SreyOwn was born in 1986 in a province of Cambodia. The oldest daughter with one older brother and three younger siblings. Her mother had a mental illness and was abusive to only her and her father was abusive to his wife when he drank.
Growing up SreyOwn would go to school, play with friends, and help her mother sell food to those passing by. Her mother would often beat SreyOwn leaving permanent scares on her limbs. SreyOwn recounted the experience of being abused by her mother. She doesn't know why her mother beat her and not her other siblings. SreyOwn’s father would yell at his wife to stop. SreyOwn told of the great love her father had for her. She continued to explain that her father was good in his heart and his actions and her mother was good in heart but her actions where different.
In 1994 SreyOwn’s life took a drastic turn. Her mother, due to her mental illness and the constant abuse from her husband, hung herself. Her mother had been married years earlier during the communist rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Her mother had seven children with her first husband. Four of her children died from the countries genocide. SreyOwn was only eight years old when her mother died. Being the oldest girl in her family she took on the role of mother.
In order to attend school with younger siblings SreyOwn would tie up a hammock underneath her school desk for her baby sister to sleep while the other small children played behind her. She was stabbed by classmates with sharp pencils and teased because she was poor and had to care for her siblings at school.
They received loving help from neighbors but her family suffered from a lack of food because of her mothers death. Their father worked at the local port but did not make enough money to provide for himself and five children. SreyOwn expressed to me the pain she felt in her stomach the days all they had to eat was a little rice porridge.
After spending time at school getting teased she would take the little ones home and go out to work. She, like many of our Sparrow’s Nest kids, would walk around town calling out for people to give them recyclables. She would carry a large bag around town filling up the bag with water bottles or pop cans in order to raise money for her family.
A year after her mothers death, her father was shot dead by robbers. Five robbers had escaped from the local jail. Her father began to yell for help knowing who the men were. The leader of the gang argued with others whether or not to leave him or shoot him and run. The gang leader pulled the trigger and ran. Two store keepers watched the incident and then ran to SreyOwn’s home to tell the family. The cops chased the robbers, shooting and killing one. The others escaped.
At the funeral the four men showed up, unknown at the time to the family as the killers, and left pity money for the family. At the time they did not know shooting this man would leave five orphans. Two weeks later the men were caught at a hotel and all four died. At that time it was viewed as the Cambodian Buddhist idea of karma. It is translated “do good get good, do bad get bad.”
SreyOwn and her other four siblings were now orphans. Poor and hopeless but clinging on to one another for strength.
SreyOwn told me about seeing her parents dead bodies. She told me it scared her so much. She laughed as she recalled her Buddhist mind set. Due to the strong presence of ghost in Buddhist Cambodian culture she was afraid her parent’s ghost would come back to haunt her.
After her fathers death her and her siblings were taken to an Assemblies of God orphanage in her home town. Some of her sibling tried to run home, wanting to go back to life as normal. Over time her and her siblings adjusted to life at the orphanage. She smiled as she told me stories of playing volleyball and hiding the ball from the boys team and she also talks so highly as those that helped raise her. Always talking about the individuals impact on her walk with the Lord.
SreyOwn graduated from high school and was accepted into medical school. She now attends school faithfully pursuing a career in oncology.
SreyOwn is still as harding working as ever. Tutoring Khmer, volunteering at church, going to medical school, and still being mom to her other siblings. (Photo of SreyOwn and I drinking sugar cane water.)
For a girl that has gone through so much pain, I have never seen so much joy. SreyOwn’s testimony is one of hope. Hope not only for those left orphaned or for students trying to make it in school. But her life in Christ is the hope Cambodia needs. She sits in front of me regularly speaking about God’s love for her and for her country with tear filled eyes. She tells me dreams and vision God has given her that speak of God’s faithfulness and love for His people. My prayer is that God raises up more and more Cambodians who are faithful to His call. Who are as passionate as SreyOwn to pray for her countries leader and for their hearts to turn to God.
Join me in prayer for this country to find the hope of Christ Jesus.