Stopping Slavery before it Starts – A Story from Cambodia

Human trafficking continues to flourish today in 167 countries – that’s 85 percent of the world. Every day, women, men and children of all ages and nationalities are captured and forced to work on farms, in factories, in hotels or in the commercial sex trade – generating billions of dollars of revenue each year. But the worldwide church has stepped into the fight against this gross injustice. World Relief stands with local churches in Cambodia and the United States and empowers them to protect their communities from human traffickers. Cambodia’s bustling capital city, Phnom Penh, is a hot spot for slavery and trafficking – but across Cambodia, there’s a growing movement of churches standing with their communities to end slavery. In 2014, over 400 Cambodian churches worked together to spread awareness about human trafficking. This crime flourishes in darkness, but when it’s brought into the light, perpetrators begin to lose their power.

Yim Srey Oun in Cambodia
Yim Srey Oun in Cambodia

Yim Srey Oun, a farmer and mother of three, lives just outside Phnom Penh. As a busy mom, she counted on her family to work together to finish the ever-growing list of chores. “My husband and I always encouraged our children to study and we worked hard to support them. However, many times we would need their help to do other work in the farm but I never had thought of letting my children have enough time to study at home,” said Oun.

Then, last year, she attended a human trafficking training session through World Relief. She learned she could love her children by allowing them more time to devote to their studies. Their education is an investment in the security of their future – and it could protect the children from situations in which they’d be vulnerable to traffickers.

“I hope the anti-trafficking project of World Relief will continue to help and train the rest of the parents in my community...Moreover, I am looking forward to seeing fruitful cooperation and more efficient and effective implementation to prevent human trafficking in our country and stand for vulnerable people who live in our community as well,” said Oun. Pastors, youth volunteers and village leaders are spreading awareness about human trafficking far and wide across Cambodia.

Until all are free, the church will stand strong in the pursuit of justice.

Women Around the World Who #MakeItHappen - International Women's Day


“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”

-Kofi Annan

Women make up nearly half of the world’s population, yet in too many cases sexual violence is used as a weapon of war, the HIV/AIDS rate among women is far too high and vulnerable women are often prey to human traffickers.

But mothers and daughters are an integral part of society who not only deserve to be treated well, but also deserve a chance to empower others they already influence in their communities. Empowering women means families are cared for, good nutrition is provided, the growth of economies and reconciliation happens.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day this weekend, we want to focus on some of the women we know who #MakeItHappen in their communities – normal, everyday women who have been empowered to change the world.

Heroes like Yalala in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) who defy the odds to overcome violence and bring healing to her war-torn country.

Or Emily in Kenya who serves as a community health worker ready to care for her neighbors living with HIV and educate her friends about preventing the disease.

And Orn Raim in Cambodia who’s leading her community against domestic violence and human trafficking.

These women are turning the tide of history as they use their skills, experiences and passions to influence their communities for good. They #MakeItHappen by simply and sacrificially loving their neighbors. These are the heroes of this generation who are making a better future.

Let’s honor these women.

Let’s celebrate them.

Let’s #MakeItHappen.


Empower a Hero: Veng Bun in Cambodia


Veng Bun is a church leader, father, farmer – and a hero. He lives just outside the bustling city of Phnom Penh, a source and destination city for trafficked men, women and children in Cambodia. People of all ages are bought and sold in this city, then exploited for sex, labor and domestic work. In the past, Veng was also at risk of being sold into slavery. He wasn’t aware that traffickers preyed on migrant workers like himself.

Veng in Cambodia
Veng in Cambodia

Veng grows crops on a small plot of land outside his house, but that hasn’t always provided enough income to support his four children. To make up the difference, he often traveled for jobs as a construction worker or wood-cutter. On these routes, workers become vulnerable to traffickers. This is how many become enslaved for years, working without wages or a chance to go home.

Then, two years ago, Veng attended a trafficking prevention program hosted by World Relief. There, he realized his community’s vulnerability, as well as his own. As he learned about the tactics of traffickers, Veng knew he couldn’t keep this life-saving information to himself. Since he was a church leader, he was perfectly positioned to protect his village. Then World Relief staff equipped him with the tools he needed to educate his neighbors about the risk factors for human trafficking and ways they could prevent it together.

Since then, he’s watched his community grow in trafficking awareness. By shedding light on an injustice that is shrouded in secrecy and conducted under the cover of darkness, Veng is leading a movement that spreads from his church into the greater community. Now, his church and village stand together as a united force against human trafficking. This is what makes Veng a hero.

You can stand with church leaders like Veng as they empower others to confront the deep injustices impacting the most vulnerable. Join the movement today at!

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

- Acts 20:28

Celebration, Hope and Giving - Looking Back and Planning Forward

In just a few days, many people around the world will ring in the New Year. It’s a time of celebration, a time of hope and generosity. Here are a few of the things we’re celebrating at World Relief…

Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Though there is still much work to be done for stability and reconciliation to ensue in the DRC, people like Pastor Fabian are paving the way for sustainable peace. Having been kidnapped by rebels himself, he leads his congregation in word and deed as he cares for all people, no matter their tribe or ethnicity.

Pastor Fabian in Congo
Pastor Fabian in Congo

Friendship for refugees in the US.  Remember Michael andAwet? Both originally from Eritrea, they were forced to flee because of violence. Leaving everything familiar, they were resettled as refugees in the United States, where they met and became roommates. World Relief in DuPage-Aurora helped these new friends transition to their new reality in this new environment. Today, Michael and Awet are paying it forward by helping other refugees with transportation in their time of need.

Good local leadershipand forgiveness in Cambodia. Orn Raim is a leader in her community in Cambodia. Trained by World Relief in anti-trafficking and conflict resolution, she’s teaching others in her village what she has learned and seeing deep transformation – violence against women and children has reduced by 90% in her community.

We’ve also welcomed 7,948 refugees out of danger into loving communities in the United States. 147,083 women and men have been equipped to overcome material poverty through Savings for Life groups. 3,100 peacemakers have been trained to resolve conflict at the community level in war-torn areas. And more than 3,000 churches have been mobilized to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed.

Even though we’ve seen incredible progress, there’s much more to do and we can’t do it alone. Will you be a part of this work in 2015 and join us as we continue to celebrate with hope and generosity?

Giving Thanks: Leam’s Story of Transformation in Cambodia

Leam - Cambodia

“I would like to give thanks to God and my parentsfor allowing me to participate with the [children’s] group.” said Leam, an 11-year-old boy in Cambodia. Just over a year ago, Leam was suffering with an unknown illness. Because of his health problems, he had difficulty concentrating in school and was teased by his classmates because of his decreasing size. One day, a friend stepped in to help. This friend had attended a World Relief children’s group where he’d learned valuable hygiene and health lessons, including the common problem of parasites. He told Leam that parasites could be making him sick, and invited Leam to join the children’s group to learn for himself. But Leam was hesitant. He knew the group was run by Christians – church volunteers – and he didn’t want to be converted.

But curiosity got the best of Leam.  When the children’s group volunteers returned to Leam’s village to do an educational puppet show the very next day, Leam watched from a safe distance on the road as children ran towards the meeting area, laughing and cheering all the way.

“After seeing this sight, my heart began to fill with joy,” Leam said. “I was encouraged by a teacher who came to me while I was standing on the pebble road. He smiled at me right away and invited me to see the puppet show. He gently spoke to me. So the heart of hatred has gone from my mind.  I don’t discriminate against Christianity anymore and I decided to join with them. I could learn a lot about disease, morality and forgiveness.”

November 7 blog - Puppet show in Cambodia

One year later, the changes in Leam’s health and heart are still evident. He continues to use the health lessons he learned in the children’s group, like washing his hands, wearing shoes and sleeping under a mosquito net. Because of these changes, Leam is no longer sick and his family’s medical costs have decreased. “I realized that my health is much better than before, and my mental health is also improved. I am now a great student in my class,” said Leam.

This incredible transformation would not have happened without the support of our partners who have stood with us as we empower people like Leam.  So we, along with Leam, say thanks!

"My heart goes out to the youth of Cambodia"

Yamat Yan works with World Relief in the Cambodia Teenagers Training program that empowers youth to become leaders and mentors in their communities. Teenagers participate in small groups, volunteer in the AIDS visitation program, and adopt “brothers and sisters” to mentor and care for.Here, Yamat shares why he cares so much for the youth of Cambodia:

Every day I travel with my team to the villages in Kandal province to lead teenage education programs in the communities. We fellowship with the teenagers, mentor them, and mobilize them to action.

yamat- picture by lynn

Cambodian teenagers deal with intense social, familial, financial, emotional, and healthy pressures. Though they are young, many of my students face marriage soon and need to provide for their family.  Some of them work in harsh factory conditions or risk trafficking and exploitation when they leave the province in search of employment. Our curriculum reflects this intense context while communicating hope and joy in Jesus Christ.

I am sensitive to the issues of teenagers because I remember the transformation I underwent at the age of 16, when I came to know Jesus Christ. My family was strongly Buddhist, so my father threatened to beat me or even kill me if I went to church. I was afraid, but my love for Jesus kept me going. I would secretly meet with Christians to learn about God, and I continued to go to worship services, even though I was busy with work and university.


My heart goes out to the youth of Cambodia, and I face their problems every day as if they were my own. I love them all so much, and I love to see them spread hope to the rest of their community.

I want to see all of the villages of Cambodia transformed by Jesus Christ, and I know He can work even through me and through teenagers.

To learn more about the work in Cambodia, click here.

photos by Lynn Jue

So Much Happening in Twenty-Thirteen...

by Larissa Peters, World Relief Communications Liaison I don’t know about you, but I have an especially good feeling about 2013. I admit, I keep a journal, and on the first of every year, I wonder what will fill its pages. The same is true in managing this blog – what will be the stories, reflections, and prayers that fill this year?

So many things are happening at World Relief, and so many great things we get to be a part of this year as more and more stand for the vulnerable! So I thought I would share 13 of the ones that I’m personally excited about and that others could even join:

In no particular order, here they are:

  1. Immigration Reform: From publishing the book Welcoming the Stranger in 2009 to speaking at Willow Creek Church and the G92 Summit, Jenny Yang – Vice President of Advocacy & Policy  and Matt Soerens – US Church Training Specialist are truly affecting change for the immigration system. We believe this is the year for reform. Want to keep up to date on the issue? Follow Jenny and Matt on twitter at:  @JennyYangWR and @MatthewSoerens.
  2. Peace building in the Congo: Village Peace Committees are changing their communities in the DR Congo. Conflict still abounds, but the grassroots movement of the Church is transforming lives. This is something to be a part of!  Follow updates and watch our video.
  3. Our partnership with Pure Charity: if you haven’t checked this organization out and you shop online or use a credit card (which should cover most of you), click here now. Here is a creative way to raise funds: shop and the stores you shop at will give to your charity of choice. World Relief has a few projects of their own there, and you’ll find Pure Charity at the Justice Conference. I already wish I knew about them earlier – I have to admit I’ve become slightly addicted to online shopping.
  4.  Fighting the battle of slavery: more and more people are taking on the cause of anti-trafficking. Currently, there are 14,500 people trafficked into the US each year (this is a low estimate). But our offices in Spokane, Tampa, High Point (and even internationally in Cambodia) are fighting to prevent that number from going up. Follow World Relief’s efforts on twitter and find out how you can promote awareness through races, workshops, or advocacy.
  5.  Church Partnership: Churches around the US have partnered with World Relief with a commitment of investing in a country or program for 3 to 5 years. Building relationships with the field and giving opportunity for long-term sustainable development, partnership is about wholistic mission. More and more churches are signing on, and we are excited about the changes it is bringing! Want your church to be part of this?
  6. Catalog of Hope: This year, our Catalog of Hope has a new section: fair trade items that benefit refugees in the US, empower women in Burundi, Rwanda, and Indonesia, and provide a monster for children in the US. A monster? Yes! See what this is all about.
  7. Stand Together Project: The premise is simple: Empowering women who are heroes in their own communities around the world. Check it out here:
  8. Savings for Life: A woman in Rwanda had never held a 5000 Franc note (worth $8 USD).  For the first time in her life this year, she saved up SIX of them because of her Savings group! How much more exciting can that get? Savings for Life is making credit available to those even the microfinance institutions can’t consider.  Watch a video on what Savings group is here: .
  9. Reviving and strengthening marriages in India: There is a quiet and unique program in India. One that is saving marriages, helping couples to be faithful to each other, and actually preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Check out the story on India.
  10. Volunteering with refugees in the US: more and more people are asking, “What can I do?” Our US program with refugees provides tangible volunteering. I can promise you that your 2013 will be incredibly enriched by befriending a refugee and welcoming them into your home and life.
  11. Volunteering with refugees in Indonesia: you have to check this unique opportunity out:  living in Indonesia and ministering to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Sri Lanka. You can read about some of the volunteers’ experiences here: .

12   AND 13

Tis the season for conferences! So I’ll have to just wrap them all up into the last two: Churches and organizations are stepping out and bringing awareness to issues of injustice, educating their communities on how to respond. World Relief is privileged to be a part of these conferences with other Justice advocate hall-of-famers:

My hope is that these 13 (and then some) inspire and encourage you.  And may this year be full of all that is more than we can ask or imagine!*

*Ephesians 3:20



We are a 1 1/2 weeks away from the start of RIDE/365. The team has been training daily for the last six months, with their recent 45 mile bike ride taking them through scenic northern Baltimore County.

Kris Bailey is part of the crew and heads up Women Who Stand/Baltimore.  She visited Cambodia last January and has a deep passion for raising awareness for the vulnerable in Cambodia and Malawi. Here is her “Why” on joining the RIDE/365:

Ride a bicycle for 365 miles? Are you kidding??  No way!!

Now drive 365 miles?  Hand out snacks and drinks?  Read a map?  These things I can do.  Taking a quote from the movie Rain Man, "I'm an excellent driver."

It is a privilege to participate in RIDE/365 as part of the crew.  And I'm excited to help fund two World Relief programs that serve vulnerable women and children in Cambodia and Malawi. 

I've had the privilege of visiting Cambodia and seeing the poverty, the limited services for those at risk, and the children whose black hair is now rust-colored from poor nutrition.  The ability to grow the moringa tree, which is so high in nutritional value, can be the difference between life and death for people with HIV, and can bring new hope of sustainable nutrition to families and communities.  And then, as a mother of two children, it is moving to be part of providing an opportunity for children in Malawi to go to school, children who normally would not have that option.

Race Pace Bicycles is providing pre-ride support through bike repair classes, bike fittings, bike tune-ups, nutritional tips, and sending equipment and tools possible repairs needed on the road. Clif Bar is providing food and drinks for the race and training rides.

This ride couldn’t happen without the support and encouragement of family and friends.  You can be part of the support team, too, without having to get on a bike!

1.  Donating to support one of the riders.

2.  Join us NOW in praying for the safety of these riders, both in their training and during the ride itself.  We can also be praying for the health and safety of the people in Cambodia and Malawi for whom we are riding.

3.  Be a part of the “Welcome Home” party on Sunday, September 23.  Watch for more details.

International Women's Day

By Larissa Peters, Asia Church Engagement Specialist at World Relief We don’t celebrate International Women’s Day in the United States, but my World Relief co-workers in Cambodia have a day off as the government has declared it a national holiday – a well-deserved one in my opinion.

A little over a week ago, I attended the Justice Conference in Portland – two days of intense conversation with over four thousand people passionate about responding to poverty, slavery, and oppression.  When Walter Brueggemann spoke, he talked about the “walkers” and the “talkers” – both necessary for a response to injustice.  And just a little over a year ago, I had the privilege to meet some of the “walkers” – amazing Cambodian women who, against all odds (and reason), are making a significant difference in their communities.

In honor of Women’s Day, I want to honor two of the many “walking women” I met in Cambodia:

As Nari shared her story, she stood with her arm protectively around a young woman, who seven years earlier had been rescued from a brothel.  This young woman’s own family had sold her in order to pay for their own survival.  The woman’s story broke my heart – she was very close to my age, and I just couldn’t imagine spending my formative years in sexual slavery.

No girl should be dispensable like that, and Nari’s words could only give me hope for those still in bondage: “I do what I do because God has given me compassion and love.  It’s hard to explain.  I know that this work is encouraging other women, so I want to be instrumental in reaching other women.  Often there’s a lack of education and knowledge … and I love them very much.”

These communities need preventative education and awareness when it comes to human trafficking.  Sara is one who ministers to the youth in the villages.  I got to be part of the crowd of children who attended one of the puppet shows in Kandal province.  Through these Sesame-street type shows and skits each week, hundreds of children and teenagers not only become educated on prevention messages but learn that they are loved and have a hope for the future.

Sara’s love for the youth she works with is evident, and she is affecting change exponentially – “It’s very important for them to have a good future, but also so that they reach out to the community.  Teenagers, especially the poor ones, are at risk – and also in the area of trafficking, so I want to tell them and protect them from that.”

Between Nari, Sara, and the puppets, I saw first hand the full circle response to these issues. These women are not only addressing the immediate needs of their neighbors, but they are responding to systemic issues of injustice, transforming the community both in the present and for the future.

And as a “talker”, I’m humbled.

World AIDS Day 2011

Kandal Province, Cambodia: A sea of matching white hats filled the tent in Kohtaom District early this morning. More than 200 secondary school students dominated the crowd, and were joined by government officials, religious leaders, police, medical personnel and NGO representatives. They had gathered together to demonstrate the same message printed clearly on their red-ribbon t-shirts: “We are united to protect ourselves from AIDS.” Similar ceremonies are taking place across the globe this World AIDS Day. And there is much to celebrate. The combined response in the past decade by governments, donors, local organizations, international NGOs, and countless volunteers has resulted in new HIV infections falling, AIDS-related deaths decreasing, and treatment being made accessible to millions more individuals, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries.


Here in Cambodia, participants reflected on the country’s astounding accomplishments in addressing the epidemic. Thanks to prevention efforts over the last nine years, adult HIV prevalence rate has been reduced from 1.2% to 0.5%. Cambodia is also one of the few countries in the world that provides antiretroviral therapy to more than 80 percent of those eligible for it.

The presence at today’s event of more than 100 HIV-positive individuals, however, was a stark reminder that the fight is not over and that resources and responses cannot waver. There are more than 75,000 people living with HIV in Cambodia, and they remain vulnerable. A recent national report found that HIV-affected households experienced lower income and increased medical expenses, which negatively impacted their financial stability, food security and psychosocial wellbeing, as well as the status of women and education of children.

More than 30 million people have died worldwide from AIDS-related causes since the epidemic began. And this does not begin to account for the untold toll on families, communities, and countries as a whole.

Yet despite so much unnecessary loss in the world, or perhaps to honor it, the overarching theme of today’s event was hope.


The students, aged 15-18 years, sat attentively as World Relief staff presented a drama on the pressures of teenage life. The skit’s message was simple—to value life and make healthy choices about sex—but the issues it raised are relevant to these teens and complex to address: poverty, drug use, migration, “sugar daddies,” unplanned pregnancies and suicide.

World Relief meets with more than 7,000 youth throughout Cambodia on a weekly basis to discuss these issues. In Kohtaom District alone, World Relief works in 42 villages. Youth are provided a safe space to ask questions as they build life skills and learn about disease prevention, nutrition, and trafficking prevention. Evaluations have found that the program helps youth to increase their knowledge about AIDS, promote HIV testing, share health messages with friends, improve school attendance, avoid drug and alcohol abuse, and mentor orphans in their community.


At the AIDS Day event students were randomly chosen and asked questions by the district officer to test their AIDS knowledge. Despite giggles from their friends when selected, each would walk confidently to the front and respond correctly to questions like, “What should people living with AIDS do to take care of themselves?”, “Can people who look healthy be infected by HIV?”, and “What should you do if your relative or friend finds out they are HIV positive?”

This is a generation for whom AIDS is a reality. They have never known the world without it. But they are informed, they are supported, and they are capable of making choices that protect their future. AIDS may be the currently reality, but with continued investments in the response, this generation can be the one to lead the charge on making it a thing of the past.

Imagine what an AIDS Day celebration we will then have.

Joanna Mayhew, World Relief Asia HIV/AIDS Programs Advisor

M. Chey - A Story of Transformation

M. Chey has witnessed Cambodia’s many changes over the past few decades, and his own story of transformation is a powerful witness to what the Lord can do with a committed life. As a young man, Chey says that Buddhist teachings showed him he was a sinner, but even though he prayed to the gods in every season, his life was still filled with worries and emptiness. During the 1970’s, when the Khmer Rouge was in power, Chey survived by being forced into the army. He was treated badly, forced to work hard and only given potatoes to eat twice per day. His wife and children were all separated from him, and forced to work in various camps. Amazingly, they were reunited after the war.

When a World Relief volunteer came to share the Gospel with his family, Chey wasn’t interested in hearing about it. But, he says, they just kept coming back to talk with him, and eventually Chey asked about Jesus. He studied with the volunteers, learning more and more about God.

Finally, Chey realized he could know the real God. He prayed and began following the Lord, asking for blessings in daily life, and desiring to know more about Him. Now, Chey and his whole family follow the Lord.

At age 74, Chey now has nine children, too many grand-children to count, and seven great-grandchildren.  He is a leader of his cell church in Andong village, teaches the Bible, prays for the people in his group, and encourages those living with HIV/AIDS. Even though many of his Buddhist friends tell him he is too old to believe something new, he hopes for many opportunities to share the Gospel in this village of 500 people. “I will not be a backslider,” he says. “I am committed to the Lord forever.”

World Relief celebrates with Chey. We thank God for the volunteers who brought the gospel to Chey and his family.