A few hours of sleep did our team well. On a mattress provided by the Phnom Penh Youth With A Mission base, I think I can speak for the rest of the team in saying it was probably the most comfortable sleep we had all day. Breakfast was served around 8 and all were in attendance at the table.
Everyone enjoyed their first taste of Cambodian cuisine this morning to the point where there were no leftovers. But all that energy was much needed. It was going to be a very sobering and emotional day for us all. In a few hours we would be jumping on a Tuk Tuk (motorcycle carriage) headed into the heart of the city. At the heart of Phnom Penh was Tuol Sleng, known as S.21. Over the course of 4 years, 20,000 Cambodian people, men, women, and children, met their deaths in this prison camp.
For those that might not have a lot of knowledge about Cambodia and the events that transpired during the 1970's, please read this excerpt from the pamphlet we received at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
"The former security office 21 in 'Democratic Kampuchea' was created on orders of Pol Pot and designed for detention, interrogation, inhuman torture, and killing of the detainees after confessions were received and documented. On January 7, 1979 the Party and the Government collected all the evidence in S-21 such as photographs, films, the prisoner confession archives, torture tools, shackles, and the 14 victim corpses..."
Tuol Sleng was one of the larger prison camps in Cambodia. The atmosphere was somber, a place for quiet respect for the people that lost their lives so unjustly and inhumanely. We split up into groups and were off with a tour guide to learn about the horrors that occurred on the ground we walked.
The camp was converted from the largest high school in Phnom Penh. The central plaza was surrounded by 4 large buildings each used for a different purpose during the time of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The first building was used for detaining cadres, high ranking officials, that were accused of leading the uprisings against Pol Pot. The other 3 buildings housed prisoners of all classes, backgrounds, and occupations.
The walk-through of building A completely wrecked me. The original blood stains of tortured prisoners were dried on the ceilings and the walls of the cells. Imagine that you were standing where someone might have slowly been killed from some of the most inhumane forms of torture. You would come close to what each of us experienced at Tuol Sleng.
Each building displayed the shackles that bound the prisoners, some reaching lengths to harbor over 20 prisoners at a time. Pictures of the victims lined the walls. Ravaged by hunger and torture, their eyes carried a deep sadness and hopelessness. Our hearts sank at the sight of the children pictured on the walls.
I asked two members of our team for their reactions to S-21 and this is what they had to say:
"I was caught up in how sad the whole place was. I'm sure that it would have been terrible to be there when it was all happening. The things that took place there were so bad and I couldn't imagine what it would have been like. I think that it doesn't matter where it is, or what's going on, mass genocides continue to occur in this world, and they can only be broken by a cycle of love. As Christians we shouldn't hate or corrupt our world but bring an era of love to it."
"I don't really know how to react, how do you really react to something like that? When I was there, looking at all the paintings of the babies being killed, that was the thing that was the worst for me. It was like I could hear the screams of the prisoners. It's crazy to think that it was only 40 years ago that this all occurred. Going to this place further ignites my desire for social justice and there is really just a lot to wrap your head around. Overall this experience has given me a perspective that I would not have known."
Please continue to pray for the team and the people of Cambodia.