Hi! My name is Megan Sarian and I’m a writer on the OMF (U.S.) Communications team. What this means is that I’m passionate about capturing stories that deepen people’s understanding of God’s work in East Asia. After years of writing from my office in Littleton, Colorado, I’m getting the chance to travel to Cambodia to hear these stories firsthand. For the next two months, I’ll be chronicling my journey in this blog series. Thanks for joining me!
I feel most alive when I’m sitting across from someone, listening to their story.
Especially when God emerges as a central character, bringing healing, redemption and transformation.
As I listen, praise fills my heart and I can’t wait for the chance to share what I’ve heard with others.
But of course, it’s not my story to share—yet.
When I’ve asked local Cambodian Christians how they feel about me publicizing the intimate details of their lives, they typically say something along the lines of, “I’m not ashamed of my story, because it’s not mine—it’s God’s. If telling my life story will help build his kingdom, I’m happy for everyone to hear it.”
Isn’t that beautiful?
Nee is one of the Cambodian believers who was happy to entrust me with her testimony. I’m so thankful. Her story makes my voice catch and the hairs on my arms stand up. Her story moves me to worship. I hope it does the same for you.
“My childhood was very difficult,” Nee said. “I grew up in a poor family. Most people in my village were rice farmers. But the most severe issues we faced as a family were introduced because of my father’s addiction to alcohol, gambling and sleeping with other women. The more he drank and gambled, the more debt we incurred.”
By this time, Nee had five siblings, but her fathers’ addictions rendered him incapable of providing for her family. As his addictions increased in severity, he would beat and threaten Nee’s mother, who became depressed and suicidal. Nee was only six-years-old.
During one particularly harrowing event, Nee watched her father chase her mother with a machete, threatening to kill her. Her mother was five months pregnant.
“I wanted to kill him,” Nee said. “I told myself, ‘If he kills my mother, I’ll murder him, and then I’ll take my own life.’”
God at work in her sister’s life
Thankfully, Nee’s mother escaped unharmed. But Nee sent word of this horrific incident to her older sister, who had moved to Phnom Penh to make more money for the family. Unbeknown to Nee, her sister had moved in with a Christian family and had become a follower of Jesus. Now, her sister desperately wanted Nee’s family to know God too.
But Nee wasn’t interested in Jesus. In fact, what little she had heard of Christianity on the radio infuriated her.
“I had so much respect for my Buddhist traditions. I enjoyed going to the temple to make offerings to Buddha. So when I heard a Christian radio broadcast about Jesus I got angry. I was like, ‘He’s a foreign god. He has nothing to do with the Khmer people. To be Khmer is to be Buddhist.’”
But Nee’s sister returned home changed. When she visited her family in the village after receiving Nee’s letter, she brought a New Testament and shared about what Jesus had done for her.
A family offense
“We all thought she was crazy,” Nee said, roughly 13-years-old at the time. “And I was so disappointed, even hurt. I adored my sister and looked up to her so much. I couldn’t understand why she had abandoned our family’s beliefs.”
Nee’s family agreed that if her sister returned to the village again and still followed Jesus, they would take her money and then cast her out of the family, or kill her.
Despite the threats, Nee’s sister left behind her New Testament and prayed.
When Nee’s father discovered the book, he was outraged. In an act of provocation, he used the delicate pages to roll his cigarettes. With cavalier defiance, he declared, “If this God is real, we’ll see how he reacts. Until then, I’ll keep smoking his word every day.”
In the meantime, Nee’s sister continued sending letters and money, as she always had. The gesture made an impression on Nee.
“She kept writing us, saying, ‘I still love you.’ I had known love in theory, but I hadn’t ever seen it shown in this way,” Nee said. “Our family had threatened to disown her, but she still said she loved us. That moved me.”
The transformed lives of people in Nee’s village provided mounting evidence that God was at work. First, Nee had heard her sister talk about Christ. Then, her father’s best friend, a soldier, came back from a military assignment near the Thai border and talked about the same God her sister had mentioned. And encounters with Christians didn’t stop there.
One day, a group of missionaries showed up in Nee’s village. They went door-to-door, asking if someone would be willing to let them show a movie about Jesus in their home. The villagers refused to invite them in.
But finally, the missionaries found a willing individual: Nee’s father.
“I was dumbfounded,” Nee says. “I couldn’t understand why he had said ‘yes.’”
Nee hung around to see what the film was all about. As she watched the story of Jesus’ sacrificial love unfold, she wept.
“I thought, ‘Why is this God so good?’ My own family was so messed up. My father was supposed to love us, but instead, he destroyed us,” Nee said. “And here was Jesus, loving people who weren’t even related to him. He cared for strangers he didn’t know. This is what a family is expected to do, but why would God behave this way?”
Nee’s first conversation with God
After the movie, the Christian visitors told the small group of villagers that they could talk to God directly if they wanted. They said he was alive and real.
Nee decided she wanted to give it a try. When she addressed God, she confronted him with a challenge—the biggest test she could think of.
“I prayed, ‘If my father turns to Jesus, I will do the same and follow Jesus,’” Nee said. “I never thought I’d have to hold up my end of the bargain.”
After that prayer, Nee noticed small miracles taking place.
One surprise was that her father was now reading the Bible. With each turn of the page, Nee expected him to tear out the paper and roll a cigarette. Instead, he sat for long periods of time soaking in the scriptures.
Nee herself would sneak the Bible from her father’s hiding place and peruse it, curious about what it said.
Miles away in Phnom Penh, Nee’s sister poured out her heart to a Thai OMF missionary she had been connected with through a local church. She shared the heavy burden she carried for her family, who were hostile toward her and God. Together, Nee’s sister and two missionaries decided to visit her village to share about Jesus’ love.
A light bulb moment
As the missionaries stood in Nee’s house and preached about real love—God’s love—Nee closely watched her father’s face. He appeared moved by what they said. Tears welled up in his eyes. And then, she saw him do something she had never seen him do: he knelt on the ground in an act of repentance. Right then and there, he surrendered his life to God.
“I had never heard my father say ‘sorry’ to anyone. I had never seen him show reverence toward a single soul,” Nee said. “Now, he was pouring out his heart and acknowledging his bad behavior.”
It was a light bulb moment for Nee.
“I realized my prayer had been answered,” Nee said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this God is amazing. If he can do this in my father’s life, I want to commit my life to him too.”
Over time, Nee saw that the transformation in her father’s life was real. Within six months of giving his life to God, he had stopped gambling, drinking, smoking and seeing other women. Not only that, he acted with a tenderness she had never seen before. He helped prepare meals for the family, played with the young children and hugged people often. Nee marveled at God’s work in her father’s life.
Nee’s life today
Nee, now 31-years-old, is applying to be the first missionary sent out and supported by The Fellowship Churches of Cambodia (FCC).
“I want to tell people that there’s a God who loves them and is able to transform lives,” Nee says. “I feel passionate about telling downcast families that God can change even the hardest hearts and the most hopeless cases.”
As for Nee’s father? He pastors a house church in their home village, and more families have come to Christ since he gave his life to the Lord. Surrounding villages have heard about God’s love as well, and have started their own churches. The relationships in Nee’s family have drastically improved, and are now a source of love and joy for her.
Praise God for his incredible, overwhelming love for us, and for the people of Cambodia. Next week, in this series’ final installment, read about the main lessons Megan learned as a result of more than 35 interviews with missionaries and local Christians in Cambodia.
Correction: In an earlier version of the post, it was incorrectly stated that Nee is “applying to be Cambodia’s first missionary supported by the Cambodian church.”
*Note from the Editor: In 2020 Megan moved to Cambodia to work with the OMF Cambodian team there. Updated June 15, 2021
Megan has been working in communications for almost 10 years. Currently serving as Content Manager for OMF (U.S.), she enjoys writing, editing and over-thinking everything word-related. When not in the office, Megan spends her spare time cycling, thrift shopping, exploring her city and drinking coffee with (or without) friends.