Life as a Cambodian Christian: An Interview

Though I’m no longer in Cambodia physically, part of my heart will always remain in Kratie, Cambodia. I wish I could bring everyone to Cambodia to visit the country and meet these people I love so dearly. For now, I’ll introduce you through writing. Here’s an interview with two young Cambodian women about faith, the future, childhood memories and more!

Meet the Interviewees

 Srey Neang (left) and Cheata (right)

Srey Neang (left) and Cheata (right)

Srey Neang (pronounced sry [rhymes with “try”] ning) and Cheata (pronounced like “cheetah”) are two advanced English language students and active members of Love of Christ Church. Srey Neang was born in a village quite a distance from Kratie, and she lives with her aunt and uncle in Kratie so she can attend school in town. Cheata lives with her parents and siblings down the road from the church. I’ll let them do the rest of their introductions!

(I’ve edited some for grammar, but most of the interview I’ve left as-is because I love the way Srey Neang and Cheata talk and tell stories. That’s part of what makes talking with them so fun!)

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Srey Neang: My name is Srey Neang. I am 17 years old. I’m in the 10th grade, and I am the youngest of seven siblings.

Cheata: I am Cheata. I am 16 years old, in 10th grade, and I have three siblings. I am the second [oldest].

How did you become a Christian?

Srey Neang: Punlork [cousin] invited me to go to the church three years ago. I studied English there, but I not study Bible. I wasn’t interested in Jesus, but one time I was studying with Mommy [Kathy Manoto, missionary], and we study about the job of our parents. And I don’t know the job of my father, and after that I [was] upset. 

After we study, Mommy asked, “What happened to you?”

I said nothing. And I said, “I not have father.”

She said, “Even [though] you don’t have a good father on the earth, you have the best Father in heaven. You also have Daddy [Archie Manoto, missionary] as your father.” And after that I try to learn Bible. Then I study at life group and come worship on Sunday. At life group Teacher Aileen [missionary] asked me if I believed Jesus is the only One, and I say yes, and after that I believed.

Cheata: I saw Srey Neang at school and she invited me to study English. I said, “No, I don’t like to study with the people who believe in Jesus. The people who believe in Jesus, they crazy.” [I thought they were strange because] even when they eat rice, they thank Jesus. They pray. Why [are they] like that? My mom is the one who gives me rice, not Jesus!

A few weeks later, I stopped in front of the church to call Srey Neang to go to rincoo [tutoring], and the [missionary] teachers are friendly and smiling at me. I said I would study there. I go, but I not understand what they are saying because I not know English yet. I told Neang I don’t want to study there because I don’t know [English], but she said she was like that before. So I stayed. When I saw Teacher Aileen talking with other friends…I would listen and get some words and write them down in my book, like “why” and “broken” and translate in Khmer. I got Teacher Aileen’s phone number, and I would talk with Teacher Aileen and practice with her. Then Teacher Aileen invited me to life group. And I started going to life group and knew Jesus.

When I could talk in English a lot before, Pastor had e-camp [annual English camp], and Srey Neang invited me to go, but I was shy, but I also want to go. It was so happy because [there were] a lot of games. After e-camp, some [of my] friends get baptized, but I not yet decide to get baptized (this was 2013). Daddy [Pastor Archie] also ask [me], but I just think about it first. In 2014, I decide to get baptized with Srey Neang and other friends, too.

What did your family think when you first became a Christian?

Srey Neang: The first time when they know [I am a Christian], they all reject [me]. They don’t want me to believe in Him. Even my grandfather. After that, my aunt told me, “If you believe in Jesus, you cannot live in my house anymore.” But I thank God that my aunt’s friend believes in Jesus, and she told my aunt about Jesus, and she [my aunt] still allow me to go to church and [she] not say anything bad anymore.

When I went home [to my hometown], I told to my sister and my family the Good News. My brother and sister listen to me, but my mother was angry with me one time and said, “If you believe in Jesus, don’t call me ‘Mother’ anymore.”

I want[ed] to give up, but when I want[ed] to give up, I talk with someone, and the topic is “Don’t give up on God because God never give up on you.”

After that, I start to share the Good News again and again to my family, and [I told] my mother about the reason I not go to pagoda [Buddhist temple] and worship, and she listen to me. And my family, they also know about it [the Gospel], and my aunt in another province get so angry because she not want me to believe in Jesus because it’s so crazy and not our culture. But I still believe in Jesus because I know He is the One who saves me.

The first time is difficult, but after that God solved the problem, and now it’s okay.

Cheata: My family—they [were] happy when I started to study there [at the church], and they so happy to see I can speak English well. When they know I believe in Jesus, they not stop me from going to the church. One time I share the Gospel to my sister, and I told her about how God created the world and the man and the woman—and the people who don’t believe in Jesus, where will they go? And she was laughing at me. I told her the people who don’t believe in Jesus will go to hell; they won’t be able to go to heaven. She was laughing at me, saying, “So many people don’t believe in Jesus and will go to hell, and the hell will get full! Cannot fit any more people!” I told her it’s just in the Bible, and she still not believe. But I thank God I can share with her. 

My cousin and my aunt and uncle, they call me, “Yesu! Yesu! [Jesus! Jesus!]” Now I have new name in my house also: it’s "Jesus." But I remember that verse—it says if the people say bad things about you in My name, you will be blessed.

My mom—now she always wants me to change my mind. She always calls me to worship, and I say no to her, and she a little bit sad and angry. Like she don’t think I really believe in Jesus. But I’m still praying that my mom and dad and yeah, my family, that they will believe in Jesus one day. Because my mom—she hear the Gospel three times already. So I hope she will accept Jesus one day. I’m scared that they will not know Jesus. But I trust in the Lord, that He will save my family.

What are difficulties you face as a Christian in Cambodia?

Srey Neang: The most difficult is my mother. Because sometimes she tell me, “Don’t call her 'Mother,'” like that. And my relatives don’t want me to believe in Jesus.

Cheata: I was thinking that now my mom not know I really believe in Jesus. Maybe she just think I go and learn [English] and not really believe in Jesus. I’m scared that one day, she will really get angry [when] she really know that I really believe in Jesus. And she will stop me from go [to church]. So I’m praying now that even she stop [me from going] I still continue.

If you could tell Christians around the world one thing, what would it be?

Srey Neang: I will tell others, “Don’t give up because all the things you do are not useless. You will receive the things from God when you meet Him. Because we on the earth sometimes want to give up because we face the problem.”

Cheata: I will tell them about my life and I will tell them about the things I thought were impossible. But I keep on doing that and it’s become possible. I will encourage them, especially the people who think something is impossible for them to do…I will just tell them that if you not give up on that thing, if you keep on going, it will be possible.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Srey Neang: Since I was young, I want to be a doctor. But I don’t know the plan of God. I want to be a doctor because my mom [is] always sick. And when she sick, she has to pay a lot of money. And my relatives, also sick and they must pay a lot of money. So I want to be a doctor to help my family. But now I want many things: teacher, police man, tour guide and also the ladies on the plane [flight attendant]. But [what I want] the most is doctor. Also your daddy (who is a doctor) write me [a note] that he will pray for me [and said] “Don’t give up.” I [was] really encouraged. Also Pastor asked about what we want to do the future. He also encourage me, “Don’t give up because of the money. God will provide [for] you.” I think about how my family is poor. And I so discouraged. Because the Khmer (Cambodian) doctor must study for 8 years. I think it is impossible. Because I know my family cannot find money for me.

Cheata: Doctor. Because I can help the people around me, especially my family if they get sick. If other doctor cannot help her [my mom], I will help her what I can. I will do what I can. Yeah. Help the poor people. [But] I think I cannot be doctor because I’m not a good student. I want to have just simple work so I can help my family. Even tik tik, ban [translation: even a little bit is good]. And I really want to go to another country to serve Jesus. Like you. Yeah, that’s what I am thinking.

Tell me one story from your childhood.

Srey Neang: When I was young, people in my hometown have wedding, and I go with my aunt [by bicycle]. That time the bicycle is not updated like now, and doesn’t have something to cover the [top of] the tire. [I sat on the back of the bike] and I just see the tire moving, and I think, “What’s that? What will happen if I put my leg there?” And then… *laughter…and more laughter*

Me: What happened with the bicycle?

Srey Neang: The bicycle?! It’s my leg hurt, not the bicycle. Why you ask about the bicycle and not my leg?!

Me: But the bicycle didn’t fall?

Srey Neang: No, just hurt my leg. *Shows me scar* Because I’m small and I didn’t know…*more laughter*

Cheata: One night I slept outside with my dad and my younger sister, and we slept on the hammock. One up [on top] and one down [below the other]. And my dad, he sleep on the side to protect us. The first night, I sleep up and she sleep under me. The next night, I sleep under her. And that time, she pee on me. Yeah, I woke up, and my dad saw me wake up, and he asked why, and I told him “Have rain.” But she pee on me!! I tell them I will never let her sleep above me because she will pee on me again!

What is your favorite thing to do when you have free time?

Cheata: Singing Christian song. [Cheata has a great voice and is in our Sunday worship team.]

Srey Neang: Sleep. *laughter* The thing I like to do most is listen to music. The kind of sound that’s soft and slow. Sometimes the rap song. Khmer or English. [My favorite] Christian song is “Sing.”

Why should people come to Cambodia?

Cheata: To see what Cambodia looks like…

Srey Neang: They want to see me! Because I’m beautiful! …I’m just kidding.

If you have one superpower, what would it be?

Cheata: I would like, if I want to go somewhere, just one second, I will be there. You know that? Just one second only and then I am there.

Srey Neang: Just a funny one: I want just hide myself, like no one can see me. Because sometimes I want to play seek and hide, and I can hide anywhere. And no one can see me! I [will] always win! No one can find me!

How can other Christians pray for you?

Cheata: Pray for my study. And especially my faith. You know, sometimes—especially when I’m sad—I feel I don’t want to share the Gospel. I don’t know why. In my mind, [sometimes I also don’t want to keep] coming to the church, but I keep on coming so, yeah. Something like that.

Srey Neang: Pray I can stand strong in my faith with God, and pray my family and my friends will believe in Jesus and follow Him. Yeah, only this. Because if I fail [in my faith], my family will not trust me anymore. For example, if in the future, my family believe in Jesus, but I stop following Him, they also will stop because I am the first one who followed Him. So just pray I will have strong faith in God.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed our conversation as much as I did! Hearing the hearts of these two young women humbles, encourages, and challenges me in my walk with Christ. The Lord is doing great things in Cambodia. Please keep Srey Neang, Cheata, and the other members of Love of Christ Church in your prayers.

 

 

*To know how you can pray for the church more specifically, please send me an email or a text!

**The English camp Cheata mentioned will be in August this year. To make the camp affordable, participants are only charged a fraction of the true cost. If the Lord leads, please consider sponsoring a student to go to e-camp and grow in/begin their walk with Christ! This year students’ parents are also invited, which is a huge opportunity for the prayers of Srey Neang, Cheata, and others to be answered for their parents to hear the Gospel again and respond. Sponsorships are $35/camper. Contact me for more info.

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