Minea is thirteen years old. She has a gentle smile and doesn't shy away from my questions. Looking into her eyes, nothing appears to be seriously wrong with them. One eye is too red, that's all. Years ago her little sister was playing with a knife. She threw it, and Minea has only seen from her good eye since then.
Minea's family has often been a place of turmoil and violence. That's why it's so exciting that things are beginning to change...
Saron is eighteen. She asked Minea to be her little sister just over a year ago. They were neighbors at the time, but then Minea's family moved to a new home thirty minutes outside the city. It's hard for Saron to go there, because she doesn't feel safe traveling that far alone, but she visits Minea as often as she can.
Usually they read the latest Alongsiders comic and talk about it. Minea says it helps her to learn more about Jesus, and she likes the practical lessons. She feels stronger now than she did a year ago and more aware of Jesus' love. In the future she hopes to work in a bank.
Saron says she chose Minea because, "I saw her situation, and she was the same as me."
It's a common thing for Alongsiders to say, and it's a powerful statement. Think about it. There are tens of thousands of vulnerable children in Cambodia, and each one is different. Every child has a unique story and individual challenges, and they live in thousands of local communities. How can we help them personally, wholistically and effectively?
That's a lot to hope for. There are some good organizations making a difference, but they can't work face-to-face with hundreds or thousands of children. But Alongsiders can, because Alongsiders live in the same local communities that the most vulnerable children call home - and most Alongsiders have faced similar challenges and vulnerabilities.
You may be asking, why did Saron identify with Minea?
Saron saw that Minea's parents were constantly fighting, hurling abuse at each other and also at Minea and her siblings. That's the same situation Saron grew up in, so she knew what Minea was enduring and wanted to walk through it with her.
And here is the good news: Minea's parents have been changing. This year they came to faith in Jesus. In the past few months, they have been fighting less and less, and they treat Minea much better than before.
This isn't something Saron brought about alone. Members of the church had begun reaching out to Minea's parents before Saron ever became an Alongsider. In fact, Saron's pastor was the one who suggested that Saron consider asking Minea to be her little sister.For the past few months, Saron has been able to visit Minea by catching rides with her pastor - who has been going faithfully to visit the family.
Change and healing come through relationships. When a church community - and a family and neighbors and an Alongsider - come together in love, the results can be transforming!
Of course, some situations resist change.
On the day I met Saron, she had received the results of her high school final examination earlier that morning. The high school exam is extremely important, and she had passed! It's a big deal, so I congratulated her, but she was sad. Her grade was low, and she was afraid to go home and face her parents. They haven't come to faith, and her home is still an angry and abusive environment.
Saron hopes her passing grade will be enough to qualify her for a government sponsored nurse training program that educates tens of thousands of young Cambodian women each year.
I'm sure she would welcome your prayers, and Minea as well.