Cambodia’s God of Life and Peace

Rachel Chimits

After the horrific atrocities inflicted by the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s people are looking for the author of healing and new life.

The Khmer Rouge was one of the most brutal episodes in human history.

Communist dictator Pol Pot decided, in the wake of the Vietnam War, that Cambodia needed to become a socialist paradise, independent from all outside influences.

This movement involved executing every ethnic minority group his soldiers could find, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of intellectuals and church leaders and murdering anyone else who even dared to protest these changes.

Those who survived had to face starvation next as the communist farming programs repeatedly failed.

Yale University’s genocide program estimated that 1.7 million Cambodian people—about 21 percent of their population—were killed during the four years the Khmer Rouge ruled. It’s sadly a conservative number by other accounts, particularly UNICEF’s estimate of nearly 3 million deaths.

The Pit of Tomorrow

Veung’s husband was killed during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, and she was left to care for their son on her own. Like many victims of the communist social re-ordering, she had been forced to move away from her hometown and therefore was separated from her family who would’ve traditionally helped her raise her child. 

Alone, she had no recourse when a Khmer Rouge soldier approached her and said, “You’re going to be my wife.”

Veung looked at his gun and thought of her little boy.

Their daughter was born shortly after, and it quickly became clear something was not right with her development. Veung feared it was a mental disorder and did her best to protect the baby girl from her father. After their second daughter was born, the soldier left.

No one knew where he’d gone, and Veung never saw him again. Not that she had much time to worry about if he’d suddenly turn up; she had her hands full with trying to feed and care for her three children by herself.

Whatever her first husband owned had been taken by the government, and her second husband had left her with nothing. She didn’t own any land or a home, so she rented a cottage from another villager. The jobs that she managed to get scraped together enough money to pay for that day’s rent and food.

If she or the children began to throw up or became weak and feverish, she fearfully trudged to the nearest witchdoctor, paying out her meager riel for a charm to drive away the evil spirits haunting her family.

Tomorrow was a pit constantly looming at the tip of their toes.

God Who Cannot Be Bribed

Despite being mistrustful of Christians, Veung had become friends with the village’s pastor and his wife. There was something strangely peaceful about their home, and his family was always so kind and welcoming.

They invited her to community health lessons that the village pastor had learned from World Challenge trainers.

Veung attended her first lesson hesitantly, ready to leave if anyone acted too strange. Instead, she found that the group leader was someone she knew from their village, bringing up a problem they were all facing. They taught about solutions along with discussion about their God and what he would want in this situation.

Their God didn’t ignore their issues like the government, and he did seem to have great power to give people peace, like the pastor’s family.

She asked what one needed to do in order to have this favor with God. What kind of offerings needed to be made? Which holy times must be observed or shamans consulted for this God? The pastor explained that this God did not need bribes to pay attention like the Cambodian gods Veung had grown up with; he had been watching and loving her before she even knew about him.

So much of the pain in her life and her country had been caused by hatred and people who were only looking out for themselves.

Trusting in a Great Provider

Veung decided to trust Jesus Christ to provide for her and her children.

She joined the church, believing they truly cared for the community. There she learned about God’s power in the world and taking the children to a doctor instead of the shaman. Their health improved, which helped her begin saving a little money.

Better yet, her older daughter’s mind has become a little clearer and calmer.

“My life is changing in physical and spiritual ways,” Veung said. “I think the Lord for saving my family to be his children.”