The Suffering Servant

*Contains some graphic material

Many members of our team have already had their turns being sick or injured. We’ve got someone maybe coming down with strep throat, someone’s got painful blistered hives covering hands and feet, someone’s got a fractured foot, and all but one of us have run fever and had body aches. We try not to whine and to pick up and keep going. This kind of thing happens all the time overseas. But in the last couple of days we’ve had experiences that have put our small aches into perspective.

Today at a service we shared communion. As we all drank, we knew that we drank a cup of suffering. We heard a message about the Son sending out his followers from the upper room (Jn. 20:19-23). We cross-referenced a few stories to compare and expound, but the bulk of the message was on the idea that the Son’s words there are about incarnational ministry. We learned that he showed his followers the scars in his hands and side right before he said, “As my Father has sent me, so send I you.” He meant that they were to suffer as He had, perhaps even to the same extent. We heard that just as the Ark was YWH’s presence among his people, so was the Son in his turn and the Body of believers in ours. We are meant to suffer and to love, for it is only by that love that people will identify us for what we are. Only through that Love can they identify the Way, the Truth, and the Life that we have.

So while the suffering may not be comfortable, it is a way for us to show love. We do have stories worth suffering for. We should be glad to endure heat, sore throats, and nights of little sleep for the sake of sharing those stories. It demonstrates the Divine Presence we wish to be in our communities here, because only something that good would motivate and sustain us through whatever suffering comes our way.

The other experience that put our aches and pains into perspective was Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields. This was a very difficult experience and I am still dealing with it in my own heart and mind, so I apologize if my writing seems scattered. I do not want to shock you with my stories. I want to make you weep. Weep for humanity and corruption and violence and mercilessness. Cry out to our Father like Habakkuk. Seek healing and wash the blood from your own hands. This issue is not political or ideological; it is about sin and humanity. I want to prepare you for what you are about to read so that you are not shocked by the words you will see: Interrogation. Torture. Whip. Beat. Knife. Noose. Electric wire. Infanticide. Genocide. Mass grave. Bloodstain. Merciless. Kill. Do not focus on the traumatic impact of those words. Run through the images and associations brought to your mind before you move on. I want you to identify with the heart of this issue.

On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge invaded Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. People fled from the city and it was entirely empty twenty-four hours later. For four and a half years the country lived in fear and the constant threat from the Khmer Rouge as the unchallenged ruling power. Pol Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge party attempted a cultural revolution of sorts. The educated, the resistance, and the religiously affiliated were caught, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered, sometimes in the name of ethnic cleansing or genetic planning, sometimes in the name of totalitarianism. But these deaths were many and senseless. Some estimate 3,000,000 deaths in those years, and 20,000 mass graves have been found throughout the country to substantiate those claims.

Tuol Sleng was a high school before the takeover, but it was converted into a prison and torture facility. Only twelve of the thousands who passed through its gates survived. Captors photographed each new prisoner and well-documented deaths and torture from whips, poison, severed limbs and digits, broken facial bones, and dunking prisoners into filthy water as they hung upside down from their ankles. All who came through were tortured and interrogated to produce coerced confessions before the victims were killed. There are still bloodstains on the floor and walls. Torture instrument lie where they were left. An artist who was spared death because of his skills was forced to paint graphic pictures of the torture methods, which hang hauntingly throughout the buildings. But worst of all, hundreds of pictures of victims look straight out of wide, terrified eyes from the walls.

And the Killing Fields were even worse. Sunken pits cover the landscape, their sheer volume an indication of the number of bodies since exhumed from the mass graves. A towering, ten-level stupa houses only a fraction of the intact skulls from some of the thousands of exhumed victims. I walked past a tree where babies were held by their ankles and beat against the tree just like someone would beat out a dirty rug. One mass grave had been full of people who’d been beheaded. Another had held only women and children, most of whom had been naked at the time of their death. We walked past a shed where chemicals were kept to sprinkle on the graves to cut the stench and finish killing those buried alive. There was another painting of a child flung up into the air with a bayoneted gun primed to catch him as he fell. And even after careful excavations, bones still remained in the ground. They, along with victims clothes, wash to the surface after rain. I could not avoid stepping on pieces of bone and rags of clothes and was deeply chilled.

What should our response be to such senseless violence? How could our Father let this happen? How could we, as humans, have the capacity for such unadulterated evil? One of the signs at the Killing Fields was captioned: “In the End Justice was Found for the Cambodian People,” but how can that ever happen? How can millions of broken families be repaid? How can there be justice in the face of such extreme evil? When many of the officials remain alive today, some are even still involved in the government?

I cannot give an answer. Lost people sin like lost people. Demons and evil spirits will stop at nothing to cause and incite death and destruction, violence and chaos. Does the Evil One win this battle? We believe that YWH is more powerful. That even in the darkness he is a great light. Habakkuk asked many of the same questions, and he was given an answer that was not easy. The prophets tell us that we have blood on our hands—blood of orphans, widows, runaways, aliens, and fatherless. Our Love should compel us to reach out to them and to minister to them in their distress. We are to drink the cup of suffering with them and weep as they weep. The Son wept. As he looked over Jerusalem in Lk. 19 he pondered the corruption, violence, and lostness of the city; he was overcome with tears of compassion. But he did not stop at tears. He ventured on into the city and set about restoration and redemption. That is the work we should be about. But we should begin by weeping. We cannot hide ourselves from the hurting. And we cannot hope to make a difference in their lives if we do not cry with them. So weep with me. And lift up the lost in the darkness of the past and the present.

I have a few more scattered thoughts to leave you with, and I apologize again for my verbosity. As I walked through the museum at the Killing fields I saw an agricultural tool used for slitting throats. I was reminded of our promise that one day, swords will be beaten into plowshares, but until then, the plowshares will be beaten into swords. We live in an age in which we wait for the coming of peace. It has not yet come fully on the earth. And even as I pondered these things in my heart, I remember another who had been cruelly beaten and tortured. As I saw paintings of striped backs being burned with salt water, I remembered the back of One whose stripes healed me—who is the balm for the healing of the nations. And as I thought on Him I understood his words of comfort. “I have felt this pain too. And it was not senseless; I did it for your sake… and for theirs.” He did. He suffered as much as the faces covering the walls of Tuol Sleng. His suffering brought glory to the Father, as should ours. Suffering gives us a change to deliver up true praise. This kind of praise does not come from a place of happiness and contentment. Anyone can praise in those situations. True praise comes from a place of suffering, when you praise in spirit and in truth because our Father is sovereign—because you know that he has a wonderful, beautiful plan that maybe you don’t understand, but you know it will be for His glory. So, in the words of Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,

Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,

Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

He enables me to go on the heights.