Few places in the world have experienced the type of brokenness and devastation that the nation of Cambodia has faced in the last thirty-plus years. The brutal dictator Pol Pot ruled the country with a campaign of murder and torture that ultimately left a third of the population, 1-3 million of his citizens, dead. He targeted the professional and middle class people of the country, virtually destroying all but the lower class who were rice farmers. When he and his loyal followers were forced to flee to the jungles, they engaged in a civil war with freedom fighters for many years.
In 1993, when the country emerged from the reign of this regime and the subsequent civil war, the country was left without an infrastructure and without skilled professionals such as doctors, lawyers and educators. Not only did Cambodia not have necessary infrastructure, they did not have the ability to create that infrastructure. Cambodians had few options besides rice farming, which paid only a few dollars a week. In this vacuum, some found another means of making money—the sex trade. Sex trafficking became one of the largest industries in Cambodia. Even child prostitution became rampant with little to non-existent governmental regulations.
It was into this broken and hurting nation that I had the privilege of stepping for a few weeks this summer. The nation has been rebuilding slowly, but the wounds of the recent past are still apparent everywhere. Pieces of victims’ clothing still come up from the ground of the killing fields during heavy rains. Thousands of skulls of these victims can be seen in a memorial site where they were brutally murdered. Many of the senior officials responsible for the atrocities are still free men, and some even retain powerful positions in today’s government.
As our team of medical professionals served the beautiful people of Cambodia, I couldn’t help but feel that the services we were providing were just a drop in the bucket of the immense need in this country. Though we were only there on a short-term basis, we partnered with the ministries of those staying for the long-term. I am so grateful for the native pastors and missionaries who continue to do Kingdom work in this country and know that their work is making an immense impact. It was powerful to see how the church is combating the sex trade and the forces of poverty that keep so many bound up in this terrible lifestyle. There is such a long way to go, but I am so encouraged by the progress that has already been made!
Despite the terrible atrocities committed in this country, there is hope for this nation. Many young people are becoming educated in local universities. An infrastructure is now in place. The local church is reaching out and seeking to better the lives of their neighbors through community health, education and construction projects. Despite the immense pain that they have experienced, the people of Cambodia were some of the most warm and amiable people I have met. The country is beautiful and has vast natural resources.
The future for Cambodia is promising. I believe that precisely because Cambodia has experienced so much heartache as a nation it is in a prime position to experience the redemption and healing of God in unprecedented measure. It is in our depth of need that God meets us, both as individuals and as a nation. That is why it is my prayer that the people of Cambodia will turn to the Living God in the midst of their pain and desperation. He is waiting to pour out His healing and grace beyond what we could ask or imagine. I am grateful to have played a very small part in beginning to see the healing of this nation.