A Mission To Mend Wounds

March 17, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

It was only his first job, but Wes Lindquist had landed in a place where his profession was mistrusted, where genocide was a recent memory and where traffic disputes were settled with gunfire.

For the patriotic, God-fearing, scholar-athlete from Fulton, Cambodia was the place to be.

Perhaps most people would avoid a country torn apart by war, with one of the world's most brutal governments since it was drawn into the Vietnam War in 1970. But Mr. Lindquist, 30, a former football star at Atholton High School, wanted the challenge of a lifetime for his assignment as a missionary-in-training.

"When we first went there, it was like the Wild West. There were no rules, no laws," recalled Mr. Lindquist. "When you had an accident, people pulled out guns," a phenomenon Mr. Lindquist says he witnessed after two motorcycle accidents.

Getting the assignment was a stroke of luck for a new recruit among 1,700 missionaries of the Assemblies of God.

"Esther and I are rookies," says Mr. Lindquist, who returned to Fulton in June to begin a year of touring Assemblies of God churches to explain the mission and raise money. "We aren't supposed to go to places like Cambodia."

When Mr. Lindquist and his wife, Esther, a New Jersey native, completed the school for missionaries in May 1990, they were told in an address by the Assemblies' field director for Southeast Asia that the then-Vietnamese communist-backed Cambodian government had agreed to allow the church to enter the country for the first time.

The only catch: In addition to the church's offer of building two orphanages, two clinics and a hospital, it would have to teach English to medical students so they could read medical journals.

"He said, 'Who here is qualified to teach English?' and of the 70 people in the room there were only two people qualified," Mr. Lindquist remembers.

In April 1991, the Lindquists became the first teachers and administrators of the College of English in Phnom Penh's medical school. After school, they shared their beliefs with some of the students they befriended.

After two years, only about 12 medical students have become practicing Christians, but Mr. Lindquist says that is an accomplishment.

Mr. Lindquist believes that years of suffering under Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and civil war that preceded and followed that time have left a vacuum of faith that only Christianity can fill.

"The people are totally disillusioned; Buddha didn't help them through the Khmer Rouge time," he says.

One convert, a woman named Mom who helps clean a house the Lindquists and other missionaries share, serves as a translator for the Sunday school. Mom's life mirrors that of many other Cambodians, Mrs. Lindquist says. When she was an infant, her parents were killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers.

"They came into the village and just killed everyone. She never even saw [her parents]," Mr. Lindquist says.

The church hopes that the small number of doctors they convert will spread the Gospel in their government-assigned posts throughout the country under a program called Operation Luke, after the physician apostle.

Since they returned from their two-year training assignment in June, the couple have been living with Mr. Lindquist's parents off Lime Kiln Road in Fulton.

After completing their 12 months of church duties here, on July 1 the couple will begin alternating four-year assignments in Cambodia and year-long U.S. visits that include lecturing in churches and attending missionary training seminars.

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