Wednesday 2nd September 2009
Quite how to start something about today is a mystery. First stop was Toul Sleng otherwise known as Former Office S.21. Originally built and used as a school this was taken over during the revolution and became the most notorious high security and torture centre. An estimated 22,000 people were taken here to answer to fictitious charges before being either tortured to death or taken to the killing fields. Wall after wall of images of men, women and children stare back at you with empty eyes – all dignity and self worth removed. Before departing I read as much about this place as I could fit in – in preparation for what awaited. It is with all honesty that I can say that nothing can ever prepare you for this. Story after story of injustice. The most shocking thought is that most of us were the same ages as these people. Most of us were engaged in activities of everyday life. Most of us remained – and to a great extent remain – totally oblivious to the nature of suffering these people endured. Our guide, herself seven at the time of these atrocities, fled to Vietnam to avoid the same futile end. It is difficult to write the emotions I sensed in this place.
Comrade Duch, the prison commandant, is presently on trial for these atrocities. He personally sanctioned the torture and execution of each of these 22,000 individuals. Individuals who are no longer a faceless, nameless mass. Duch converted to Christianity before his arrest and was actively engaged in ministry at the time of his detention. So how does that line up with my theology…? At this point in the evening it is so very difficult to say.
Following this we departed for Cheong Ek – the location of one of an estimated 300 Killing Field locations. The place where the majority of S.21’s occupants were ritually executed and thrown into pits – pits which have since been excavated. Even today – yes this very day – the ground releases its dead. Clothing, bones and teeth are commonly seen as they rise to the surface. Little of the population of this nation is unaffected by these happenings. Either as perpetrators reintegrated into a society or as those who were persecuted of family thereof.
The final stop of the day was the Royal Palace. A place which brought me as almost as much sadness as the first call of the day – yet in a different way. Cambodia is a nation so submerged in Buddhism combined with Hinduism. A nation so blinded in most part to the glorious truth of the Gospel of Christ. There are a great deal of powers at work in this land – powers which every Christian should oppose with all that is within them. Yet in the midst of this darkness there is a light - a light that burns with ever increasing intensity.
Cambodia has suffered much within the last thirty or so years and to some extent still endures a great deal. As we ended the day by the Mekong we sat and chatted to local people – people who eke out a meagre living every day selling a few roasted peanuts or a coconut or two. Children selling water or offering a shoe shine… A wonderful, warm and beautiful people.
The Bible tells us that satan came to “steal, kill and destroy” and it can be seen here as a very real truth and yet the latter half of that is also very true – “BUT I have come to give you life – life to the full.”
Pray for the people of Cambodia and all involved here that they will come to know this truth and find freedom in the One who loves them - sending his Son to die for them.
Water flows backwards
At 4 pm the deluge broke, the drops of rain pounded on the pavement, hammered the canvas awnings and richoched off the tin roofs. The wind stirred the leaves. Soon the splash of raindrops into the quickly forming puddles was added to the cacophony of sounds. The wind blew harder. I headed for the roof. Now the wind was driving the rain sideways, and it was falling in horizontal sheets. I looked across the rooftops; the rain was pounding into the tin roof across the street. The gutters were disconnected, but there was no rain coming out of them on that side. The wind caught the torrents of rain coming down on that side of the roof, drove it up the roof, and it broke over the rooftop like the crest of a wave at the beach. The water was flowing backwards.
Phnom Penh is not what I have come to expect from an Asian city. Mind you I have not seen the poorer side of town yet, but here are no piles of garbage, no animals wandering through traffic, there is no black deposit at the back of my throat from breathing the air. This is one of the nicest, cleanest Asian cities I have ever been in. I had the picture on 1979 deeply etched on my mind. Things have been rebuilt, and there is obviously a good work ethic that has contributed to the renewing of this city.
Yesterday we went to IJM (International Justice Mission) and it was great to hear that most of the staff working in the country seeking justice for the abused girls are Cambodian. With the city surpassing my expectations and the news that progress is being made on the justice issues I felt as if the river has changed direction, and has started running the other way. The years of work have paid off, hope is stronger than ever.
Today we went to Tuol Sleng and the killing Fields. It was a humbling experince to be were so many were tortured and lost their lives. At the killing Fields articles of clothing and bones and teeth are still oozing up out of the ground after 30 years.
There are so many unanswered questions as to how and why this could happen. While we are here Duch, the man who ran Toule Sleng is on trial. This is the man that ordered and supervised the deaths of about 20,000 men, women and children that came through his prison. Today Duch is a Christian, He admits to what he did and acknowledges that Jesus is now his Lord. So many unanswerable questions.
Pray for IJM as they are looking to expand to Siem Reap, pray for the resources needed. Good People, time and money. Pray also for Dutch, as he is on trail that his faith will be firm and that he will be a bold witness.
I’m sitting here in the hotel room - damp from the rain – tossing off my shoes – realizing that my feet stink. It’s been as you would expect – very hot – then very wet – then very steamy. What an incredible day today. So much of it makes me uncomfortable and yet it’s been very good. I needed to learn about Cambodia – to contextualize the human fabric here. We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. The site is a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979. It made me very sad. The extent to which violence and killing occurred for no gain was heart breaking. Disturbing also was the fact that I was so tied up in my own little world in those years that I “knew” about this genocide but I didn’t really “know”. How could have I missed the gravity of this situation? It was just TV news I guess and I was in the midst of my own dramas. Astonishing that I never really clued in to this issue at a viseral level until the Lord focussed me on Ratanak and I started to do research. Makes me feel ashamed really that for so many years this atrosity was just a small little blip on my radar screen.
We went from learning about the Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and the brutality of incarceration and torture at the prison to driving out about fifteen miles to the Killing Fields. This was the part that I had feared most before coming. I didn’t want to stumble across anything that would be a tangible reminder of the deaths right there of men, women and children. My fears were well appointed as that is just what happened. Clothing had risen to the surface here and there as had small bones, buttons and other debris. In some areas there was a smell of decay.
The introduction to the place was a stack of skulls probably three stories high – classified by age and gender. Blunt traumas obvious on the skulls. At least 200,000 people were killed by the Khmer Rouge. This killing field I was standing on was holy ground. Holy ground because every human being is created in the image of God and this very place heard their parting screams - received their warm, bloody bodies – and was their portal to eternity. Enough said.
My mind screams with outrage – shudders with horror and cries out to understand. My heart aches. My blood rages. Clearly this is a country that has endured unspeakable pain and all for what? There were no winners. Not a thing was gained. It was a scheme from the pit of hell.
I’ve got a lot to pray over – think on and analyse. There surely is a link in this post traumatic period in Cambodia - to the abuse and use of girls today by Asian men. There also is surely a link too to the pit of hell that results in western podophiles coming to abuse children. Like opportunist vultures they pick apart the lives of little girls and throw them away as rubbish when there’s no strength left to assualt anymore. Nothing could be more comprehnisvely abusive than atrocities like that in a land that moans with memories.
I am so thankful that the Cambodian people I have met are gracious to me and smile. I am so utterly humbled.
Grace and Karma
Today we started to develop our understanding about the history of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Brian’s mantra from the start of this trip was that you could not understand Cambodia today until you understand the Khmer Rouge. So reality set in today. First we went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was the former security office 21 or S-21 designed by the Pol Pot regime for det ention , Interrogation, torture, and killing. Later we visited the infamous Killing Fields just outside of the city.
As part of the museum, there are hundreds of photos of detainees of the more than 20,000 prisoners. These prisoners would stay for 2 to 4 months before being killed. Only seven prisoners survived. You first see these photos as you enter the building. The photos still haunt me tonight. It is the eyes in the photos - eyes of fear, anger, pride, hurt, and pain; but most of all it is eyes of surrender. Many were children and youth - all innocent of the bizarre charges attributed to them. Then we saw the photos of people being tortured, and then the actual instruments of this evil torture.
How could this be? How could millions of people be killed by people of their own nation? What was the purpose, even if the purpose was twisted? I realized that I was standing face to face with pure evil. I could not speak. My mind went numb. How could such evil take over a whole nation? How could the world stand by and let it happen? I thought about those years in the mid to late seventies. I thought about what I was doing then. I remember seeing such horrific pictures from Cambodia then. Why I was not outraged into action then? I should have known better. After all I had travelled through Asia in the early seventies. So what do I need to be outraged into action today?
At the end of the tour we watched a film of a based on the letters of a couple held in captivity but separated from each other. I learned from these letters of their love for each other, for life itself and for others. I heard of their pain and then of their death. In one letter the woman questions this terrible evil inflected on her and others. But she then states that it must be a result of her karma… from this life and from past lives. There seemed to be from her lips a rationale for allowing this violence to be inflicted upon her. Maybe if I believed in karma it would make sense. Thirty five years ago I did believe in karma. Today it seems so foreign to me… it seems so soft…so uncourageous.
When love came down and changed my life, my whole thinking and feeling changed to grace and not karma. So in reflecting tonight I do love and respect other cultures and faiths. But karma leaves me cold.