A few weeks ago, I spent eight days in Cambodia helping to lead a service trip for a group of thirty-one ICS high schoolers. As we debriefed, each student completed a reflection assignment concerning what they had learned that was of lasting value. No one is grading mine, but I wrote several as well. Here is one of them.
My trip to Cambodia began and ended in Phnom Penh, touring the Tuol Sleng school-turned-prison and the Killing Fields. It was there that I witnessed an extent of human depravity that left me quite shaken up. It was a strange response for me. You see, my first experience of the like was visiting the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany when I was thirteen. It was horrific and tragic. Yet I felt no stirring of sorrow, no nudge or compulsion to personally feel any of the weighty atmosphere. My mind had proceeded to process the somberness like after one reads a newspaper clipping, “oh, that’s sad, but lots of sad things happen, and I’m sure glad it didn’t happen to me.” I cannot defend it as the shroud of Innocence I may have possessed with that age. No, I admit that my response was due to the natural state of my fallen heart. Cold, vile, dead.
But a great, arduous work has been done in that dark place. As I stood by the Killing Fields and looked at the now concave crevices of earth that used to be mounds, swelling from the decaying fumes of corpses, I felt. Listening to the personal narratives, to the orchestral compositions written for Pol Pot’s victims, I sat and let my tears fall for the tens of thousands who fell at the hands of their own countrymen.
They don’t need my tears. But I do. And so do my brothers and sisters and neighbors.
In the past decade, my heart has softened – is being shaped into a mold capable of empathy, compassion. And this is by no means through my own doing.
I am reminded again that but for the mercy and grace of God, I have not just been spared from being a victim of torture and violence – but from being the torturer and violator. It is a humbling truth. It is a transforming truth. I am that lost and that depraved, yet God is that mighty and that merciful to redeem me – to redeem man – from our own wretchedness and capacity for such through Christ, by faith. O, Lord, that I might walk in your ways of compassion, with a heart of flesh, and not a heart of stone. |Ezekial 36:26|