By Valerie Pors, volunteer writer
“These knees are 54 years old—I’m going to end up in the ER. I am not a runner.”
Non-runner Doreen Roberts struggled along in her first 13.1-mile half-marathon with her son, Tucker.
The crowd at the Virginia Tech race might have easily overlooked the mother-son duo, but how to ignore the sign they held up at the finish line—“Running for Chickens for Cambodia”?
Two years ago the Roberts met Sokhon Khan, a pastor in Cambodia whose ministries include caring for orphans and other children in need, church planting, teaching skills to unemployed, feeding the hungry, and teaching English.
“He was special,” Doreen remembered. “The purity of heart—it just radiates out of him.”
A personal connection, a passion to help
Sokhon’s desire to serve and to spread the Gospel stemmed from his devastating childhood, during which his mother committed suicide and his sister sold her body to support the family.
“I realized the life he had to endure,” Doreen said. “I saw his heart, and I wanted to do something to encourage him, to let him know, ‘There are people halfway around the world that care what you’re doing.’”
Doreen and Tucker began exploring how they could help. They communicated with ANM and Sokhon, and discovered that $5 would allow Sokhon to provide a chicken to a family in need. The family could then create a microbusiness selling the eggs. As a business and finance major at Virginia Tech, Tucker liked the idea of self-sustaining ministries.
As for raising the funds, Doreen and Tucker had always wanted to run a half-marathon together, so they decided to enter a race at Virginia Tech and run for chickens.
The biggest challenge of the project was the time crunch. They only had three months before the race to train and to find sponsors. Doreen contacted family and friends, while Tucker reached out to his college friends, both sharing Sokhon’s story and raising support $5 at a time. Doreen wrote small newsletters and passed on pictures of Sokhon and the chickens to all who sponsored them.
“I can’t do what Sokhon is doing,” Doreen said, explaining why she wanted to advocate for him. “He’s over there in Cambodia, he knows the people, he knows the language, … I can’t do that. I want him to be able to do that, but if he is having to concern himself with raising funds all the time, then it’s taking away his focus from what he needs to do.”
And that was also Sokhon’s goal for the chicken ministry. Although he distributes some chickens to needy families in the community, his focus is on helping local pastors and missionaries create a sustainable income so that they can give full-time service to God.
But apart from supporting Sokhon, Doreen also wanted to encourage her son’s desire to look beyond himself and help others on a global scale.
“Wouldn’t it be great for him to get the fervor that I have right now, as a 20-year-old, and be able to carry that through life, instead of waiting until he’s an old hag like I am?” Doreen said, laughing.
Doreen was also burdened for her fellow Christians in America. “I see people in the pews that are just like how I was,” Doreen said, describing how she had spent decades content to simply interact within her local church, the whole time missing opportunities to help spread God’s word through people like Sokhon. She wanted to invite people she knew to see opportunities for furthering the Gospel globally.
Seeing the results
In the end, God provided $2,190, the equivalent of over 425 chickens. Doreen told Sokhon how much had been raised and showed him pictures of every person who had donated. He was so overcome that he cried.
“It was a great moment—one I want to have again,” Doreen said.
Sokhon has since posted some Facebook videos showing the thriving chickens. He opens each video with an enthusiastic, “Hi, Sister Doreen!” For her part, Doreen still passes on updates to her community of donors, reinforcing the bridge connecting them with Sokhon.
One half-marathon crossed off the bucket list. But infusing God into their life goal made all the difference, Doreen said.
“It was exhilarating finishing a half-marathon,” Doreen said. “But it’s so much more exhilarating knowing that it’s for a purpose.”