One Fish A Day

WHEN the day came to leave Pey, all the newcomers were gathered together. We were instructed to walk down a road for about six miles and wait there for a truck which would take us to our new destinations. Samoeun and I discovered that God had a Plan even in the timing of our departure ? Samoeun?s bleeding had completely stopped, and she could now handle the walking.

Our group arrived at the designated truck-rendezvous site and spent two nights there, waiting to leave. There were about 30 trucks parked in a large area, and hundreds of people milling around, because the make-shift way station was not only for our village but also for many other villages around.

When we were ready to leave, the Khmer Rouge Unexpectedly asked us to deposit all our belongings on the ground beside the road before we climbed aboard our assigned trucks. A great cry of shocked protest went up from the crowd, but soldiers promised over loudspeakers that we had no cause for worry; all we neede would be taken care of by the Khmer Rouge.

Not completely trusting the soldiers? reassurances, hundreds of people began frantically piling layers of clothes on their bodies, knowing they could only take with them what was on their person. Quickly the Khmer Rouge dispersed through the crowd and, using their guns as goads, began pushing everyone up onto the trucks. We were loaded on, about 90 people per truck, and even though we were all standing, our bodies were pressed together with no room to spare.

After everyone had been packed on the trucks, we gazed out the sides only to see the soldiers voraciously rummaging through the possessions that had been left by the road, taking freely that which they wanted. At this, many of the helpless captives on the trucks broke out in angered sobs. Samoeun and I had peace, though our hearts hurt too, only because we had truly given everything we owned over to God and knew that if all our material things were taken from us we still had Him. We felt most deeply for the hundreds of anguished people without Christ, whose hearts were in those possessions left on the ground.

As the trucks rolled out, none of us knew where our particular vehicle was headed. Samoeun and I prayed silently that if God?s plan was for us to eventually serve Him freely, He would direct our truck to Battambang.

Not long after we had left the truck way station, we came to the outskirts of Phnom Penh. I could hardly believe that it was once a thriving city of two million; it was literally deserted now. Where before busy crowds had filled the streets daily, now only one or two Khmer Rouge soldiers sauntered by, guarding the emptiness. Our truck moved by the University of Phnom Penh, where I had studied and where our Campus Crusade ministry had begun. In place of the beautiful flowers and tress that once graced the front of the university, rice paddies now sat as practical reminders that this communist revolution had uprooted things of beauty for the sake of productivity.

Presently our truck passed the French Embassy and took a road whose signs pointed to Battambang! When everyone in the truck saw we were headed to the ?near border? town, a collective cheer arose from the group. Battambang, because of its location, now signalled potential freedom for every Cambodian. As our truck rumbled down the road, Samoeun and I smiled at each other, believing God had answered our prayer to remain alive and serve Him more fully. After one more night of travel, we stopped in a town named Pursat.

At pursat, we were instructed to climb off the truck and transfer to a train. As we stepped off the truck bed, a Khmer Rouge soldier in charge of thee transfer came up to me and began asking questions which were by now familiar: my name, my former profession, my brothers? and sister? jobs. I wondered, why had the soldier singled me out of the crowd? Was I being chosen to be killed?

But believing that God would take care of me, I answered the questions honestly. After I answered, he said to me quietly, ?For some reason, I feel concerned about you and want to warn you not to take the train to Battambang. You are being lied to ? you?ll never reach Battambang?s main city, or even outlying villages, but they?ll drop you off in the jungle, and you?ll die of starvation.?

Then the soldier offered, ?Listen, why don?t you stay here with me? We have plenty to eat ? I?ll list you in the village as my brother and sister.?

I had to make a difficult decision on the spot. It seemed God was leading us to Battambang but here was an offer for security and protection. I thought quickly, but in my heart I knew I had to follow what I believed to be God?s will, by faith. I thanked the soldier profusely for his kindness, but said that I felt we must go on. As Samoeun and I stepped aboard the train, the soldier shook his head, and as his eyes followed me, they wee filled with sadness, communicating fear of what might lie ahead for us.

The decision weighed heavily on my mind, because I could not ignore the kind soldier?s warnings of the suffering we might encounter. But I believed that God would work His plan out, and I was sure I had done the right thing.

The train pulled out of the station, and about 18 miles before Battambang City, the province?s main town, and the train stopped suddenly at a tiny station. At that point, the Khmer Rouge ordered everyone off the train ? and told us we were to be left there, just as my soldier friend had predicted.

The area was thick jungle. Bare vestiges of civilization could be seen, such as an occasional thatched roof in the distance, mostly created by people who had been deposited from trains just as we had, but months before. Our train had been filled with weary Cambodians, most of us born and raised in cities such as Phnom Penh. Now we had reached the climax of the communist plan for us ? to be stripped of everything we had known or could lay claim to from our former lives.

As the emptied train pulled away, men, women, and children began to sob. Despair cast a pall over the entire group of 300 people, as the hopelessness of trying to imagine beginning anew in such surroundings was contemplated.

It was about four p.m. when the last of us touched the ground and the train steamed off. The sky was darkening, and it looked like it was about to rain. The monsoon season was upon us, and the chilly air penetrated our worn clothes. No one had a coat to protect himself either from the chill or the impending rain.

Samoeun was holding Wiphousana, and as she looked up at me, her tears began to fall. She sobbed into my arms and couldn?t say a word, but I knew the fear overwhelming her ? what to do about the rain, and how to protect Wiphousana. I prayed once again, giving the whole situation over to God and asking Him to take care of us.

After we stood there for a little while, a man emerged from a path coming out of the jungle near us. He came over to me and said, ?I really feel sorry for you ? it?s about to rain and you have no protection. Why don?t you come and stay in my shelter tonight, and tomorrow you can build your own?? I found out the he had been living in the jungle only a month and had come to the tracks when he heard a train coming. Our new friend led us back on the path through the thick trees and brush to a small Khmer Rouge-controlled settlement called Kok Trom. We stayed with him that night, and over the next few days I fashioned my own shelter out of the jungle?s bamboo and brush.

Even though our new ?home? was deep in the jungle, the Khmer Rouge controlled the area as tightly as any place we had been. There were soldiers everywhere, surrounding the area, guarding every possible escape route with an immediate sentence of death for each fugitive.

Kok Trom was organized in typical Khmer Rouge fashion, with a village leader, group leaders and a communal kitchen. When we first arrived, the Khmer Rouge fed us about as much rice per day as could be contained in a small mild carton. About a week later, this was reduced to half that much, and a couple of weeks later, our daily ration was just about what a soup ladle can hold. Not only did such a small amount of rice do more to whet an appetite than satisfy it, but our portion was not guaranteed daily. Some days the soldiers simply chose not to feed us, and there was no option but to hope there would be food the next day.

Hunger took its toll on everyone, in one way or another. Even in such a tightly controlled setting, a black market flourished, and I remember the day that Samoeun and I were so hungry I stealthily made it out to a road where I traded with a man my gold wedding band for eight oranges.

Others lost more than wedding rings, as starvation claimed its victims day after day. Malaria also took many lives. One of my jobs for awhile was to bury those who died each day. Sacred ritual was abandoned as each person was wrapped in his clothes and put in a shallow grave, shallow only because we didn?t have the physical strength to dig deeper.

As time went on, Samoeun and I became concerned over the lack of nutrition Wiphousana was receiving, since our small daily portions of rice often could be supplemented only by boiled leaves and grass. Though Wiphousana was small even for his six months, due to a lack of proper vitamins, he had not fallen seriously ill. This was remarkable considering the inadequacy of his meagre diet and the fact that all day long he was exposed to the dust and germs of primitive village life. So we prayed and asked God to show us how to make up for the things his diet was missing.

My main job, along with lost other villagers, was planting rice. Most of each day we would plant, but I was finding I had some spare time each day in the paddies. One day I thought, ?Why not try fishing for Wiphousana in the paddies during my spare time?? It was really a laughable idea, because the largest fish ever seen in the shallow waters was two to three inches long at the most.

But the first day I tried it, I caught a fish that was 8-10 inches in length ? a catch unheard of in those paddies. And every day for the next two months, God provided a fish about that size ? just one fish every day. Others noticed my success and tried catching fish that size too. But no one ever caught anything other than the small ones always found there. So in that way, God met the special needs of Wiphousana for a period of time.

After two months, it became harder and harder to catch fish; I began to wonder if God was holding back my daily provision for a reason. Samoeun and I realized that we could not stay much longer in Kok Trom and remain alive ? death could come soon by starvation if by nothing else. We discussed together what God?s will for us might be, and then I felt impressed to make a very specific request of God: we decided we would know whether or not to leave Kok Trom if someone came to our shelter and said, ?Do you want to go out with me?? We didn?t know who that person could be; we just felt that?s how we would know God?s leading.

After about a week of praying, no one had yet come to our shelter with the word we were looking for. Our tears began to flow as we were growing more and hungrier and had no place to turn for help.

In our area there was a young man named Kheang 4 whose family lived in Battambang Province. Kheang had been studying in Phnom Penh, though we had never talked much with him. One day, Kheang slipped over to our shelter and whispered to me, ?I want to rejoin my parents in Prek Luong (a village in the province). Do you want to go out with me?? Samoeun turned to me, incredulous. ?Did you hear what Kheang said to you?? she asked. We laughed quietly but joyfully at such specific answer to prayer and without hesitation said yes.

Kheang already had an idea for our escape, but before we discussed the plan, I told Kheang about the way he had been an answer to prayer. Then I shared with our new friend my faith in Christ, and how Kheang could come to know Him too.

I explained to Kheang God?s love for man, but that man?s sin separates him from knowing God personally. I went on to tell him that God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for sin on the cross. By placing faith in Christ for salvation, I said, Kheang could know that his sins were forgiven, and he would establish a personal relationship with God and have eternal life. Kheang responded eagerly that he would like to become a Christian.

Then, after rejoicing together over his decision, Kheang and I decided to make our escape attempt the next day, which was October 15, 1975. Our plan was to steal out of the area very early in the morning before the village guards took their posts and run to the little train station, about a half mile away. Kheang knew when a train usually came by, and we hoped to sneak onto a car as the train slowed down.

Very early in the morning on the 15 th, Kheang, Samoeun and I crept out of our village, with Wiphousana in my arms. It had begun raining the night before and had just stopped as we left our settlement. The train track was located across a large field of rice paddies, and because of the hard monsoon rain, we had to wade through waist-high paddy water to reach the tracks.

That day, no train came by. One guard passing by asked where we were going. We told him we were just going down the road to work. He shrugged and moved on. Later that evening, he came by again and asked us why we were still there. Samoeun told him that because of our baby, we were hoping the train would give us a lift to our work place. He shrugged again and walked on by.

That night it began raining again. For a moment, we began to question if we were doing the right thing; if maybe we shouldn?t go back. We were soaking wet, tired, cold and hungry. But as we thought about the rain, we realized it was God?s way of protecting us ? monsoon rains are so heavy that one can heavy see ahead when they are coming down. The rain prevented the Khmer Rouge from coming to look for us.

In the morning, we came to a decision point: should we try to go on? Many obstacles lay ahead, and if we met the Khmer Rouge now, we would be killed. We decided Battambang, and as soon as we all agreed to continue, a surge of strength swept through each of our weary bodies.

We began to walk down the tracks, and five miles later we reached anther train station, this one slightly larger than the one near our village. A guard at the station asked me where we were going, and if we had permission, reminding us that those caught travelling without a Khmer Rouge permission slip were often killed on sight.

At Samoeun?s remark, the guard just shook his head and didn?t seem to know how to respond. The Khmer Rouge had woven such a spell of fear over the Cambodian population that most people were afraid to look the average soldier in the eye, much less be so outspoken as Somoeun.

During this discussion, a train pulled into the station. We wanted to break and make a run for a car, but we quickly observed that the train was filled entirely with Khmer Rouge soldiers!

The guard with whom we had been talking looked at us and said, ?What are you going to do now??

Suddenly a soldier jumped off one of the cars and ran over to us. It was the soldier who in Pursat had warned us about taking the train to Battambang! As he ran toward us, he called out to Samoeun, ?Sister, and sister! Where have you been??

When he reached us, we told him we had been in the jungle and everything had happened just as he said. Then he glanced over at the soldier guard and told him we were his relatives. He gave us his ID and a permission slip, and we climbed on the train with him. We received a lot of strange looks, because our dress was quite different from the black-suited Khmer Rouge. But we rode on to Battambang in safety ? and wonder.