A young Cambodian girl sat slumped on the curb outside of a church, her body rocking with heaving sobs. After attending a Christian church service, the girl’s Buddhist family beat her for betraying their faith.
But it wasn’t their disapproval or her own physical pain for which she cried. She had lost her Bible.
In a display of their disapproval, her family had burned her Christian scripture, and she was brokenhearted about the loss of the book that meant so much to her. Senior nursing major Allison Toy remembers this moment vividly, recalling the passion with which the child mourned.
“She looked at them (the missionaries), and told them she wasn’t upset about being beaten. She hadn’t been able to read the word of God in three days,” Toy said. “So my team gave her a Bible, and she came to the community center every day just to escape and read it.”
Five years ago, Toy attended a conference where a man spoke about surviving the killing fields in his homeland, Cambodia. Even though his own people sought to kill him, he had nothing but love for them. “It broke my heart. I prayed about it a lot, and I really felt like God was calling me there,” she said.
Toy embarked for Cambodia first as a student, then transitioned into leading for two years before staying on her own this past summer. What made this summer different, though, was the combination of joy and unimaginable hardship.
Toy led a team of Americans for 10 days, serving through medical missions in clinics, working at the hospital, ministry in the church, teaching in the community and volunteer work.
Toy’s parents joined the effort for the first time, too. Toy’s mother, Terri, knew Cambodia as a country ravaged by the regime of Pol Pot.She realized their need for love and was excited to experience the land that captured her daughter’s heart.
“While her dad and I have always had a great respect for Allison, it was an incredible opportunity to watch her live out her passions … her purpose, her respect for and understanding of the culture,” Terri said.
Dad Eugene made use of his skills as a doctor, teaching Cambodians about sanitation. He was amazed at the provision of God. When one supply would run out, patients required something different and needs could be met.
“For me, I learned so much from the people we met. The missionaries there have so few resources … yet zeal and desire to do more,” Terri said.
After 10 days, the other Americans left and Toy went through two months of difficult challenges, combating loneliness, exhaustion and language barriers.
And though she can’t see why certain things happened, she realized the importance and significance of the suffering she witnessed.
“One of the biggest ways it has changed me is when I see statistics about people who are starving and being trafficked — those aren’t stats anymore,” Toy said. “They are faces.”
Toy put her nursing education to work, starting IVs, giving medication and even consulting with doctors about pathophysiology. She knew more, even without a degree, than the professionals in Cambodia.
She said, “I have a lot of what-ifs. Like what if I studied more and could have saved a life that shouldn’t have been taken. But no one can ever be totally prepared for that.”
Recently, she accepted a job at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco, though she does hope to live in Cambodia for a few years in the future.
She said, “Some things you don’t get until you see them. Poverty and meeting people who have never heard the name of Jesus is one of those things. It’s broken my heart in ways that aren’t repairable.”