Striving against the odds

Channa 2 A petite woman standing in the middle of some rough villagers, her fine voice giving instructions about what was to be done. The sun is barely over the horizon. Her sleeves covering up to the fingertips, with lots of confidence she points at where the soil is supposed to be moved to. I am mesmerized by her determination. As one of her first tasks at ICF Cambodia Channa was asked to help me with translation on the construction site – which is not much more than a hole and some heaps of soil back in 2015. Surely, if someone told her some weeks ago she’d end up on construction, she would’ve playfully slapped that person.

In fact, I always wanted to become a florist, a broadcaster on TV or an ambassador for the country. My dreams were inspired by movies and my relatives who pushed me towards a career that would make some serious money, hopefully. My strict parents raised me and my three brothers with the main focus on education. Besides going to school there was no reason to leave the house. Not even playing with the neighbors was really allowed.

When I was about twelve years old, I got Dengue fever. A sickness that could end badly. My religious parents and relatives went through lots of rituals and offered sacrifices at different temples. Day by day my condition worsened. They ended up at a Buddhist fortune-teller who would get in touch with our ancestors. The spirits told them that they wanted me back because they thought that my mother here on earth wouldn’t take enough care of me. In some more rituals they then dedicated my spirit to them in exchange for my body to stay alive. Despite all, I only started to get better when my family finally brought me to the children’s hospital Kantha Bopha.

Out of the blue, we moved from the bustling city of Phnom Penh to Siem Reap – I couldn’t even say bye to my friends. The night before the move, my uncle was sleeping outside and due to a dream he screamed right at the moment when a thief wanted to break into our house. Scared by the loud noise the burglar ran off.

Siem Reap. A foreign place without friends, I was in my teenage years and all I knew to do was to do what my parents wanted me to do. I felt more and more boxed in. I had no hope.”

Channa wouldn’t be the petite lady giving clear orders to older men if she had stayed in that box. I believe there had always been a strong will in her. However, it had to wait for fruitful soil. While still being locked in that boring box, the best was yet to come – but it was some tough decisions away.

“I started dating my boyfriend in 2011, we knew each other from an English class at an organization. My parents didn’t accept my relationship with him so I kept it secret until they chose a guy for me to marry. I told them again – no surprise, they were not happy mainly because of his status that was too low for them. At least they dropped the wedding with the other guy. A few years of hiding followed. I stayed faithful to Vanthen, though my parents wouldn’t know about our relationship.

He was the one who invited me to the Christmas Party from the church ICF Cambodia in order to meet his mother. After that, I started going to the weekly celebrations of the church, mostly, because it was a way to see my boyfriend. I was open to the Christian God because I had no hope for my life. I guessed every God would be good in his own way. What I learned in the teachings blew me away. They said that their God would love all of us unconditionally, even when we didn’t do anything yet. Even when we failed. It wasn’t like the Buddhist belief where we had to offer things in order to please the spirits.
This God desired a personal relationship, everything I heard touched my heart directly. I experienced peace in my life. And started to be excited about what was outside of my box.

I joined the Welcome Team to help Nadine as a translator volunteer. She challenged me to replace her when she went to her home country for a month. I felt misplaced, had no experience in leading.

In April 2014, I decided to follow God 100%, Vanthen and I got baptized. My life changed radically. Foremost, I encountered God as the God of Hope. I wanted to try out my newly won faith – and I was in need of some supernatural intervention in my life.
I prayed for my parents to accept Vanthen as my boyfriend and future husband. After two years, they suddenly agreed. Out of the blue, with no real reason. We are now over two years happily married.
I prayed for my family, especially for my brothers to accept me becoming a lady with my own opinion rather than staying that កូនពៅ (youngest kid) that they would always tease and call stupid. It’s work in progress, but our relationships are definitely improving.
I prayed for myself to get courage and boldness to stand up and speak my mind. I became free of the unhealthy dependence on the opinion of my mother, and began to decide about my own “right and wrong”.
My small group prayed for me to be free of any influence from before and whatever consequences there had been from the devotion during those rituals some years ago.

I dream of complete freedom. Of having my own family with my values and treating my kids differently than to what I had experienced. I continue to pray for my family to accept God and for my parents that I still love and honor them even when I now choose my own path. I want to serve God 100%, following my passions – teaching teenagers, preaching, helping others grow. From my own story I know best, there is a way even when we think we are stuck.

I hate comparison and I want everyone to discover his amazing value. God helped me to see my value, no matter if I was wearing something expensive or cheap and they made fun of it.”

I mean, we are all priceless, right? Why then, should we compare ourselves to each other? ~ Channa.

I love teasing Vanthen if I was a man I would have married Channa first. She is super humble, yet so powerful. I often had felt sorry for that city girl to have to stand in the dirt, completely out of her comfort zone. Her nickname “Barbie” fit her way better than the circumstances. However, I am thankful she went through it. It was the beginning of a deep, personal friendship. Together we go through Highs and Lows. With her amazing skills of creating an enjoyable atmosphere for everyone, she manages the welcome team and the Ladies Night events. A task she had slowly taken over. She once summarized it like this: “In the first year, I simply led the welcome team. In the second year, you wanted me to overview all stations, and the following year, I managed the whole thing.”

Channa you inspire me. To me, You are an example of faithfulness and of someone not giving up even when it’s against the odds. You and Vanthen – so much awesomeness and I love being part of your life journey. There is more. I could go on and on…

Vanthen has become my big brother. He has a teaching gift, I enjoy listening to him, his worldview and smart reflecting of happenings. He is a super-rational, dry but hilarious guy. Once he said “Vivi, we’ve got your back.” And that probably explains it best.