It was during my last work assignment in Phnom Penh in 2014 when I first heard about Duch. My Cambodian hosts invited me out to dinner where we talked about a lot of things and inevitably our topic went to the Killing Fields, a period in Cambodian history when the communist Khmer Rogue tortured and killed around 2 million men, women and children on mere suspicion of treason. It was a difficult topic for my hosts. They are only one generation away from the Killing Fields, and at this time every surviving Cambodian has lost a family member to that period - a parent, an uncle, or a cousin.
They mentioned that out of the Khmer Rogue officials who were responsible for these deaths, only one was convicted and in prison, and the only reason he got caught was because he became a born again Christian, surrendered and confessed. These were unbelievers who told me this story and ever since hearing that I have become interested in that man. His name is Duch. He was a ranking official of the Khmer Rogue and became head of one of the prisons the Khmer Rogue established and was responsible for the torture and deaths of 12,000 people including children and babies. When the Khmer Rogue fell he went into hiding for several years.
Later on he heard the gospel from a Cambodian pastor who came from the US. He repented and asked to be baptized. His pastor recalls: "He changed totally after receiving Christ--180 degrees. He turned from hatred to love. He said he had never felt love in his childhood or when he grew up. So when he turned to Christ, love filled his heart."
Duch continued to study under his pastor. He shared the gospel passionately and later went on to establish a house church with 14 families. Later when a journalist came to interview him, he confessed, surrendered, admitted his guilt and asked forgiveness for the many people he has killed. He was sentenced to life in prison where he stayed until September 1, 2020 when he died from lung disease at the age of 77.
I've never forgotten the story of Duch because it is a great display of Christ's amazing grace and love. Until now many people cannot forgive him. But Christ did. His story shows us the power of Christ's love. If Jesus can change a hardcore communist responsible for twelve thousand deaths, then He can change anyone. If you are struggling with sin, never lose hope. Jesus can forgive you. Jesus can change you. The story of Duch yet proves once again what John Newton says for all of us: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great savior.