y work brought me to Cambodia, and face-to-face with the atrocities of the killing fields. An estimated one third of the total population of Cambodia—1.7 million people—were tortured, killed, or died of starvation and disease when the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot reigned in terror between 1975 and 1979.
The family unit and education were the targets of annihilation. Children were instigated to betray their parents, and even kill them to prove their loyalty to Pol Pot. Much of Cambodian culture and many of its institutions were destroyed. Illiteracy is still rampant, although the current government is attempting to turn education around.
In her book, Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors, Youkimny Chan wrote about her experience on April 17, 1975.
“Soldiers came to our home and told us to leave Phnom Penh for three days so they could clean up the city. . . . Then they came again to say that American B-52 bombers were going to attack Phnom Penh and everyone had to leave or be killed by the bombs. The soldiers assured us that they would defeat the Americans and let [them] return to their homes. These soldiers were our countrymen. We had no reason not to believe them. They weren’t going to hurt us.”
Youkimny, along with countless others, was sadly mistaken. Her life became one long nightmare for four years. She was forced to work 14 hours in the rice fields, with only one meal a day of rice porridge—with hardly any rice in it.
God, where were You during the Pol Pot regime?
Cleopas, a disciple of Jesus, was feeling devastated, depressed, angry, and disappointed because Jesus had just been crucified three days before (see Luke 24). His high hopes for a kingdom to be established on earth had been shattered. Just a week before, enthusiasm had run high as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, with everyone shouting, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The hosannas still rang in Cleopas’s ears. He couldn’t believe that the King who had spoken so confidently about His coming kingdom had been arrested, tried, and crucified, all within such a short time.
Luke pictures Cleopas walking with another disciple to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked, they discussed the perplexing events of the past few days. While absorbed in their conversation, Someone—whom we know was Jesus—joined them.
Luke 24:16 reports that they were “prevented from recognizing Him.” Yes, even when Cleopas and the disciples felt totally abandoned by their Master, Jesus was right there beside them. They just didn’t know it.
Where was God in those dark years in Cambodia? When it seemed that God was nowhere to be found; when it seemed that the cries and prayers of mothers, children, and fathers were falling on deaf ears, God was there. In the midst of the turmoil, He was busy leading many to the safety of refugee camps in Thailand. He was sending His angels to strengthen the starving millions. He was supporting and protecting the children and parents, encouraging them to fight for survival no matter what.
God is still working in the hearts of those Cambodians who survived. They are sensing a responsibility to return to help fellow citizens who are still struggling to rebuild the country and their own private lives.
Why the killing fields of Cambodia? Why September 11? Why are you and I alive and well while millions have perished? Through these disasters, God has been shouting at us to wake up from our deep stupor. Time is short. Jesus will come soon. This world may be dark and mired in the senseless ideologies that characterized 9/11 and Pol Pot’s reign, but God has called us to let the light of the knowledge of Christ shine through us to warm the cold hearts around us.
In the meantime, when we are tempted to shout, God, where are You? His answer to us is, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). “And they shall call His name Immanuel . . . God with us” (Matt. 1:23).