Out of the Cold

For nearly thirty years, the phrase killing fields was synonymous with Cambodia. Between 1975 and 1979, the communist Khmer Rouge killed at least one million Cambodians in their attempt to reinvent their society. The killing ended only with the Vietnamese invasion which drove the Khmer Rouge out of power and into the jungle. Now, some of them have re-emerged, bearing not guns, but Bibles, a reminder of how the Gospel can succeed where man cannot. The attempt to eliminate religion was at the heart of the killing fields. For Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, religion was superstition and an impediment to his plans for a better Cambodia. If Pol Pot were alive today, he would be shocked to read the headline in a recent edition of London's Guardian newspaper: "Khmer Rouge Embraces Jesus." According to the story, "at least two thousand" former Khmer Rouge soldiers "now worship Jesus." The town of Pailin in southwestern Cambodia is the center of this movement. As one pastor told the Guardian, 70 percent of the converts there are former Khmer Rouge. Many of them have testimonies similar to Thao Tanh. He said that "when I was a soldier I did bad things . . . We were following orders and thought it was the right thing to do . . . I read the Bible, and I know it will free me from the weight of the sins I have committed." The effects of the conversions transcend the merely personal. They have played an important role in bringing the Khmer Rouge "in from the cold" to help promote national unity. The people of Pailin understand what many here in the West don't: Religion, especially Christianity, is an important part of a good and just society. An example of how Westerners are ignorant of this was a recent interview of comedian and talk-show host Bill Maher. Speaking on the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Maher described what he called a "real dividing line between people of intelligence" and "people who are religious." While he graciously acknowledged that some religious people, like poet T. S. Eliot, are intelligent, he called religion "a neurological disorder." In Maher's estimation, the "cure" for "this crazy, illogical thing" Christians call faith is to "really get therapy or take a pill." The problem with nonsense like this is that, as columnist James Lileks noted, Maher's words "resonate" with many of our elites. They might not put it as indelicately, but they also think that religion is something to be overcome on the way to their idea of a good society. The Cambodians know better. They have experienced a real-world attempt to overcome religion which left millions dead in its wake. Now they are seeing how Christianity is helping to heal the wounds left by that attempt. What's true in Cambodia is true elsewhere now and can be true elsewhere in the future. Remember that on November 14, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Pray for both the persecuted and the persecutors, that God's amazing grace will continue to touch and transform them both. For further reading and information: Learn more about what you and your church or Bible study group can do on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Jason Burke, "Khmer Rouge Embraces Jesus," Guardian (London), 24 October 2004. Mirand Leitsinger, "Conversion in Cambodia," Holland Sentinel, 6 March 2004. Lorenzo Fazzini, "Between salvation and gratitude, Christ in Cambodia," Asia News, 20 October 2004. "Khmer Rouge: Christian baptism after massacres," Asia News, 12 January 2004. "Bill Maher interview," CBC Online, 22 October 2004. Read James Lileks's comments on the Canadian Broadcasting Company interview with Bill Maher (scroll toward the middle of the post). Amy Argetsinger, "Homesick and Stalled at LAX," Washington Post, 20 October 2004, A03. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040917, "Thinking about Vietnam: Hanoi and the Church." BreakPoint Commentary No. 040713, "Faithful unto Death: The Plight of Burmese Christians." Learn more about what you can do to help persecuted Christians at Stand Today's website. Priya Abraham, "With Friends Like These," World, 9 October 2004 (reprinted on BreakPoint Online). Kristin Wright, "Women and Children First," BreakPoint Online, 7 November 2003. Nina Shea, In the Lion's Den (Broadman and Holman, 1997). Paul Marshall, Their Blood Cries Out (Word Books, 1997).


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary