I grew up in a poor farming family. Our days began before the sun came up. My siblings and I worked in the rice fields before school and then returned to our work after school. Life was demanding in large part because of my father. Violence was a normal part of our home life. After high school, I couldn’t wait to create a better life for myself. I had planned to move to the capital and find a good job. At the last minute, my family heard about a school in Siem Reap where you could learn a variety of skills for free. The Bible was part of the curriculum too. As my sister told me: ‘Just take the classes and leave the religion.’ That was my intention – but God had other plans. When school started, my excitement plummeted. There was so much Bible reading, and I struggled to understand it. To my surprise the students and teachers supported and encouraged me. I hadn’t received this kind of love before. The more I learned about Jesus, the more I loved him. I knew leaving Buddhism would mean a complete life change. After considering the paths before me, I chose to follow Christ. Once I became a Christian, my focus changed from making money and planning my future to submitting to God’s plans. Instead of living in fear, I put faith in my Good Shepherd and felt peace. My choice brought criticism from friends back home, and none of my family members are believers yet. But I want to serve the Lord and help others find the peace I’ve found in Jesus.
I had a quiet and peaceful upbringing in Cambodia, but the Khmer Rouge changed everything. When I was 21 years old, my city came under attack. My family was rushed out of Phnom Penh into the countryside. The journey was difficult. My mother died on the side of the road, but we had to continue on. Eventually, separated from my father and sisters, I was forced into a labour camp. I was beaten, tortured and starved. On multiple occasions I thought I would be executed. In the midst of my suffering, God touched my heart. I was harvesting rice and glanced up at a mango tree. I began wondering who created the first crop. Though I claimed to be Buddhist like my mother, I began believing there must be a Creator God. When the war ended I escaped and was reunited with my family. We stayed in refugee camps in Thailand, where I met some missionaries. One woman shared the Bible with me and told me about Jesus. When I heard how Jesus had forgiven those who had mistreated him, I was deeply moved. I accepted him as my Saviour right away. In 1992, while living in Canada, I got connected to a ministry that shared the gospel with Cambodians through radio. I harboured bitterness toward Cambodia and never wanted to return. But God made it clear he had plans for me there. I’ve been living in Cambodia and serving in gospel radio ministry for 20 years. The Lord has given me strength not only to forgive my persecutors, but also to love my country. After all God has done for me, I consider it a privilege to spend my life serving him here.
Pastor Savoeun’s Story
When a local pastor began teaching me English using the Bible, I wasn’t interested in God. I just wanted free English lessons. Like most Cambodians, I believed that Buddhism was part of my Cambodian identity. But, over time, I became more open to God through the pastor’s care. Eventually, I became a Christian and slowly grew in faith. But life wasn’t easy. I lost my brother-in-law and my father. My mother had passed away when I was a child. I couldn’t understand why God had taken so much of my family from me. Now I see how God has used the brokenness in my life to help me minister to others. Today, my wife and I lead a church in a poor community in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The church mostly consists of children and youth; their parents aren’t sure about committing to Jesus yet. I see in these children the despair I once felt in my own life, but we are seeing God at work in their lives. At first, the children came to the church just to get a free meal. Now some of them are hungering after God and even giving money to the church. Our prayer is that the youth in this neighbourhood would grow to serve God here and throughout the nations.