Lijieng is twelve years old, a daughter of farmers in Kampong Chhnang province, two hours drive from Phnom Penh. Recently her entire family came to faith in Jesus.
That is not typical in rural Cambodia, where villages are steeped in the culture of Buddhism and indigenous beliefs about spirits and nature. And farmers, who don't want to upset the delicate balance of things - nature, community relationships, and religious traditions - are the most conservative about change.
"What happened?" is a fair question.
Chanoo came to faith in Jesus herself three years ago, and she recently became an Alongsider mentor. She looked around in her immediate area and chose her neighbor, Lijieng, to be her little sister.
Lijieng's parents recognized their daughter's need and gave their approval. They both work many hours a day, and they rely on Lijieng to cook and care for her two year-old sister and handle numerous other chores. Lijieng needed the support.
Chanoo has been a Christian long enough to be familiar with the call to share her faith with others. But Alongsiders didn't send her out with any evangelism program or method, just an admonition to love and encourage her little sister.
Here's what she says.
Such a simple summary may not sound spiritual, but it goes to the heart of Lijieng's undeniable needs. She explains herself in similar fashion, "I have hope for the future, because I want to be educated."
Lijieng's parents saw how Chanoo related with their daughter, and they watched how Lijieng responded. Another neighbor had previously come to faith, and they listened to her testimony as well. And somewhere on the way, between these relationships and visiting the local church, they came to faith along with their daughter.
No grand strategy was realized; this was just faith working itself out in love.
Chanoo felt happy for them, and it encouraged her. "I have to be ready," she says, "and confident about what I believe." She started by putting her faith in action, and now she is more willing and able to express her faith in words.
This is an essential part of what Alongsiders is about: the gospel expressed in love, shared between neighbors, starting with vulnerable children and impacting families and communities.