Three years ago I went with a colleague to the Preah Key Mialia military hospital in Phnom Penh, notorious for its appalling conditions.
The huge colonial building was filthy. Avoiding dead rats on the stairs, we walked through noisy corridors filled with mutilated men and women, on crutches and in old broken-down wheelchairs, who shuffled about on the unspeakably dirty floor, gambling, gossiping and passing the time.
The patient we had come to see, Nyon, was semi-conscious in an old sluice room, lying on a mat on bare bed slats. Years ago he had sustained an injury to his leg and his kneecap had fused to his thighbone.
A visiting surgeon had recently operated and Nyon’s knee had bent for the first time in 25 years! After checking his condition, we two doctors prayed for Nyon, much to the interest, amusement and noisy speculation of the onlookers.
The next day I discussed the visit with a friend, Yosaip. He told me that Nyon had been a Khmer Rouge commander with a terrible reputation as a merciless killer.
In the final push to take Phnom Penh in April 1975, Nyon commanded four companies in the intense fighting around the airport. A mortar shell landed near him, blinding him in one eye and damaging his right leg.
His superior officer took him to hospital, produced a pistol and pointed it at the doctor, telling him, ‘Fix him! If you cut off his leg I’ll shoot you!’ However, his leg healed without being able to bend. I felt quite unnerved when I heard Nyon’s story. I had gone to comfort and ease the pain of a Khmer Rouge murderer!
In 1975 Yosaip’s family had been forced to leave their house in Phnom Penh. His mother was pregnant and gave birth on the forced march. The baby lived just a week. Then Yosaip’s three-year-old sister also died of a fever in the jungle.
Their father buried his children. If anyone had a reason for revenge, it was Yosaip and his family.
However, six years ago Nyon became a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and underwent a radical change.
He now leads a church in western Cambodia and ministers to several other churches in the villages of the area. Nyon and Yosaip’s father work together in the same church organisation, and Nyon stayed with Yosaip’s family before his recent surgery.
In the last few months, this former Khmer Rouge commander turned pastor has been involved in planting a church in Anlong Veng, the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge and the place where Pol Pot died.