Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, "When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?"
The King will answer, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me." .......Matthew 25

Friday, December 14, 2007

Baray - environs

I have to confess we were somewhat naive when we first began to engage the work in Baray. Ping was the first to enter....squashed into the back of a rabid taxi with Esther. We knew nothing of Baray, its past or its present. Seemed like Esther's reassurance was adequate. The 2000 flood that hit Cambodia was probably a major factor that plunged us deep into this work in Baray. The urgency of the needs at that time didn't really give us much pause for thought about what the environs and historical backdrop of Baray were really like. Flood relief work, rice distribution and well rehabilitation were followed by medical dental missions in quick succession. Truth be told, we had an inkling that Baray used to be not particularly safe but that didn't seem to be the situation then.

In reality, Baray had a notoriously sinister past. Kampong Thom was very much an enclave of the Khmer Rouge whose troops criss-crossed the broad swampy region in their battles with the government forces. And when the KR faded into the darkness, their presence was replaced by bandits who roamed freely through the province.

When Esther Ding first entered Baray 15 years ago, Baray was far from hospitable. By the time we first entered Baray, most of the danger had been mitigated but still there were bands of roving bandits that were opportunistically preying upon unsuspecting travellers. A number of the villages we ministered to were populated by ex-Khmer Rouge or bandits seeking anonymity or rehabilitation. I didn't fully realize how significant this was. The isolation of the villages were the reason why these men were there. But the presence of these elements in the villages also appeared to be the very reason why the villages remained isolated.

Some of our movements into the remote areas needed an armed escort. Naively, we thought it quaint and exciting. Then on one such mission to a nomadic 'fishing village', we had a narrowly missed encounter with a band of bandits. Even more recently, when we entered Chhom Trach, an armed escort followed us. An escort was also visibly present when we commissioned the school in 2005. At that time an official from the Department of Education was present.

By God's grace, we were safe through those years. It was probably just as well we didn't think too much about it then. Otherwise we might not have gone in. Today, things are so much better in Baray. The expressway passes through and one can travel up to Siem Reap on the road without fear of bandits. And we can move freely into the villages without the necessity of the armed guard.

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