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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spreading the good word

Missionary family from Michigan will return to Cambodia to continue their work

Mark, Deb and Zach Wilson of Holland, Mich., are returning to a land they love to continue their quest to share Christ and his works with people in need.

A five-year excursion from Southeast Asia to Holland has helped prepare them to resume missionary work in Cambodia, the family said.

They departed July 1 for a five-year commitment as part of a partnership between the Reformed Church in America and the organization Food for the Hungry. They will live in the capital city of Phnom Penh.

“Folks in Cambodia have suffered so much. They continue to suffer from some very severe poverty and also a lot of fear and fatalism,” Deb Wilson said. “They don’t feel like they can change their lives. A lot of them don’t know about Christianity at all.

“Christ has so much love to pour out for them and comfort for all they’ve suffered. His power gives them a chance to change their lives.”

“The 10 years we were there, we began to see that (change) happen. It’s exciting to return to be a part of that,” said Mark Wilson.

Nearly 30 churches across the United States have pledged financial support to the Wilson’s work with RCA Global Mission.

Cambodia still is recovering from Pol Pot’s deadly rule from 1975-79, where a reported 25 percent of the population died from starvation, overwork and executions during his quest with the Khmer Rouge to create a Communist peasant farming society.

Before that, an estimated 150,000 Cambodian peasants died in the eastern part of the country as the United States intermittently bombed North Vietnamese troops encamped there between 1969 and 1973 during the Vietnam War.

The Wilsons were married in 1995, and then they began working together as missionaries. The couple met in 1993 at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich.

After 10 years in Cambodia, they moved to Thailand for two years before coming to Michigan in 2006 so Mark Wilson could attend Western Theological Seminary in Holland. He graduated last spring with a Master of Divinity degree, and he became an ordained RCA minister.

ZachWilson, now 14, recently completed eighth grade. He is proud of the work his parents do.

“It’s hard being a missionary, but it’s what God has called them to do,” Zach Wilson said. “They are open-hearted, have good personality and work well with people.”

The Wilsons say Holland has been a place of healing and education for them. Mark and Deb Wilson admitted having some ‘compassion fatigue’ after serving in Thailand for two years following the devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami that is among the worst in world history.

National Geographic reported the Indian Ocean tsunami initially left more than 150,000 people dead or missing, and millions more were homeless in 11 countries.

“It’s been a good place to live,” Mark Wilson said. “It’s a diverse community. There’s a large Hispanic population. I lived in South America. There’s a Cambodian community. We enjoyed our neighborhood and our neighbors.

“And, Western Seminary has prepared me for this mission.”
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PM refuses challenge by Hun Sen

WHC decision 'is not Cambodia's concern'

The government has brushed off a challenge by Cambodia that it formally withdraw from the World Heritage Committee, while denying it was playing up the issue for political gain.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday said Cambodia should stop interfering in Thai affairs, after its leader Hun Sen stepped into the debate over the government's decision to leave the WHC.

Hun Sen has challenged the government to officially inform the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) if it was serious about withdrawing.

"If you have the heart of a son, you will write a formal letter to the WHC," he told a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh.

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Political commentators have criticised the government for showboating over the issue to attract the support of voters allied to the People's Alliance for Democracy, who have campaigned for the government to withdraw from the WHC to safeguard Thai territory in the disputed border area.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who walked out of a WHC meeting in Paris last week, has been forced to defend his decision amid claims that it discredits the country internationally.

Mr Abhisit said Thailand's decision did not concern Hun Sen, and he should not interfere in the government's work.

He said the government would discuss with Unesco the effects of the WHC's decision not to consider Cambodia's management plan for Preah Vihear temple.

The matter concerned Thailand and Unesco only, Mr Abhisit said. He insisted the government's decision to withdraw from the WHC was meant to protect Thai territory, and not done merely for domestic political advantage.

Thailand has yet to formally withdraw from the body, despite Mr Suwit's assertion from Paris last week that his withdrawal took immediate effect.

The government had campaigned against the WHC discussing Cambodia's management plan for the disputed Preah Vihear temple, and threatened to withdraw if the plan was put on the agenda.

Sources say the meeting was drafting a statement confirming that discussion of the plan would be postponed, which was in line with a decision reached at an earlier WHC meeting in May.

However, the Thai delegation took exception to the wording of the draft, so Mr Suwit walked out.

Campaigning in Samut Sakhon yesterday, Mr Abhisit, who is also Democrat Party leader, said the public should decide whether to vote for the party that was "really" protecting the national interest in a way that might upset the leader of a neighbouring country, or back the local party that was close to Hun Sen.

He was referring to Pheu Thai Party, whose de facto leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, worked as a consultant to Hun Sen's government in 2009.

Mr Abhisit said he did not believe Thais wanted to risk losing border territory, and that his government had succeeded in foiling the World Heritage Committee's consideration of the management plan.

He said if Cambodia sincerely wanted to solve bilateral problems, it should stop complaining to the international community about their border dispute, and resume bilateral negotiations with Thailand.

Cambodian complaints in international forums would only compound bilateral tension, Mr Abhisit said.

Meanwhile, Mr Abhisit denied a rumour in Cambodia that Thailand would attack Cambodia as a ruse to postpone Sunday's election.

Reports suggest Cambodia is reinforcing its military near the border. Mr Abhisit said that while the Thai army had yet to reinforce its own troops, soldiers stood ready to defend the country.

First Army commander Lt Gen Udomdet Seetabut, said Cambodia had fielded infantry companies at two important locations opposite Sa Kaeo province.

While movements on the Cambodian side did not yet justify any concerns, he had ordered troops to strictly screen immigrants and their vehicles entering the country from Cambodia.

In Surin province, Lt Gen Tawatchai Samutsakhon, commander of the 2nd Army, said Cambodia was replacing soldiers along the border, and the risk of a clash could not be ruled out.

Visits to the Ta Muen Thom temple in Phanom Dong Rak district had been suspended for safety reasons.

Cambodian soldiers visited the temple to monitor the movements of Thai soldiers. Thai soldiers told their Cambodian counterparts to disarm before entering the temple.

Border trade continued and gamblers still crossed the border to casinos in Cambodia through the Chong Jom border pass in Surin as usual.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Thailand's withdrawal from the World Heritage Convention complied with a cabinet resolution which required action in case of developments which might affect sovereignty.

Mr Abhisit said on Tuesday that the next government should decide Thailand's fate with the WHC.
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Khieu Samphan, Khmer Rouge Suspect, Vows Cooperation With Cambodia's Genocide Court

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The Khmer Rouge's former head of state told a court trying him for genocide and other crimes Thursday that he is keen to tell all he knows about Cambodia's 1970s regime – though in the past he has claimed to be "out of touch" with its atrocities.

Khieu Samphan told the U.N.-backed tribunal trying him and three other Khmer Rouge leaders Thursday that he did not know all details of what Pol Pot's government did but would try his best to cooperate with the court.

In two books and interviews since he surrendered to the current government in 1998, Khieu Samphan has insisted he was unaware of and not responsible for the estimated 1.7 million deaths from executions, medical neglect, overwork and starvation under the 1975-79 regime. But some scholars have challenged his assertions.

Khieu Samphan has previously offered an apology for the Khmer Rouge's actions but never accepting responsibility. As head of state of what the Khmer Rouge called Democratic Kampuchea, he served as the group's smiling, polite figurehead.

In addition to Khieu Samphan, 79, also on trial are Nuon Chea, 84, who was Pol Pot's No. 2 and the group's chief ideologist; Ieng Sary, 85, the former foreign minister and his wife, Ieng Thirith, 79, who was minister for social affairs. The charges against them include crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.

This week's sessions are strictly procedural; testimony and presentation of evidence is expected to begin in August or September, 32 years after the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power in 1979 with the help of a Vietnamese invasion.

A 2004 report by Cambodia scholar Steve Heder and international humanitarian law expert Brian Tittemore included three of the current defendants among seven senior Khmer Rouge who deserved be prosecuted.

It said Khieu Samphan had "encouraged low-level party officials to execute victims," while Nuon Chea "devised and implemented execution policies" and Ieng Sary "publicly encouraged and facilitated arrests and executions within his ministry."

"I think it is very important for me and for my fellow Cambodian citizens who are hungry for understanding what happened between 1975-79. I personally have been waiting this moment for so long," Khieu Samphan told the court Thursday. "I will contribute to the best of my capacity, of course to the bottom of my heart, to assist or cooperate with the work of the court."
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