Loving the enemy
A story of one person's journey through the years of Khmer Rouge terror
Hoeun Lao was enslaved in one of the labor camps that would later be known as the Killing Fields. Here, Khmer Rouge guards savagely murdered thousands of prisoners, ordered to dig their own graves.
A New Life, A New Heart
|One of the most lethal regimes of the 20th century, the Khmer Rouge intended to establish a classless agrarian society. The urban class was forced into slave labor camps. From 1975 to 1979, between 2 million and 3 million people were exterminated.|
Born in a destitute family in 1950, Hoeun was raised in a small village. In 1972 he moved to Phnom Penh to enroll in high school. One of Hoeun's classmates shared the gospel with him and introduced him to his pastor, San Son. He listened to Pastor San's teaching, but it was not until San invited Hoeun to live with him and his family that he trusted Christ as Savior.
Never had Hoeun seen such respect and kindness between a husband and wife. Finally, the pastor's words about a new life made sense to him. San discipled Hoeun until 1973, when he enrolled in a Bible school and began to preach in Phnom Penh.
But as he shared Christ, he was shocked by the large number of refugees fleeing from the war raging throughout the countryside. He never dreamed of the horror that was to follow. Within days he was thrust into the middle of the nightmare, when Khmer Rouge guards forced him into a slave labor camp.
Many skulls are kept as a reminder of the thousands of people slain during the reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge.
One day the chief guard announced a "better plan" for the educated. Those who qualified were instructed to attend an afternoon meeting.
Hoeun was hopeful. He, along with other students and professionals, arrived at the meeting.
The killing lasted until 10 p.m.
Only Hoeun and a small group of others were miraculously spared.
On another day the guards in Hoeun's camp sent three parties of 30 people into the woods. Hoeun was in the last group. Everyone walked in silence, but many were visibly trembling. He watched as the people in the first two groups were ordered to dig holes in the ground. When they were finished, the Khmer Rouge soldiers mercilessly axed their victims, until everyone in the first two groups lay in pools of blood.
Hoeun could only pray that God would spare his life. And He did. For reasons unknown, the third group was marched back to the camp.
A Quiet Faith
When the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979, the Khmer Rouge fled north to continue a resistance movement from the jungles. It lasted until 1999, when the remaining leaders surrendered. Today most of the surviving leaders, hated by society, are hiding in jungle regions.
Former Khmer Rouge soldiers and their wives are baptized.
In early 1979, Hoeun, along with 1 million others, returned to Phnom Penh hoping to find work and food. But little remained of the once thriving metropolis. Younger and stronger than most, Hoeun found work as a motorcycle taxi driver.
The Vietnamese outlawed Christianity, so Hoeun remained quiet about his faith, not even telling his wife, when he married in 1980.
That same year, Hoeun, with only his brief university education, was appointed General Manager of Building and Transportation in the Ministry of Commerce, meaning that he was responsible
for overseeing all of Cambodia's new construction.
Hoeun knew of underground churches in existence throughout the country, but chose to remain silent about his faith because of his job-until 1990, when the government made Christianity legal, if only on paper.
Christians immediately announced their presence. Hoeun began openly preaching to everyone he encountered. His family and all the drivers in the Ministry of Commerce accepted
Christ as Savior.
The many Christian organizations that appeared in 1990 from outside the country, engaged only in humanitarian activity, as proselytizing was strictly forbidden. But that year, Hoeun learned of a new missionary who planned to return to the country to preach Christ.
A Missionary Returns
This new missionary was Setan Lee, a native Cambodian. He had been enslaved in a slave labor camp, but managed to escape. Now he was back.
In 1992, after being imprisoned on several occasions, Setan became director of a small Bible school. Hoeun, admiring his courage, took a bold step. He resigned from his post and enrolled in the school, along with his wife. They were two of about 100 students, 40 of whom dropped out due to persecution. One student was murdered, as was the father of another student.
A missionary shares Christ on the streets of Phnom Penh.
At the beginning of 1993 Hoeun led the school in planting 18 churches and baptizing 1,500 new believers in a local river. When the first class graduated in 1995, Setan resigned as president of the school to start Kampuchea for Christ. Hoeun was one of a small handful to join him.
The group had no funding, and only a small unfurnished room given them by another ministry. Setan, who slept on the floor of the room, paid his staff a meager monthly stipend.
Help From Christian Aid
Meanwhile, Setan was discovered by Christian Aid, which began sending support. Within a few months, the staff was able to rent a larger facility and establish their ministry training center in Battambang, the second largest city in Cambodia. Hoeun became director. In two years KFC had 38 missionary graduates, who planted 48 churches.
Rescued children learn to pray.
And despite all odds, seven of these churches were planted among former Khmer Rouge soldiers hiding in the jungles of Anlong Veng, rife with disease, bandits and landmines. In 2001 Setan bravely approached a former Khmer Rouge general and led him to Christ. In return, the general ushered Setan through the infamous jungles, calling out the names of children, who crawled out from behind the dense tangle of leaves. They were the orphans of deceased Khmer Rouge soldiers. Approximately 300 of them were left to fend for themselves in this hostile environment.
When Setan returned, he and Houen opened an orphanage, called David's Center, with help from Christian Aid. Today 50 Khmer Rouge orphans live at the center.
Through the supernatural love and acceptance of KFC workers, thousands of former soldiers have given their lives to Christ. Among these, 20 have become pastors of KFC churches. Even Kaing Khek Lev, the notorious director of Tuol Sleng Prison, where 20,000 people were brutally tortured and killed, accepted Christ as Savior.
A Chance at Freedom
Believers gather in homes to receive teaching from the Scriptures.
Many husbands had been killed or drafted into the military, leaving the women without a means of support.
Without an education, these women resorted to prostitution to feed their families. The business of prostitution is worse in Cambodia than most other countries in the world. One out of every 25 people is infected with AIDS. Today, most prostitutes are children.
In 1999 KFC built the New Development Center for women. Together, Setan and Hoeun visit brothels that pollute the province, to offer a new life to the young girls trapped inside.
When the girls who accept the offer arrive at the center, they receive medical attention. They are also taught to read. They learn about Christ and the new life He offers them. They are trained in either sewing for cosmetology. Through funds from Christian Aid, many of the girls who successfully completed the sewing program were given a sewing machine to start their own business.
The Future of KFC
Former prostitutes are taught a new trade.
With help from Christian Aid, the ministry continues to provide poor communities with medical attention, food and water. Each well carries a plaque identifying it as a gift from Jesus to the local community.
A trade school was founded in Battambang in 2000 to provide youth with computer and business skills.
KFC covets the prayers and support of Christians overseas. They continue to act in faith, trusting that the God who empowered them to love their enemies will also complete the work He has started in Cambodia.