Injustice is hard to ignore in Cambodia. You see it everywhere, in the dirty faces of street kids looking for a handout, in the newspaper stories of women in labor refused entrance to a hospital for lack of money, in the extreme gap between the poor majority and rich upper class in society. Nothing is fair about life here. The poor are abused for what they can offer the rich, and the weak, such as women and children, are often seen as disposable whenever their usefulness has run its course.
We experienced this last month in hearing the story of a Christian woman in a nearby village. She lived with her 'common-law' husband, their small child, and her two daughters from a previous relationship. Over the past years, she has believed the Gospel and become a follower of Jesus, despite her partner's refusal to join her faith. She had met her partner in a karaoke bar and become his 'live-in' mistress after he left his wife. Because of her history, her partner's family always blamed her for the man's wrong actions and saw her as nothing better than a bar girl, even though she stayed with him faithfully for thirteen years. Yet she found hope in Jesus and her life was changed.
Unknown to her, her husband decided to get rid of her. One night she awoke with electrodes clamped to her chest and blood pouring down her face. The man attacked her with an axe, cutting into her head and her eye, and attacked her daughters as well when they rushed in to help her. They escaped the house and ran to the neighbors screaming, and the man ran away. Later, neighbors found a pit behind the house, where the man had planned to dump their bodies and cover up the evidence of their murder.
The man stole the local village ambulance and drove it to the Poipet office, parking it behind the garage door for the Poipet ambulance and blocking its exit. After calling a locksmith to break into the car to move it, the ambulance finally drove them to a local hospital. But the three women were initially refused admission because they had no money and no papers - despite the fact that all three had significant head trauma and injuries. Even after the mother was finally admitted, the doctor insisted she was fine and that because she was somewhat alert, she wasn't in any danger. After two nights there, the local missionaries took them to a trauma hospital in a larger city about two hours away, where they were put into surgery and given immediate medical attention.
There are so many layers of injustice to this story. First, the husband's family's refusal to accept the woman's changed life illustrates the Khmer proverb: "Women are like cloth, and men are like gold." Men can fall into the mud, making horrible choices, yet they retain their value and can always be wiped clean. But women are like cloth - one bad decision, and the stain remains forever, never to be forgotten or forgiven.
How a man could conceive of murdering his partner in such a way is absolutely beyond my ability to understand. It's a horrible example of the recent statistic revealed by the World Health Organization that more than one third of women worldwide have been physically or sexually abused. This was not a man with violent past; this was a man with a good reputation in the community as a medical professional. Yet he decided he no longer wanted the woman alive and planned to murder her.
As a nurse, I feel intense anger at the treatment of the women by the local medical staff. Refusing admission due to poverty is not unknown in Cambodia (even a few months ago, a woman in Phnom Penh was forced to deliver her baby on the street because of this). This is not typical of hospitals; but it happens far more than we would like to contemplate.
Andrew and I visited the woman in her home last week. I sat next to her, holding her hand, watching flies dance around her still-raw chest wounds from the electric shocks. She rubbed her hands through her cropped hair, cut short to allow surgery on her head wounds. Her left eye is useless now. But she told me her story, of how she met Jesus in the hospital. She said that as she was crying out in pain at the local hospital, she had a vision of Jesus walking on the water towards her. Then she felt his hands comforting her, telling her, Trust me; I'm here; I will heal you. And immediately she felt peace that passed all understanding pass into her heart. And as she recovered in the hospital, instead of family members, other Christians came to care for her, bathing, feeding, and comforting her. Other patients told her they were amazed that so many people, not even relatives, would care so much for her.
Injustice happens a lot here. I don't understand why God allows such evil to occur. But I cling to the hope of the cross - our biggest problem, sin, has been dealt with. And if he took care of that, can't God also care for us in the darkest times of our lives? Can't we trust him to also make right all the injustice in the world, whether now or in the future? And can God get glory from our suffering?
There are no easy answers to these questions, and I'm not eager to discover them personally. But I'm glad to have a Savior who will walk with us through it all.