The Great Commission that Jesus gave us requires us to make disciples both locally and among the nations. In the early years of Citylight Church, our “strategy” has been to PRAY for the Spirit’s leading, PARTNER with opportunities that come our way, and begin to discern which opportunities God would have us PICK to focus on moving forward. Since implementing this strategy, our church has partnered with various global workers in Berlin, Jamaica and Cambodia. Recently, our church has had the privilege to partner specifically with one family in Cambodia. Ernest Ung and his wife Yvonne and their children have been serving in Cambodia since 2004. Ernest knows that originally, God called him in Cambodia thirty years earlier.
Ernest was born in Cambodia, under a different name, to a very influential family who served the King and in his governmental cabinet. They had power, prestige, and position. Ernest was a proud young man who was educated and didn’t know what it was like to not have every need met. His family was a loving family who spent time with one another and lived a very happy life together. When Ernest was 14 a friend invited him to church. He was reluctant to go but went when promised there would be girls there. He recalled the pastor sharing a message and the whole church sang together. The singing is what got to Ernest. He didn’t open his mouth. He remembered everyone singing “take my life and let it be...” But Ernest was not saved, and his heart was not ready to receive. He was mad. When the pastor walked up to Ernest after the sermon and asked for his name, Ernest looked down on him. He then asked Ernest “Do you want to give your life to Jesus Christ?” At that moment, Ernest stood up, spat in his face, and walked away. Ernest didn’t want to hear Jesus. That was the first calling that he rejected.
Two years later, unrest was in the capital city of Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge regime, a communist group, was on the verge of taking over the city. A few days before the Khmer Rouge came into the capitol, Ernest and his family were about to leave for France but decided not to because of family. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge took over the capitol and began to destroy anything that supported or represented technology. Educators, leaders, businesses, and families were eradicated, and the communist group turned the whole nation into a slave labor camp. The Khmer Rouge divided children, marriages, and families and in one night marched 3 million people out of the city and into the field making them work in the field for a spoon full of rice per day. Those fields are now known as ‘The Killing Fields.’ Ernest and his family were a part of this massacre. Over the next four years, Ernest lost all his seven siblings, his parents, his grandparents and his immediate family to starvation or slaughter. Cambodia lost 2 million of its people.
In 1979, the Vietnamese took over and Ernest fled the country by walking to Thailand. He had no food and no hope and as he crossed the mountain range into Thailand, he looked down and saw a refugee camp. He saw people there helping like the Red Cross, UNICEF, and religious organizations including a Buddhist temple.
For some reason Ernest chose to walk past all of those and instead, to the church where a Christian missionary was serving. He sat down and heard the message of Jesus Christ and this time; Ernest felt the Holy Spirit move in his mind and in everything from the past. After the sermon, they began to sing and it was the same song that was sung when God offered His grace to Ernest the first time all those years ago...
“Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord, to thee
Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise
Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee
Take my voice and let me sing always, only for my king
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee
Take my silver and my gold not a might would I withhold
Take my intellect and use every power as you choose
Here am I, all of me
Take my life, it's all for thee...”
Again, Ernest heard those words and this time, when the pastor came up to him and asked him “Do you want to give your life to the Lord?” Ernest exclaimed “yes!” Ernest surrendered on his knees and the pastor prayed over him. Right there in that camp, Ernest cried out to God, and he felt life from death and gave his life to the Lord. The pain from the past is gone and replaced with Ernest’s promise to try to obey God and whatever He commanded of Ernest.
How gracious God was with Ernest. He met his wife, Yvonne, at the refugee camp and married and emigrated to Brooklyn not long after and adopted another family name. Ernest felt a call to ministry but struggled with English. He earned a high school diploma and long nights while working, he earned a Bible degree from a Christian college. In 1982, he and his wife planted a small Cambodian church in Brooklyn while also working for Cambodia in the United Nations in New York City. Also, in 1989, Ernest found that one of his sisters survived and reunited with her.
The Ung's honesty and integrity gained the trust of more people and the ability to serve them. God opened doors to share the Gospel and lead significant people in Cambodia to the Lord. Ernest also gained access to Asian leaders and led them to Christ. Early in 2000, the Cambodian government asked Ernest to come back to the country to oversee non-government organizations that were coming to Cambodia. Ernest was not willing to work for a Buddhist government. Cambodia countered and said they would establish a Cambodia Christian Embassy for Ernest to be a liaison between the government and the churches and Christian organizations who were coming to serve their people. Ernest agreed but committed to being missionaries first choosing to not be paid by Cambodia's government. God has used this as a respected testimony to the highest levels which then has provided freedom to Ernest and Yvonne in serving the past 19 years. They share this prayer request:
-"Pray for new financial supporters to help us in the work we do for the Lord in Cambodia
That we can share the Gospel with many people as we celebrate our Risen Lord Jesus, that their hearts will know God’s Love for them and that they will come to know Him as Savior and Lord of their Lives.
-For our physical health as we work out God’s Calling on our lives, and that we will be supported to get health insurance.
-That our friends, supporters and family will continue to rely on God’s strengths and blessings."
Ernest didn’t wish for a position with any status or power, nor to go back into the country where he had great love and pain... but God. Ernest knows God answered his prayer to obey Him and to trust Him with whatever He commanded of him. Ernest serves God and His people with purpose and has the humble honor to stand up and protect church leaders and his sisters and brothers in Christ in Cambodia. God is good, in all circumstances and in all pain and takes each of our lives, like Ernest’s, when given to Him for His greater Kingdom work.
For more information on how to directly support Ernest and his family, contact Luke at firstname.lastname@example.org.