Watch Out for That Landmine
At the end of nearly three decades of warfare, Cambodia had more than ten million landmines still hidden in the ground. That was nearly one for every person in the country! At the markets, where people come together for trade, you can see the results of those landmines: beggars with arms and legs missing, faces terribly scarred.
In the warfare of life, another type of landmine gets hidden in the soil of the heart—the landmine of unforgiving bitterness. When mean words and cruel actions stab us, anger and disappointment naturally rise up; but when we refuse to forgive, when we feed the hateful desire for revenge, we are planting a landmine inside ourselves. Sometime, somewhere, those sensitive emotions will get triggered and explode with hurt not only to the ones who hurt us, but to ourselves and other innocent victims.
A few years ago while I was visiting my friend Pastor Pen Narith in the city of Battambang, Cambodia, he said, “Come on! Let’s go up towards Pailin to visit a church member.”
“What?” I asked him. “Are you crazy?” The Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s communist guerilla group, still had full control of that Wild West city. They were busy cutting down huge trees and mining gems to sell across the border for more guns and landmines.
“Oh, it’s fine.” Pen Narith grinned. “We won’t go that far. The church member shepherds a little group of Christians who live only halfway to Pailin. He needs some encouragement. His bamboo church burned down.”
Still uncertain, I climbed on the back of my friend’s little motorcycle and we sped past miles of dusty rice fields scattered with little shacks. Suddenly I saw several red signs printed with skull and crossbones. “Danger! Landmines!” the signs read. Some were posted right in front of the huts. Children were running around the signs, playing.
“We have to stop and warn them!” I yelled at Pen Narith. “Those kids are going to get killed!”
“It’s OK,” he shouted back. “They know where those landmines are. It’s the ones with no signs that you have to watch out for.”
That was not comforting! Unmarked landmines—they remind me of feelings of anger and resentment shoved deep into our hearts. Eventually these landmines get triggered, destroying relationships, personal peace and physical health. They even can block us from receiving God’s love.
Finally we arrived at the village of the church member we had come to encourage. My back ached from the ride. I looked up to greet the man, putting my hands together in front of my chest and bowing slightly like Cambodians do. I saw the man raise just one arm in greeting and realized that was all he had. It looked like he had encountered a landmine. I could see the burned-down church nearby. I wanted to hear this man’s story.
Instead, he got right to the point. “Do you think Mother Judy could help us find money to rebuild the church again?”
Pen Narith turned to me. “The Khmer Rouge already came and told them to stop worshipping there,” he explained. “This is the third time the church has been burned down.”
I blinked, amazed at this lay church leader’s courage. The Khmer Rouge had decimated the country through war and starvation. Even now, they were still planting landmines and killing people. Yet this man had the courage to defy their commands!
“Why are you here?” I asked him.
“I need to be,” the man told me matter-of-factly. “My family and church members are here. There are others who still need to learn about Jesus and His forgiveness.”
That selfless attitude made this man my hero. We talked and prayed together, and then Pastor Pen Narith and I got back on the motorcycle and bumped home again to the safety of his house. One thing was sure: We would arrange for that church to be rebuilt once again.
How does a man learn to forgive like that? I am sure he had learned it from his Friend, Jesus, who had given him His free gift of forgiveness.
In Cambodia, organizations assist people to risk their lives by removing landmines. Jesus left Heaven’s safety to do that for us. He crawled through our hate-strewn world on His knees to set us free. On the cross, Jesus received the full brunt of this world’s hatred. He felt rejection, betrayal and pain deeper than we ever have. Yet He refused to harbor bitterness. Instead, He took the pain and threw it up to His Father to deal with. Then God’s love poured through Him as He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
We cannot remove the landmines from our hearts; they are too closely tied to our memories of hurt. But Jesus can. We must look to Him on the cross, again and again, until we see that we all deserve to die—both those who hurt us and we who are hurt. A look at the cross can melt our hardness and heal our pain. He took all of our hate and anger so we could be free. Ephesians 2:14–18 tells us that Jesus is our peace, reconciling us to Him and to our enemies. The greatest Forgiver will live in our hearts so we can be “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32.
A few years after I visited that burned down church, the Khmer Rouge surrendered to the government soldiers and that province became peaceful. The congregation that now meets in that district includes former soldiers of both the government and the Khmer Rouge. They have all come to know Jesus Christ, the great landmine remover!
Much of Southeast Asia has never had the chance to know Jesus’ story of healing and forgiveness. Let’s do all we can to change that.
By Pastor Scott Griswold, Associate Director of ASAP Ministries (Advocates for Southeast Asians and the Persecuted). PO Box 84, Berrien Springs, MI 49103. www.asapministries.org.