Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of torture & death
S-21 was an interrogation, torture & execution center. From 1975-1979 the communist Khmer Rouge forcibly took over Cambodia. Of 14,000 prisoners who entered S-21, only 7 are known to have survived. Out of a population of 8 million people, 2 million were killed. Out of 11,000 university students, only 450 survived. 9 out of 10 doctors were killed. They killed anyone who was educated so they wouldn’t be a threat to them.
In 1976, the Khmer Rouge converted a high school complex into S-21. The head of it was Comrade Duch (pronounced DOIK). He was an extremely efficient killing machine. He kept detailed records of every torture session, every murder. His henchmen would hang prisoners upside down with their head in a bucket of urine and feces. Throats were slit, heads were bashed with a shovel, necks were broken with a hoe. Babies were killed by swinging them by the legs and smashing their heads against a tree. Comrade Duch was extremely efficient.
In 1979, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, put a stop to the Khmer Rouge and handed the country over to the Cambodians. Duch didn’t have time to destroy his records. He just disappeared. He was presumed dead. Christopher LaPel had lived thru this disasterous time by the grace of God. He became a believer, then a pastor, then he started training other pastors at his Institute. Today over 200 churches can trace their origins back to his ministry. His cousin was killed at S-21.
Hang Pin started coming to LaPel’s meetings. He was 55 years old, frail, depressed and heavily burdened. LaPel lead him to the Lord. When he was baptized, an immediate transformation took place. For every teaching, Pin took extensive notes. He couldn’t get enough teaching about Jesus. He was excited. His dress even reflected his new demeanor. He had a new lease on life and he wanted to tell everybody about Jesus and His forgiveness. Before long, Pin received his pastoral certificate. In their graduation picture, LaPel had his hand on Pin’s shoulder. He considered him to be his best student. Pin went back to his hometown, lead his children to the Lord and started a small, thriving church. He also worked with World Vision, a Christian aid group. LaPel eventually lost touch with Pin.
Then in 1999, LaPel got a phone call from 2 American reporters that rocked his world. The reporters had proof that Pastor Hang Pin was Comrade Duch. When they told LaPel that they had confronted Pin with their suspicions he confessed that it was true. Pin readily confessed his crimes and gave himself up to authorities. He was put on trial by United Nations tribunal and found guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. In Cambodia, there is no appeal or parole ever. Pin said, “They have my body. Jesus has my soul.” Pin (Duch) told the tribunal everything he could remember. He identified his signature on the death & torture records that were found at S-21, which was now a museum. He has asked the relatives for forgiveness but only expects that from God. Duch tells everyone who will listen about his crimes and about the grace & forgiveness of God that set him free.
In 2008, LaPel came face-to-face with Duch in his prison cell. LaPel’s first words ro Duch were, “…I love you as a brother in Christ. I forgive you for what you did to my family.” LaPel said it wasn’t easy but how could he (LaPel) receive forgiveness from Jesus for his sins and then refuse to forgive Duch for his sins, no matter how egregious they were. Duch’s testimony made headlines all over the world. And so did his story about God’s forgiveness and grace. Today Duch is peaceful and filled with the joy of the Lord. Duch shares Jesus with the guards and the other Khmer Rouge prisoners. LaPel visits him regularly. Duch says, “I’m not a prisoner, I’m a free man…I deserve death, I deserve punishment…” but Jesus has set me free.
In Buddhism, the main religion of Cambodia, there is no forgiveness of sins. In the next life, you’ll get payback for what you’ve done in this life. LaPel & Duch thank God for His forgiveness and His grace. LaPel has said many Cambodians are hearing of Duch’s strong faith. They’re beginning to understand that Jesus offers forgiveness and grace in this life. These things are unknown to Buddhists. Isn’t it just like God to turn the Killing Fields into the Harvest Fields. Now that’s resurrection power.
For a detailed account of this story and many more about God’s grace, read the book “The Case for Grace” by Lee Strobel.
For His kingdom,