No Longer a Nobody

God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong


At age 16 Chean first came (with his pastor) to meet my husband, Soeuth, and me in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. Chean had hoped we could help with his eyesight. Although we had some money to cover his medical expenses and we knew of a local eye treatment non-governmental organization (NGO) that could help him, we wanted to learn more about his life journey before agreeing to his request.

We learned that Chean, the third child of five kids, had grown up in a poor Buddhist family with his widowed mother. His father died of an illness when Chean was five years old.

Chean had been legally blind since he was young. But coming from a poor farming family, he had no money for treatment or hope that his eyes would improve. His parents never pursued any medical treatment for his vision.

Chean’s mother took him to register for public school when he was seven. But because of his impaired eyesight, the teachers felt giving him an education was a worthless effort. However, with his mother’s persistent pleas, the teachers reluctantly agreed.

While at school, Chean sat in the front row, close enough to decipher what was written on the chalkboard. He endured constant mockery from the other students and sometimes from his teachers. The neighborhood kids called him “a blind fool.” His teachers discouraged him by constantly urging him to quit school, saying, “What could this little schooling do to help you? You will be a nobody!”

He Said “Yes”

In spite of the continuous ridicule and discouragement, Chean kept moving forward, daily enduring the never-ending name calling. He trekked five kilometers across rice fields to get to school every day. He learned mostly by memorization; however, even with these efforts, Chean struggled with school because he could not read fast enough. In addition, being the oldest boy in his family, Chean felt obligated to help his poor mother.

No Longer A Nobody
Yaan and Chean married in September 2006. (Photo by Syna Lao)

After much effort, Chean quit school after fifth grade. At a young age, he became the “man of the house,” helping his family with rice farming, caring for livestock, and fishing local rivers for his family’s daily meals. As he grew older, his eyesight worsened. Fear and worry never left his side.

On the outside, people saw Chean as a cheerful boy. He tried to smile a lot, went along with the crowd, and endured his newly given nicknames, “blind fool” and “a nobody.” He pretended to be happy, but on the inside Chean had many questions and concerns.

What will become of my future? What will become of me when I can’t see at all? When I am old enough to marry, will I find somebody to love me? Will she care for and love me enough and be willing to marry me? Or will I live as a single, lonely blind person for the rest of my life? And what will become of my poor mother? These were among the many questions that Chean wrestled with, especially as he lay sleeplessly at night.

One day while taking care of his family’s cows in the rice fields, Chean was approached by the pastor of a local Khmer Evangelical Church (KEC, the Cambodian C&MA national church). With kind words he shared with Chean the message of hope found in Jesus Christ.

Though Chean had never before heard of Jesus, after learning about the many miraculous healings He did for people while on earth, Chean was excited. A new sense of hope flooded his heart and mind. Chean was interested in this new God called Jesus. Hoping to be healed from his blindness, he immediately said “yes” to Him as his Savior and Lord.

Eyes that See

After hearing Chean’s story, we sensed that God must have His powerful hand upon this young man. About one and a half years prior, a friend from New York City had come to work in Cambodia with a local NGO to treat people with eye problems.

Due to political unrest, however, she had to quickly leave Cambodia. She left us with a certain amount of money and with specific instructions that the money was to be used only for people with eye problems.

In the months that followed, many poor people with various medical needs came to us for help, but none of them had eye problems. Nevertheless, we honored our friend’s request by holding on to the money.

When Chean came, we took him to a local NGO to treat his eyes. The staff evaluated his conditions and suggested Chean needed corrective eye surgery. The estimated medical bill was the exact amount of money our friend had left with us 18 months earlier.

The night before the surgery, we visited Chean and noticed he looked concerned. “Are you afraid?” we asked. He nodded. Then without any prompting, Chean prayed this promise to God: “Lord Jesus, if You are real and if You decide to heal my eyesight through this surgery, I will commit my entire life to serve only You.”

Although the first surgery went well and Chean saw some improvement afterward, he needed more surgeries during the next few years. One after another, each surgery improved his eyesight. Today Chean wears eyeglasses and has one strong eye and one lazy eye.

Staying true to his word, between surgeries and the years afterward, Chean devoted himself to studying the Word. When the national KEC youth ministry did Bible quizzing, Chean took the lead and became the best quizzer in the country. His habit of studying by memorizing paved the way for him to take first place in 2002 and third place in 2003.

When Chean could no longer quiz, he became a youth leader for his church. Whenever there were seminars, rallies, or conferences, Chean always attended. He could not get enough of God’s Word.

A Role Model

Although his eyesight improved, Chean still suffered from low self-esteem and had questions and concerns about his future. Will I be able to meet and marry someone I love? Where will I find money for my wedding?

In July 2003 our family moved to Poipet. In partnership with other like-minded NGOs, we learned of a job opening for an office guard. Immediately we contacted Chean’s pastor, and that same week he sent Chean to Poipet for us to mentor and disciple while he worked as a full-time house guard, cutting grass and caring for the properties.

In addition to working faithfully and taking great pride in his new job, Chean practiced speaking English while being discipled in Christian leadership with us at night. As his ability to speak English improved, his employer began to take him to other offices and meetings.

At first Chean went along as an errand boy. Eventually, the employer entrusted and delegated responsibilities to him. The NGO with which Chean works operates two village schools for underprivileged kids. As Chean’s English and management skills continued to improve, he was promoted to a full-time staff member. Today Chean is the director for both schools, where he oversees 13 staff members and more than 400 village kids.

Chean is one of the 27 emerging key church leaders whom God has raised up for ministry in Poipet. Because of his limited educational background, Chean rarely received high marks in our weekly discipleship/leadership training classes. His grades were just enough to pass. But in practice and in life application, Chean ranked at the top of his class.

In preaching, his messages never followed the three-point style and sometimes went on and on. After hearing his sermons, however, everyone could clearly testify that Pastor Chean had preached with a deep conviction and as one who truly understands what grace is all about.

Chean has a servant’s heart that inspires many emerging leaders. When talking to young people in Poipet, we noticed that many of them look up to Chean as a role model.

Chean is not only recognized by local KEC churches, but he is also well respected by both regional and national KEC leaders. As a result, KEC church leaders strongly encouraged him to prepare for ordination. At the last national KEC conference in February 2015, Chean became the first ordained KEC pastor in Poipet.

From Weak to Strong

Like any of the young people we work with, Chean was far from perfect. He struggled a great deal, especially with low self-esteem, which oftentimes robbed him of his joy. As a result, Chean had many seasons of ups and downs and doubts, especially concerning his future, wondering if he would have a wife and family of his own.

As he struggled and was sometimes tempted to help God with his “shortcuts,” we often prayed with and for him, encouraging him to wait for God’s timing. At last, God answered Chean’s prayers by giving him a beautiful wife, Yaan. They married in September 2006.

God has blessed them with two children: Micah (7) and Abigail (3). Yaan serves God alongside her husband through children’s ministry and teaching discipleship training to new believers. Both Chean and Yaan are in weekly classes for discipleship/leadership training, and Chean is the first ordained pastor of the Living Water Church in Poipet, Cambodia.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).

By the world’s standard, without a higher education or wealth behind his name, Chean was a “blind fool,” a “nobody.” But in God’s Kingdom, Chean is a saint, a royal priest, a shepherd for His sheep, and a faithful servant of the Most High God.

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