Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ghosts of the past/Spirit of the future

Talk about contrasts: we spent our morning in hell, and our afternoon in heaven.

At about 8:30 am, we arrived at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a non-descript complex about 3/4 mile from our guest house. Apart from the barbed wire, a streetside view of Tuol Sleng looks a lot like that of any other school in Phnom Penh. And, prior to 1975, it was just another high school. When the Khmer Rouge took over the country, however, it became the scene of one of the worst nightmares the world has ever seeen.

The classrooms were turned into cells and torture chambers, and the swingset was converted into a gallows. Over a four year period of time, 17,000 men, women and children were brought to Tuol Sleng to be tormented with daily beatings, maimings and electrocutions. When the regime had extracted and documented 'confessions,' they were shipped down the road to the Cheong Ek Killing Fields to be bludgeoned to death with axes and hoes and dumped into one of the dozen or so mass graves. (Every time it rains in Cheong Ek, more bones and fragments of clothing wash up from the ground. Once, I stepped on what I thought was a piece of pottery. When I dusted it off, I realized it was a human mandible.)

Shabby Tuol Sleng prison has been preserved as a memorial to its victims and to the 3 million other Cambodians who were killed by the insanity that was the 'Pol Pot time,' as Cambodians call it. It's banality only serves to amplify its atrocity. One of its buildings displays thousands and thousands of identification photos of the 'enemies of the revolution.' We met an old Cambodian woman searching the pictures for her husband, who was one of those murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

As I walked the halls, my chest ached and eyes burned with what I hope was a righteous anger, the type of anger that the emotion was created for. I hate war. I hate this injustice. I can't understand it. I sort of understand the political factors, and I can parrot back the theological constructs that explain 'why a loving God allows suffering in the world.' But I still don't get it. I can't wrap my mind around 40,000 killed in an earthquake in Pakistan, 200,000 killed in a Tsunami in Sri Lanka, 300,000 civilian non-combatants killed by American bombs in Cambodia, 3,000,000 Khmers killed by their own countrymen.

How long? How long do we have to wait for God to fix things? When will we be free of this mess? What can we do about it?

I don't really have answers for these questions. But my experience this afternoon helped put things into some sort of perspective. We spent the second half of our day at the Phnom Penh New Life Orphanage, which may just be the happiest place on earth.

Alas, I can't write any more about that right now -- I have a dinner appointment in just a few minutes. If I can make it back to the cafe, I will finish. I'll just say that it was wonderful.

I thank God and I thank all of you who make this ministry possible. Good bye for now.


Scott Sloan said...

John, I am praying for you and your dad while your over at your other home.

I am not going to give you a "trite answer" about human suffering. I believe we can change it somewhat by showing God's love to others who may be classified as "the least, last, and lost of society". That is what Jeff means when he says we need to embrace suffering.

Anonymous said...

peace to you, brother. thanks to you for taking in what i would never have seen or known. god's continued favor on your time.

erica said...

Dear John,

Totally. My thoughts exactly on all of it. I boiled it down to a highly unsatisfactory answer about God's tireless defense of the free will of humanity which left me mad but more committed to prayer than ever.
I'm praying for you, and I believe it works.
Take pictures of Rotanak.
You know, the REAL handsomest kid in Phonm Phen.