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The Killing Fields

As I stepped back up into the van I had been on just a couple hours earlier with the other 5 or 6 individuals I had been with along with our driver/interpreter I sank into my seat with a mixture of many emotions swirling around with in me. I was depleted, exhausted, defeated, hopeless, drained, sickened, saddened, frustrated, angry, heart broken and confused. As we rode to our next destination we rode in silence, if anyone did talk I don’t remember anything that was said. What I had just seen and experienced was a look into the very face of evil and it had shaken me to my core to the very depth of my being. I had been witness to cruelty and hate before. I had seen much of the darkness that exists in the world and the depravity man was capable of during my lifetime as a rebel of God but nothing was even remotely close to what I saw that day.

I had arrived several days before into the capitol of the beautiful country of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Like much of South East Asia Cambodia is picturesque with it’s lush green countrysides and piercing blue skies. The cities are full of life at all times of day and night. The flavors of food and culture are rich and exotic. The people are friendly and welcoming. We had been ministering in various villages using the Home of Grace orphanage as our base of operations. Home of Grace is located in the Bathi village and was founded by two great servants of God from my home church of First Baptist Broken Arrow Henry and Nari Tran.

I had first met Henry less than a year before I boarded a plane to Cambodia for my first mission trip. I had only been a follower of Jesus Christ a few months when Henry came into our Sunday school class to talk about the work being done at Home of Grace. I was floored by what I heard. I knew right then and there I needed to go on the next mission trip the church was taking to Home of Grace. I first started by sponsoring one of the boys at the orphanage and every year for the next 4 years I would take my income tax return and send it to Home of Grace for the sponsorship. Roughly 8 months after I had been born again into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ I was on a plane heading to Cambodia to go share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those in the surrounding villages and to serve alongside 8 others on a medical missions trip (I still think I got a clear glimpse of God’s sense of humor because they had myself, the convicted felon drug dealer, in control of bagging and dosing up the various medicines that were being distributed in the village. God truly does redeem all things).

On that morning that I got into the van with 5 of the others on the mission trip we had experienced several glorious days previously seeing God do things I would have and could have never dreamed or imagined. I was blessed by God to get to spend time with 50+ amazing kids, to lead several in the various villages we went to in the Lord’s prayer of salvation, to share the name of Jesus with some people for the very first time and preach God’s word in two other villages. I was filled with the joy of the Lord and that mission trip truly changed my life forever as it helped solidify my desire and quench my suspicion that the greatest thing that we can do with our lives is to pour them out as a drink offering for God. The Westminster confession of faith is spot on when it proclaims the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Approximately 10-12 miles outside of the capitol city of Phnom Penh where we were staying we pulled up to the gates of the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center. Once an idyllic orchard the Khmer Rouge turned it into the largest of the dozens of killing fields discovered in Cambodia after Pol Pot and his communist party the Khmer Rouge were driven out into the country side by a Vietnamese army of roughly 60,000 men in 1979. Four years earlier in 1975  the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot had taken over Cambodia and had gained control of Phnom Penh. During the 4 years of his rule it is estimated that 1.5 million Cambodians died out of a population of 7-8 million under Pol Pots maniacal reign. Approximately 17,000 of those killed died violent and horrific deaths at the killing field I was at that day.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge killed anyone who opposed them or they thought were a threat to them and their newly found power. When you first walk into the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center the first thing to grab your attention is a glass inclosing that has nearly 8,000 skulls of those murdered and thrown into the shallow graves of the killing field. Nearly all were killed while blind folded and bound with spades, shovels, hatchets, ox cart axels and anything else that could be made into a weapon. They did this so they wouldn’t have to waste precious ammunition. There is a large tree in the middle of the Center that really crushed me as the guide told us what it was used for. In order to prevent the children of those murdered from one day seeking revenge the soldiers would take the young children and infants and would grab them by their ankles and smash their heads into that tree and then discard their dead bodies into a shallow grave.

Now we were driving in the van and my heart was ripping apart with inside me. I had just seen the results of true evil. I had seen the results of a man who thought himself to be a god and what his rule looked like up close and personal. I had starred deep into darkness and I was staggered, shaken to my core. The hearts of man truly are wicked and evil (Jer. 17:9). How could God allow such things? That question rang in my head. Ultimately the Bible tells us it is because of God in His Sovereignty gives man free will to choose to love and obey Him or to reject Him and lean on their own understanding. The killing field was a prime example of the depravity and lostness of man apart from God Almighty.

20 minutes later I pulled up in the van to another gate. This gate belonged to the Home of Grace orphanage. As the gate slowly was opened by the gate attendants we drove inside and started driving down the gravel road that led a short distance to one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. It looks more like a Cambodian countryside villa than what one would think of when thinking of an orphanage. As we drove up I could see out my window the 3 cows that were on the property at that time or as Henry calls them his “lawnmowers”. Moments later as we were pulling up to the front of the building out came pouring dozens of the young boys and girls that called this place home. They had smiles as big as Texas and laughter rang through the muggy Cambodian afternoon. They had pure joy radiating off of their faces. Having just seen the evil of man I now saw clearly the joy of the Lord. 20 minutes ago I saw what life without God looked like and now I was seeing what being a true follower of Jesus Christ produces in ones life and the effect it has on others.

As I got out I looked up and on the front of the building was a Scripture chapter and verse. I had seen this each time we had come to the orphanage over the past several days but I opened my back pack immediately and got my Bible out and opened it to the verse on the building and I read “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them” – Romans 8:28. There have only been a few other occasions where I felt as close to God as I did in that moment on the porch of that orphanage reading God’s inerrant word. I knew as I went out to play soccer with the kids after that that the greatest thing I could do with the time I had remaining on this earth was to tell as many people as I possible could about the Good News of Jesus Christ and the amazing grace He extends to us all, even to Pol Pot if he would have repented and placed His faith in Him.

That day was an illustration of what it will be like one day when I leave this fallen broken world behind and step through the gates of Heaven into the kingdom of God. The sorrows of this world will one day long be forgotten and will pale in comparison to the glory that awaits all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18