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From the Killing Fields to Kingdom Impact

After the "killing fields" there were only 200 Christians left in Cambodia. There are now almost 300,000.

Shortly after arriving in Phnom Penh my colleague and I were taken on a tour of Toul Sleng by a survivor of the killing fields.

A little background

When the Khmer Rouge came into power in 1975 they commandeered and converted a secondary school into a primitive prison where they detained and tortured anyone suspected of anti-revolutionary behaviour. Between 1975 and 1979 an estimated 20,000 victims were imprisoned in Security Prison 21, or S21, as it was known (now called Toul Sleng). The museum was established after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and today it appears exactly as the fleeing Khmer Rouge left it, and serves as a testimony to the crimes and atrocities that were committed during this era.

Prison cell at Toul Sleng.
Prison cell at Toul Sleng.

Altogether, a visit to Tuol Sleng is a profoundly depressing and sobering experience. There is something about the sheer ordinariness of the place that make it even more horrific—the urban setting, the school buildings, the grassy playing area where several children kick a ball around, rusted beds, instruments of torture and wall after wall of harrowing black-and-white portraits conjuring up images of humanity at its worst. Tuol Sleng is not for the faint at heart.

A wall of black-and-white portraits
A wall of black-and-white portraits

After spending a significant amount of time at this museum we met with the leaders of the other EFC—The Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia. As we sat around the dinner table we were able to glean stories of courage, faith and the evidence of God's power in the lives of our hosts.

Our Cambodian colleagues explained that to the best of their knowledge there were only 200 Evangelical Christians left after the "killing fields." However, God has done a remarkable work in this country since that time. Their research now suggests there are almost 300,000 believers in this land that was ravaged by hate and inhumanity. Lives and communities are being transformed by the Gospel. While our friends in Cambodia admit they are facing huge challenges in leadership development within the Church and effective discipling of individualsChristians, there is much to rejoice about. It was also encouraging to hear about how the Evangelical fellowship of Cambodia is beginning to make a positive presence in the public square as it seeks to be a voice for Christians.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia
The Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia

Later in our visit to Cambodia we had an opportunity to see first-hand how the Church is making a difference in transforming lives. In some small rural communities we observed the activities of some health care/HIV—AIDS teams at work. Through drama, puppets, music and small group activities teams of young Christians teach lessons about good health practices as well as how to prevent AIDS. I was deeply impressed as I listened to some young teenage girls sitting in a circle explain to me how they could avoid contracting the AID virus.

At lunch time we were treated to some rice and fish by some wonderful Christian believers. As we sat under a lean-to outside the home of our hosts, several children who either had AIDS or were orphaned because of AIDS joined us. We learned these children faced many great pressures including stigmatization in their school and community. My heart was deeply touched as I held a little five-year-old girl who was HIV-positive.

Cambodian Christian leaders
Cambodian Christian leaders

Our hosts told us that Cambodia has the highest infection rate (2.7 percent) of HIV/AIDS in all of South East Asia. However, as the Church continues to reach out, change is happening. Through these health teams they have not only been able to respond to the AIDS crisis, they have seen over 500 churches started. Wow!

Yet so much more needs to be done. HIV/AIDS will become rampant if something does not change soon. The reality is that Cambodia could be faced with another "killing field" caused by this disease. May God grant the Church much help and wisdom as they respond in a profound way to this crisis. Let's stand with them through our prayers and partnership.

Geoff Tunnicliffe is the director of global initiatives with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.




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