In 1977 at the age of 14, Sokreaksa “Reaksa” Himm saw 13 members of his family murdered by Khmer Rouge soldiers in the Killing Fields of Cambodia. Miraculously surviving the massacre, Reaksa swore revenge against the men responsible for the loss of his family. Years later, after surviving the horrors of refugee camps and roving death squads, Reaksa had a life-changing conversion to Christianity that gave him a whole new reason to seek the murderers: to forgive them.

After years of surviving the “Killing Fields”, I, along with my father and brothers were dragged to the edge of a mass grave and slashed with machetes and clubbed with hoes. Minutes later, I awoke in the grave in a pile of my dead and dying relatives. I was able to climb out and hide in nearby weeds when the killers left to round up my female relatives and complete their macabre mission.

When they returned, they murdered my mother and sister. As the soldiers threw dirt on the people who were my entire life, I swore revenge. I was alone, hungry and scared and in the coming weeks I made my way across the jungle, avoiding soldiers by day and sleeping in trees by night to escape roaming tigers. I eventually found my way to the “safety” of a succession of refugee camps all the while planning and plotting the deaths of the men who murdered my loved ones.

I fled to Thailand and spent five horrific years in refugee camps, including Khao-I-Dang, before immigrating to Canada. There, I would come to an even greater moment of truth when I eventually came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Through years of Bible study and communion with God, I started a new life in the west but could not release myself from the prison of hatred, anger and vengeance. I discovered that forgiveness truly is divine and that as the years passed, my blood oath and all consuming ire were in direct conflict with my new nature.

The anger against the killers was as great as the grief for my family and it burned inside me like a great ball of fire. For years I cultivated elaborate fantasies in which I tortured and murdered the killers again and again, projecting all my rage and pain I bottled inside myself in my plans for what I would do to the men when I found them. I realized that I would never know true peace until I had dealt with this as well. I had to find a way of forgiving them, before the bitterness inside destroyed me.

If you’ve been deeply hurt, it isn’t easy to forgive but we can learn a lesson from Jesus, who forgave those who crucified him.

I began to meditate on the Bible, and I found in the book of Psalms a wonderful source of support and comfort. Here was someone like me, David, who had known despair and who was not afraid to cry out to God in pain and anguish. Across the centuries I heard the voice of a man who wept and cried to his God, and yet who always reaffirmed the reality of God’s ability to keep him safe.

Forgiveness doesn’t come through vengeance, and neither does forgetting: no amount of violence could erase my memories. So I gave up my urge to inflict pain on those who had hurt me and killed my family. I knew it wouldn’t help, and nursing those desires was only damaging me; my emotional, spiritual, physical and psychological being.

In time I discovered that forgiveness opens a channel for real spiritual power to work in my life; a power which brings healing and wholeness.

In the years that followed, I began a new mission: one that still included finding the men responsible for the deaths of my loved ones but for a new purpose. I no longer wanted to seek their deaths, but to tell them of the life and hope that I found.

I eventually found two of the men involved in my family’s deaths, in the very village and among the very people they terrorized over two decades before. Initially on hearing that I wanted to meet the men to forgive them, many people thought that my plan was just another attempt to locate the men so that I could take my revenge. To the surprise of the men and most of the villagers, I shook hands with the two men and forgave them.

Reaksa is currently a missionary in Cambodia, where he builds schools and churches, and trains leaders. He has authored two books on the tragedy and his journey to forgiveness: The Tears of My Soul and After the Heavy Rain.