(from the Archives, January 5th, 2017)
Finally, I’m able to process my time in Cambodia with specifics about my visit to Phom Nikum or the Village of Nikum, my birthplace. From countless accounts from my mother and siblings, the village was converted into a concentration camp during the Killing Fields under the rule of Pol Pot between the years 1975 – 1979. When I was in my mother’s womb, my father told my mother to name me Nikum as a remembrance of our hardship. Soon after that conversation, the soldiers took him to be executed. One day after his execution, the Lord brought me into this world. Through many miraculous events, my family escaped the concentration camp and made it to Thailand’s refugee camp. After three years in the refugee camp, we got sponsored to Rochester, Minnesota. Thirty-three years later after a tumultuous childhood and many more miracles, I found myself on a 3 km dirt road toward the genesis of my journey. It took us over 30 mins to drive through 3 km to reach the village.
When we arrived, my God father’s older sister and a close family friend, Ohm Maly, greeted us. The above picture shows us with Ohm Maly, her son, daughter in law, and 2 grandchildren.
After my father’s execution and before our family escaped to Thailand, she hid us in her home from the Khmer Rouge who were searching to kill us. If it wasn’t for her, my entire family would have died. She gave us a tour of the village. The first stop was the place of my father’s death. The trees along the horizon is where innocent people were taken and killed by the Khmer Rouge, including my father.
Ohm Maly tried to find my father’s bones for a proper burial, but the task became too difficult since there were many others killed at that site. This was the closest I’ve ever come to see my father face to face. I know he would be proud of me, the man that I’ve become. Many nights during my childhood I would cry myself to sleep staring at the only picture we had of him wondering and questioning how life would have been different with him by our side. Now that I’m a father, all of these questions disappeared over the years. After staring at his death site, I looked back to see my son, Moses Sokha Pon, running toward me. Since my father named me, I get to name my son after him, Sokha, as a remembrance of God’s faithfulness and love towards our family.
The next stop was the place of my birth. The piece of property became overgrown with trees and plants. It is currently owned by a private investor who wants to sell it for $5000. Maybe one day I might purchase it to build a church or a school to bless the villagers. For now, I’m just thankful to be alive. From my families’ recollection, the night I was born, the village was in chaos due to rumors of the Vietnamese invasion. Every villager grabbed his/her belongings and many tried to flee to the monastery. Our family tried to follow suit, but my mother fell into a big ditch. Then, the village became eerily silent. After my siblings helped my mother out of the ditch, she went into labor with me and was carried to our hut. My siblings and family friends didn’t think my mother would make it through the night. When I was born, they thought I was dead and placed me in the corner of the hut to focus on caring for my mother. When the morning came, my mother survived the night and they saw that I was still breathing. It was nothing short of a miracle. In addition, we found out later that those who hid in the monastery were killed by the Khmer Rouge. My birthplace is another reminder of God’s faithfulness, grace and love
Before we left the village, I found out my exact birthdate from Ohm Maly. My father died three days before the Vietnamese invasion on January 7th , 1979. And, I was born one day after his death, which means, I was born on January 5th , 1979. Many Cambodian refugees in the U.S. have two birth dates for various reasons – the actual one and the legal one paper when we entered the States. From now on, I get to celebrate two birthdays! It’s January 5th , hope you enjoyed this birthday gift from me to you.