There’s something about the Christian life that is so contrary to the human disposition; there is something so completely backward about this life with Jesus. Barnabas Mam in his book, Church Behind the Wire, captures the discrepancy between the ways of God and the expectations of His creation, perfectly.
Born in Cambodia, Mam converted to Christianity in 1970, just as Communism sunk its teeth into his country. At the end of Pol Pot’s maniacal campaign, Mam was one of only 200 Christians remaining. His story is of the sheer grace of God.
During his arrest and subsequent displacement, Mam tells impossible stories of God’s goodness. He tells of food miraculously appearing in the form of fish that seemed to jump from a bush in front of him. He tells of Communist officers who befriended him and “took good care,” of him. He tells of God miraculously providing musical equipment for his worship ministry.
Church Behind the Wire, is a constant ebb and flow of tension. Each of these wonderful accounts is punctuated by long periods of starvation, isolation, loss of family, betrayal and despair. Mam learns to trust God’s favor, justice and mercy. He gains strength for the struggle as God proves His faithfulness through little graces and big miracles.
Mam’s book is a beacon on reality. We love books because they beckon us into another world. Church Behind the Wire, invites the reader to vicariously experience the world of Christians suffering for their faith. The result is a deeper sense of gratitude, compassion and activism.
The church in America has a general expectation of ease. Often times, ease blinds us the uncomfortable truth of people suffering in other countries. As I read, I felt convicted of my ignorance. I realized how little I knew of the Killing Fields. Mam’s book incensed me to learn more of the history of the church and its broader experience and impact.
On a technical note, my only disappointment in this book is that it is very disjointed. The author jumps from place to place, back and forth in time. This made it difficult for me to place certain events and people within the story. However, this gives the reader an empathy for the author. Mam conveys a feeling of wandering, lack of control and displacement.