Hope Out Of Hell12.07.10

Christmas. Light in a dark place. Good out of bad, hope out of hell.

One of my first cross-cultural encounters was teaching ESL to Cambodian refugees in Chicago. Every week, fifteen older men and women would shuffle into the makeshift classroom in the church hall looking distinctly out of place in their grubby flip flops, odd assortment of jeans, shimmering silk wrap-around skirts, and wrinkled shirts. The smell of Tiger Balm, reputed to cure headaches and nausea, colds and evil spirits, wafted behind them. Most of this group were farmers displaced by the Pol Pot regime. After surviving war, torture, starvation, forced labor, and refugee camps, they were facing yet another set of challenges: How to start a new life in Chicago past midlife with no employable skills and few immediately transferable life experiences.

My job was to teach them English, which turned out to be much more complicated than anticipated since most of them had never learned to read or write in any language. I’m sure I learned much more than they did; my ineffectiveness as their teacher was one of the factors which motivated me to go on to study linguistics. Having just seen The Killing Fields, I marveled at their courage, their humor, and their endurance, doubting that I would be able to survive in similar circumstances. As an American Christian, I wondered how much they’d heard about Jesus, and what they thought of him. How would Jesus’ offer of forgiveness sound to them- and its obverse- his command to forgive others? Forgiveness was hard for me, and I didn’t have a lot to forgive. This week an article caught my attention. Although not about one of my students, it profiles how my question was answered in the life of Chamron Phal. On those walking in the shadow of death, a great light has dawned…

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Posted by Andrea Johnson under Healing, History.

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