At an age when most Singapore youths are preoccupied with pursuing academic success, doing National Service or securing their first job, the Rev Lun Sophy, who was recently elected the first President of The Methodist Church in Cambodia (MCC), was in a deadly face-off with the infamous Khmer Rouge.
He was then a young commander, only 18 years old, when he and his fellow soldiers, some as young as 14, found themselves trapped along the Cambodia-Thai border. Surrounded by enemy forces and cut off from reinforcements, with only a month’s worth of supplies, the soldiers faced death either by hunger or at the hands of their merciless foes.
The situation looked dire…until the Rev Lun decided to rely on Jesus.
The Rev Lun spoke to Methodist Message at the conference that saw the MCC progress from a Mission Conference to a Provisional Annual Conference.
Like most young Cambodian males, the Rev Lun was conscripted into the army two weeks after completing high school. The country was embroiled in a civil war and under threat from communism brought on by the Khmer Rouge. During those tumultuous times, proselytising or even carrying a Bible would be enough to get one thrown into prison.
Ironically, it was while he was adjusting to military life that a vice-captain shared the gospel with him. Although he had no idea why the vice-captain had singled him out to tell him about Jesus, the young Sophy found the gospel message captivating and wanted to know more.
A few months later, the Rev Lun was taken to meet the mother-in-law of the vice-captain in Phnom Penh. She gave him a Bible, although not the kind most of us are familiar with. On the cover was a picture of a man casting a fishing net (no doubt an attempt to make the book as innocuous as possible given the anti-Christian climate) and contained only the four Gospels and the Book of Acts.
“I read the Book of Acts first. I went over it many times because the stories in Acts really attracted me and gave me insight into how the early Christians experienced God,” revealed the Rev Lun.
The first challenge for the Rev Lun came on his second trip to Phnom Penh when the vice-captain’s mother-in-law asked him to help pass along Bibles to other believers.
It was a risky endeavour, but made a little simpler by the Rev Lun’s being military personnel and thus arousing less suspicion. However, it was not easy to convince the believers to accept the Bibles as he was in military uniform and they feared that it might be a ruse to identify and arrest Christians! It was only when he showed them that the package indeed contained Bibles that they accepted his story.
Despite his willingness to deliver the Bibles and being open to the gospel, the Rev Lun was not yet ready to accept Christ. At least not until after being sent to defend the border against the Khmer Rouge.
“…we were supposed to hold the ground for a month. But somehow, when we went over, we found ourselves surrounded by the Khmer Rouge who came from nowhere and boxed us in,” described the Rev Lun. The situation soon became dire as the troopers ran out of food and munitions.
While desperately studying a map for a way out of the blockade, the Rev Lun noticed a river nearby that could supply fresh water and fish. However, a large minefield lay between them and the river. While his starving soldiers voiced willingness to follow his plan to get to the river, no-one stepped forward to clear the minefield.
It was at this moment that the Rev Lun realised that he would have to proceed by faith. Like many of his Cambodian peers, the Rev Lun wore amulets for divine protection. At this critical juncture, he remembered the promises of Jesus and decided to discard the amulets. He prayed: “Jesus, if You are the true and living God, protect me as I walk across the minefield.”
With that prayer, the Rev Lun led his band across the minefield miraculously unharmed!
They located the river and sure enough, it was teeming with fish. But they had no fishing equipment. He decided to lob two grenades into the river so that after the explosion killed the fish, the soldiers could gather them up easily. However, both grenades failed to detonate. Seeing that the river was shallow enough to drain or divert its waters, some of the soldiers did just that. The hungry soldiers were rewarded with a catch of what they needed.
However, the two dud grenades still posed a danger, and the soldiers decided to get them and throw them further upstream. The first one exploded where it landed.
At that moment, the Rev Lun was standing guard watching for a possible Khmer Rouge ambush. He was oblivious that one of his soldiers had unknowingly tossed the second dud in his direction. The grenade landed only four metres from him and detonated!
After the dust settled, the Rev Lun was shocked to find himself completely unhurt. Recognising that the hand of God had been upon him during this near fatal episode and while crossing the minefield, he gave his life to Jesus.
The band would eventually make it out alive, and the rest is history.
Jason Woo is Methodist Message’s Editorial Executive. When not working on the latest articles, he enjoys long jogs and cuddling up with his cats along with a good book.
Photos courtesy of the Rev Sophy Lun