I am finding it very hard to blog/journal every day. The days start early and end late. It is the hottest place I have ever been, so by the end of day, energy is at a premium.
We spent the weekend at Siem Reap, where we visited Angkhor Thom & Angkhor Wat, the ruins of the 11th century Khmer kingdom that Cambodia is famous for. This Wonder of the World is an incredible site to behold! Another wonder that we saw was the Floating Village, a community of fishermen who literally live on the water of Tonle Sap. I have several thoughts around these things, but more later.
As I had mentioned before, there is no one here who is unaffected by the Khmer Rouge genocide. Everyone lost family; some are the only survivors in their families. The national psyche carries deep wounds, often unexpressed. Today, Bonny & I visited Tuol Sleng, the high-school-turned-prison where over 20,000 people were tortured and then transported to the killing fields for certain death; only 7 people survived Tuol Sleng and they escaped, not from the prision but from the killing fields. The Killing Fields were emotionally soft compared to the graphic presentation of Tuol Sleng.
No one was safe during the Khmer Rouge's reign of decimation. Meticulous in their documentation, they revealed that they trusted no one, not even their own. In the gallery of victims, there are hundreds of pictures of youthful faces, all wearing a cap, indicating that they were "combatants", or Khmer soldiers. One picture depicts the wife of a high ranking officer, holding their baby. She & her child were tortured and murdered because he was no longer trusted. They didn't
target individuals; they targetted entire families. To paraphrase a Khmer Rouge saying, you couldn't just cut the grass, you had to dig out the roots.
The hardest thing was not knowing who the enemy was. It could be your neighbour; it could be your brother. And today, they must live side-by-side, not knowing. Think of the implications this has on rebuilding this nation. One of the exhibits are the statements of those who served in the Khmer Rouge. For many their motivation in joining was to be one what they thought would be the winning side. Others were very young and were removed from family & "reeducated". Some are remorseful; others are unrepentant. Still more declare their innocence, in that they didn't kill anyone or participate in any torture.
On our first day, our cab driver told us he was one of three brothers. He lost only one brother. The rest of his family survived but they experienced hard labour and starvation. Our cab driver in Siem Reap, Samreath, said very little, but he was missing three fingers on his right hand.
This lady was our tour guide at Tuol Sleng. She was eight years old in 1975 when Phnom Penh was evacuated. Her family consisted of her parents, two brothers and a sister. They were sent to a work camp near the Vietnamese border, where her father and brothers were killed. She escaped to Viet Nam in 1978 with her mother & sister by walking at night through the jungle. They returned in 1979 when the Vietnamese army invaded and overthrew Pol Pot. She has been coming to Tuol Sleng since it opened and yet it is a highly charged experience for her, even today, to be part of the commemoration of the genocide. Her mother cannot come because it brings back too much. I asked why she gives these tours and her comment was "it is time to forgive"; I asked how she felt about Duch, the former commandant of this prison who has accepted responsibility for the crimes he directly perpetrated (the torture & execution of over 12,000 people) and is currently awaiting the verdict of the war crimes court. At this, she was visibly agitated, saying he was only saying what the court wanted to hear in an effort to not be punished for his crimes. Interestingly, of the four leaders on trial, Duch is the only one who has "stepped up" and this is because he has become a Christian. In a country where forgiveness is not the norm, it has sparked debate about what forgiveness means to Christians. This woman moved me deeply. Her pain is still so real, in spite of the acknowledgement of the need for forgiveness. Before I left, I gave her a hug. I couldn't think of what else to do.
This is Reaksa Himm and his sister. They are the sole survivors of a family of thirteen from the Siem Reap area. When Reaksa was thirteen, he was hit in the back of the head with a hoe and left for dead in a mass grave under the bodies of his mother & several of his siblings. His entire story can be read in "Tears of My Soul", which I recommend. Eventually, Reaksa came to Canada where he became a Christian and obtained a
PhD in psychology. He never intended to return to Cambodia but eventually did. He tracked down those he knew who had been directly involved in the murder of his family and forgave them. He has now established himself in the village where he lived as a child (his father's house is in the background of this picture). He has a desire for the Khmer people to come to the Lord and has established several churches; he is also in the process of building a community centre, which I had the opportunity to visit. He is a Ratanak partner, and with the assistance of Brian McConaghy, has received tentative permission to spend extensive time with Duch, the man mentioned in the previous paragraph. The plan is for a book to be written contrasting their experiences under Pol Pot, and then bringing it together as brothers in Christ. This is something so difficult to comprehend but it smacks not of the talk of forgiveness, but the actuality of a forgiveness that can only be divine.
So, what is all of this talk of forgiveness? Each day that I have been here, I have prayed that the Lord would open my eyes, this morning included. I didn't expect it to come in the form it came in, nor that it would be directed at my own heart. I was confronted with the fact that there is much I need to forgive before I can be effectively used. And this was before I went to Tuol Sleng. I have been walking around on the verge of tears all day. I think I have not been honest with myself about a few things that I "thought" I had let go of. But when I am honest, it would be fair to say that I am guilty of the same offences that I have been hanging on to. In light of the experiences here, most of my hurt is rooted in pettiness and unrealistic expectations. I am not trying to inflate my pain, because it has been real. But now, I need to step out and let go of the thing that weighs me down.
Ultimately, I need to do some of my own forgiving.