Here is a special report until the team returns to Seim Reap:
The chanting is getting on the team’s nerves. There’s a Pagoda within ear-shot of the clinic and the droning has gone hour for almost two hours. What is not getting on their nerves are the children, and what the team is learning here. The medical team is 35 minutes from Siem Reap in the village of Proyouth.
The last American’s here we’re Special Forces or advisor’s in the mid 70’s. Now the American’s have returned again, but things are a bit different than in the turbulent years of the Vietnam War.
Meet Pastor Reaska, a Cambodian-Canadian, who has returned to the village of his youth and to the place of his greatest heartache.
In early April of 1973, the communist Khmer Rouge met in the jungle only 7 kilometers from here. They planned their attack on Phnom Penh and other cities strategizing the final defeat of Cambodian government forces. By mid-April they had achieved their goal. Victorious Khmer Rouge troops flooded the cities first, and then the villages later. The people of Cambodia lined the streets to welcome them. The euphoria of victory was captivating, and everyone looked with great anticipation to the new, free Cambodia. However, the “New, free Cambodia” didn’t last long.
Within days the Khmer Rouge ordered everyone out of the cities under the guise of rooting out American spies and Royal government forces. The people were told they could come back to their homes and businesses in just three days. Three days turned into thee months that turned into three years. The displacement was tempered by the promise of everyone getting to go to school when they returned to their homes. Pastor Reaska was one of them who lived through “going to school.”
But “Going to school” was not what you think.
When they came and knocked on your door to take you to school, it turned out to be your death sentence. Entire families, up to four generations, were worked to death or simply executed. Their crimes were wearing glasses, being educated, military or clergy, or simply because you questioned the policies of the Khmer Rouge.
As a 13 year-old boy, Reaska was marched off “to school,” where he watched in horror as his father was club in the back of the head by a shovel, hit with an axe in the head, and bludgeoned in the side of his ribs. A Khmer Rouge soldier jumped into the body filled mass grave to cut his throat. Reaska’s younger Brother was next, then him.
Hit behind the head near the base of the neck, he fell into the mass of bodies. They hit him upside the head with something, but it wasn’t the sharp end of the axe. He wasn’t dead. A soldier was going to jump into the pit to finish him off, when the order came to go get the remainder of the people in the village. When the Khmer Rouge soldiers left, Reaska freed himself from the pile of bodies, and climbed out. He cried and screamed out for revenge. He almost took too long to grieve, and hurriedly decided to run and hide in the jungle. Just when he made it to his hiding place the nightmare continued.
He watched in fear as his Mother and sister came into view. They were marched to stand next to the pit, and a Khmer Rouge hit them both in the head. After falling into the mass grave, the soldier jumped in and butchered them. His family was gone.
Reaska escaped over the Cambodia-Thailand border, miraculously through a minefield, even as people around him set off booby-traps and mines, but somehow he made it through. After years in a refugee camp, once refused entry into the US, he finally made it to Toronto, Canada in 1989.
He did odd jobs here and there, got a college degree, married, and earned a doctorate in Psychology. In 1999 Reaska came back to Cambodia and became a policeman, all the while plotting his revenge. But after giving his life to Christ, he returned to the very village he fled twenty years earlier. Vets With A Mission talks about and preaches reconciliation, but Pastor Reaska lives reconciliation.
He found the very Khmer Rouge soldier that had killed his father and tried to snuff-out his life. He gave him a traditional Cambodia gift that means love, new clothes that symbolized friendship, and a Bible. And then he asked him, the killer of his Father and younger Brother, for forgiveness in plotting his revenge. For years all he had dreamed about and planned was to kill the men who killed his family. Now, remarkably, he did the same thing again to the very man that killed his Mother and Sister. He forgave him and asked for forgiveness in plotting this man’s death. True reconciliation. Amazing love, no doubt?
Pastor Reaska came back to his village and planted a church, then three more. He built a school and expanded it with a library. This is where the VWAM medical team worked, but there is more to the story.
Being a Cambodian-Canadian living in Toronto, he became a Maple Leafs fan – hockey! And now there are hockey fans in the village of Proyouth. Yes, children have been taught the game of hockey. It’s too hot for ice hockey, so they are playing street hockey.
A connection to the Vancouver Canucks though a mutual friend, led to hockey being introduced to the kids of Pastor Reaska’s village. Can you believe it, street hockey complete with hockey sticks, street hockey balls, two goals and the outline of a miniature ice hockey rink painted on the compound patio. They even made sides to the imaginary rink with wood “boards.”
Hockey Fans in Proyouth, Cambodia!
Each day at four in the afternoon the kids begin showing up. Practice and warm-ups begin shortly, and at Five o’clock the game begins. Coach Reaska is the judge and linemen too, he does it all with his whistle. The kids drop the ball at center ice, and the contest is on!
"Defending the Goal!"
They have been “Schooled” in the game, passing to center ice from the boards, running down the wings, attacking the goal. It is fun to watch, and even more fun to hear.
You see, the chanting and droning of the Pagoda hasn’t stopped, but the team doesn’t hear it anymore. All they hear are the yelling of the kids asking for the puck, wanting it passed here or there, and then the proverbial cheering after SCORE!
How does hockey get to a small village in Cambodia, a place of indescribable pain and so many horrific memories? How does a man so deeply hurt come back to minister to his former enemies? The answer is simple.
With Jesus the past is the past at last.