Many people have heard of Vietnam and the fall of Saigon that happened on April 30, 1975. Many people have not heard of the neighboring country of Cambodia falling into the hands of a communist government under the barbaric leadership of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime only thirteen days prior to that date on April 17, 1975. In the shadow of the larger picture in the scope of the Vietnam War, that bit of history failed to make the same headlines or create the same stir. Maybe that is because Cambodia, like Thailand, was to remain neutral territory during the Southeast Asian turmoil.
However, Cambodia was so small it found itself caught up in the midst of the war while both American and North Vietnamese soldiers—"secretly" at the time—crossed the Cambodian border to make their assaults on each other, with the Americans also fighting the Viet Cong guerillas of South Vietnam. With no way to protect itself in the process, and strong opposing forces of its political leaders, Cambodia wound up in its own civil war. During the period of time from 1975 - 1979, it is estimated that over 27% of the country’s population of seven million were killed, either as a result of ruthless murders or a combination of overwork, starvation and consequential diseases.
With that small vital piece of background information, you are now ready for a beautiful—although sometimes frightening and painful— story of faith, hope and love in action.
There are some people in the world who make you feel better simply by virtue of being near them. Marilyn Chan is one of those people. Playfully cunning as a child—a trait that proved most beneficial for her survival skills during the Khmer Rouge regime—she now possesses the most delightfully pure spirit I’ve ever encountered, even to the point of being spryly angelic. She is so joyous that even the ring of her cell phone sounds like a child laughing.
One is quick to learn she never appears without bringing something to share, making her also one of the most giving individuals I’ve ever encountered. Being from North Carolina, I know all about Southern hospitality, but her Southeast Asian hospitality puts mine to shame.
By the same token, if you were pressed to find one scriptural verse to describe Joseph Chan, it would be "for the joy of the Lord is your strength" from Nehemiah 8:10. In fact, the entire first ten verses of that chapter perfectly depict this man, who has literally spent his whole life working, all the while planning in the back of his mind how he could one day "send portions…to those for whom nothing is prepared"—an earlier phrase of that same verse.
To look at Marilyn and Joseph, you would see a missionary couple, grounded totally in the principles of faith, hope and love. You would see a couple whose relentless energy allows them to accomplish more than most couples half their age…who, individually and together, exemplify Christian boldness to its fullest extent…who truly walk humbly with their God… whose accomplishments through their ministry paint the picture of a team who has given their entire joint careers to a life of service. And, you would look into their eyes and see nothing but a life steeped in joy and happiness.
That’s when you look at the surface through your eyes.
When you look through God’s eyes, you see two individuals who are Khmer Rouge survivors of the communist regime of Pol Pot (named Saloth Sar at birth, meaning "white" because he was so light-skinned), who is reputed to be the most ruthless leader in the history of the world—a truth proven by the world’s worst genocide, which took place in Cambodia between April 17th, 1975 and January 7, 1979. You see two individuals who grew up in a Buddhist culture, with their families following rituals and traditions of that religion…whose early years were shaped by growing up in a country that was a French Colonial protectorate…to whom education was important, and both of whom had dreams and goals of one day helping the people of their own country…who dreamed of one day helping end oppression and injustice in their beloved homeland…who lived in a country where all religion was banned when Pol Pot took control of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975…who happened to run into each other in a Thai refugee camp in 1979, after having met one time through relatives twelve years earlier…who gave their lives to Christ while residing in a refugee camp in Thailand…who not only took a leap in faith, but jumped across an entire ocean to reach America and be educated in California’s San Jose Bible College, with Joseph continuing his studies at a Methodist seminary…who were bold enough to be involved in UN ceasefire talks for their country, in order to gain the freedom to bring religion back into their country…and who returned to their homeland when it was again safe and have given their all for their Lord, bringing His saving grace and Gospel to the people of their beloved Cambodia.
Plain and simple, you see a couple who both "talks the talk" and "walks the walk".
To fully understand the depth of the story, and the transformation and faith of this missionary couple, you must travel back to the week before Pol Pot and his grisly Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh in April of 1975.
Through the times, events and history that shaped the lives of these two individuals, I invite you to join me on a journey down the path of life following the footsteps of Joseph and Marilyn Chan, born Chan, Chhleav and Tor, Sovann, respectively.