We’ve been on the road most of the day and are finally settled in Sihanoukville. I, for one, feel a little bit like I’ve been on a cruise with Gilligan, since the “3 or 4 hour drive” took us SEVEN! I think that experience has left some of us a little nervous about the return trip on Saturday, which will need to happen quickly enough for us to catch our flight to Siem Reap!
I know others from the team will be sharing reflections on our Sunday worship experiences soon, but I wanted to share a story or two that were especially meaningful to me. As you may already know, the team split into two groups, and each group visited 2 churches.
For morning worship, our group (Amelia & Tom B., Juliana, and the Meeks family) went to Methodist Emmanuel. The hospitality of the congregation was splendid ~ radical, in fact! We were surprised when the pastor’s wife asked us to forego the Cambodian custom of leaving our shoes outside the door. We learned that, because the skies were threatening to open at any moment, our hosts did not want our shoes to be left outside to get wet alongside their own. I was deeply touched by this gesture of hospitality.
After the service, a woman I would guess to be about my mother’s age approached me and after exchanging customary greetings, she reached out as if to take my hand, and so we clasped hands with one another. She spoke no English, I’ve learned only 2 Khmer phrases (hello and thank you), and our translator was busy speaking with someone else. So we exchanged no words, but stood eye-to-eye, holding hands for some time. Then the pastor of the congregation stepped over. Also unable to communicate in English, he tapped my shoulder, smiled broadly, then gestured toward the woman’s feet and hands.
That’s when I realized that for all practical purposes, they were missing. Most of the fingers of both hands, and over half of both feet. I wish I had been able to learn her story. I didn’t. She clearly was of an age to have been a survivor of “the time of Pol Pot” (as I’ve most often heard Cambodians refer to that era). Having now seen the horrific evidence of that brutal time at the Killing Field and Toul Sleng, my mind can’t seem to resist conjecture. I’ve also learned that many people are still being maimed throughout rural Cambodia by landmines buried during the Vietnam war, and so part of me can’t help wondering if my own country has a part in her story. Perhaps her story isn’t so dramatic, and my imagination has run away with me. I guess we’ll never know, but that wouldn’t be my story to tell anyway.
Mine is the story of the sacramental moment she and I shared in that little log cabin church, as we held one another’s hands and looked into one another’s eyes. There was a special connection that drew us to reach out to one another, and there was healing in that moment of touch. Like the healing that happened every time Jesus reached out to touch what those around him deemed untouchable.
I don’t know what the moment meant to the other woman. But for me it meant healing from pain that I had expressed to only one or two people before now. Pain that I had been wrestling with ever since we left the Killing Field on Friday. Pain that I had tried and failed to blog about, because it was still too close.
You see, the day we walked the pathway of the Killing Field and the hallways of Toul Sleng, I walked past dozens of people whose hands were reaching out to me. Dozens of people with disfigured faces, missing limbs. Dozens of people whose eyes I refused to meet because I knew I wasn’t going to drop a dollar in their hat. Dozens of people whose humanity I was afraid to see, because it might mean seeing the image of God within them… and that might mean I’d be unable to keep walking past them. Dozens of people who indirectly answered the question for me: “How could Pol Pot (or Hitler or … ) get people to do those kind of things to other people?” It’s not so hard to ignore human pain and suffering so long as one refuses to look upon it. And once you learn to ignore it… to really shut out the humanity of the suffering one… it’s only a small step to becoming the one who inflicts it.
And so I have been wrestling with these demons this week. And it has hurt. But in that moment in that little log cabin church in rural Cambodia, Jesus showed up and reached out to touch two women who stood holding hands, and meeting one another’s gaze. And I know one of them was healed.
I told Tom R. part of this story on the bus this morning, and he asked me to blog about it. I didn’t tell him the whole story, because I hadn’t even finished processing it enough to “get it” myself at that point. I thought it was all about her need… her healing… So, “thank you Tom” for encouraging me to share, and “thank you reader” for listening as I discovered the story I really needed to tell. I pray that hearing the story has touched you as much as living the story has touched me.