S-21

Good morning from the Long Thaily Guest House. It is a beautiful morning in wonderful Phnom Penh, Cambodia!

Woke up this morning quite early. I arose at 1:30 AM local time and opened the curtains to the room and saw the glorious sight of downtown Phnom Penh. There is something peaceful about this place at 1:30 in morning. There is less traffic. A few motos and a car. A little early for the Tuk-Tuk drivers, I think. I wrote my previous BLOG and looked forward with eager anticipation to what the LORD would have for this Sunday morning. I met Curtis and Bre in the lobby of the Long Thaily Guest House at 8:45 AM. It was pouring down rain, so Bre asked if we would mind getting a Tuk-Tuk ride to church. We did.

Tuk-Tuk's are motos and covered wagons combined.
Tuk-Tuk’s are motos and covered wagons combined.

The driver sped along the rain-soaked roads that were full of potholes which became great seas of water in the midst of the road. One pothole was about as big as the Tuk-Tuk itself. I thought we were going to fall in, but the driver masterfully went around and turned a couple of corners and, voila, we were at Water Of Life Calvary Chapel. What a wonderful place this is. The Khmer people sit inside the church, the foreigners, like me, sit on the outside porch. The service began with worship – 2 songs in English. It was wonderful hearing the Khmer people sing to glorify Jesus in English, but it was nothing compared to how they would in Khmer. The third song began in English, which the last few verses ending in Khmer. Then, two more songs in Khmer. I worshipped with all my heart regardless of what I could or could not understand. What a blessing to be in fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Cambodia! It was awesome to worship the LORD this morning.

After worship, Randy, Director and Overseer of Water Of Life Ministries went to the stage with a translator and gave the bulletin announcements. He also asked for any new people to stand and say where they were from. Of course he called on me, and I said that I was Steve, from Arkansas. The girl in front of me was from Texas! Yes, I flew more than 6,000 miles to end up sitting behind someone who was from one state away from me in the United States. Wow.

Randy is a wonderful man who is full of the joy of the Lord and has infectious enthusiasm for the things of The Lord.

Randy and Daniel at the Water Of Life kitchen.
Randy and Daniel at the Water Of Life kitchen.

After giving the announcements, it was time for the word. What an experience this was! The entire service was in Khmer! A girl was translating for the first time that Sunday, and she did an awesome job! Randy, and another pastor who is on staff who was a missionary in Poland, are raising up Khmer pastors to teach that it would be a ministry of and to Khmer, filled with the Holy Spirit throughout.

Water Of Life Calvary Chapel and Water Of Life ministry are two separate entities. Water Of Life Ministry is a home for boys in late high school to college aged. Randy lives on Campus with 43 boys of whom many are orphans either because their parents abandoned them, they were too poor to take care of them, or they were wanted a better life for them. Sending their children off to college also means one less mouth to feed. One such young man, who is a true orphan is Daniel.

Daniel and I pose in the Water Of Life kitchen.
Daniel and I pose in the Water Of Life kitchen.

When Daniel was in his villiage, he spent most of his time chained in a house. Whenever Daniel would be free, he would terrorize the place and become violent. Randy and Water Of Life were asked if they could do something for this poor young man. After prayer, it was agreed that this was the Lord’s will. A missionary doctor came through at one point and gave Daniel some anti-depressant drugs and they seemed to help a bit. Daniel become a believer in Jesus at Water Of Life and devoured as much scripture as he could in each day. Randy said that Daniel is by far the boy who reads the most scripture at Water Of Life. Months went by and Daniel seemed to be improving greatly. He seemed in his right mind and healthy. One day, Daniel (who was named Daniel as an English name because of his love for the book of Daniel) came to Randy and asked if he could not take his medicine any more. He complained that it made him foggy minded and lethargic. Randy hadn’t noticed the lethargy for some time now, and told Daniel that it was up to him. Daniel responded, good, because I stopped taking it a few months ago. Randy asked Daniel to what he attributed his healing. He said that it was prayer and his reading of the scripture and applying it to his life that brought about the healing. It was the power of God working through the word of God transforming the people of God. Randy was quick to point out that God can use doctors and medicine. But in Daniel’s case, in this poor country were doctors and medicine is so limited, God chose to heal him through the word of God.

During service, the rain came down so hard that it was difficult to hear the pastor or the translator. The rain subsided for a while, but after service, someone let the cats and dogs out. The rain was as heavy as any rainstorm in Arkansas. It is strange, but so many things here remind me of Arkansas. The road outside of the church building became a raging river. Te a great guy, who works for Harvest Bible College, drove up in a small SUV to take us to our lunch destination.

Missionaries Curtis and Bre Johnson enjoy a meal at the local Mexican restaurant called Alma.
Missionaries Curtis and Bre Johnson enjoy a meal at the local Mexican restaurant called Alma.

Where else would we go to lunch after church? Mexican! Alma again. I had a Torta that was incredible. Also, I was talked into eating a piece of Tres Leché cake. Okay, maybe I went along with it. And the best ice coffee I have had since I have been out here. The missionaries love Alma because the food is good and safe and because it is a ministry to the Khmer people here in Cambodia.

After lunch, we went to Harvest Bible College. Te, Adam, my translator, Curtis and Bre, showed me around the facility, the classroom and an office that I can use to study between sessions. I was able to get a strong WiFi signal for the first time in Phnom Penh there! I, of course, immediately posted a couple of BLOGS, and some photos and checked my email. Special thanks to Bre for helping with the BLOG. Curtis and Bre walked home and Curtis returned on his Moto. We rode over to S-21. If you have never ridden a Moto on the streets of Phnom Penh, then you have missed the scariest roller coaster ride in your life. You weave in and out of traffic, sometimes head-on on the wrong side of the road. The only saving grace, besides fervent prayer ridding on the back of the Moto, is that traffic is very slow. Everyone looks in front of them and makes sure they get around others and let traffic through. It is, like the Tuk-Tuk, organized Chaos.

We arrived at S-21.

S-21
S-21 was a secret prison death camp of the Khmer Rouge during the murderous reign of Pol Pot.

It was cloudy and the air was moist. After Curtis parked the death-trap, uh, hmmm, the Moto, we walked in to S-21, the most infamous prison that the Khmer Rouge operated. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I had watch a documentary about this place, and the killing fields a few weeks ago, so I had seen this place on video, but to be here evokes a completely different emotion. I was angry and sad when I watched the doc. When I walked through the interrogation rooms, the make-shift prison cells, I realized that angry could not describe how I felt and sad was almost offensive for it’s lack of feeling. Several times along the way, I wanted to cry, no, weep for the victims of this horrible atrocity. How could human beings do this to other human beings? This was evil beyond evil. This was demonic. It was from the pit of hell and these peopled lived and died at it’s doorstep. Can the fires of hell be strong enough judgment for those who will stand before their Creator one day and be held accountable for their actions?

Barbed wire was stretched from one end of the building to the other.
Barbed wire was stretched from one end of the building to the other.

As I walked through the final building of this former high school, there were rooms and rooms full of pictures of those who had brutally died at the hands of the demons that ran this place. The Khmer Rouge was meticulous in their record keeping. They would beat a confession out of people. Those in this prison would confess to just about anything and would implicate others as well under the duress of torture. A former guard said that the Khmer Rouge were interested in documentation. They wanted a signed confession, so the procedure was to beat and torture the prisoners until they confessed, but not kill them until the document was signed. After the signature was on the paper, the prisoner’s photo was taken, then they were brought to the Killing Fields and were slaughtered like animals. [picture] Even as I write this, more than 18 hours later, I am emotional. Tears come to my eyes, because the pictures of the Khmer people look like

A painting by a survivor of S-21 prison depicting the torture of a prisoner.
A painting by a survivor of S-21 prison depicting the torture of a prisoner.

people I have met while here. They are a beautiful people who were teachers, doctors, lawyers, musicians, artists, politicians. They were guilty of nothing more than living in a city and they were murdered for it.

On the path to exit S-21, there was a table with books on it, and a humble man in his 80’s sitting there.

Guards would tie ropes around prisoners arms and hang them from this crossbar to coerce a confession.
Guards would tie ropes around prisoners arms and hang them from this crossbar to coerce a confession.

We walked up and began to speak with him. Curtis asked him some questions in Khmer. When I saw the books and the pictures on the cover, I noticed that the man sitting here was none other than a survivor of the brutality of S-21. I put my backpack down, sat down next to the man and had my picture taken.

The prisoner in cell 122, Chum Mey, survived the horror of S-21.
The prisoner in cell 122, Chum Mey, survived the horror of S-21.

Books were for sale, but instead, I offered him a dollar for the picture out of respect for him and his suffering. Here he was, sitting in the courtyard of the former prison, the former school. Free, but never free. Always thinking about the evil that fell upon him and the 3 million others who exist in memory but in reality, they are no more. Mr. Chum Mey, spent months in cell number 122. I encourage you to look up his story. Google him. When Curtis and I walked through the cells, we saw a sign in cell number 122 that mentioned Chum Mey’s name and said that he was a survivor. It was an honor to be able to spend a few minutes with this man who looked evil in the face and was spared.

We boarded the Moto again, feeling almost numb. Then, someone came up to me and Curtis trying to get our attention. I had left my backpack at Mr. Mey’s table! It had my study notes and my iPad in it! Was it gone? We are in a third world country. Theft is commonplace here. I didn’t know what to think. I opened my backpack and there it was! My iPad, something that is probably close to six months wages here in Cambodia, was still there. Good thing I gave Mr. Mey that dollar! As I reflected on this, I thought, to go through what he went through, it changes you. Suffering changes you. It can make you bitter or it can make you compassionate. Some survivors are extremely bitter. It is difficult to blame them. Some, though, are like Mr. Mey. Compassion was on his face the whole time I spoke with him. It was not just the restoration of my iPad that was important to me. It was the fact that suffering had made Mr. Mey and his family that was with him (I am guessing that it was his grandson that brought my backpack to me) better people. Not that I would wish that horror on anyone, but Mr. Mey is a shining example of what to do when life give you horror. You do what he did. You survive. You change. You learn to let it go and you learn to love.

More on this in the next BLOG. I am heading out to the Harvest Bible College now. May the will of the Father be done through the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus! Pray for us.

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