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17 April 2015

Khmer Rouge regime survivor keeps his 40-year-old promise to God

Khmer Rouge regime survivor keeps his 40-year-old promise to God

Forty years ago, as the violent Khmer Rouge regime swept through Cambodia, Arun Sok Nhep made a promise. Like hundreds of thousands of others, he'd been imprisoned during the Pol Pot regime, which began 17 April 1975.

He vowed that if got saved his life and got him out of prison, he would one day return to serve the ethnic minority people of South East Asia.

"I forgot this prayer for many years," he says today. "But God never forgets. What I prayed that day in the prison is exactly what I'm doing here now."

As chief executive of Bible Society in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, Arun is responsible for bringing scripture to one of the fastest-growing churches in the world. And as a Cambodian who fled his homeland during the horrific Khmer Rouge regime, he knows how vital God's word is to healing this traumatized nation.

It was just five months after he'd become a Christian in 1975 that the Khmer Rouge came to power. The Marxist leader, Pol Pot, aimed to take the country – renamed Kampuchea – back to the Middle Ages.

He emptied the cities and sent millions to the countryside to work on the land at rural collective farms. He abolished money, private property and religion, putting Christians under threat.

Hundreds of thousands of the educated middle classes were tortured and executed. Hundreds of thousands more died from disease and starvation. Up to 2 million people are thought to have died during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Arun, an Army officer, was forced to flee. He was caught in the attempt and spent four months in prison in neighbouring Vietnam and later 18 months in a so-called re-education camp in Laos.

During this time he met other Christians who had scraps of Bibles, which sustained his faith. But he lost touch with his family for decades.

It took two years, but eventually Arun escaped to France. There, he trained as a pastor, married and served in a Cambodian church.

He did not return to Cambodia until 1993, long after the Khmer Rouge regime fell in 1979. He was invited back to complete the translation of the Khmer Bible and now works across the region.

As Cambodia marks the 40th anniversary of the rise of Pol Pot's murderous regime he says: "I have learnt especially how God has used the circumstances of my life – how pain and suffering can turn to the benefit of his kingdom.

"The difficult time for me has become a personal opportunity – an opportunity now to supply scripture."