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"Killing Fields, Living Fields"

Killing Fields, Living Fields: An unfinished portrait of the Cambodian Church--the Church that would not die is written by former Cambodian missionary, Don Cormack and, with gardening and farming imagery, is the sometimes dry and sometimes riveting history of Protestant Christianity in Cambodia, beginning in 1923 with the first converts and continuing until the time the book was written in 1998.

The communist Khmer Rouge took control of the government in 1975 and began to systematically torture and kill so many of their fellow countrymen that the entire country became one large concentration camp. People were killed for no reason and for every reason, their bodies left in mass graves. By 1995, 8,000 mass graves had been found with the expectation of finding as many as 20,000. Cambodia became known as the Killing Fields. What happened to the Church during the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge?

Even before that time, life was difficult for the Khmer (Cambodian) people. The author writes, “The only respite was to live in a world of fantasies and illusions rather than realities. Reality was too grim a fact and beyond their control.... Few women had a husband who would be faithful all through life [yet the woman was] a virtual slave both to husband and sons until grandmotherhood....”

Then the killing began. People began to realize “that to survive you must let all ambition, hope and emotion dry up, and concentrate your energy no further ahead than surviving each day at a time.... To hope in Angka [the “organization on high”] was fatal, and to trust even your spouse or brother was potentially suicidal.”

While many Christians died, and others found refuge overseas, the church survived. “Though frequently ridiculed and despised, there was no denying that Christians had a reputation for being generally more moral and honest, people of integrity. And wherever there was a humanitarian need, invariably there were Christians, Cambodians or foreign, on the spot with medicines and food. It appeared too that much of their suffering, and a good deal of the corruption and exploitation [in the refugee camps] was the work of those claiming to be Buddhist.”

I enjoyed the book because, while there are many books and articles about Cambodia, there is little written about God’s people there and how they endured.

Interestingly, only a week or so after finishing Killing Fields, Living Fields, the July issue of the National Geographic arrived, the cover story about Angkor, the seat of ancient Khmer Civilization: “Divining Angkor: After rising to sublime heights, the sacred city may have engineered its own downfall.” National Geographic Magazine, July, 2009

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