As we prepare for our missions trip to Cambodia, the team all read Sokreaksa Himm’s The Tears of My Soul, an account of his experiences in Pol Pot’s Cambodia in 1975. It is an excellent account of the oppressive rule of the Khmer Rouge.
Reaksa was 13 when the Khmer Rouge “liberated” Cambodia from the monarchy, and quickly emptied the major cities by sending all families into rural communities. This was a part of Pol Pot’s Year Zero campaign, to return Cambodia to its glory by sending it back to agricultural villages and removing “American-influenced” professions like teaching and medicine. If people question or challenge the leaders, they are “sent to school,” a deadly euphemism for death.
The boy Reaksa and his family worked for years as farmers, until the Khmer Rouge decided to eliminate all the new-liberated people (those who were moved from the cities after 1975), and brought his family to a pit and brutally executed all but Reaksa. This scene was one of the most violent accounts that I’ve read in print, bashing babies’ heads and chopping the adults with hoes and shovels. Absolutely wicked. Reaksa was in the pit assumed to be dead, but his lay there with his families’ blood and entrails staining him and weighing him down.
The book then continues with two themes: how to find a will to live after this, and how to reconcile these events with a good God. Both of these are Sisyphusian tasks for the young man Reaksa. I like that this book does not provide easy answers, even after he becomes a Christian in a Thai refugee camp. He still has questions after his conversion, but he refuses to dwell on them to let them sap his life. Rather, he seeks comfort in the God of the Universe who knows his pain and suffering.
The Tears of My Soul provided me insight into the pain of the Cambodian people after a devastating time in recent history. This is a massacre that occurred not in history books, but in my lifetime. I was six when Pol Pot snatched power in Cambodia, and I was eight when Reaksa’s family was murdered. Cambodians have a different experience than mine, and I think this book helps me to see that difference better.
This book also shows the devastating nature and logical conclusion of atheism. Pol Pot joins a long list of men who were vehement against God: Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin all killed in the name of no God. Fortunately, we have men like Reaksa who can tell the story.
Here’s a news story on Himm’s return to Cambodia and his forgiveness: