Feature

The House of Bread

A Cambodian widow brings glory to His Kingdom

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A servant of the Lord once told me that “God is always in the business of looking for people and places He can use to bring glory for His Kingdom.” One of my new friends, Meing Pheap, has brought much glory to God’s Kingdom during her life’s journey.

I often saw Meing (“Auntie”) Pheap, a 72-year-old widow, at Khmer Evangelical Church (KEC) conferences and regional women’s events. But I hardly had time to get to know her. Yet from those brief meetings, I grew to love Meing Pheap and admire her strong faith and devotion to God. Her commitment to serve the Lord through her home church and her love and compassion toward people in need are an inspiration to me.

Twice a month, my husband, Soeuth, makes a six-hour round trip to Battambang Province, Cambodia, to teach all-day classes on spiritual leadership and preaching. The 26 students are faithful men and women who are key leaders from various KEC congregations throughout the province. Last month, while Soeuth taught at Bethlehem Church of the C&MA, I invited Meing Pheap to chat with me under the shade of a mango tree. With a notepad in hand and a pencil ready, I asked her to tell me her story.

The Stranger in White

Meing Pheap was the oldest daughter of five children in a poor farming family from Bat-tambang Province. Like most Cambodian women of her generation, she was in an arranged marriage, given to a soldier at the age of 19. Shortly after the birth of their child, her husband was killed in battle. Throughout the years that followed, many bachelors proposed marriage, but Meing Pheap chose to care for her daughter, Vandy, as a single mother. When the country fell to the communists in 1975, Meing Pheap struggled to live with help from relatives.

In June 1988, after miraculously surviving the Killing Fields, Meing and Vandy found themselves desperately trying to stay alive in a refugee camp in Thailand. Their skin was covered with sores, their bodies ached, they were sick with tropical diseases—and they were starving. One day, after Vandy had recovered from dengue fever, the girl begged her mother for nourishment. Having no money, Meing Pheap searched for any edible vegetation to feed her daughter. When Meing Pheap was caught stealing food, angry neighbors brutally beat her.

“They blindfolded me and tied my hands behind my back,” said Meing Pheap. Then they dragged her limp body to a nearby forest. “They were going to finish me off with a bullet in my head!” She was crying softly as she recalled the incident. “First, they made me kneel at edge of a cliff. Then, in mockery, they told me that I had a few minutes to say my last prayers before they would kill me. It was not enough that they brutally beat me up—they were laughing at me. They took great pleasure in seeing me suffer. I was terrified.”

In anguish, Meing Pheap cried out to an unknown God, the Creator of the universe. “God, if you are real,” she shouted, “please show yourself to me! God, please rescue me now!”

Meing Pheap babbled her pleas over and over, begging God to spare her life. When finally she stopped to listen, there was only silence. “Where had all my accusers gone, I wondered. Then, I heard footsteps, walking closer and closer. My heart was pounding hard. For sure they were going to push me off the cliff! What will become of my child? ‘O God, please help me now!’ I cried.” Then, someone gently untied her hands and the blindfold.

“When I opened my eyes, there before me stood a man dressed in a white robe. I had never seen him before. He was smiling down at me. The man asked, ‘What are you doing here? Go home! Your daughter needs you!’ And then he just walked away.” Still in shock, Meing Pheap, with her knees trembling, walked home to her wailing daughter.

For many weeks, Meing Pheap pondered that near-death experience and the white-robed man who came to her rescue: _Who was he? Where is he now?- One night she dreamed that the same white-robed man came to rescue her from drowning. When she awoke, she immediately told her friends and neighbors. They were amazed, yet no one could answer her questions.

One day Meing Pheap was visiting a friend who happened to be reading a small booklet. When Meing Pheap saw the picture on the cover, she grabbed it, shouting, “That is the man who came to rescue me in my dream! And that is the same man who rescued me at the edge of the cliff!” After her friend explained salvation to her, Meing Pheap was more than willing to accept the Lord Jesus into her life. Under the discipleship of Alliance people in the refugee camp, Meing Pheap grew in her spiritual walk, taking to heart every message and lesson she learned.

A Sack Full of Hope

Toward the end of 1991, news spread that all refugee camps were going to close. Not knowing if relatives had survived the Killing Fields, and with no money and no assurance of a specific place to go, she began a new daily prayer: “God, wherever You send me, as long as You give me a roof over my head, I will bring people into Your Kingdom.” Then, she started to collect all kinds Christian tracts. “I asked all my friends, teachers and pastor for Christian written material. Anything they gave me, I took them all!”

In May 1992, having no hope of emigrating without a sponsor, she and her daughter took the long, dangerous journey back to Cambodia. The two experienced hardships and hunger, encountered bandits and took great risks crossing many minefields before they safely reached Battambang Province. Their only possessions were 10 kilograms of rice, some dried salted fish, two sets each of clothing—and a large sack filled with Christian tracts and literature. After weeks of wandering, this mother–daughter family soon settled in Vat Rumdoul village.

Meing Pheap traded some of her much-needed food for a plastic tarp, some bamboo sticks and a few planks of wood. With the help of kind neighbors, Meing Pheap built a small shed for herself and Vandy. Then she began to ask around, hoping to learn if she had any living relatives. After a long search, she discovered that one of her siblings, a young sister with three small children, had survived the war. Overjoyed, she immediately began to share the good news of Jesus Christ with her family—and they all became Christians.

Meing Pheap and her sister, along with their children, soon started church services in the little shack. Meing Pheap named it Bethlehem Church. The number of attendees increased weekly as curious neighbors and onlookers began to “drop by” and then stay for the service. Soon word began to spread about this church—which also had a “library” filled with Christian tracts and literature, many bearing the Alliance logo. Christian friends from around Battambang came, and when they saw the many people packed inside the “church building,” they were amazed.

Those who visited or heard about Bethlehem Church immediately began to contribute toward improving the structure. Those who could not give money donated wood, bamboo, wires, nails, tools, sheets of tin, plastic tarp and even cardboard boxes. Some gave bags of rice and other food items so Meing Pheap could prepare meals for the volunteers. Quickly, friends and neighbors began to work together. Because it was rainy season, their immediate goal was to put a roof on the building. Throughout the weeks and months that followed, donations continued, little by little. Visitors who found it hard to sit on the concrete floor donated plastic chairs. Others gave musical instruments. Meing Pheap added onto the building—stick by stick, plank by plank, wall by wall—until finally, the church was finished in December 1994.

“Oh, I was the happiest person in town,” Meing Pheap said. “God’s church was finally completed.” She lifted her hands in praise. “My God answered this widow’s requests!” She pointed to herself and began to cry with joy. “My God does take care of me. He not only gave me a roof over my head, but also God gave me a beautiful place to worship!”

Shelter in Bethlehem

True to her word, Meing Pheap brings people into His Kingdom every chance she gets, courageously sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone she meets. She boldly invited the buyers at a local market where she sells fish to visit her church. At the rice fields, while planting or harvesting crops, she proclaims the good news to other farmers. At local schools where she often sells snacks and drinks, she tells the kids about Jesus’ love. When she and a team go to villages every week to visit AIDS patients, she always points them to the only true hope, found in Jesus.

Whenever Soeuth and I visit Bethlehem Church, however, we notice there are many school-aged children living with Meing Pheap. “Where do all these children come from?” I asked. “Who are their parents? What are they doing here?”

She told me that the children belong to poor families from remote villages throughout Battambang Province. The kids, though still very young, had dropped out of school because they lived too far away or their parents could not afford to keep all their children in class. Meing Pheap, with the parents’ permission, feeds eight children, sends them to public schools and gives them a place to live, a home away from home.

“But where do you find food for them?” I asked.

“Naak Kru [“Teacher”],” she said, “this is Bethlehem [House of Bread] Church! God promised in His Word that He is a father to the orphans and a husband to widows. This church is full of children and widows. God Himself will make sure that we will have all the bread we need.”

While God is the ultimate provider for all her needs, He also has given Meing Pheap wisdom to generate income for her expanded household. Meing Pheap goes to local markets, buys an abundant supply of fresh fish at wholesale prices, cleans them well and salts and dries them for three to five days. When the time is right, she sells them back at a much higher price. Also, she and the children raise chickens for eggs and meat to eat and to sell.

Meing Pheap is also known as the best snack producer in town. With the help of the children, she goes out to the farms and buys wholesale soy beans, mong beans, peanuts and edible seeds. With her secret recipe, she roasts the seeds and beans. Then, the children carefully measure and pack the snacks into individual plastic bags/jars with appropriate labels and sell them at public schools, food shops and even some restaurants as requested by the owners. It is a slow process, and every helping hand is needed.

All the profits are divided into different envelopes for the children’s uniforms and school supplies, daily food, electric bills, fuel or motorbike repair when church leaders visit small groups, weekly offering and so on. And the kids’ parents sometimes supply a large bag of rice.

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