Sue Ward was a young
dentistry student in Birmingham from 1975 to 1979. Six thousand
miles away, in Cambodia, Chomno In was imprisoned in a labour camp
run by the Khmer Rouge.
Now, at Brighton Road
Baptist Church, Horsham, in Sussex, Mrs Ward tells him, face to
face: "When I was learning to put people back together again,
people in your country were being blown apart. We saw the most
terrible images here, and it affected me profoundly."
The genocide perpetrated
by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia is one of the horrors of modern
history. About 20,000 sites of mass graves, known as the "Killing
Fields", have been discovered in the country. They contain at least
1.3 million victims of execution. It is estimated that up to 2.5
million Cambodians died under the regime, out of a population, in
1979, of eight million - victims of violence, starvation, and
disease. At the Choeung Ek killing fields, a Buddhist
stupa (monument), filled with more than 5000 human skulls,
stands as a grim memorial.
When the Baptist church,
which Mrs Ward attends, had originally proposed Cambodia as the
focus of its overseas mission, her instant reaction had been:
"That's probably the one place on earth I don't think I can
possibly face, because of that instant emotional reaction; because
I hadn't faced it down in myself. But, within a month, God had
turned me round."
MR IN, now a health-care
professional, visited Britain this month to meet churches that
support his work in Cambodia. Sitting in the chapel on Brighton
Road, he tells the story of how he survived imprisonment, disease,
hunger, and isolation, before he discovered God in a Thai refugee
camp, and went on to set up the Cambodian Hope Organisation, in one
of the country's most notorious cities.
He knows the exact amount
of time he spent in a labour camp under the regime: three years,
eight months, and 20 days.
"In 1975, I felt no hope,
because thousands of people were at the labour camp. Every day,
people died because they made some mistake. In the morning, they
took us, and we worked hard. And every night, we slept on the
ground under trees. I could not meet my parents during that whole
time. I caught malaria, and there was no medicine, just herbs.
"In 1979, I was sent back
to the forest to the army labour camp, and they tried to send me to
be a youth soldier. Fifty people were sent out, and only 30 people
came back; they died because they did not understand how to carry
guns. We moved close to the Thai border, and everyone tried to
escape from the labour camp, and every night someone stepped on a
landmine. Nine out of ten died.
"One day, there was very
heavy rain, and on that night I and other friends decided to
escape. Two of them died. I spent two months in the forest.
Everything I ate was raw. When I got back to my home village, my
parents did not recognise me because my hair was so long, my face
was very old, and I was skinny. My parents said: 'If you stay in
the village, they will send you out to fight, and you will
IN 1984, Mr In fled to a
refugee camp in Thailand, where he found work at the hospital, and
met a doctor who shared his Christian faith. Mr In studied English
at a church, and at a Buddhist temple near by. Eventually, he felt
the need to choose between the two faiths.
"The pastor asked if
anybody wanted to receive baptism," he says. "But, at the same
time, the monk at the temple said that, in two weeks, they would
prepare me to be a monk. They bought robes for me. I started to
pray to Buddha, and to Jesus. I kept praying for a whole week.
"One night . . . when I
slept, I saw that the Buddhist temple looked very dark, and that
the church looked very bright. My dream made my decision. When I
woke up, I went straight to the church and asked the pastor if I
could receive baptism the next week."
On learning of this
decision, the monk threw Mr In out of the temple. But, back at the
hospital, the doctor was "very excited" to have a partner to pray
with. Mr In trained alongside him - he has medical experience, but
is not a doctor. In 1992, when the refugee camp closed, he returned
to Cambodia with his wife, Kim, whom he had met at the camp.
He found work, and
enjoyed success in Phnom Penh, but it was not long before he was to
confront the legacy of the civil war. On a work trip to Poipet, a
city on the border with Thailand, he discovered a place that was in
need of intervention.
"Every day, adults and
children were crossing the border. A lot of young children and
women were raped. Nobody seemed to care. Nobody trusted each other.
No one shared with other people."
He remembers urging the
army to help a young woman who was being washed downstream as she
struggled to carry her child and her possessions across the river.
"I stood and kept praying to the Lord: 'How can I help?'"
A SEARCH on Google for
the town of Poipet generates depressing results. The travel guide
Lonely Planet describes it as "the armpit of Cambodia,
notorious for its squalor, scams, and sleaze"; and a contributor to
the website TripAdvisor says that "in a land rated globally as one
of the most corrupt on our planet, little national effort is made
to clean up this border town."
This bleak picture,
however, is now mitigated by the presence, and by the work, of Mr
In. When he returned to Phnom Penh, convinced that God had told him
to move to Poipet, he faced the challenge of persuading his wife to
leave the good life that they had built for a town characterised by
crime, trafficking, and gang rape. Eventually, however, she agreed,
and the couple sold their house and moved.
The family found
themselves living alongside both former Khmer Rouge soldiers,
living civilian lives, and refugees. Mr In's prescription was
"hope". "They need to know about forgiveness," he says. "When
people ask about a ministry with these people, I tell them: 'Who
can do it? The Lord.'"
At the time of the move,
the Christian relief and development agency Tearfund had an office
in Cambodia, and, after a visit to Poipet, gave the fledgling NGO
its first grant: $12,000. Mr In still remembers his trepidation at
filling in the "paper proposal", and the stonewalling he initially
received from the government officials responsible for issuing NGO
Today, he is sought out
by officials, who seek his strategic advice on everything from the
care of HIV patients to city planning. The Cambodian Hope
Organization (CHO) has grown from a staff of two, in 2002, to 57,
all of whom share a vision to equip vulnerable groups to become
self-sufficient, and capable of leading development in their
Central to that vision is
the local church. From the outset, development has gone hand in
hand with evangelism and church-planting. Water-pumps and other
facilities are branded "a gift from Jesus", prompting beneficiaries
to ask questions about the source. Every year, 100 church leaders
gather at the CHO offices for training.
"SIXTY years ago, before
the Khmer Rouge, the Buddhist temple's role was there to help the
community," Mr In says. "The idea is to see the church respond to
issues in the community."
A priority at the CHO is
working with children who are at risk of being trafficked. Children
run away, he explains, or are sold to traffickers by their parents,
who do not realise the intent of the traffickers. Once sold, they
may be used to smuggle drugs across the border in Thailand.
The CHO works in schools
to educate children and teachers, and raises awareness about a
telephone hotline for children who fear they are at risk. Once the
children are recovered by the CHO, they may be reunited with their
family, but only once the charity is confident that they will be
Another priority is
supporting families affected by HIV/AIDS. The condition still has a
significant stigma in Cambodia, and the CHO works to deliver care
in people's homes, and public-health education. "We try to act as a
bridge, because some communities are very isolated from the
government," Mr In says. "We try to fill the gaps, and when we do,
then the government takes over."
The organisation is
supported by several churches through Connected Church, a Tearfund
initiative designed to link churches in the UK with those "working
to bring transformation to their local communities around the
world". Christians in the UK choose a project, and then support it
through prayer and donations, making a commitment of at least one
One of the deacons at
Brighton Road Baptist Church, Graham Ward, believes that Connected
Church has enabled the congregation to form a "much closer
relationship" with an overseas project. "As this relationship has
developed, CHO feels part of us," he tells Mr In. "You are part of
our extended family."
One of the six members of
the congregation who visited the CHO in 2011, Maria Grainger, says:
"Another element is the mutuality. It recognises that we are not
above the people we are working with: we are their brothers, we are
their sisters. And it is so humbling to hear from CHO when they
pray for us, because we are equal - that is the way that mission
The visit, she
emphasises, was a turning point. "One of the tricky things about
being on the team that went out there, is trying to get a sense of
the love we have for Cambodia across to the church." Mrs Ward, was
agreeably surprised at the skills and opportunities that people in
the UK were prepared to offer. Before setting out in 2011, she
found that a dentistry colleague was able to offer all of the
educational materials she needed, in the correct language, on a
memory stick. Other members of the team worked in construction,
education, and preaching.
"It's not all about the
money," the church's minister, Dr Tim Carter, says. "It's the
opportunity for people to go and contribute at a personal level,
and to form a prayer partnership."
Mr In approves of
Tearfund's approach. "Tearfund is not the boss," he concludes,
gesturing a top-down movement with his hands. "It comes like a
sister, or a friend." And he clasps his two hands together.
Cambodia wins its independence from France, and becomes the Kingdom
Prime Minister, Lon Nol, stages a coup, and proclaims the Khmer
Nol is overthrown as the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, occupy Phnom
Penh. In "Year Zero", all city dwellers are for-cibly moved to the
countryside to become agricultural workers. Money becomes
worthless, basic freedoms are curtailed, and religion is banned.
Hundreds of thousands of the educated middle-class are tortured and
executed in special centres. Others starve, or die from disease or
Vietnamese forces invade Cambodia.
Vietnamese take the city of Phnom Penh. Pol Pot, and Khmer Rouge
forces flee to the border region with Thailand.
peace agreement is signed in Paris.
Khmer Rouge put Pol Pot on trial, and sentence him to life
Pot dies in his jungle hideout.
UN-backed tribunals begin questioning Khmer Rouge suspects about
allegations of genocide.
former Khmer Rouge leader Comrade Duch is found guilty of crimes
against humanity, and given a 35-year prison sentence (later
extended to life).