The Voice of Change – Sopheap’s Story
I was born in Phnom Penh, the largest city in Cambodia, and am the youngest of five children. During the time of Pol Pot my father was sent to work at a labour camp. To try and assure his survival he began work very early and finished every task that was set for him. He did not want to be accused of being a ‘soft intellectual’ but to prove that he was a strong, hard worker. When he retuned to the city he worked as a barber and my mother worked in a laundry. They both worked very long hours but we were still poor. My mother and father are some of the hardest working people I know.
In addition to working in a laundry my mother would also go out and sell snacks on the street to try and provide extra income. I would often accompany her and by the time I was eight I went out on my own. As soon as I finished school I would collect a tray of assorted snacks and walk the streets hoping to sell them to passers-by. I enjoyed school but when I was 15 I had to leave to get full time work, as my family needed the money. I had only finished grade seven at school so I was not qualified to do very much. I got a job working in a garment factory sewing cuffs and collars of shirts. Conditions were difficult and the pay was very low about $80USD a month.
After many years in the garment factory I realised that unless I did something about it I would work there for the rest of my life. I was only 21 years old and couldn’t face the thought of doing that job any longer. I knew that I needed to get some further qualifications. I couldn’t afford to go back to school but I enrolled in English classes from 5:30 – 6:30, every morning before work. It was tiring to get up so early and then go to work but I was determined to make a better life for myself.
Unfortunately the following year I contracted typhoid fever and was unable to work anymore. I asked my supervisor at the garment factory for time off to recover but he refused so I had no choice but to resign. I was unable to work for three months while I received treatment and rest. When I had recovered I told my older brother that I really wanted to continue my studies but didn’t know how I could afford to do it. Like most Cambodians our family were Buddhist but my brother had recently become a Christian. He informed me that his church had free accommodation available for young people who were trying to work or study in the city. I moved in to one of the dormitories of New Life Fellowship and really enjoyed living there. The leaders were very kind and loving and although my heart was very soft and open to people, I had little interest in God.
I did attend church however, with the other people in my dormitory. One Sunday the pastor asked all of us if there was anyone who wanted to receive God’s love and have God come close to them. I was a little unsure but I quietly prayed ‘God if you are the one true God then please come close to me.’ I felt God’s presence surround me like a big hug and I heard him say to me ‘Daughter, I love you and I am giving my love to you.’ I knew that my family loved me but the love I felt from God that day was like no other love I had known. That day I committed my life to Him.
Shortly after I became a Christian I was praying to God about my future and my need for a job. At the time I was only earning around $50USD a month doing laundry and cleaning work. It was not enough money to live on and I really wanted to be able to also give some money to my parents. After my prayer time one of the dormitory leaders approached me to ask whether I was looking for a job. I couldn’t believe it. She told me about a position that was available as a teaching assistant at a local kindergarten. I met with the owner and was offered the job. I was so excited. I loved working with the children, and also had the opportunity to improve my English.
A year later I was given the opportunity to work at my church in a ministry called Healing Home. This became my full time job for the next six years. It was a great blessing. I was part of a team that provided accommodation, medical referrals, prayer and ministry for sick people who had to travel from the villages in to Phnom Penh for medical care. These people were desperately poor and so very grateful for the support we gave. I saw God do amazing things.
Two years ago I had the privilege of seeing my parents commit their lives to Christ. Over time they had observed the change in my older brother and me. As we grew in our relationship with God they could see that Christianity was genuine. Many of their friends have challenged my parents’ decision to become Christians but they have stood firm. They no longer go to the Buddhist temple. They now attend a church service near their home every Sunday. They are brave and faithful.
In 2014 I was asked to participate in a program called Ravens Hope it involved going to the USA for four months of leadership training and mentoring. I was reluctant because I loved my job and was nervous about travelling. I resisted for months but over time God changed my heart. In 2015 I took a step of faith and resigned from my job so that I could go to the USA. It was an amazing experience.
During my time with Ravens Hope I sensed that God was calling me to be a missionary. He gave me a vision for a ministry called Founder, to find the lost, to bring them home and to show them who they are in Christ. My first response was ‘How? I have no money, I am a single woman with no means of support.’
Shortly after I returned to Cambodia in January 2016 I was offered a part time position with Raven’s Hope as the Program Managers Assistant. A few weeks later I was asked to work as a translator with the Esther’s Voice team who are involved in ministering to women who have been rescued from sexual exploitation. Slowly I can see the pieces of the puzzle starting to come together.
I am now 31 years old but I feel like my life is really just beginning. I have such big dreams and plans for my life. God has given me a clear vision for the future and without his help it is impossible, but I am determined to devote my whole life to His mission.
We are Christ’s ambassadors.
God is using us to speak to you: we beg you,
As though Christ himself were here pleading with you,
Receive the love he offers you—be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthian 5:20 (TLB)