On June 26th, we set out on a missionary adventure with a group of church leaders and their spouses from the Southern Union territory to visit ADRA (Adventist Development Relief Agency) project sites in South East Asia.
We were just eight days into our trip and they had already scheduled us for our third stop, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was 3:00 a.m. and I was still awake watching CNN. My body's clock had not adjusted. A news flash from Cambodia—"Phnom Penh is experiencing civil unrest and there is a possibility of a coup erupting." A coup? I thought, a coup could mean a war! I sat straight up in bed and began shaking my husband, Joseph. "Wake up," I demanded. "We are about to go into a country where there is civil unrest." He was quite cairn but listened attentively. He remained alert until CNN commentators repeated their announcement. It was funny that I was even interested in world affairs. Usually I turned a deaf ear to the details, but this time I was about to be a part of the story.
The next morning the group met, and of course, few had been awake at that time so the CNN story was new to most. I can't say that it was dismissed lightly, but the group's big interest was going to visit the Cambodia ADRA projects and then on to the historical sites in Siem. Reap. They had educated us about constant tensions among all the political factions, so this alleged threat of a coup was customary for Phnom Penh. On we went.
We arrived Friday and realized it was the Fourth of July, Independence Day in America. We sang with gusto "God Bless America." Little did we know how important the words of that song would be to us in the days to follow. The Sabbath was a bright sunshiny day. After arriving in Cambodia to rainy and flooding conditions, we were happy. The 27 people in our entourage split up to attend church services in many different provinces including remote rural areas. My husband, Joseph, decided to go to a rural site, but he was protective of me and sent me to the city church. The city church did not have air conditioning, pews, carpeting, handicap ramps, etc. The sanctuary was on the second floor and we had one member of our party in a wheel chair.
After church in the provinces, everyone returned to the city church to a delicious potluck. We ended our meal feeling a little bit hurried, as we were anxiously returned to our hotel. I was a bit suspicious but didn't say anything. We did see soldiers on the streets we had not seen that morning, and some of the members in our group had run into road blocks en route to their different worship sites. As evening drew near, it was cloudy and overcast and we heard a few loud booms. We dismissed the noises as construction noises or weather-related sounds. At 3:00 a.m. (my magical hour), louder booms, and this time machine gunfire drew nearer.
We knew that the alleged coup had become a real civil war. My heart was racing. I wanted to cry. What wls doing in Phnom Pehn? Why had we not taken the CNN report more seriously? Were the Khmer Rouge soldiers going to come out of their jungle hiding spots and kill us? Their stories of torture and murders were vividly racing through my mind. It had been less than twenty years since their last brutal attacks on innocent people. Was history about to be repeated, and me right in the middle of it?
Well back to "My Red Sea Experience." It started with my husband reading an advertisement in an on-flight magazine just a few weeks before our intended departure date. "World Cellular Telephone, rent it only for the time period that you will be traveling abroad." That ad along with the fact that the World Cellular Telephone promised to be less expensive than using hotel telephones caught his eye. He ordered it!
If it runs on batteries or if it plugs into a wall outlet, chances are, he'll buy it. (That's what our daughters say.) The company also listed the countries where they did not offer cellular service. Ijilfortunately for us, Japan and Cambodia were on the list of places we could not use this telephone. Saturday night when the war broke out, we retreated to our hotel room where we had been advised to lay flat on our bed and stay away from windows to avoid any possibility of being hit by stray gunfire. So we obeyed! Suddenly, Joseph got up and went to the desk (it was away from direct contact with the windows) and took out his World Cellular Telephone. "Why are you taking that out?" I asked. "You know we can't use it in this country."
"Just to become familiar with it," he replied.
I should tell you, we already knew that all communication sources in Phnom Penh had been destroyed by the first rounds of gunfire or bombs. The airport satellites, telephone systems, and other communication offices had also been destroyed. No calls could go out and only a few calls could come in. We were trapped in Cambodia, and no one knew it. If someone tried to call, they wouldn't get through. It was Friday night in the states, we were one day ahead and the chances were slim that anyon/ would be looking for us Friday night. The hotel did not have e-mail service even before the war erupted. So, the Friday and Saturday night CompuServe forums were out. Prayer at this point was our only source of communication to anyone. Did we pray? Yes we prayed as a group, as couples, and certainly with every breath we took.
My husband read the cellular telephone directions and began pressing on buttons. A few seconds later I heard him say hello. He sounded more anxious and less calm than I had ever witnessed. "It's an American voice," he whispered to me. I sat up, stray bullets or no stray bullets, I wanted to know what was happening. He said, "Who is this and where are you?"
"I'm Bill," the voice replied. "I'm in Maryland at the World Cellular headquarters." Joseph's voice rose three maybe five octaves. "I'm Joseph McCoy. I'm trapped in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and I need you to patch me into my daughter."
"Sir," Bill said, "we don't have service in Phnom Penh, so if you're planning to travel there, you can't use our World Cellular Telephone."
"No, no," Joseph replied, "you don't understand. I am in Cambodia and a civil war has broken out and I need you to patch me in to my daughter in Nashville, Tennessee."
Now, Bill, Joseph, and myself were in a panic. "Sir, I can't patch you into your daughter because I'm on a cellular telephone, and we don't have three-way capabilities. But, if you are talking to me from Cambodia, then you can call your daughter too. I don't know why, but you've connected to a satellite somewhere." Bill agreed to take our daughter's name and number down just in case we got disconnected. Then he promised to try to call us right back just to test the connection possibility. You know it. His call came straight through and we knew that we could call one or all of our daughters and we did. Melanie was home, so we hit pay dirt on our first attempt. We asked her to call Meredith and Myla. Right then, knowing that we had access to our children meant more than anything. We knew that they would call the Conference office, our best friends, our family members, the United States Embassy or even President Clinton! A few moments after we disconnected, Joseph called Delbert Baker, the current President of Oakwood College, in his room (he was a member of the entourage and little did I know that before our departure date from the states, my husband introduced Delbert to cellular telephone; therefore, he had a World Cellular Telephone also) to tell him about the United States contact. They rejoiced and praised the Lord, and he charged up his telephone and made telephone calls, too.
We were able to rest well that night in spite of the loud booms and gunfire. The cellular telephone was being charged hopefully for a busy day. You can't image the tears of joy, the screams of happiness, and prayers of thanksgiving that we heard as members of our groups and others in the hotel used our telephones to make contact with their families. I hate to admit it but we called some friends and family members that were completely in the dark about our whereabout or "our coup."
We were stuck in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for five days before the United States Embassy made arrangements to have us evacuated. Right now rejoice with me in knowing that my Red Sea experience was God hooking us up to a satellite and activating the World Cellular Telephone. He opened the Red Sea for Moses and, He turned on a World Cellular Telephone for me.