As I prepared mentally and physically for the Freedom Walk, I was anticipating a difficult walk. As a Boy Scout decades ago, I had completed many long hikes and loved camping out-of-doors, so a little hiking and sleeping in random villages was nothing which bothered me. The biggest difficultly I thought about was the sheer distance, covering 250km. Our goal was to walk at least 150km which would take us from the village where Noit was held during the Khmer Rouge all the way to Kompong Chhnang province which is where Noit and her sister were able to get a ride on a military truck to her home, the capital city Phnom Penh.
Within hours I found the intense 100 degree plus heat, the weight of my 20kg pack, and the pounding on my legs unbearable. As the journey progressed the greatest difficulty was not the physical aspect, however, it was my emotions in re-living the walk that Noit has made 34 years previously. In preparation for the walk, during a similar hot day, I sweated out 10 pounds of weight in just three hours. Walking the Freedom Walk itself Paul and I walked a minimum of eight hours a day in sweltering heat. Yet, the tears I shed could have easily been weighed in pounds as well. Several times I broke down weeping as we walked, sometimes uncontrollably shaking as I thought of how difficult it must have been for my wife. At nearly every rest stop people were curious as to why we were walking and once I told them the reason they would usually break into tears themselves. Then, they would share with me their horrific survival stories which would leave us both in tears as well. As we continued walking, my heart was breaking and my eyes usually as wet as my shirt.
Toward the completion of the Freedom Walk I knelt and prayed with Pastor Houn and his wife. We knelt in private in the middle of their church sanctuary and wept before the Lord interceding before the nation for healing and salvation. Pastor Houn’s wife made a comment to me which helped me to realize why this journey was so emotionally difficult to me. She told me that by walking, I had entered into the reality of the pain and suffering of the Khmer people. Instantly, I believed she was right. It was not just a history, or facts anymore, I had actually entered their reality.
Repeatedly during the trip I turned down free rides and had to explain to people that I actually have a car and have driven the entire distance I was walking hundreds of times. Why did it not have much of an effect on me when I drove the same distance? Because, I had not entered into the reality of it. By walking, by suffering great difficulty and pain, I was actually able to understand personally a level of Noit’s pain. I feel like my understanding and love of Noit has grown so much deeper after this trip. It has grown to a level which was never attained while driving the same path in the car with Noit at my side.
Upon completing the trip I asked my closest friends and family to come over to my house to celebrate with Paul and I. There, I shared briefly about the trip and we prayed together and some friends also shared. Raksmie shared very movingly that at first she was puzzled as to why I would re-walk and join in the suffering of hundreds of kilometers when my wife had already done it. Yet, having talked with me after the trip she saw the love that Noit and I have in a deeper way. Then she compared it to the suffering of another: Our Savior Jesus.
She talked about how many times as Christians we take part in the Lord’s Supper which is to help us identify with the death and resurrection of Christ, also we just celebrated Easter a week previously, yet many times we are guilty of not entering into the reality of Jesus’ suffering for us. While it is a historical fact to us it rarely touches us anymore as we go through the Sunday morning rituals. Jesus suffering, however, was something he didn’t need to do, but he did it for a simple reason: he loved us.
The challenge to us is to enter into the reality of Christ’s suffering, not that there is any penance or punishment required. There is no need for anyone to crucify themselves like Jesus did, yet we need to come to a point of entering into the reality of what Christ did for us. Not just thinking about it as a historical fact, but understanding from the depths of our souls that Jesus died for me and you and he took that cross and carried it and allowed himself to be nailed for no other reason than he loved you. It needs to be personal for us.
Noit’s suffering during the Khmer Rouge is so much more real for me now. He has altered our relationship it has made such a significant impact. I believe it should be that way with our relationship with us and our Savior too.
Ask Jesus to help you enter into the reality of Christ’s love. As you enter this reality your life will be forever changed, as these nearly 250 kilometers of the Freedom Walk have changed mine.