Friday, March 16, 2012
In February, Jason, JD, and I toured Cambodia and Indonesia on a fact-finding mission for Overland Missions. We soon hope to have a couple on the ground long term in either of those nations.
For my first trip in that part of the world I was astounded by the cultural and religious diversity! Cambodia is 90% Buddhist, Bali (Indonesia) is 90% Hindu, Makassar (Indo) is 90% Muslim, and Manado (Indo) is 90% Christian (officially Indonesia is 90% Muslim, Bali and Manado are enclaves of Hinduism and Christianity).
Throughout Cambodia and Indonesia temples and Mosques are intricately hewn from bare rocks, presenting their particular devotion in geometrically stunning displays. This contrasts with my African experiences where rhythm and music most accurately convey the quick warmth, hospitality, and volatility of the people groups.
A Brief History
Cambodia has a particularly intriguing story. Once part of French Indochina, Cambodia came under the rule of a communist nationalist regime called the Khmer Rouge at the close of the Vietnam War in 1975. For three years their leader Pol Pot pushed a particularly heinous and narrow form of government that modeled its reforms on Maoist China. Fear engulfed the country. All educated professionals and their families were executed on principal that they might pose a threat to the Khmer Rouge leadership (most of whom studied abroad at prestigious universities). All currencies and commerce were forbidden. The entire population was forced into hard labor on collective rice fields. Amidst the chaos, government run torture and execution centers sprang up around the country, known as The Killing Fields.
Like Ghosts at Cheoung Ek: an afternoon with a tragic memory
After two days of travel, sweeping through five countries, we dropped our packs in our hotel and grabbed a tuk-tuk to visit Cheoung Ek, the notorious S-21 prison outside Phnom Penh. It's here that Pol Pot's utterly morbid and inept regime crescendoed their means of disposing their own people. Over 9,000 Cambodians met unnecessarily tragic fates here.
When the Vietnamese army discovered this site the ground was pocketed in mounds, literally expanding and rupturing from the gasses of the decaying bodies beneath. Truck loads of blind folded, silent prisoners were dropped off here. Such fear gripped the people that neighbors or family members simply accused a person of spying on the regime. That was enough to make someone disappear.
We joined the file of over-sunned European tourists. Everyone walked around with head phones listening to a recorded explanation of the different parts of the camp. The atmosphere was silent and somber as people glided from site to site, hands clasped behind their back, concentrating on the voice in their ear buds unveil one of the greatest horrors of the 20th century. We tread skittishly, like frightened kittens, over the earth beneath us where clothes and bone fragments still emerged. That was truly unnerving.
An estimated 2 million people, a third of the population, died of starvation or execution at the hands of their own government. Pol Pot’s rule ended in 1978 when Vietnamese forces invaded the country.
It is from this ruin that such an amazing story has blossomed. The myopia and pride of a few people stripped Cambodia bare. Now roads, buildings, and infrastructure are springing up. It is still a poor country but a lot is happening. In the same sense, so many doors are opening for the Gospel. Of the missionaries we spoke with, tens of thousands of people are making decisions for Christ through their ministries every year. These aren’t just isolated pockets. A supernatural harvest is taking place throughout Cambodia. Many of the same members of the violent Khmer Rouge military are being freed from years of hatred and guilt. We heard cases of child sex-trafficking rings broken up as love of Christ radically transformed peoples’ hearts.
There is still much to do. Corruption is rampant. Poverty forces many Cambodians of all ages into prostitution to pay for basic necessities. Many people are desperate to hear about the grace and love found in Jesus. The door is wide open for Overland Missions and anyone else to serve Christ and the Cambodian with their lives.
Will you go?