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Stronger than death

"Stronger than death" Continued...

Issue: "2008 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 13, 2008

Instead, she took the infant to her own home and telephoned her friends, the Lamanilaos. Strangely, that very morning, Merlen herself had been taken ill with what felt like birth pangs. After the call, the pains immediately ceased, and they went to the midwife's home. They were shocked at what they saw. "The baby looked like a newborn puppy, wrapped in a dirty towel," says Sammy.

After wrestling with the matter in prayer, Sammy and Merlen took the baby to the government hospital. Doctors declared her prospects for survival slim, but Sammy and Merlen were undeterred. They paid two women to work in 12-hour shifts for 30 days, pumping oxygen manually into the baby's makeshift incubator. And they prayed. After a month, the child was released, frail but healthy, with the doctor's declaration: "This baby has been given a second life." Today 6-year-old Kezia Grace is thriving.

This concern for redeeming the hopeless and neglected continues in Pastor Sammy's ministry. According to USAID, Cambodia's adult HIV infection rate of 2.7 percent is the highest in Asia and is "fueled by a large sex industry and poorly developed health and education infrastructures." Several members of Pastor Sammy's congregation are AIDS sufferers, and he and Merlen visit the HIV hospital regularly to pray with the patients.

Pastor Sammy also has a prison ministry: "My work includes teaching English to the chief of police, guards, and prisoners as well. I visit them twice a month and give them books, Christian magazines, and Bibles."

Official 2006 government statistics count some 70,000 Christians among the population of 14 million, about one-half of 1 percent, with a majority of these Roman Catholic. In July of last year, the Ministry of Cults and Religions issued a directive banning Christian evangelistic activities as "disruptive." Christians are prohibited from knocking on doors or distributing religious literature. Any church construction must be pre-authorized by the Ministry.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party was returned to power last July in elections that were disputed as fraudulent by opposition parties. While no supporter of Hun Sen, Pastor Sammy was relieved at the results, fearing that a defeat for the government would have resulted in civil war.

Avoiding direct confrontation with the government or the Buddhist community, Pastor Sammy concentrates on shining the light of Christ through works of love and mercy. "We are here as witness that the love of God is stronger than hatred and death. To the wounded, the suffering, and the broken-hearted, we are here to proclaim the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior."

Slow motions

2009 marks start of public Khmer Rouge trials

In 2001 the Cambodian National Assembly created the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to try leaders of the Khmer Rouge for the atrocities committed by the regime. The government requested help from the United Nations in establishing and operating the tribunal but insisted that the trial be held in Cambodia by and for the people of the nation.

Five individuals have been arrested and are in custody, facing trial by the ECCC:

• Khieu Samphan, former head of state;

• Nuon Chea, former deputy to Pol Pot;

• Ieng Sary, former deputy prime minister and foreign minister;

• Khieu Thirith, former minister of education, wife of Ieng Sary, and sister-in-law of Pol Pot;

• Kaing Guek-Eav, known as Comrade Duch, former commandant of Tuol Sleng prison and interrogation facility.

Those arrested are charged with war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. Preliminary proceedings are underway, with the ECCC ruling on pre-trial motions.

The trial of Comrade Duch was expected to begin in September but has been delayed as the court considers an appeal by the prosecution to hold Eav liable for "joint criminal enterprise," in effect adding criminal conspiracy to the charges against him. According to a statement, ECCC expects to transfer the case from pre-trial to trial chambers after the ruling this month, when it will receive lists of prospective witnesses from the prosecution and defense. A meeting expected in mid-January to set a date for the initial hearing will mark the first public stage of the trial process. For crimes committed 30 years ago, the wheels of justice continue to grind, slowly.

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