Peter Kim was living a comfortable life leading a Korean Church in Seattle. God called Peter to save people with leprosy, both physically and spiritually.
He discovered a rural province in Cambodia that had one of the largest, unaddressed Leper populations in the world. Many lived in forced isolation in the jungle or mountains.
Peter and his wife Ester moved to Stung Treng, Cambodia… a small town in a remote province with no electricity. They trusted that God would provide and direct them.
I was asked to help set up a sustainable agriculture program for the residents. I knew this would be a fun project and brought two of my sons with me.
The residents were full of joy, despite living with constant pain. Leprosy destroys the nerves on your skin. You get these deep open sores, especially on the bottoms of your feet. You lose your fingers and toes. Your eyes have trouble blinking, which often leads to blindness.
I asked them what the worst part of leprosy was. They said the loneliness. They were forced out of their villages and away from their families. They would squat on a small parcel of land where they could grow their own food.
Ester hugs the residents and they start glowing. Some have been deprived of human touch for decades.
I got the privilege to interview eight of them through our interpreter Timothy. Most have horrific stories of the Khmer Rouge genocide from the late 1970’s. 1/4th of the population died as a result of an Agrarian Communist overthrow led by Pol Pot.
If you were educated, owned a business, Christian, Buddhist Monk, ethnic minority or wore glasses… you were murdered. Everyone else was relocated to agricultural work camps riddled with disease and starvation.
I was fascinated by the oldest resident Hym. She had unusual face tattoos. These were customary for her village, when she was a little girl. Hym lost 7 children and her husband to the Khmer Rouge. She escaped to the Jungle where tigers were a constant threat. Her Grandfather, and others she knew, had been eaten by tigers so she had a heightened fear of them.
While in the Jungle, she caught the disease. The remainder of her life was spent in isolation and hunger until Missionary Peter Kim found her. He brought her to Hope Village where she could get medical help and medication that would stop her disease from spreading and make it less contagious.
Hym says that she would be dead if it weren’t for Peter finding her. She comes to chapel every morning and has discovered a God who loves her. She is an extreme extrovert who is full of Joy and laughter. The residents share a close bond and love.
Hym showed us about 100 fruit and vegetable plants she had tucked away in the woods and behind buildings. She also showed us a rat trap she had for catching food.
Hym and the others are brought to Peter Kim’s church every morning for chapel and are then fed breakfast. Later in the day, they are given meat and vegetables to cook for their supper. They don’t like depending on anyone else for food.. They are hardwired for self-sufficiency and enjoy growing their own food. They also enjoy eating any dog, rat or bird that comes on the property.
As we were leaving, Hym started tickling Ester then eagerly awaited her hugs. I couldn’t help but wonder what life would be like without human touch.
A second leprosy village is now under way in Laos. Peter is one of the hardest working Missionaries I know. He built an amazing school, in Cambodia, two leprosy centers and one day hopes to be martyred for Christ in North Korea.
Missionary C. Y. Kim talks about "Wet Eyes". This is where you are so upset by someone else's suffering that you are heart broken and moved to help them.
The fictional bombardment of death and suffering we see on TV and in the movies has made us hard hearted. We are so comfortable that most Americans can't fathom what it's like to feed a family on a $2.00 a day income.