In Cambodia everyone knows the name Duch. He was the warden of the Khmer Rouge prison called S-21. From 1975 to 1979 Toul Sleng held 20,000 prisoners. All of them, except 7, were tortured to death. During the Khmer Rouge between 2 million and 3.1 million people were killed in Cambodia; a staggering 40% of the entire population. Duch became famous because he took meticulous notes of every person he tortured and killed. They bodies dumped in a mass grave on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the capitol of Cambodia.
He was found out by a reporter about ten years ago up on Banteay Meanchey province. He confessed everything. The foreigner reporter was surprised that a mass murderer would confess publically his sins. So he enquired why he openly confessed. His answer was, “What I have done on this earth is horrible and I should pay the consequences for what I have done. My soul, however, is safe with Jesus.” I think that comment floored the nation. As it turns out, after the Khmer Rouge were nearing a peace deal with the Cambodian government back in the late 1990’s, Duch had heard the gospel, believed and was actually planting church in northern Cambodia!
He was immediately arrested and held without trial, or charges, for more than ten years. He was recently brought to a special UN/Cambodian war crimes court. The proceedings were broadcast live on multiple channels across the nation daily. Nearly without exception, on every day, he would insert his testimony, the forgiveness of Christ and repentance toward the families of those he killed. At one point, the preceding judge commented, “Duch, if you have your way, we are all going to convert to be Jesus followers by the end of this trial.”
Superstar evangelists have come and spent millions to try and share the gospel in Cambodia. Thousands of pastors and church leaders, along with hundreds of thousands of believers share the gospel every day in Cambodia. But the most wide-spread and compelling testimony for the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is clearly the jail confessions of Duch, the torturer.
When it came to the sentencing portion of the trial (which is still underway), Duch asked that he be stoned for his crimes. He reasoned it would be the only punishment fitting his crimes. Cambodia does not have a death penalty if you can comprehend that. In his final statements broadcast live across the nation the prosecuting judge asked him about his “religion”. What proceeded was the most amazing message of the love of Christ I may have ever heard. Let me summarize. All of his comments were in the Khmer language, so I will summarize what he said in English.
Duch said that many people consider that all religions say and teach the same things, generally that people should be good. He went on to explain the core teaching of Buddhism and Islam, purposely waiting for his comments about Christ till last. He was very fair and gave a highly educated summary of the foundational teachings of these religions. Then he concluded by saying, “Let me tell you why I chose to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Every religion teaches that you should be nice to your neighbors and friends. My God Jesus however, was a radical teacher who taught that you should love your neighbor, but he went further and said that you should love your enemies. Cambodia has been at war for so long. Cambodians have so many Cambodian enemies that our country has never been unified. I believe that the only hope for true peace in Cambodia is for the Cambodia people to accept Jesus Christ as their God because only through following Jesus will Cambodia be saved from itself.”
This unlikely witness brought tears to my eyes. I see every day the effects of the horror he and the Khmer Rouge brought to the nation. One of my staff member’s uncles was tortured and killed by Duch. My wife’s entire family, except one sister, was killed. Every grandparent, mother and father, aunt and uncle, cousin and nephew died under the Khmer Rouge. He will die in prison for what he has done, that is certain. Yet, this man, who faces a life sentence, is concerned for his nation and his people. He is a testimony of forgiveness. He has at times wept and nearly prostrated himself to ask forgiveness of those he hurt. He has asked the court to give him the death penalty, yet he clearly understands that apart from the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ there is not hope for anyone or any nation. God has used this witness in an amazing way, to share the gospel, free of charge to every home in the nation. If God can use his unlikely witness, don’t you think he can use you too?