She looked so frail as she walked toward us. Two small children steadied her bent frame. Eighty-nine years of life and labor had taken its toll on her body. However, her eyes were full of vitality and sparkled with an inner secret. She became very animated with her gestures as she told us how she had learned to endure with joy.
Lok yay (Grandma in Khmer) was born in the early 1930s. As a child, she primarily spoke French under its occupation until World War II, when Japan entered. The years 1941 to 1945 were unstable. Many fled to neighboring countries to escape the brutalities the Japanese inflicted upon the civilians. Lok yay remembers the turmoil of her family vividly. Her eyes close as she relives those turbulent days.
Independence came for Cambodia in 1953, and it was renamed Kampuchea (which the locals still call it today). The new government officially reinstated the Khmer script. They also brought back the Buddhist lunar calendar. Things were rapidly changing, and this was a time of peace for Lok yay. She fondly remembers the excitement over the freedoms that arrived, plus marrying and having children during this decade. She was hopeful for a bright future for her son and daughter.
The 60s saw Vietnam at war with the United States, bringing many complications to Cambodia. The growing opposition against the government’s corruption ultimately led to the formation of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. This body of guerrillas eventually became the Khmer Rouge. Lok yay was a practicing Buddhist at the time and often visited the stone statues to solicit peace even though unrest was bubbling amongst the locals.
The 70s were a life-altering time for Lok yay. The neighboring war spilled into Cambodia, and many people lost their lives from the bombings. The Khmer Rouge had grown into a formidable force, and this murderous regime eventually turned the country into an enormous forced labor camp. Money, property, books and religion were outlawed. More than 2.5 million of Cambodia’s 8 million people died in less than four years. Lok yay lost her husband, son and son-in-law during this civil war and found herself escaping to a camp in Thailand with her daughter and baby grandson.
In Thailand, Lok yay met her Savior through a pastor, and her life transformed from sorrow and grief into joy and hope. The weight of the years and burdens of life was lifted from her, and she was free—really free! Her outlook became brighter as she contemplated eternity despite the circumstances becoming darker, with news of mass murders and starvation affecting her neighbors back home. She prayed to re-enter the country as she longed to share the Bible truths with them so that they, too, would not internalize the horrors of the atrocities around them but cling to a living God who would bring them forth conquerors.
It was not until the mid-80s that she was able to return to Kampuchea. Her heart wept for the tens of thousands of people displaced, the economy in ruins and the countryside littered with millions of land mines. People were broken, and Lok yay, along with her daughter, set out on a mission to share the gospel with as many as possible. She wanted them to know Jesus, too.
The 90s saw more corruption with a bloody coup. The controlling force remains today as Prime Minister.
Lok yay is a living, breathing history book; she has seen so much. She wisely dismisses opinionated political discussions and the injustices of the past and present. Instead, she looks back only to identify and marvel at how the Lord wrought miracles to keep her and bring her through so much and how He has used her as a missionary to the distraught people of her homeland. She rejoices at the journey and gleams with joy over the possibilities awaiting her and her loved ones through eternity.
What lessons we can learn from a life that has endured!