This morning started off just like any other morning… except for the fact that I was in a continent I had never been in with people I’ve never traveled with. Other than that, it was just like any other morning. I did have some beef and noodle soup for breakfast. That was interesting. It wasn’t bad, but not my typical choice for breakfast. Anyways, this is a pointless topic.
After breakfast, we went to the local YWAM base and learned about the history of YWAM, Cambodia and also a general history of Cambodia itself. I won’t sum up the entire history for you (you’re welcome), but I will say a couple things about Cambodia’s recent history. The communist part known as the “Khmer Rouge” took control of Cambodia in the 1970’s and during that time, they decided to kill anyone who was educated, religious, and/or a minority. Long story short (which really doesn’t do it any justice whatsoever), about 30% of the overall population of Cambodia was killed between 1975-1979. In fact, that is one of the reasons why 80% of the current population is 30 years old and below. In fact, only 3% of the population is 60+.
After we learned about this, we went and visited the Killing Fields. It was pretty surreal. It was basically the site of one of the biggest execution camps in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Thousands of innocent Cambodians were sent there for the sole purpose of being killed. As I walked around to the different parts and listened to the narrations of each place, it was hard to truly fathom what it is I was seeing. They had mass graveyards and different posts where executions would take place. At the end of the audio tour, we went into a building that was essentially a memorial to all of the people who died there. What was shocking to see is that they had preserved the skulls that they found in the mass graves when they excavated it in 1980. They also recovered some of the tools used and had diagrams that showed how each one was used. You could actually see the damage on the skulls.
I’ll be honest, it was difficult for me to really connect to this from an emotional standpoint because it didn’t happen in my lifetime. My brain knows how much of a horrible thing took place, but to a small degree, it’s just like reading it in a history book. This was not the case for everyone. There are several people on the team who remember the Khmer Rouge and what was uncovered about them when their power was overthrown. It is a very recent history. It is so recent that when they get heavy rainfuall on the site, some old bones and clothes still occasionally rise to the surface. It was such a large, horrible act of evil that has left the country recovering ever since, only this time without almost an entire generation. That’s how fresh it still is.
After that, we headed to the “trash mountain.” It is called that for a reason. The garbage there must have been 50ft high and went on forever. A small community of families lives there, rummages through the dump and tries to salvage anything they can. That is their life. It’s not just a 9-5 job or a community service project they decide to help with. It is their means of survival. They live on the site about 100 yards from the “mountain” in these little huts. They were about half of the size of my office at the church and 8 different people lived in one hut. These were full families with little kids and babies living in these horrendous conditions, yet the children were so happy. The entire time we were there (we handed out food, supplies, and prayed for peoplel), these little girls were running back and forth, pushing their little siblings around on bikes and loving it! They were laughing so hard and smiling so big. Honestly, I think I was more filled with their joy than the other way around.
Context is importand and history is brutal. The Cambodian people have had such a difficult recent history that it’s hard to sit and listen to. However, they continue to grow and God is using organizations like YWAM to help the process. We learned that because the Khmer Rouge had essentially outlawed any religions, the Christian population in the entire country was estimated at 300 people. Now that number has surpassed the 300,000 mark. God is moving and sometimes in America that remains difficult to see, but it’s happening. I need to keep in mind that God is all over this world and His people are working all over the place to see His kingdom grow. One of the leaders of the execution camp even came to know Jesus and admitted to all that he had done wrong. That’s one of my favorite things about God. There is always redemption readily available to those who seek it.
Be praying for this nation. They have gone through a lot and have a lot to do in order for them to get back to the great country they once were. As the nations continues to grow and its inhabitants continue to mature, pray that the Gospel finds its way into the culture and that the new rising generation will find its wisdom in the Holy Spirit.