Escape

AS OUR new Group of 26 stole away from Sisophon, we separated into smaller groups so that we wouldn?t be identified as exiting the city all together. After a day?s walk we came to an isolated village. We were about 15 miles from the border.

The village was very quiet, and it looked like possibly 20-30 families lived there. We stopped briefly to rest and then moved on through the night. On the morning of the 22 nd, we stopped again. At our resting point, we prayed hard, asking God to take care of us the rest of the way. We were now entering the densest jungle area and many unknowns lay ahead: the possibility of a surprise Khmer Rouge attack, a sudden hostile reaction from patrolling Viet soldiers or abandonment by our guide.

After our rest, we continued on. The journey?s complication were increased by the six children with us, Two children needed to be carried, and four needed to be held by hand, If we came upon the Khmer Rouge, we wouldn?t be able to run.

The jungle vegetation was so thick that no path was recognizable. Small bamboo plants with sharp points stuck up from the ground everywhere, and our bare feet began to bleed. Along the way we frequently saw bones from human skeletons, and the smell of death was in the air. As we came closer to the border, we passed by broken-down automatic bow-and-arrow machines, which were undoubtedly in full working order when the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia and could be much more protective of the border.

We walked along silently, afraid to make a vocal sound lest any stalking Khmer Rouge should hear. As we came within three miles of the border, we were all ready to give up. Most of the women could barely take another step, and the children could not keep their tears bottled up any longer. Worst of all, our water supply was depleted.

We stopped once again and wearily decided to pray. We quoted in our prayer from Psalm 23, ?The Lord is my Shepherd, waters ....? Then we asked God to meet the finished our prayer, two or three men went on ahead. About 160 feet beyond us they all converged on a small hole practically hidden from sight. Normally the small hole would have held no water, but rain from the night before had filled the hole.

The men called out their discovery, and we all joyfully raced to the hole and luxuriously drank until thirst was quenched. Then we filled all the jugs and small barrels we carried and, expressing our thanks to God, moved on with renewed strength.

On the night of April 22, our guide stopped us in the middle of our path. ?You are in Thailand now,? he said, and just as quickly vanished into the thick brush.

Momentary fear swept our group, because the night was pitching black, and we had no way of knowing in which direction laid a village, if indeed we had crossed the border.

Once again, we sat everyone down to pray. We sat everyone down to pray. We asked the Lord to be our guide since we had no human guide anymore. We finished praying and got up to continue moving in a westerly direction. However, it was so dark we could not see where we were going and decided to stop where we were to sleep. That decision in itself was an act of faith, because even in the darkness we could detail the footprints of tigers and other wild forest creatures.

Just as we were ready to go to sleep, I asked two young men in our group to climb the nearest tall tree to see if they could see any village lights. When they came down from the tree, they told me they saw two sets of lights, one set near and one set farther away. I asked them to remember the direction, and we would head that way in the morning.

As April 23 dawned, we aroused from sleep and started moving in the direction of the lights the men had seen the night before. As we passed through the jungle, we came upon to haul chopped wood. Upon seeing this sign of civilization, our pace quickened considerably. About two miles further, we passed a group of people planning rice. Just beyond them lay a village. We knew for certain we were in Thailand.

As we approached the village, a Thai soldier greeted us. He asked us how we had gotten out of the forest, and since I did not know the Thai language, I answered him in English. He seemed excited to find an English-speaking Cambodian, since he spoke both English and French, and we established an immediate rapport. After asking about our experiences in Cambodia, our new friend warned us not to go into the nearby refugee camp, because the Thai government was planning to send refugees right back into Cambodia, without food or protection. He invited us instead to his place for the night.

At his house, the Thai soldier fed us well, and as he and I talked further that night, he offered to find a job for me in the village ? which would give me the opportunity to resettle quickly and avoid the uncertainties of the refugee camp. I then told my friend about my work with Campus Crusade and my intense desire to resume contact with the staff. He replied that I would probably have a better chance through the camp of contacting outsiders than by staying in the village.

So on the morning of April 24, the Thai soldier led us into the refugee camp. The camp was obviously makeshift and hurriedly constructed. Barbed wire formed its borders, and the housing consisted of long rows of roofed shelters without walls.

As we arrived in the camp, many of the residents, who expressed surprise at how physically strong we looked, met us. However, they were most surprised that our entire group of 26 had made it. We were telling that every group that had arrived so far had lost members in the jungle. The refugees mentioned one group in which only 10 people ultimately reached the camp out of an original 60.

During our first week in the camp, called Taphraya 1, we took the opportunity to share with many people how they could come to Jesus Christ personally. Nineteen refugees became Christians that week, and each morning and evening, I began holding a Bible study for them and for other Christians who wanted to join. Thailand missionaries also visited the camp, and it was exciting for me to see Christian literature and Cambodian Bibles freely circulating.

During our first days in the camp, we spent much time wandering through the rows of shelters, looking for someone, anyone, we might recognize as a Christian whom we had know before the fall. We looked particularly hard for any Thailand Campus Crusade staff who might be visiting the camp. The camp had now swelled to at least 75,000 people, and I knew it would almost be a miracle to ever meet anyone.

I remember one evening as Samoeun and I wandered through the camp on our search for familiar faces, we noticed a man who looked like a member of the Red Cross. He very closely resembled a Campus Crusade staff member we had known in Manila, Bud Newbold. Samoeun ran up to the man, her heart filled with optimism that we had found an old friend. However, about one or two feet before she reached him, she looked more closely and realized he was mot Mr. Newbold. Samoeun?s disappointment was so immense that she fell to the ground before him, crying.

As I circled around the border of the camp two days after our arrival, through the barbed wire I noticed a Caucasian newspaper reporter standing just outside the fence. Reporters were not yet allowed inside, and their interviewing had to be done through the barbed wire. A crowd was gathering by the fence where he was standing, as any reporter represented in everyone?s mind a slim ray of hope that he might convey a short message that would reach relatives in the outside world.

As I joined the crowd, I heard the reporter falling out above the noise for anyone who knew English to come forward. At this, my heart started pounding, for it was becoming obvious that I was the only one in that immediate group who could answer his request.

For an instant, my mind gratefully flashed back five years to my Campus Crusade training time in Manila, when I had arrived there knowing no language but Khmer and French. Since the training was carried on in English, I knew my only hope of successful completion of the training was to learn English ? quickly. Samoeun and I vowed to each other only to speak English to one another for the entire training time, and by the end of the six-month session, I was able to teach some basic seminars in our newly acquired language.

My English had become rusty in the last four years, as I had been quite mindful of its forbidden status in the Khmer Rouge?s Cambodia. However, I edged my way forward in the crown anyway, and through the fence, the reporter caught sight of my waving arm and heard my English greeting.

I went to the front of the crowd, and through the free, my story tumbled out to the reporter, Micheal Battye of Reuters News Agency, Thailand. I told him quickly of our life with the Khmer Rouge and then of my work with Campus Crusade. As I mentioned to him Campus Crusade, I pulled out my only means of identification: my Campus Crusade staff card, which I had kept by faith, hoping for an opportunity such as this.

Mr. Battye scribbled my story hurriedly and took down my name, Samoeun, and Wiphousana?s. On April 26, Battye sent the following story over the Reuters wire service:

ARANYAPRETHET, THIALAND, and April 26 ? The Thai army has transported more Kampuchean (Cambodian) refugees to a mountain region south of this frontier town to join between 50,000 and 80,000 countrymen already there, informed sources said today. They said trucks took the new refugees, mostly civilians, to the Kao Leong Mountains, which straddle the frontier about 30 miles south of here.

The Kampucheans have been fleeing across the border into Thailand in the face of a fresh Vietnamese-led offensive by the new regime in Phnom Penh to crush opposition. Thai authorities have said that they would try to send the refugees back to their country as they had orders from the government not to allow them to stay in Thailand....Among the refugees in the areas were 26 Kampuchean Christians said by refugee officials to be only the third such group to escape to Thailand.

Vek Huong Taing, 30, told Reuters in a temporary refugee camp today that he had worked for the Manila-based Campus Crusade for Christ International before the Khmer Rouge took power four years ago.

He said that he and his wife had been forced to hide their religious beliefs during that period because discovery would have meant certain death.

On April 27, Mrs. Ethylyn Schultz, a staff member with Trans World Radio in Guam, was in the news room of the Agana radio station. She glanced down to the wire copy rolling onto the floor from the station?s news teletype machine and her eyes caught the words, ?Campus Crusade for Christ.? Having been familiar with Campus Crusade already, she bent down to read the context. The story was Michael Battye?s report. As soon as she read the story, Mrs. Schultz called Warren Willis, Campus Crusade?s international representative in Guam.

Willis immediately telephoned Bailey Marks, the ministry?s Asia-South Pacific director of affairs. Marks, who had never given up hope that we were alive, contacted Campus Crusade staff in Thailand to begin an urgent search for us, before repatriation efforts (by the Thai government) went into effect. Bangkok observers regarded return to Cambodia as almost certain death, especially for known Christians.

An immediate effort was then launched, both in Thailand and the United States, to locate us, secure our release from the camp and clear the way for us to come to America. In Thailand, Campus Crusade staff contacted the local authorities and the Refugee Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok to win our release from the temporary refugee camp and to obtain visas to the U.S. In the States, U.S. Senator William Armstrong was contacted, who began working with the State Department Refugee Section. Campus Crusade staff, operating separately from Senator Armstrong, located reporter Battye in Bangkok, found out from him the name and location of our camp and turned the information over to the State Department on Sunday morning, April 29.

Less than 24 hours after Warred Willis? call to Bailey Marks, four Campus Crusade staff members began walking through the Taphraya camp looking for us. Bard Bolin, Charlie Culbertson, Greg Fallow and Jintana Chaowonglert had been scouting the camp for us for hours when they came upon several members of our group huddled together. They would have walked right past them, except that Samoeun, ever on the lookout, walked over to Charlie, who was wearing a barong (a Filipino Shirt).

?I?ve seen that kind of shirt before,? Samoeun said.

Charlie answered, ?That?s from the Philippines.?

?I lived in the Philippines.?

?What?s your name??

Samoeun moved closer and said ?I?m Samoeun.? Then Charlie held up a copy of a small yellow booklet published by Campus Crusade entitled, ?Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?? Samoeun recognized it immediately and cried out with joy. She and Charlie embraced, with tears flowing freely.

A few minutes later, I came upon the scene, and when I joined in the celebration, our friends gave me a copy of the letter I had sent to Bailey Marks on April 7, 1975 telling him of our decision to stay in Cambodia. The letter had arrived in Manila several days after Cambodia?s fall to the Khmer Rouge.

We remained in Taphraya for three more days, while arrangements were being made for our release. On May 1, only seven days after our group had arrived in Taphraya, we left our temporary home for Bangkok with another Campus Crusade staff member, Paul Utley. Just before I left the camp, I said a tearful goodbye to my 23 friends and 19 new believers. I asked them to pray and wait expectantly for God?s special plan for them to be revealed.

Samoeun, Wiphousana and I then climbed into a car for the ride to Bangkok. It was our first ride in an automobile in four years, and the three of us fall victim to carsickness! Fortunately, Charlie Culbertson and Paul were very understanding and stopped at the first store they could for some medicine before we resumed our trip.

When we arrived in Bangkok, I was hesitant to get out of the car, since I was wearing only a gagged shirt and a pair of shorts given to me by the Red Cross in Taphray. Charlie quickly measured me and before I knew it, he had left and returned with a pair of just purchased long pants.

In Bangkok, we went to stay at another temporary camp for a couple of days while Paul Utley, Bailey Marks (who had just arrived) and another staff couple, Bud and Elizabeth Newbold, worked to process our visas. On May 4, a welcome party was given us by the whole Bangkok Campus Crusade staff, and that night we slept in a guest house of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

That night was the first of my son?s young life to sleep on a bed, since he was only two months old when we fled Phnom Penh. When he saw the bed he asked Samoeun, in his unique parlance, ?Mommy, is this the bed of our Lord?? Samoeun answered him ?yes,? and he happily climbed in.

On May 5, we received our permission to leave for the United States, and late that day we arrived in San Francisco, Calif., from Bangkok. After resting in a San Francisco hotel overnight, we flew the next day into Ontario Airport near San Bernardino, Calif., where Campus Crusade?s international headquarters is located. San Bernardino would be our new home until we determined our future plans. (Efforts were continuing to bring the remaining members of our border-crossing group to the United States also, and on June 27, they arrived safely in San Bernardino.)

When Smoeun and I stepped out of the plane at the Ontario Airport, a whole contingent of Campus Crusade staff and former American missionaries to Cambodia stood waving happily in greeting as we descended the plane?s steps.

Our feeling as we stepped off the plane was indescribable: we could not believe that we were in America, being welcomed by spiritual brothers and sisters we had wondered if we?d ever see, and free once again to pursue our ministry. For a brief moment, Samoeun and I discussed the wonder of it, and then we just thanked God from our hearts as our feet touched the California ground.