Pastor Christopher La Pel was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and was only a boy when the Khmer Rouge seized power in April, 1975. This brutal regime killed 2 million of the 8 million population in a killing frenzy which lasted for 1364 days. At the end of this time, his family was dead, including his cousin who had been sent to the infamous S21.
Presiding over S21 was Comrade Duch, who oversaw the execution and torture of some 14000 prisoners, of whom only seven survived.
Some twenty years later, La Pel would meet and lead Comrade Duch to Christ. At the time he didn’t know he was Duch, he only knew him as Hang Pin; but four years later would discover this man was the one who presided over S21, and the death of his cousin.
It was a confronting moment. Here is Duch, now forgiven by God, with the assurance of eternity with God. Grace is a beautiful thing, until it is given to someone like this. Someone who has done such evil hardly seems deserving of grace. But maybe that’s the point.
CS Lewis once said, ‘To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in me.’ Part of the experience of grace is first recognising that we have been offered the most outrageous grace by God. That we have done terrible, despicable, even inexcusable things.
Brennan Manning, in The Ragamuffin Gospel, wrote, “To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”
We all have a dark side. To pretend otherwise denies ourselves the beauty of grace. It is also a great corrective to any notion that we get grace because we are somehow deserving. We are not any more deserving than anyone else. Perhaps that is the point. La Pel understood this, and as difficult as it might have been, he forgave and offered grace to Comrade Duch. He testified on Duch’s behave at his trial, and visits him to this day. He understands grace. He also understands that we are not simply to be reservoirs of grace, but conduits of it. It is not ours to edit or limit. Is there a Comrade Duch in your life? Someone who has done the inexcusable, and yet for whom you can show grace, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you?