In October 2009, I embarked on a journey to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to use my skills as a therapist to work with survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. I went expecting to work with adolescent female survivors of trafficking and sexual exploitation, but when I arrived in Cambodia, God had a surprise for me. A 6-year-old boy named Pirum had been brought to the shelter a couple of months before. He was the nephew of one of the survivors, and she had rescued him from a very unsafe situation. We were happy he was safe, but it wasn’t ideal. We were in no way set up to manage a 6-year-old boy. The shelter setting was not the healthiest for him, but there were no other options.
He was tiny and malnourished, looking years younger than he was. He had significant dental decay, yet he had a smile that could light up a room! He quickly weaseled his way into my heart, but I was scared to love him because I didn’t know how long I would be in his life. Yet, through a whole series of complex circumstances, Pirum and I ended up living together in the organization’s team house where I eventually became his primary caretaker. During this time, I constantly asked God what he was doing, and each time He told me to trust Him and love on this child. So, I did.
In 2011, I traveled to New Zealand to speak at a mission conference where I met a youth pastor named Guy. We quickly hit it off and fell in love. We were married in January of 2013 and he moved to Cambodia to join me in life and ministry.
We were unsure about what the future held, but we knew we would do whatever it took to continue caring for Pirum for as long as God allowed. We asked God to guide our steps. We agreed that we would try not to worry about the future, but instead just walk through each door that was opened before us. Then, one day, we met a friend who told us that she could help us get legal custody. And she did! A year later, we were given the name of an adoption lawyer who had successfully processed a number of foreign adoption cases in Cambodia.
We met with the lawyer and signed a contract that day. We got in the car and cried. We cried because we never thought it was possible, and we cried because for the first time in this journey we felt hope, but that hope was terrifying. If you don’t hope, you can’t be disappointed. Yet it was clear to us both that God was calling us to hope, so we did.
In God’s faithfulness, on November 7, 2016, Pirum’s adoption was finalized. We gave him the middle name, Isaac, in honor of God’s promises and his perfect timing. Finally, after 7 years of not being able to guarantee safety for Pirum or make any long-term plans for our family, he was ours - forever.
In December 2017, we moved Pirum and his two little sisters to Wellington, New Zealand to take on a new missionary post as youth mission mobilizers for New Zealand Church Missionary Society. Pirum decided he wanted to be called Isaac in New Zealand as a way of marking this new chapter of life.
This new chapter has allowed us to see quite quickly who God has created Isaac to be. During his confirmation a couple of weeks ago, our bishop saw a vision of Isaac inviting all his friends to the banquet table. When I heard that, my eyes filled with tears because what the bishop didn’t know was that within a couple of weeks of being here, Isaac invited a friend over to have dinner and then to join him at youth group. The next week he invited another. A few weeks ago, we had seven extra kids at our table. We are going to have to bring in more chairs soon because Isaac is quite literally inviting all his friends to the banquet table to meet Jesus!
Perhaps the most important thing for us on this journey has been the community of faith around us. We have laughed, cried, and prayed with some incredible fellow journeyers for the Lord. The stories of what God is doing around the world are what keep us going and what keep the Church thriving. One great place to seek out stories of faith is at the New Wineskins for Global Mission conference. The next New Wineskins conference is September 26-29, 2019 at Ridgecrest, North Carolina. There will be missionaries like us there to share stories of faith from their journeys that can encourage you on yours. Keep running the race of perseverance and don’t run it alone, friends.
The Bentons are SAMS missionaries serving in Wellington, New Zealand. If you would like to learn more about their life and ministry in New Zealand you can follow them on Facebook at “The Bentons in New Zealand” or find them on the SAMS website: http://www.sams-usa.org.