A New Song
January 1, 2004
by Sean Campbell
I first met Madame Mai 18 years ago.
I worked for a relief agency in a refugee camp along the Thailand-Cambodian border. In our camp, one would never fail to notice a Khmer (a member of Cambodia's largest ethnic group) older than age 60—let alone one professing to be a Buddhist monk.
You see, our camp consisted mainly of Khmer Rouge, a Communist group that had won control of Cambodia in 1975. Following their takeover, they began one of the more brutal terror campaigns of the past century. Some estimate that nearly 3 million Cambodians died under the regime of their leader, Pol Pot.
Most of the aged Khmer people died during Pol Pot's reign—they simply could not survive the harsh new realities forced upon them. Then came what was called "religious cleansing." For the Khmer Rouge, the only tolerated form of religion was total allegiance to their rule. After three brutal years, the Khmer Rouge were driven out by a Vietnamese invasion, and many ended up in refugee camps like ours.
Yet somehow, in the midst of all the fighting and terror, Madame Mai—a simple, tiny, wrinkled and nearly blind woman—had survived. I guess she was too old to be considered a threat.
Life was harsh for the 30,000 Khmer in our camp. Frequently the Vietnamese shelled the camp. Our team ran the medical services for Site 8, the largest of the Khmer Rouge camps. We represented some 10 nations and had one thing in common: We all loved Jesus Christ and sought to honor Him in a place few others would even agree to work. After all, it was a war zone—death and disease were commonplace as we worked with "the butchers of Cambodia."
One typical, hot and humid day, Madame Mai asked one of our team members, Luchie Pamaran, how big her God was. I clearly recall Luchie's words: "Oh, He is very big!"
Mai—whose faith was a mixture of Buddhism and spiritism—had prayed to every god she could, begging them to heal her sight. Upon hearing Luchie's reply, she remarked, "Well, if He is big enough to heal my eyes, I will serve Him the rest of my life."
I will never forget Luchie's excitement at Madame Mai's words. After telling Mai to return later that day, Luchie quickly gathered several of our team members together and, with unwavering faith, told us we would lay hands on this little woman and pray for her healing.
Voices of doubt seemed to compete for space in my mind: "Will God really heal Mai?" "She's a Buddhist; doesn't she need to accept Christ first?" "What if we pray and nothing happens?"
Later that day, it seemed as if every Khmer in the camp came to see the latest act of the "round-eyed" barang (foreigners). Perhaps because my faith was the least, I found myself the last one to pray for Mai. But after hearing so many of our team cry out to our Savior and seeing the tears of expectation roll down their cheeks, I knew somehow that God was about to work a miracle.
Mai's sight was restored—not right at that moment, but within days. And this diminutive woman became the fearless, clear-sighted (in every way) evangelist of our Khmer Rouge camp.
King David wrote, "I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be astounded. They will put their trust in the Lord" (Psalm 40:1-3, NLT).
God gave Mai "a new song to sing," and she sang it well. Throughout our camp, word spread of what had transpired in Mai's life. True to her word, Mai began to serve her Savior and to tell of all He had done for her.
Only the Lord will ever know just how many Khmer came to faith during those years in our camp. Mai and others kept records of all who professed faith in Christ, and one day I asked to see them. Recorded in notebooks were the names of more than 3,000 Khmer, whom Mai joyfully said had seen what the Lord had done and had put their trust in Him.
I last saw Mai just before I returned to Canada 15 years ago. She had received her final warning from the Khmer Rouge leaders within our camp. They told her to stop talking about her "foreign god." I still recall the look on her face when I asked her if she was frightened. We both knew what the Khmer Rouge did to those who refused to obey.
Mai's big, brown eyes looked both at me and through me as she quietly replied, "No, I am not afraid. All my life I've looked for the one true God. Now that I have found Him, I will always follow Him. I was blind; now I see."