jesus. Confession and repentance are most certainly needed in Cambodia—but larger global powers like the USA (and most certainly aware Christians) need to be involved. Last week’s commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a missed opportunity for the USA to publically apologize for the 214,000 killed there. Yet the work of peacemaking is more hands-on then simple apologies.
We visited some of Servant’s many ministries to the poor that they have turned over one-after another to Cambodians: a rehabilitation center to street youth addicted to sniffing glue, Justees, a silk-screening operation run by young graduates of the rehab program that makes tee shirts with justice statements, a nutrition center for malnourished children, an outreach to people with disabilities (see www.servantsasia.org).
Gracie and I prayed for several people suffering from pain, and found that Jesus was quick both heal and to reveal hidden terror and anxiety from trauma rooted in Cambodia’s wartime violence. We saw a deep need for spiritual mine sweeping, and found ministry workers desperate for more of Jesus’ anointing to address widespread abuse, infidelity, HIV/Aids and other issues and to keep energized themselves.
Since last Friday, when Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrated Jesus’ transfiguration, I find myself thinking how critical it is to right now, in the midst of ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel/Palestine to pay special attention to the Father’s spotlighting of Jesus’ person, teaching and way of redemptive suffering, that Moses and Elijah discussed with him before the watching disciples. “This is my son, my chosen one; listen to him!” (not to misunderstood OT justifications of violence via Moses/law and Elijah/the prophets!).
“And we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:18-19).
Please pray for the many Christian workers seeking to bring the light of Christ into the darkest places in Cambodia. Please pray for Om Neang, a Cambodian woman working with Servants who established the nutrition center-- that Jesus would heal her of lung cancer. Pray for the other many workers of Servants of Asia's Urban Poor, for great wisdom, strength, health and more of Jesus' anointing so they can bring the best news of God's Kingdom to the people of Cambodia.