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Prayers, soldier carry refugee child to safety
Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder
June 18, 2010
7 MIN READ TIME

Prayers, soldier carry refugee child to safety

Prayers, soldier carry refugee child to safety
Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder
June 18, 2010

The sanctuary had never been

this quiet before during a service.

As Siv Ashley spoke, no one

moved. Not a sound distracted from her testimony. Every eye was focused

intently on the diminutive, black-haired woman before them.

Most in the congregation

knew of the cruelty she described only in theory, but she had once lived its

grim reality.

Now, standing before them

was a woman who had seen the very depths of human depravity. She survived to

tell the congregation of her experiences, but she had also come to tell them of

the God who brought her through it all.

Hers is an accent tinged

mostly by her youth in Cambodia. However, having lived the last 31 years in Ashe

and Yadkin counties in northwest North Carolina, there’s a little bit of

country in there, too. It’s a charming trait that carries her testimony that

much closer to home. As Ashley spoke, tears fell from the eyes of men and women

alike. There was laughter, too.

But most of all, there was

hope. Siv Ashley, a member of Mountain View Baptist Church in Hamptonville, is

the very essence of faith.

The Parade

Born Siv Lang Sov on Sept.

18, 1965, in Cambodia, her father moved the family to the capital city of Phnom

Penh to have easier access to the “big-nosed people” — Caucasians — who could

tell them about Christ and to maybe get an education. She was about six years

old when what she thought was a parade began.

It wasn’t a parade. At least

not a festive one. The infamous Khmer Rouge regime was about to relocate the

area’s residents to one of its collective farms, which amounted to nothing less

than a Nazi concentration camp.

Contributed photo

Siv Ashley

“The soldiers just started

hitting people, started moving us out of whatever we were living in,” Ashley

remembered. “My dad, at this point, he knew there was something wrong.

“He was looking for us. My

brother and I were playing … we thought it was a parade. It was just so sudden.

He came and grabbed us and said we needed to stick together.”

The family gathered a few

belongings, but only what they could carry. They walked without knowing where

they were headed, and what seemed like days might very well have been a single

24-hour period. For all the horrors they encountered along the way, there was

no way of telling for sure how long the journey took.

It was as if the Khmer Rouge

soldiers were on drugs, Ashley said, because they turned so suddenly vicious.

They knocked down people on

crutches and shot the elderly who couldn’t walk fast enough.

Children were crying, some

couldn’t find their parents. Toddlers were trampled in the chaos.

And … there

was this:

Her father hacked her hair

off with a knife to make her look like a boy, so she wouldn’t be raped.

“Pretty girls were being

taken,” Ashley said. “My dad realized what was really going on, so he just took

a knife.

“Right before they started

taking us, he just cut my hair, just cut it, just cut it everywhere, just to

make sure I looked ugly and looked like a little boy.”

Ashley wound up in the

forced labor camp for about five years, and lost her entire family in the

process.

Siv’s Angel

Twice, Ashley was part of

groups that escaped the camp. The last such effort included some 2,000 people,

on foot, trying to make their way to freedom.

Waiting at a mountain, they

knew they couldn’t go back but were afraid to go forward. Scavenging

desperately for what food they could, many died of starvation.

Terrified, Ashley broke

down.

“In my language, I prayed,

‘Joo-Soo (Jesus), if you are hearing us right now, just let us know a sign.

Save us. Save us children,’” she said. “As soon as I broke down, I heard a

helicopter and there were these packages dropping. I didn’t know what it was.

There was food.”

She grabbed one of the aid

packages, but as soon as she did, bombs started falling.

A soldier — to this day, she

remembers the stars of the American flag on his sleeve — grabbed her in the

midst of the attack and carried her to safety.

“I remember that he had a

gun and he had a backpack,” Ashley said of the man she calls her angel.

“He was scared … I was

scared. This stranger was picking me up, and I didn’t know what was going on.

We were running through that forest as fast as he could go.

“They were shooting at us,

and he was shooting back.”

Suddenly, everything

stopped. The soldier patted her head and shared a pack of crackers. Then, he

was gone.

She would never know his identity. She remembers only the flag on his

sleeve and that he was one of the “big-nosed people,” a Caucasian. Ashley wound

up in a refugee camp on the border with Thailand, where miraculously, she found

a maternal aunt who took her in as a third daughter.

“She said, ‘It’s OK. My

husband and I will adopt you, and anywhere we go, we’re going to go together as

a family. We’re going to move to a place called America,’” Ashley said, tears

beginning to well in her eyes. “My dad had always told me, ‘You just have to

have hopes and dreams, and you will have a good life.’”

A Place Called America

Eventually, in August 1979,

Ashley made it to the United States when her family was sponsored by members of

Jefferson United Methodist Church in Ashe County.

At age 14, she knew no

English and had never been to school a day in her life. The pictures of her

standing with her kindergarten classmates might be humorous if they weren’t at

the same time heart-breaking.

Still, Ashley didn’t feel

out of place.

“I didn’t care … I didn’t

care that I was with the little kids,” Ashley said. “I was blessed just to be

able to be with them.”

While hearing her new pastor

speak, Ashley made the connection that the “Joo-Soo” her father had followed

was Jesus Christ. She has been a woman of faith ever since and married her

husband, Kenny Ashley. Today, they have two teen-aged children, Tia and Ty.

“Basically, I had gave my

life to Christ when my dad talked about Christ, but I didn’t know it,” Ashley

concluded. “We went to church that first week in Jefferson, and the preacher

held up the Bible and talked about Jesus. I heard the word and it sounded so

familiar. My eyes just lit up.”

More and more, Ashley has

begun to share her life’s story with others. She has a growing conviction to

tell other of her relationship with God, who saved her spiritually … and

physically.

Amen.

(EDITOR’S NOTE

— Houston is a Baptist writer in Yadkinville, who most often covers NASCAR

and the space program.)