Cambodian refugee wants world to know how Jesus rescued her


Manith Sanchez, a Cambodian refugee who fled Pol Pot’s brutal dictatorship in the late 1970s, had never heard the name of Jesus. But as she recalled her escape, the evidence of God’s provision for her was unmistakable.  

“I was almost killed so many times,” Sanchez said. “Anything could have happened to me, but for some reason God prepared my way.” 

Sanchez grew up on a farm in the foothills of the Cambodian mountains. In her memory, it was an idyllic childhood. She loved the rhythms of farming and going to school in the small village where she knew everyone. She loved watching the sun rise with her grandmother over a cup of warm, jasmine tea, and calling out morning greetings to neighbors from the wraparound balcony of their home.  

Manith’s family, led by her wise and revered grandmother, strictly adhered to the Buddhist traditions of their culture. But Manith harbored a deep resistance to the religion of Cambodia.  

“For some reason, I was always against Buddhist traditions,” Sanchez said. “I was like the oddball out of my whole family. They practiced Buddhism all the time, but not me.” 

Manith reflected that God directed her heart, even then. “He already had plans for me,” she said. “I did not know Him before, but He knew me.” 

Her grandmother believed education was important, and Manith was an excellent student. They made plans for her to study abroad after high school. 

What they could not have known was that soon Manith would be forced to leave her beloved Cambodia not as an exchange student but a refugee. She would never return. In 1975 the Communist state took over the Cambodian government, and rumors of widespread killings escalated throughout the country.  

“My name was on the list of the capture to kill because I was educated,” Sanchez shared. “And I married a man that worked for the government, so we were both on the list.”  

In 1976, the city where Manith lived was bombed. As the city descended into chaos and terror, she fled with her family. It became a years-long journey to safety. In her book “The List,” Sanchez wrote in detail about the horrors she experienced—the killing fields, mass executions, labor camps and the death of her firstborn child—until she at last reached the barbed-wire border of Thailand and leapt to safety through a barrage of bullets with her two children strapped to her body. 

It was in the Khao I Dang refugee camp in Thailand that Manith heard the name of Jesus for the first time. 

“Paul and Wendy are the first people that introduced me to Christ,” Sanchez said. Paul and Wendy were missionaries from the United States. 

Manith first saw Paul standing under a shady tree with a thick black book talking about a man named Jesus. It wasn’t long before she went every Sunday to sit under the tree and hear more about God. Paul and Wendy gave Manith a Bible in her own language. 

One Sunday, she asked them if they could help her.  

“I want to meet Jesus in person,” she said.  

As many refugees made plans to resettle in another country, Manith wondered if she could resettle in heaven. When she asked Paul, she was surprised that he laughed and asked her why. 

“Of course, when you believe in Jesus you want to go to heaven,” Sanchez reasoned. “You want to see Him.”  

Paul and Wendy encouraged her to study her Bible and discipled Manith along with other new believers among the refugees. Soon, she was baptized in a river that ran through the camp. 

In her book, Sanchez wrote about the impact of Paul and Wendy’s ministry to her and other refugees. “With almost zero knowledge of the Cambodian, Laos, or Thai languages, they believed God could use them to introduce Jesus to refugees from those countries.”  

Like IMB missionaries serving around the world today, Paul and Wendy crossed geographic, cultural and linguistic barriers to make His name known.  

Sanchez said the miracle of their ministry was faith in God’s Word as they put the Bible into the hands of refugees, knowing it would not return void. 

Though Paul and Wendy have both passed away, the word of God remains in the hearts of those they reached, like Manith. They gave their lives for the mission of taking the gospel to every nation, all tribes, peoples and languages, and their legacy continues to bear fruit today. 

“Truly deep down in my heart since the day I knew Jesus, I’ve wanted so much for everyone in the world to get to know Him,” Sanchez said. “I want to share with the world how I found Jesus; yet, I did not find Him, but He found me.”