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Cambodian killing fields ripe for harvest of souls

November 04, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Visiting the killing fields about a half hour outside the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh triggered strong emotions - anger, confusion, nausea - in the Rev. Ray Davis.

His sightseeing included many horrific images, including former school rooms converted to torture chambers by the Khmer Rouge, a mass grave of massacred children and a towering monument filled with human skulls, Davis said.

Seeing those things was necessary, however, if he was to understand the psyche of the Cambodian people, said the Hagerstown resident, who traveled to the communist Asian country on a missionary trip last month.

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"The truth is, they did it to themselves. It was Cambodian to Cambodian," said Davis, 60, former pastor of Hagerstown Grace Brethren Church.

It was in striking contrast to the friendly, open people he had encountered teaching and preaching in the simple wooden church in Battambang and wandering daily through the city in search of conversation.

Wherever he went, Davis said, he found people anxious to practice English and to learn and talk about Christianity.

Their receptiveness to his mission was invigorating, said Davis, who was a member of a nine-person team sent to Cambodia to convert its mostly Buddhist populace to Christ.

"I had so many blessings ... of meeting the people we met, the Christians we met, and seeing their vibrancy for their faith," he said. "The openness to the Gospel is phenomenal."

The group, mostly Grace Brethren pastors, flew into the capital but spent much of the trip in the northwestern part of the country, where the denomination has three churches, Davis said.

Members of the group took turns teaching in the churches, he said.

Davis' task was to teach the Grace Brethren Fellowship's statement of faith, or set of 12 basic beliefs, in the Grace Brethren church in Battambang, the country's second-largest city.

Many of their listeners were "baby, baby, baby Christians," lacking even basic knowledge of the Christian Bible, Davis said.

"We had to keep it as simple as we could. That was the challenge," he said.

On the only Sunday they were there, Davis said he had the thrill of preaching to a packed audience at the small church.

Walking through the city in his off times was equally fruitful, said Davis, who was struck by the unabashed way the new Christians wore their faith.

It was so exciting, for example, to happen upon a young man sitting on his motorbike, reading what looked like a Bible, early one morning, he said.

Davis said he got into a lively discussion of Christianity with the man, who spoke English, and two of his friends, who did not.

Looking for people to engage in conversation, Davis found his height worked to his advantage.

"I'm 6 foot 8, so I was a novelty, especially for the kids," said Davis. He said children ran up to him, touched his shirt or belt, then ran away giggling.

"It was fun. It really was," he said.

It was exciting to be doing missionary work again, said Davis, who went on missions in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Costa Rica with wife, Hebe, in the 1970s.

During his more than 20 years as a pastor, first in Pennsylvania and then in Hagerstown, he said, he fostered support of mission work within his congregation.

His belief in its importance stems from his own conversion to Christianity through a Grace Brethren missioner in Argentina, Davis said.

He wasn't about to pass up this invitation if he could help it, he said.

"I said, if the Lord provides, I'll go. And he did. And I went," Davis said.

The trip cost about $2,500, not including the battery of required immunizations, small gifts to hand out and special purchases, like high-powered mosquito spray, he said.

It was too rough of a trip for wife to go along, Davis said.

But she was supportive, and has no problem with the idea of him making a similar trip next year if they can get a group together, he said.

A year after leaving his pastorship, Davis said, he's looking for a new role he hopes will include close ties to mission work. But that's not really up to him, he said.

"I'm up in the air. I'm open to what the Lord wants me to do," Davis said.

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