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Today we spent time at S21–a one-time high school turned Khmer Rouge detention center (think WW2 concentration camp)–and Choeung Ek Genocide Center, aka “The Killing Fields.” 

These indentations are excavated mass graves. Over 20,000 people were killed at this site.

I had already heard about the Khmer genocide under Pol Pot, and had just finished Tears of My Soul, a survivor’s account of the genocide, but even then my understanding was academic and without emotional context. Our experience today changed that. 

When the communist Khmer regime came to power, they wanted to begin a new self-sustaining Cambodia, resetting the country to Year 0. The party recruited poor rural people, young men, mostly, to fuel it’s rise to power. These groups of people were the first to be “liberated” by the Khmer as they moved from the jungles to the cities. The Khmer Party, or Angkar, regarded intellectuals as suspicious, more likely to resist the revolution and support the old regime. Indeed, those who wore glasses, had soft hands, and lived in the cities were among the most heavily targeted for detention and execution. These groups were liberated last, we’re labeled “New Liberated” people, and were often ridiculed by the “Old Liberated.”

Detention building at S21, a one-time high school.

Under the Khmer Rouge, all social structures were torn apart in an effort to eliminate class destinction: banks destroyed (finance/economics), temples and Buddha statues smashed (religion), schools closed or turned into prisons and warehouses (education), cinemas shuttered and movie stars killed (entertainment and the arts), and families separated. 

At the killing fields, there was a tree labeled simply, “Killing Tree” with a shallow pit a few feet away. Here, soldiers (Cadres) snatched babies from their mothers and killed them by swinging them by their ankles against the tree and then tossing them into the pit. Babies and young children were often targeted so that they did not come back to seek revenge.

There is a monument on site dedicated to the victims. There are several tiers in the monument, many of which hold these skulls excavated from the graves.

Here’s how I started to process all of this: I teared up thinking of my own children. But I also thought about my family growing up. The Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 and ruled for 3+ years before falling apart and being overthrown by Vietnam. At this time, my dad, halfway around the world, was finishing his PhD. My mom had a bachelor’s degree. They were teachers. They both worked extremely hard, but I’d bet their hands were relatively soft. My siblings were born at this time. My parents were active in their local church. The reality is that had God seen fit to put us in Cambodia instead of the US, we’d be exactly the kind of people targeted for execution. My sister or brothers could have been smashed against that tree. 
My parents just celebrated 50 years of marriage, and the turnout for the celebration is a testament to their legacy. My siblings have beautiful families, have crafted meaningful, impactful lives. I can’t imagine a world without them. 3 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge; countless children. The thought of so much promise snuffed out before being fulfilled is heartbreaking. What impact could those children have had on the world?

I want to be careful not to appropriate someone else’s story or colonize someone else’s grief, but putting the genocide and what I saw today in the above context helps me realize just how senseless and tragic this was, and is a good reminder of how broken our world is. It’s a good reminder that I must respond to God’s great love for me and Jesus’s great sacrifice by bringing light into darkness and by doing what I can to usher in His kingdom here in earth. 


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Church, Pa Kep, and the Great Pagoda – Rune

After we got to Yangon and spent our first day in the Golden View Hotel, we ate breakfast at the restaurant/breakfast room (it’s a little building next to the hotel in the enclosed compound.) After we were done, we traveled with Pa Kep to his house/ministry center, and we had church with him and all the kids. All I can say is wow. The people there worshipped with all their hearts and sang beautifully. They truly love the Lord. I got a little bit emotional when they were singing during some points of the service. I love to hear other people worship and praise God in their own languages. All of the people we have met so far are extremely nice, they want to make sure you are absolutely comfortable, bring you water and fans to stay cool, and give us a lot of food. They are amazing and extremely hospitable. 

After the service, we ate lunch with Pa Kep. A traditional Burmese man came into the house with his wife, who is a buddhist. He has become a Christian, but is wife is a buddhist. Our team prayed with him. He also had his two young sons with him, one of them gave me a kiss on the cheek, and I got to hold the other one which is a baby. Pa Kep also gave us a traditional Myanmar “longgyi” to wear. 

Later in the day, Pa Kep took us to see the “Shwedagon Pagoda.” It is the largest Pagoda in the entire world. A Pagoda is similar to a temple, with the Shwedagon being for monks and Buddhism. It was incredible, and the whole team was truly blessed to be able to visit it and witness its magnificence. After we were done and walking back, Tim mentioned that even though it was an amazing place, it was also very sad that so many people for thousands of years had been worshipping false Gods, and had put so much effort into building something of no value to glorify the true God. I totally agreed. 

Overall, this was one of the best days of our trip so far for me, and I think everyone from the team had a really good time. After visiting the Pagoda, Pa Kep and Seth took us to the “Golden Duck Restaurant.” Wow. Talk about some good food. We fly to Shan State tomorrow. Please pray for safe travel for the rest of the trip, and also for all the kids in Seth’s ministry.

God bless,


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Team Asia

Team Asia consisting of Paul Stovall, Rune Skipp, Hannah Brown, Tim Hawkins, Rebekah Fitch and Ryan Kucharek left early this morning. The team will spend three weeks (May 15- June 5) traveling and serving throughout Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar.   Please be praying for them–pray that they would have open hearts, eyes and ears to see what God has in store for them and to respond faithfully as they serve the people they meet. Also pray for safety, health, and team dynamics.  Continue to check back regularly for blog posts about their adventures. FullSizeRendercropped-170503fuji7586.jpg