To understand the people to whom you are ministering is absolutely vital. For us to understand the Cambodian people, we cannot separate the current state of Cambodia from the horrors that took place thirty-five years ago. In Cambodian history, the years 1975-1979 have been given the grim title, "the Killing Fields." It is estimated that over twenty-five percent of the population of Cambodia perished during those bloody years.
Some may ask, "What relevance does the genocide thirty-five years ago have in Cambodian ministry today?"
Consider the following thoughts. Three million Cambodians died in a span of four years. Among those were skilled workers, intellectuals, and the next generation of entrepreneurs. In fact, these types of people were prime candidates for execution, because the Khmer Rouge considered anyone with education to be the most serious threat to the communist revolution. With these untold hundreds of thousands of potential leaders, businessmen, and teachers being executed, a social vacuum was created, stunting the economic growth of Cambodia substantially, and creating a destitute society composed mainly of refugees with limited education. That is one of the reasons Cambodia is considered the poorest country in Southeast Asia. Ministering in Cambodia involves seeing utter and complete poverty every day. Many of the people have lost hope, and have accepted the fact that not only were they born in absolute destitution, but that they will die that way as well.
Cambodians are known for their serene, peaceful smiles. On the surface, Cambodians are some of the friendliest, most cordial people in the world. But festering beneath many of these facades are hatred, bitterness, and anger. If you have ever met a Cambodian aged thirty-five or older, most likely you have met someone who lost multiple loved ones during the Killing Fields. My mother and father-in-law lost three daughters during that nightmare. My mother-in-law will talk about it, but my father-in-law still has a serious struggle. In fact, one day we were watching a documentary about the Killing Fields in his house. In the documentary, a former Khmer Rouge soldier was being interviewed, and he very casually described that his job as a Khmer Rouge officer was to execute children. His description of his former atrocities was eerily nonchalant. My father-in-law walked in about that time, listened for a second, and in a rage demanded that we turn off the documentary, and then he stormed out of the room. Many Cambodians still struggle with bitterness because of what happened from 1975-1979.
The following are some sober comments made by various journalists throughout the years concerning the Killing Fields of Cambodia:
"...Cambodia has achieved a distinction which has so far eluded even those countries unfortunate enough to experience the full weight of terror brought to bear by even the most monstrous tyrants of our time; it is the first country to be transformed into a concentration camp in its entirety...in Cambodia, ignored by the outside world, the unburied dead cry for vengeance, and the living dead for pity; and cry, both, in vain."
(Bernard Levin, The Times April 22, 1976)
"Having emptied and vandalised the cities, Angka Loeu (The Organisation on High, aka the Khmer Rouge) proclaimed the birth of a new 'Democratic Kampuchea' and proudly declared, 'More than 200 years of Cambodian history have been virtually stamped out'. It is difficult to dispute that claim. Within a few days, the Organisation on High had advanced faster and further than any other revolutionaries of modern times toward obliteration of an entire society."
(John Barron and Anthony Paul, Murder of a Gentle Land, Reader's Digest Press, 1977)
"Cambodia is synonymous with utter disaster, a blood stained experiment in social engineering which left over two million dead...The Khmer Rouge had a paranoid hatred for anything to do with love and its expression: husband and wife, children, family, culture and religion."
(Elizabeth Becker, When the War was Over, Simon and Shuster, New York 1986)
"The Khmer Rouge were Marxist fanatics. They laid to waste the golden harvest fields, transforming them into blood red killing fields."
(Haing S. Ngor, Surviving the Killing Fields, Chatto and Windus, London 1988)