Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 6, 2011

A Son Remembers

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

It seems that everybody you meet in Cambodia has a story — a personal story of how they lost family members at the hands of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. This should come as no surprise when you consider that approximately two-million Cambodians died between 1975 and 1978 during the violent regime of the Khmer Rouge. Yesterday, I asked my friend Karony to share the story of his father’s death with my friends Jon and Kevin who have joined me here to work at the Imparting Smiles orphanage. “Would you like me to take you to the place where the Khmer Rouge killed my father?” he replied. Without hesitation, I said yes. So, this morning we set out to visit the place where Karony’s father was arrested and later killed.

Our journey took us past the famous Choeung Ek killing field outside of Phnom Penh to another killing field located several kilometers off the main highway. “It’s been five years since I’ve been here,” explained Karony as we bounced down a rutted dirt road leading to seemingly nowhere. When we arrived, Karony talked about what happened on the day the Khmer Rouge entered his village, a story told to him by his mother. Karony was just three years old at the time that his father and the other men of the village were arrested without notice or cause. The Khmer Rouge warned the men that if they tried to escape they would be killed along with their family members. Sadly, Karony’s uncle did not heed the warning and was shot in the back as he tried to escape. The Khmer Rouge then killed his wife and children to make an example of them. As a result, Karony’s father and the others did not dare risk an escape lest the same thing happen to their families. Yet, in spite of their compliance, they were all mistreated by their captors and eventually killed.

Karony does not know where his father is buried, only that his remains are in one of the mass graves at this killing field. However, he does have an idea of how his father was likely executed. As a rule, the Khmer Rouge did not waste bullets in executing their prisoners. Instead, they made them kneel blindfolded before a mass grave and then clubbed them on the back of the head. To ensure that their victims were indeed dead, they beat the lifeless bodies with farming implements. Once the grave was filled they covered it up and dug another. Karony stood before a small building containing some of the bones and skulls unearthed in the area. Perhaps fragments of his father’s remain are there. He will never know. Other mass graves remain undisturbed out of respect for those who lie buried there.

Because Karony’s father refused to risk escaping and saving his own life, he saved the life of his three-year old son. Somehow Karony and his mother managed to escape death in those years when death harvested the lives of so many Cambodians. Today, Karony is a follower of Christ who is working to sow life in the places where so many Cambodians suffered and died. The atrocities of the Khmer Rouge are the logical end of a worldview that failed to recognize the sanctity of human life. It’s not enough to remember what happened at Cambodia’s killing fields. It’s imperative that a biblical worldview that holds life as sacred replace those that do not, lest history repeat itself. Karony is committed to doing just that by serving God’s purposes in Cambodia. It’s his way of honoring the sacrifice of his father who loved him.

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