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Recent graduate returns to Cambodia to enact change in education

By Logan Smith, March 15, 2023

Raised by his grandmother in northern Cambodia, Lykeang “David” Chim (’22) thought his career options were limited. He grew up with little money, a corrupt public education system, and a broken family plagued by alcoholism.

Many of these deficiencies in his childhood stemmed from the Cambodian Genocide decades prior. Between 1.5 and 3 million people perished under the brutal communist Khmer Rouge from 1975-79. The four-year socialist regime finally ended when Vietnamese troops seized control of Phnom Penh, the country’s capital.

Many citizens fled toward the border of Thailand during this period of intense turmoil, including Chim’s grandparents, who landed in the Preah Vihear province away from the primary conflict. But the destructive terror still left many Cambodians without direction or hope.

Chim was determined to break the wheel of poverty and carve a prosperous future. He didn’t want to sell gasoline and soda on the side of the road, as his grandmother wanted him to do. He dreamed of earning a college degree and starting a Christian school and orphanage free from the fraudulent state education system.

“The schools were bad, specifically the ones in the province,” Chim said. “Teachers will charge extra money for students to learn materials, and students can bribe the teachers to give them good grades. It’s still happening nowadays.”

Raised in a non-Christian family, Chim only started attending church on his own at age 13 so he could learn English and guitar. But God worked in his heart, and Chim accepted Christ two years later.

Divine providence united Chim with a missionary from Pennsylvania, David Eastburn. The two met when Eastburn was on a puppet ministry tour in 2014. Chim helped him with translation during his visit.

“He really struck me as someone who was genuine, worked hard, and used his limited English skills,” Eastburn said.

During these encounters, Chim described his desire to earn a proper education and start an orphanage and Christian school. Inspired by Chim’s dream, Eastburn encouraged him to write down his God-given goals on a piece of paper and to reference his dream whenever discouragement or doubt hovered. Then he asked him about college.

“If you’re wanting to start a Christian school and Christian orphanage, then you need to make sure you have a biblical foundation with which to build upon,” Eastburn told him.

Eastburn and his family had sponsored several international high school students in the past, and two of them went on to attend Liberty University, so he asked Chim if he had heard of Liberty.

“Who’s Liberty?” Chim asked.

“It’s not a person, it’s a place,” Eastburn said.

“Sorry, I don’t have the money,” Chim replied.

Eastburn’s next words gave Chim the hope he desperately needed: “I don’t know, but if God wants you there, He will make a way. With God, all things are possible.”

Chim finished high school in Cambodia with no money, no supportive family members, and no clear-cut direction — only faith that God would miraculously provide a Christian education in the United States.

Eastburn assisted Chim with his application to Liberty, but just when it looked like the door was going to close, an advisor discovered a scholarship program that was about to be discontinued. Chim received the final award from the program, allowing him to enroll in 2016. To top it off, Chim, who had never operated a washer or dryer before attending Liberty, was able to serve as a Resident Assistant (RA) on campus for four years, which provided free housing and meal plans.

He persisted and earned an undergraduate degree in international business and a Master of Business Administration.

“I miss Liberty a lot,” Chim said. “Liberty was like my family. It was where I formed my beliefs and characteristics. It shaped who I am today.”

“Not a lot of people can come to college,” he added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a domestic student or an international student; just be grateful and blessed, and thank your RAs.”

Chim visited the Eastburns during school breaks, and they quickly became family.

“We’re thankful for what Liberty does in helping students,” Eastburn said. “When the body of Christ comes together, and everybody does their part, lives are transformed, and the world is transformed. … And we count it a privilege to have worked with Liberty.”

Chim received multiple job offers in America following his graduation from the MBA program last May, but despite the comfortable salary offered in the States, Chim recalled his dream that he wrote on that piece of paper in 2014. He chose to return to Cambodia, trusting in the Lord’s direction and provision.

“It was like one of my kids going away,” Eastburn said. “It was difficult for Diane (my wife) and me, but in the back of our hearts and minds, we knew this wasn’t the end story. He knows that we are here for him.”

Chim is currently working at Asian Hope International School, a Christian bilingual school in Cambodia’s capital. He serves as an academic advisor and guidance counselor, assisting students with their university admission process. His theme this year is: “Wherever you end up going or whatever you end up getting, know the Truth.”

In his free time, Chim is drawing up the blueprints for his own school, with plans to open enrollment in 2024 in the very province where he grew up. Chim specifically asks the Liberty community for prayer and support during these early stages.

“If educated Cambodians, and specifically Christian people, keep leaving Cambodia to pursue a better life, the country will still be the same,” he said. “A person with knowledge and education can definitely impact the future of Cambodia, but I also believe that Cambodia needs Christian education because Christian education trains and shapes students to be Christ-centered leaders so that they can start making an impact in their family, their community, and their country.”

Learn more at RefugeforthePoor.org/lykeangs-school.

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