From killing fields to mission field
“Where was God when the war was at home, when the pharmacist was shot, when I had to live in the dangerous jungle?” pondered Pastor Sirivudh Ly (pronounced ‘Lee’) when his friend was beaten to death and he was alone in the killing fields before dawn under the moonlight.
Students on the Mandeville campus of Northern Caribbean University (NCU) sat in deafening silence as Pastor Ly related how he had found God in a life of pain and hate. Ly, who is district pastor of the Cambodian and Filipino Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) churches in Canada, was addressing them during their Monday chapel session on February 24. Among those in the audience were NCU president Dr Lincoln Edwards, president of the Ontario Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Dr Mansfield Edwards, and education director of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Michael Henry.
The son of a high-ranking military officer and a horror-camp survivor, Pastor Ly kept the audience engaged with his humble smile, his pleasant personality, and his interactive pictorial presentation. His topic was ‘In Everything, Give Thanks’, and he encouraged the audience to see all that is good in every circumstance and to maintain positive views about God.
God of the impossible
Claiming that his story was not so important, Ly stated, “The power of the One who changed me is most important.” He added, “Life is a choice. You can choose to see a good thing, or you can choose to see a bad thing. Whatever you put in you, it multiplies out!” He encouraged persons to trust in the God of the impossible rather than complaining. He said that each life was meant for a purpose by God.
Most of the students in the audience were unfamiliar with the ‘killing fields of Cambodia’ before Ly’s presentation. By its end, a feeling of awe and gratitude had permeated the room.
“God cannot bless us because we doubt Him! Don’t worry because He’s God,” Ly asserted. With an obvious attitude of forgiveness, he added: “If persons hate you, it is a blessing. Why? Because you can learn how to love.” While acknowledging the presence of evil and trials in the world, he declared, “Just wait for Him; He is coming soon!”
Abusive, drunk father
Ly’s story began in about 1960, long before the establishment of the Democratic Kampuchea by the Communist Party of Kampuchea in 1975. Although Ly grew up with no lack of food or other basics, his house was controlled by a father who was abusive when drunk.
At about age 13, his life got worse. At the start of the nightmare for his country and his family, the command was given for citizens in various parts of Cambodia to “move into the countryside for three days”. Three days became three years, eight months, and 20 days. Most of his family was murdered, and he ended up alone. He recalled going to a store to buy medicine for his grandmother. Three soldiers with AK-47 guns came in and ordered the store closed. The pharmacist, who attempted to advocate for the people, was shot, and some of his blood was splashed on Ly.
That experience was followed by others. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, he and the few surviving members of his family had to live in dense forestry with no supplies. Sickness, pain, and death were regular occurrences. Anger and fear were the only emotions he could feel.
Where was God?
Things got even worse. He became a slave in a labour camp. He was alone, overworked, and angry. The pain of losing his family and leaving his home was raw. If there was a God, Ly thought, He was powerless, cruel, and unfair. No God with love would allow the good and innocent to suffer. Where was God?
Ly, in a suicidal moment, decided to put God to the test while hungry, exhausted, and working endlessly in a lonely field. God responded. His oppressors allowed him to eat, despite the work not being completed. Eventually, things got better. He got the opportunity to learn and teach English. He eventually decided to become an Adventist pastor.
Today, he is married with three biological children and two adopted ones. Now, part of his ministry is to share his story, bring glory to God, and give persons a reason to live a life of gratitude, despite their circumstances. Ly and Pastor Mansfield Edwards, who is a distinguished alumnus of NCU, came to visit the campus on the invitation of the university administration.
- Contributed by Shannette Smith, communication and publication officer, Northern Caribbean University.