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Khmer Rouge survivor nurtures his village

POIPET, Cambodia (BP) — David leans back and coughs into a handkerchief. His asthma ails him, but not as much as the nightmares that still torment him more than 30 years after the Khmer Rouge genocide in his Cambodian homeland.

Though the nightmares, like the scars on his back and feet, may never fade, David is learning how to help his village leave the past behind and move forward.

David was 17 when Pol Pot took control of Cambodia. Families were uprooted and separated — man from wife, mother from child. Communities were scattered; many family and friends were never reunited.

David’s brother was shot in front of him. David was separated from his family and forced to work in a labor camp. There, David saw a pregnant woman thrown into a fire because she was having morning sickness and couldn’t work. He also saw people bludgeoned to death.

In the camps, everyone had to wake up at 4 a.m. and work until 7 p.m. They were barely fed, sometimes not at all. Once, in his hunger, David ate a crab scurrying along the ground. For this, the boy soldiers of the Khmer Rouge tied him up and beat him. They took him to out a mountain to kill him but saw several monkeys that they shot for food. The boys decided to spare David’s life so he could help them carry the monkeys back to the camp.

David carried the monkeys, grateful for the second chance.

Later, David and 10 others managed to escape the camp and set out to find the Thai border. Along the way, they stumbled onto land mines and booby-traps planted by the Khmer Rouge.

Only three in David’s group made it to the Thai border.

In the refugee camps in Thailand, several missionaries told David the good news about God’s love, and he decided to follow Christ. David said he saw God’s hand of protection on him and how He sent the monkeys to save him from an early death.

David made his way to a refugee camp in the Philippines before being granted refugee status in the United States. There he made a life for himself, but it was difficult to forget the past. He consulted one doctor after another, asking how to stop his nightmares. No one had an answer.

Even though he had found refuge in America, David felt the Lord leading him back to Cambodia. He eventually sold all his possessions and returned to Cambodia to share the love God had given him.

Today, David helps his own people put into practice principles he is learning from community development training conducted by representatives of a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization, Baptist Global Response.

Ben and Pam Wolf, BGR area directors for the Asia Rim, are teaching individuals and communities how to launch initiatives to improve their quality of life and experience God’s love for themselves.

David grows rice, cassava and sugar cane on his farm. He sells the crops locally. He rotates his crops in the field to improve harvest yields, something most Cambodian farmers don’t do. David also raises pigs and ducks that he slaughters to sell.

David sees a need for food in his community and plans to set up a training farm adjacent to his own where others can learn sustainable farming practices. He also has established a mill for local farmers to process their grain.

In the coming year, Baptist Global Response will partner with David, connecting him with farming experts who can help with animal and agricultural training so that David can train men and women in his community. Ben Wolf said David’s farm — and his life back in Cambodia – “are real-life examples of BGR’s motto, ‘connecting people in need with people who care.'”

“Farming experts are hard to find in Cambodia because most were exterminated by the Khmer Rouge,” Wolf noted, “but God is raising up a new generation to help their countrymen discover the new lives God created them to enjoy.”
Landry Lyons is an international correspondent for Baptist Global Response.

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  • Landry Lyons