George and Elizabeth Koether were past retirement age when their church asked for a family to sponsor a handicapped Cambodian refugee. Halfway around the world, 21-year-old Thay (pronounced “Tie”) Sam sat in a wheelchair waiting for a sponsor he thought would never come. “There was a need,” says Mrs. Koether. “Because of our age, we were not sure we were the right people. But when no one else volunteered, we did—as a step of faith.”
Today, Thay Sam lives with the Koethers in Glen Burnie, Maryland. His story, like that of many refugees, is one of suffering and courage.
I was 13 years old when Pol Pot came to power. My father was a professor. The Communists put his name on a list. For a few months nothing happened. We thought, everything is going to be all right. Then they put my father in prison. My mother kept my brother and sister, and I went to live with my grandparents.
Before my father was to be killed he asked to see me. The soldiers said yes, and he sent a letter to me. I went to see him, and he was blindfolded. I thought, maybe this is my father and maybe it isn’t. I asked the soldier to take his blindfold off. Then I knew. My father told me my mother and brother and sister were dead. He told me many things about how I should live, and we said good-bye. I couldn’t talk very well. Then they took him away.
I went to live on a communal farm. Later I ran away and returned to my grandparents. I told them what happened to my family. My grandmother didn’t talk to me. She made a choking sound in her throat, and she died the next day. My grandfather died a couple days later. I buried one, then the other.
I was 14 years old. I sat in front of the house. I didn’t talk ...1
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