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A Divine Reunion

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At an Alliance house church we visited during our annual motorbike missions trip to villages in northwestern Cambodia, we heard a heart wrenching story from a new believer, Linda*. Nearly 20 years ago, two of her nieces, just 6 and 9 years old, went missing while the family was living in Poipet.

After giving us detailed information about the girls, Linda begged us to search for them, and we promised we would do our best. Immediately after getting back from the trip, members of the Khmer Evangelical Church** who live in Poipet took the search to every orphanage, children’s center, and local children NGOs (non-government organizations) in town.

After visiting many places and asking many questions, our team found a young woman named Maria* who is now 28 years old. With the help of modern technology, the Poipet team connected Maria with Linda. After a few phone calls back and forth to ask personal and familial questions, Linda was satisfied and confirmed that Maria was one of the missing girls.

The family wanted to see her immediately, so some of our Christian friends offered to help and sent Maria by taxi to our house in Anlong Veng. While she stayed in our home the night before her reunion, we learned a bit more about Maria’s incredible journey.

Unclaimed and Alone

After the girls were snatched from their family, a group of wicked people sold them repeatedly from one brothel to the next for about a year in Thailand. The girls were abused beyond measure. Every day, they would cry out to an unknown God for help.

One day, local authorities busted this evil organization. The girls were rescued and then sent back to Cambodia through the Poipet border where they were placed in a local NGO that cares for at-risk children. Maria and her sister, Sarah*, were given shelter, food, and an education. But year after year, even with efforts by this NGO to try to find the family, no one had come forward to claim them.

Linda* (left) praises Jesus for finding Maria* and reuniting her with her family. Photo from Syna Lao

When Sarah reached her teens, she became restless and was tired of waiting. She started sneaking out constantly and breaking the NGO’s rules. The staff gave her many disciplines and warnings, but still she would not listen. Soon she decided to elope with her boyfriend and left for Phnom Penh.

Maria was saddened by the loss of her sister but knew there was nothing she could do. She finished her education and started working for the NGO. In the midst of her long wait, many Christians played significant roles in Maria’s life, though she never fully trusted them. She had built walls of disappointment and bitterness around her heart.

But the staff at the local NGO continued to tell Bible stories and explain to Maria that God cared deeply for her. One of those stories, the story of Joseph being sold into slavery and then reunited with his family years later, touched Maria. Even though she did not profess to believe or trust in God, she still clung to the hope she found in that story. She refused to leave Poipet, believing that “one day, my mother will come back to look for me.”

Once Lost, Now Found

In God’s providence, we reunited Maria with her mother and the rest of her family the morning after she told us her story. It was a tearful but joyful reunion. After news had spread that Maria was found, relatives from all over the country came to meet her—one of her uncles traveled 23 hours in multiple taxis and buses just to meet his long-lost niece.

When we got out of the car that day, Linda ran out to greet Maria. Linda had often been like a second mother to Maria and Sarah before they were taken, so Maria was thrilled to see her aunt. After giving her niece many hugs and kisses, Linda praised God that Maria had finally been found and thanked us persistently.

Embraced by God’s Family

Recently I reconnected with Maria at Living Water Church, a congregation of the Khmer Evangelical Church in Poipet. As we sat in the shade of a mango tree, I helped Maria process some of the hardest situations in her life and identified certain times when the hand of God was with her, even in her darkest moments.

We sat there for at least two hours, talking, crying, praising God, and praying. She recognized that it was only divine help from God that could have brought her back to her family. When I asked Maria how she felt about God, she said she wanted to invite Jesus into her heart.

Through the prayers and encouragement from the many Christians who have poured into her life over the years, Maria has forgiven those who wronged her and found a new family. She now attends Living Water Church in Poipet, but many in her family, including her mother, are still stuck in addiction and extreme poverty. Pray that Maria will be the catalyst to bring her family to belief in Christ so they will receive abundant life and healing.

*Name changed

**The Alliance in Cambodia

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