Cambodia Reflection – Killing Fields

The-Killing-Tree-Choeung-Ek-Phnom-Penh-CambodiaI remember when I got my first gold coin – I was ecstatic and enamored by its weight and beauty. I wasn’t going to spend that little guy even if the next Polly Pocket came out and I was out of allowance. I wasn’t particularly into collecting money, but the uniqueness and intrinsic value of real gold captured me and I’ve held onto that coin to this day. Right now I’m trying to imagine what it would have been like if all the gold coins had a different face, or perhaps gems embedded in them, or maybe a saying or verse that was unique to each one. I am positive that I would be using a lot of my resources to continue collecting those gold coins, and having a different sense of awe with each one. I  might even have 1,000 by this point, or 10k, 14k, or 20k.

I am creating this illustration because today we dealt with hard numbers within an incredibly emotional topic and I’m trying to process it. We visited a former prison used for torture, interrogation and slaughter (Tuol Sleng/S21 museum and its corresponding Killing Field where 129 mass graves were made to hold the bodies of those who went through S21 (Choeung Ek As with any other inhumane act of this proportion, the numbers are hard to process as we get lost in the cruelty of it and struggle with what even 1,000-2,000 humans looks like, let alone a few million. It even feels wrong for me to write about it on social media, like it is a status update of my life or comments about just another normal day.

A strong missionary prayer of mine is summed up by a popular Christian song lyric: “Jesus, break my heart with what breaks yours.” (I’ll get to this more shortly.) However, in the case of ridiculously high numbers of unspeakable atrocities, how do we even process the numbers, let alone the fact that each number is a unique soul loved by God? So:

I have one gold coin that I am enamored by. Soon I have two or three, each just as beautiful and unique as the last. I am enamored by each one so much so that each time one is stolen I know, and I grieve. As a treasurer, I know it will return to me eventually but I am sad that it is not being protected by me – I am sad for it. Then one year, suddenly a large amount goes missing. Thousands of my unique coins disappear multiple times until after four years a total of 14,000 are stolen by just one branch of an organization alone. I am only able to retrieve 7 of those 14k. Fourteen thousand, to one branch alone, but in totality, this organization stole somewhere between 3 and 5 million in those 4 years.

Now make all those gold coins your fellow humans.

There are three reasons I needed to do this for myself, and the fact that might heart is now fully broken is not one of them. Reason #1: it is important to understand the facts, no matter how difficult or daunting, so we can understand what our brothers and sisters have gone through and so that we can prevent it when it looks like it might happen again. Reason #2: the victims and families of the victims deserve our respect for their suffering. Reason #3: God’s heart is the one that broke first.

The good news and what we have to hold on to is not the atrocities that were committed in mass proportions, but knowing that the ultimate love of the Father made it impossible for him to turn a blind eye. Suffering is NOT easy to explain but all I can say is that my God is both the Judge and the Savior of the world and he grieved more deeply than I can imagine when those precious gold treasures were hurt and he holds their hearts in his still.

S21 enslaved 14k prisoners and only 7 survived. The Killing Field that was set up for it had 189 mass graves, containing 20,000 found bodies. There were countless other killing fields, at least 77 memorials today that are commemorative of different ones. Up to 5 million were killed in 4 years by their Cambodian brothers and sisters.

– Mary Jo Goosman, Administrative Assistant for Academic Services & Tutor Coordinator

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