Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Christian soldiers who bring forgiveness

Ten minutes’ bumpy drive from the border with Thailand, past a strip of gaudy casinos and brothels in a landscape of denuded hillsides, is a place where travellers fear to stop.

Throughout Cambodia the border town of Pailin is known — apart from its gemstones — as the last bastion of the Khmer Rouge, from where its remnants fought the Government until 1998.

The reputation is enough to send most travellers rushing through to the capital, Phnom Penh, eight hours drive away. Locals say that about 70 per cent of the area’s older men were fighters and that nearly all families have links to the regime blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million of their compatriots between 1975 and 1979.

Among them are men guilty of the worst crimes of the 20th century. Yet in the past four years many who are now law-abiding farmers and traders have renounced their former leader Pol Pot as a servant of Satan; travellers today are likely to suffer nothing worse than a fervent attempt to bring them to the Lord.

Phannith Roth, a missionary who grew up half-starved in a labour camp, admitted that he was terrified when his congregation in the town of Siha-noukville begged him to go to Pailin to spread the Word.

“I was scared because there are landmines everywhere, malaria is rife and because of the Khmer Rouge, who everyone knows are cruel,” he said.

“But it was the Lord’s will.” Now his Pailin Bible Presbytery Church has about 40 former Khmer Rouge worshippers....

Pastor Phannith said that many chose Christianity because they did not find forgiveness in Buddhism, which teaches that a soul must pay for its sins during lives to come.

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