Giving voice to sorrow and hope

"Giving voice to sorrow and hope" Continued...

Issue: "Another dark day in America," Jan. 12, 2013

When Maly went to a refugee camp, leaving her boys at a border trading post where refugees bought food, Thai police captured her for illegally entering the country. They threw her into prison, then took her to a UN refugee camp. She pleaded with guards to allow her to find her sons, but they wouldn’t allow it. Depressed, Maly started sharing her story with the missionaries at the refugee camp, hoping they could help her. She began translating for a missionary from Denmark. Although the missionary constantly shared the gospel with her, she rejected it, saying she had her own religion. 

Then one night, Maly felt God saying, “Maly, you have been trying to do good, and don’t be afraid, when I’m with you, you will do even better.” Suddenly she realized the guilt for taking her cousin’s food had been forgiven. The next day she told the missionary she was ready to believe and become a Christian. 

Soon afterward, she received a letter from her brother saying he had her two sons. The missionaries who had heard her story posted signs with her photo and information on trees near the border and a relative saw it and told her brother. “Even now,” she says of the news, “it still feels like a good dream.” 

Reunited with her sons, they obtained refugee status in the United States. At one time she wanted to go to France. But now: “I didn’t care about America before, but once we got persecuted by the Communists, I realized it’s the most free country in the world.”

Maly became one of the first Cambodian refugees to settle in 1980 in Long Beach, Calif., a city that’s now home to 50,000 Cambodians. Maly joined an American church that reached out to the influx of Cambodian refugees. She worked in real estate. But trials returned in the form of a failed remarriage and she lost custody of a daughter after her husband claimed that the Khmer Rouge had mentally damaged her. For comfort Maly started recording herself reading the Bible in 1988, starting in the New Testament. She listened to the recordings in her free time to remind herself of the goodness of the Lord. 

For 12 years after arriving in the United States, she didn’t want to return to Cambodia. But she said she also wondered, “What kind of Christians would we be if we don’t help our country people, especially if we know very well what condition they live in?” Maly eventually returned to Cambodia to translate for missionaries and help with an orphanage. 

Only 1 percent of Cambodians claim to be Christians, but the number is growing. Maly said she noticed on her trips that while many of the older generation have kept to their Buddhist traditions and ancestral worship, the younger generation has lost faith in Buddhism because of the Khmer Rouge. They are more receptive to Christianity as they see local Christians and missionaries living differently from most Cambodians.

Christians in Cambodia sometimes face persecution from the Buddhist majority, but more and more missionaries are coming from the United States and East Asian countries, many to do medical work. Many local churches meet in homes, but in Phnom Penh there are large churches like New Life church, which has about 300 congregants. 

Maly found the significance of her Bible recording one day when she got a phone call from a Cambodian woman living in the United States who had little education. She had just become a Christian but had trouble reading the Old Testament in Khmer because of its difficult words. Maly played her a recording of her Bible reading over the phone, and her friend started crying and saying, “Sister Maly, you are so smart, so educated.” But Maly responded, “God loves you, and knowing that people like you and your sister can’t read the Bible, so He kept me alive and I have this voice so you can hear God’s Word.” Maly continued recording the Bible over the years and now has almost completed the entire Bible, except for some books in the Old Testament.

With Maly’s audio recording online, people from all over the country and the world have been able to download her recordings. She is working with several churches on producing a CD with the entire Bible in Khmer, which will be available to missionaries headed to Cambodia to reach illiterate Khmer people.

Despite the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge, Maly believes the horror opened the country to Christianity, especially through the work of missionaries in refugee camps and the settlement of Cambodian refugees in the United States. Before the Khmer Rouge, Maly had never heard the gospel. “God was sovereign over the Khmer Rouge,” she said. “People said then, ‘Oh, Communism is the solution to social problems,’ but He showed that only Christ is the solution to social problems.”

Angela Lu
Angela Lu

Angela is a reporter for WORLD Magazine who lives and works in Taiwan. She enjoys cooking, reading, and storytelling. Follow Angela on Twitter @angela818.


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