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Cambodian pastor’s testimony: imprisonment, salvation, service

SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–From the worst of times — a war-ravaged past — God has brought faith and service, a Cambodian pastor told messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Sithon Nuon, pastor of the Cambodia Southern Baptist Fellowship, Jacksonville, Fla., gave testimony to the June 9-11 meeting’s theme, “Exalting the Unchanging Christ,” in Salt Lake City.
Nuon was 22 when the Cambodian government declared war on Khmer Rouge communist insurgents in 1970. Five years later, when the communists gained control, they began a systematic purge.
“They forced everybody out from their home to the field and to work, forced labor. Long day, long night, no food, no rest,” Nuon said. “I was 27, but everybody called me ‘Grandpa’ because is bony, skinny, no strength to walk. I cannot even lift my feet two inch above the ground.”
Nuon, whose parents and brother died, was in prison from 1975-79 because he had been a soldier for the ousted government. During that time 2 million to 3 million of the nation’s 7 million to 8 million people were killed, often for no more reason than because they had known someone connected in some way with the former regime.
Nuon, despite serving five years as a soldier, escaped death only because he was imprisoned.
“The Lord is watch over me and keep me,” Nuon said. Prisoners were dangled off of a bridge “into the water upside-down to get the all the information they want to hear from you, and after that they play around with you and make fun of you and have a harmful punishment on you, and then they kill you anyway.”
Jesus intervened when it was his turn to die, Nuon said. A Khmer Rouge officer told the punishment team to stop.
“This is just a few seconds away from death,” Nuon said. “In Cambodia we say my soul is in my hair — because it is not in my body anymore.”
On Sept. 30, 1978, the communists set up marriages between at least 60 women and the prisoners. Nuon was one of the men who was given the choice of marrying or being killed.
“The Lord is look out for me,” Nuon said. “That lady is still my wife. We have three children.”
The couple escaped a year later to a Thailand refugee camp, where, during a worship service, they raised their hands to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But they did it for the wrong reason.
“I thought maybe becoming a Christian I can find sponsor to come to United States of America,” Nuon said, noting, however,. “The pastor never say if a Christian you can go to United States.” What the pastor was saying was that Christians would go to heaven, Nuon said. “You have a sponsor much better,” Nuon told messengers. “Jesus your sponsor to settle in heaven, to be a citizen of heaven. I praise God. This is much better, far beyond my imagination.”
He made a genuine profession of faith, was baptized Feb. 6, 1980, and began to grow as a Christian and learn more about Southern Baptists. The Nuon family immigrated in November 1981 to the Chicago area, where he began to work at Moody Bible Institute and World Relief Refugee Service.
“I learn from all these people, and I don’t have any patience with Cambodian people because I know Cambodian trick [to pretend salvation in order to gain a sponsor,]” Nuon said. “But God say, ‘No. I created you as Cambodian … and I saved your life as Cambodian. … I saved your soul as Cambodian and I called you to serve me among the Cambodian people and you cannot deny that.’
“‘OK, Lord, I take it. I cannot get away from that,'” Nuon said. “The Lord has blessed, and I thank you for Southern Baptists that accept all the Cambodian to become part of the Southern Baptist Convention. And I praise God for that privilege to serving him with all of you as my brothers and sisters in Christ.”