God Was Gently Leading Me to Cambodia

God’s Grace in Finding My Identity

I was born in Florida and adopted at infancy. Growing up in a predominately Caucasian community in southern Ohio, I was never aware of my other-ness unless I looked in a mirror. I always knew that I was adopted, however, I didn’t know my biological family. What I did know is that I was Cambodian and I was gonna visit Cambodia one day.

5 Minute Read

By Michaela Grover

It wasn’t until high school that I heard those very words from a stranger, “You should go back to your own country!” This was a wild suggestion, considering I was born and raised in the USA, so this was the only country I knew! These words weren’t harmless and sparked a sense of hurt within me that I didn’t understand.

Little did I know that those words would lead me to become desensitized to phrases like,

“Americans only marry Americans.”
“Where are you from?”
“She eats rice and cats!”

I don’t know the intention behind what that man said that night, but it was the beginning of me searching for something.

Where Do I Belong?

After high school, I had decided to study ministry at a Christian university. That’s when I realized people had their own ideas of what I was supposed to be, all because of how I looked.

Because of my Midwestern worldview I had no idea how to respond to the questions of my ethnicity because people didn’t ask thoughtfully, they guessed insensitively. That might not be a big deal for you, but when you have people guessing your ethnicity as Mexican, Chinese, or mixed (anything foreign or brown-skinned), and you don’t even know what “Cambodian” means, it can be a real identity shake-up and extremely frustrating.

My sense of belonging was being challenged and I didn’t know how to respond. I always felt like the black sheep (pun intended) amongst my family and friends. That didn’t change when I went away to college. From these experiences throughout my life, I’ve developed insecurities and an unsteady identity.

God Was Gently Leading Me

I didn’t believe that I was as beautiful as all of my non-Asian peers. I didn’t believe I was worthy of love. People walked in and out of my life who had caused me goodness and pain, who made me question what kind of person I am and who I wanted to be.

God didn’t leave me to learn this alone, though. He brought wise and humble women to mentor and walk with me through these times. They helped me through the questions about God, ideas about myself, theology, why there’s pain and injustice in the world, family stuff, and even boys. I’m thankful for each person for I would not be the same person I am today if even one of them hadn’t been in my life.

God didn’t just bring the right people, he brought the right opportunities: missions conferences, incredible professors, and service opportunities. The most impactful ones were internships to my country of origin—you know it—Cambodia.

My Experience in Cambodia

I was in the capital city of Phnom Penh which was hot, smelly, and loud with delicious food everywhere. The people were wonderful and I finally had someone coming up to me and saying, “you’re just like me. You have the Cambodian face!”

I finally felt a small sense of belonging.

There was a lot of “wow, God!” and “I can’t believe this!” Not to mention I got the chance to shadow at a girl’s home and teach English at a school outside of the city. That was my dream since high school and it was finally happening. I absolutely knew God kept his promises, then.

Nonetheless, I was not prepared for what I would experience in-country and coming back to the US.

Cambodia has a reputation for having the happiest kind of people. Yet, if you’re there for longer periods of time, you’ll see that they are like everybody else in the world—broken, living with pain, poverty, and injustice.

I got to see that first hand with girls living away from their families for their own safety.

I saw that in students who were late to class because they had to take care of their families.

I have also seen it in lives taken before their time.

It’s been painful. It’s been hard.

He Was with Me Every Step

We all have our ways to cope with what the world has to offer and what it tries to keep us from. Thankfully, I’ve had the same wise, strong, and inspiring women in my life for many years, who’ve come up alongside of me and poured out their hearts into mine. What if there were more Christians to walk beside Cambodians in that same way?

I hold fast to the promise, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

It’s amazing to look back and see how the Lord had prepared every step. I’ve found that in my brokenness, his power is so apparent and through hardships, he is empowering me! Living in his grace and mercy means learning to have that for me and to extend that same attitude towards others—all for his glory.

I’ve been walking this earth, searching for something that doesn’t exist in my time but now I understand that I’ll never fully belong. What I long for is a home that is Heaven with Jesus. Until I get there, I want my journey and life to encourage others who may have felt this way. That’s why I’m going into missions— so that others may share in this incredible gift that is Jesus!

Defining my Asian-American experience hasn’t been easy. I’m still struggling to find others to engage in those conversations with and so I’m still learning and stumbling through it.

I didn’t deserve any good part or lesson in this story but God has blessed me beyond any comprehension.

And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that God really does know our hearts and that he is ever so faithful.

Author Bio

Raised in Southern Ohio, Michaela was adopted and enjoyed living in the countryside. Her favorite activities were running barefoot in the soft grass, watching animals, bonfires, and camping. She ended up meeting her biological family and shares their love of food! At the time of this article, Michaela lived in Pensacola, FL with her husband, Will. As of 2021 they moved to Cambodia and are excited to see God continue to work in theirs’ and others’ lives!

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