Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13
In order for us to become all that He wants us to become, God often uses hardship to grow our character, Christlikeness, and love. This process is sometimes called brokenness. As we experience “fiery ordeals,” we are given the opportunity to mature in our relationship with God and gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. This is a necessary passage for effective ministry.
In my travels I have met a number of people who have gone through this process. One example comes from a dear friend in Cambodia. Let me tell you her story.
During the mid-1970s a dictator named Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge regime in one of recent history’s most horrific genocides. An estimated 2,000,000 people—a quarter of the entire Cambodian population—perished between 1975 and 1979. Many were executed outright for being “intellectual.” Professionals such as doctors or educators were killed. People with higher-ed degrees, killed. Even those who were simply literate—or merely wore glasses—were mercilessly executed.
Entire urban centers were evacuated and their residents were forcibly relocated to work camps out in the countryside. Thousands did not survive these marches. Citizens were put to death by poisoning, stabbing, bludgeoning, and being buried alive; bullets—said one directive—were not to be “wasted.” Babies and young children were swung by their legs to have their heads bashed against trees. Many of these executions were carried out by children and teenagers who had themselves been captured and indoctrinated by the Khmer Rouge.
During this time a young girl of eight, whom I will call Davi, experienced these horrors first-hand. Her father went to work one day as a teacher and never returned. The next day the Khmer Rouge came to Davi’s house and, after interrogating her mother, the family was ordered to leave their home with only the essentials that could be carried on their backs. They did not know where their father was, if he was dead or alive, or where they were going.
They traveled by foot for the next few weeks and finally arrived at a “relocation camp.” They were told where to sleep, and every day they were forced to labor in the rice fields. There were 40 family members in all.
Davi would often duck out of the rice field and hide herself in a tall grassy area. One day, while she was hiding, soldiers shot all of the workers, including her entire family—all 40 of them. She watched in horror as her family was murdered, and the faces of the killers were deeply embedded in her mind.
The Khmer Rouge soldiers never saw Davi hidden in the grass. Overwhelmed and in fear of her life she set out on a journey to her former home, the capital city of Phnom Penh. This arduous journey—hiding, scrounging for food, sleeping wherever she could find shelter—took her over three months to complete. Miraculously, this eight-year-old made it to her former home in the city.
The regime fell in 1979 and the people of Cambodia were liberated by Vietnam. Davi grew up and became a honored and respected police officer. After several promotions she was placed in charge of payroll for the entire police force. This was a highly desired and favored position, and the entire police force knew who she was. During this time Davi also became a believer in Jesus Christ. Having received forgiveness herself for all of her own sin, she became a person of grace herself.
One day she was in the marketplace and saw one of the men that murdered her family. Filled with emotion she went up to this man, told him that she recognized who he was, and testified to the atrocities he had committed against her and her family. Recognizing her police uniform, he feared arrest, but was shocked to hear Davi say something truly incomprehensible: “I forgive you.”
Through her brokenness and her willingness to forgive, Davi went on to be used by God to lead one of the most effective ministries in the history of Cambodia. Over 7,000 churches have been planted, in large part as the fruit of her brokenness. God truly does redeem the broken places of our lives.