Southeast Asia 2013

I was not planning to go to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or the Killing Fields today. These are things in the category of “do only once and try to forget.” But I went because it was our first day here and I wanted to spend it with the team.

Post 2c

There are no words to describe the emotions we feel when we are face to face with so much evidence of evil committed by men against men in our lifetime. If there was ever a place where evil took up residence with gusto, that would be the killing fields of Cambodia. Close to two million perished there, from physical abuse, forced labor and malnutrition. That was how long it took for someone to realize that this utopian, agrarian-based, total equalitarian society could not survive the rigors of historical realities.

Visiting Tuol Sleng brought back memories of the first time I was there. To look at this serene place of learning — a high school turned into a house of torture and degradation — reminded me that on their own people cannot escape their propensity to do evil.

Post 2d

And how can you escape asking the question of “why”. I asked two young ladies from England, “So why do you think this happened here?” They told me no one knows and we should avoid asking the “why” question. I replied, “But if we don’t know why, does that mean that it could happen again?”

One said it is happening already; the other said she thought they were all psychopaths. “But that’s the easy answer, isn’t it?” They didn’t think so, and we were called to go our separate ways.

Walking down the path toward the last building, I met one of the few survivors of Tuol Sleng, whose wife was killed right in front of him. He also had many of his relatives killed. He was autographing his book, which I bought. This man, who was 86, asked me twice if I wanted to take a “photo” with him. I did. And he extended one of his fingers to touch my arm. I had chills running up my arms.

Post 2b

This man learned forgiveness somehow and extended it to the people who killed his family. What is more, he now shows a level of understanding about his brutal handlers. He is not sure he would have acted any different under the circumstances. Really?

I’m left wondering: are we all potential psychopaths? And how can you go on living, unless forgiveness enters the picture. I will never forget this man’s shy smile and the affection he showed a total stranger, even for only a few seconds.

I salute the courage of those who have been hurt the most when they chose to forgive the most.

Post 2e

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade (reporting from Cambodia)