Saroeun Kimes shares her testimony of surviving the Cambodian Genocide in the late 1970’s, fleeing to Thailand, becoming a Christian at a refugee camp, and coming to the United States in 1981. She is joined by her husband Paul. Continue reading below for a summary of Saroeun’s testimony and more background on the Cambodian genocide.
Saroeun was born in the eastern province of Prey Veng. She has 4 brothers and 2 sisters. Her mother Nhem was gentle and very kind. Saroeun’s father died very early in her life. She came from a village named Bamboo Door. She married her husband Tun in 1968. They had 3 children Chea, Kunthea, and Mao.
In 1971 she was forced by ‘carpet bombing’ to take her mother, and her son Chea west to Battambang province where her husband had gone ahead to establish a home. She had one more daughter Kunthea there. The Khmer Rouge took control of the country in 1975. Her second daughter Mao was born 3 months later. The Khmer Rouge forced her family to find a small village to live in.
Her husband, Tun, was taken from the family, and was never seen again. Her son Chea was forcefully taken from her. Her main concern was the care of her children, and just surviving. She lived everyday in fear and terror. Fighting to survive a hernia operation, staving of hunger to keep what little food she had for Mao, and just surviving another day. Mao suffered malnutrition and disease but survived by her mother’s sacrifice.
In 1979 Saroeun was an unrecognizable skeleton, no hair, and using a stick to support herself. After a month she finally found Chea in the care of an older friend. Her 3 children and her mother evacuated to the refugee camp in Thailand. She began her conversion experience by hearing hymns being sung from a house in the camp. She joined Bible studies with her children she accepted Christ as savior and began to evangelize on her own. On February 20, 1980 she was baptized, and her mother became a Christian. Saroeun came to the Seattle Washington in 1981. Saroeun came with her family, including her brother Hong with his family. They were wearing the clothes provided for them by the International Rescue Committee, and that was the limit of their possessions. She is a God given blessing to me. She is an amazing survivor, my wife, and best friend. —Paul Kimes
Background of the Cambodian Genocide
In 1973 when the U.S. Armed Forces left Southeast Asia the Civil War between a government supported by the U.S. and the current Royal government of Prince Sihanouk turned into a war between the Democracy of Lon Nol and the Khmer Communist Party (Khmer Rouge or Red Khmer). The war ended when the Khmer Rouge defeated Lon Nol in 1974.
The Khmer Rouge emptied the cities of their population by evacuating the entire population into the countryside. They turned the country into a huge labor and death camp. The country was surrounded by land mines. They forced the population to work in the rice fields, and cut timber with almost nothing to eat, the sick and infirmed were given no pity. The Khmer Rouge began their killing spree by executing government officials, doctors, soldiers, policeman, entertainers, and teachers.
After 3 ½ years of terror and fear, over 2 million people died of daily executions, forced starvation, and dysentery. 90% of the Christians were executed, some even by crucifixion to mock the religion. Many of the horrors of those executions were used to induce fear. The Khmer Rouge would lie under homes at night to hear conversations about the past and then use that to condemn their victims the following day. The Khmer Rouge used trickery to condemn and execute victims. The corpses were buried in open graves are called the “Killing Fields’.
Finally, an invasion by Vietnam in 1979 ended this reign of terror. Many Khmer people fled to Thailand and Vietnam to escape the bloodshed. They were mere skeletons, sick, weak, and many dying from disease and malnutrition. Although the Thailand government was reluctant to help, the NGOs, the UN, and Christian Missionaries were there to take them in. The Khmer Church today is not only built on the missionaries that faithfully worked there, but the brave unbending testimony of the surviving Khmer Christians and pastors who share the history of those years. Today there is hardly a state in the U.S. without a Cambodian Church. For more amazing stories of how the Christian church in Cambodia survived and flourished, read “Killing fields, Living Fields” by Don McCormack.