Story of survival, forgiveness

A single black bird saved Sokreaksa Himm’s life. The bird circled over him three times. Himm believed it was calling him out of the grave full of bodies. If he had waited three minutes longer he would have been killed.

At age 13 Himm watched his 11 siblings, mother and father be slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the mid 1970s.

"I saw every single axe that killed them," Himm said. "I heard my brother scream and I can’t imagine the pain he felt."

Himm is now a missionary and the author of "Tears of My Soul" and "After the Heavy Rain." Yesterday evening in Beegle Hall 201, Himm shared his experiences from Cambodia and how he came to forgive those who killed his family in front of an audience of about 60 people.

As a child Himm was raised in a middle class Buddhist family. When he was 11 years old, a group of soldiers came to his home.

"They said we would go to the country for three days," Himm said.

That was a lie.

"It was three years, eight months and 20 days of hell," he said.

The Communist regime, Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975 and forced Cambodians to march out into the countryside and work in the fields.

"My family tried hard to conform and our family survived for two years," Himm said.

After the two years, one of his brothers was accused of stealing and was hung and tortured in front of the Himms’ home.

"I can’t imagine how much pain my mother went through watching her son," Himm said. "It was like watching her being killed alive."

His brother was killed later that day.

"One day I sensed something was wrong and I saw soldiers," Himm said.

When the Khmer Rouge wanted to kill someone, they would take him or her to a meeting in the jungle at night where the person would be executed. The soldiers wanted to have a meeting with Himm’s father in the morning, which was strange, Himm said.

"I was trembling," Himm said.

"I think they are going to kill us today," he remembered saying to his siblings.

Himm and his family were taken out to the jungle and forced to stand above a dug grave.

Fifteen minutes before Himm’s father was killed, he said goodbye and I love you to his family, Himm said.

"I only heard chopping, slaughtering, butchering and screaming," Himm said.

"They clopped me on the back of the head," he said.

Himm fell into the grave. He was so covered with bodies and blood that he was suffocating.

"I heard someone say, ‘That one has not died,’" Himm said. "They clopped me on the head again. They left me to go pick up other people."

"I think it took me a half an hour to get out," he said. "I saw my brother’s head and the brains. An eye had popped out."

Himm escaped but returned to the grave later that night.

"I cried and screamed until I lost consciousness," he said. "I woke up and it was dark. I climbed a tree and asked a million questions. Is there a god? Do I have bad Karma?"

Himm finally escaped from Cambodia to a Thai refugee camp. On May 15, 1989 Himm arrived in Toronto.

"Destructive emotions brought cancer to my soul," he said, but prayer is what changed Himm the most.

"I had to forgive to start life again," Himm said. "The only way to move on was to forgive. I needed to live my life to glorify God. I had to imitate my Lord’s example and learn to forgive," he said.

"That was the first time forgiveness came into my life and set myself free from bondage," he said. "I needed to learn to trust God."

Himm returned to Cambodia, and on June 6, 2003, he forgave the man who killed his father. Himm not only embraced the man who killed his father but he gave the man a Cambodian scarf.

"It was a symbol of forgiveness and love," Himm said.

He waited almost 30 years to hear his father’s killer say, will you forgive me, Himm said. When he heard the words, he broke down crying.

He returned a year later and built a school, God’s Grace Primary School Kokpreach, as a further sign of forgiveness. In 2007, he added two classrooms.

"I hope to build a Christian hospital in the future," Himm said.

Another Cambodian was at the forum. Rev. Radha Manickam also experienced the effects of the Khmer Rouge. He shared a few personal stories and how he has developed reconciliation, as well.

"I worked 21 hours a day and ate two spoonfuls of rice a day," Manickam said.

Manickam lost family, as well.

"Thirteen members of my family were killed," he said.

He was 26 when he left Cambodia and worked as a pastor at University Presbyterian Church for 11 years.

"I went back to Cambodia to rebuild churches in 1993," Manickam said.

Manickam encouraged students to befriend a Cambodian.

"It is an honor for Cambodians," he said.

Senior Hanna Oltean appreciated the speakers’ first-hand experiences on forgiveness.

"It’s really good to hear a message from someone who’s been involved in the act of forgiveness themselves," she said. "It’s amazing that they have forgiven the people. It’s a great example."

Freshman Melanie Ykosakuo and junior Katie Leu were also touched by the forum.

"It was really touching but I need time to process," Ykosakuo said.

"He was very moving and it was good to hear their side of forgiveness," Leu said.

"I think to forgive signifies a Christian life," Himm said. "I needed to learn to trust God. Psalm 23 is an ideal example of my journey. He leads me to green pastures. That was the beginning of my life."

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Title: Story of survival, forgiveness | Author: Hillary Ison | Section: News | Published Date: 2008-02-27 | Internal ID: 6342