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Hearts transformed by 'contagious love': an Umoja story

Read how Saren’s family has been transformed through grace, God’s love and the Umoja initiative in her church.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 14 Jul 2023

Saren, a mother in Cambodia, smiles at the camera. She has transformed her life through Bible study-based training facilitated by Tearfund's local church partners.

Saren in Cambodia has seen her life transformed through Umoja – a Church and Community Transformation programme that uses Bible studies as a basis to equip and empower people to change their lives. Credit: Chloe Au/Tearfund

After being part of an Umoja programme in her home community in Cambodia, Saren and her family in Cambodia have seen their lives change for the better. ‘God has transformed our family,’ she tells us, ‘and I believe he can do it for you. So seek him while he may be found.’

Umoja is a Kiswahili word meaning striving for (and maintaining) unity and it’s the name given to a Church and Community Transformation programme that uses Bible studies as a starting point to help empower and equip people, like Saren and her family, to change their circumstances. You can read more about how it works here.

This is Saren’s story of Umoja in Cambodia:

‘My name is Saren, I have been married to my husband for 17 years and we have two children who are eleven and fourteen.

‘Many years back, our marriage was on shaky ground because my husband wasn’t faithful to me. He gambled and had an affair, and our financial state wasn’t stable either. 

‘I remember how devastated, disappointed, hopeless, discouraged and unlucky I felt. A sickness got hold of me, and so did the negative thoughts rooted deep down in me. All the bitterness blinded me and I could not see God’s blessing in my life. I looked only at the dark side of things and turned my back on God, running after idols and seeking help in witchcraft. I hoped these things could save my marriage and family.

‘I was in big trouble and put my own life at risk. I lived like this for many years.’

Living words, grace and Holy Spirit boldness

‘The woman you see before you today is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. He transformed me through the hours of studying his word in the Umoja lessons. No-one could have imagined that I could be a woman who would speak up, be bold, and be actively involved in church!’

‘God has transformed our family. And I believe he can do it for you!’
Saren, Umoja participant, Cambodia

‘The Lord gave me the boldness to talk with my husband. I acknowledged my flaws and also humbly repented for the wrong things I had done. Even though I knew my husband had not been good to me, I took on the responsibility to love him, my children and my family, and I started to have an honest conversation with him. I embraced the love that Jesus has bestowed upon me and showed it toward my husband, choosing to stand beside him and support him as best I could. I was able to do all of these things because of the love and grace the members of the Bible study group showed me.

‘The stories we learned through Umoja lessons awakened my spirit and opened my eyes to see the truth. It helped me to see that the story of the Bible is not just some kind of history or list of facts, but it is the living word of God for us to live out – not just for ourselves but for all around us, for the whole world.’ 

Contagious love and transformed hearts

‘Love is contagious and, through this, my husband gradually transformed to be a man who loves his family and holds to his duty as a husband. He has learned to do what God calls a husband to do: he is humble, he shares the housework, and he makes me and my children feel loved.

‘If someone asked me how Umoja lessons can impact a community, I would ask them to look at the transformation in our family. The changes extend to more than an outside attitude, but they come from the transformation of hearts. That is contagious in a good way.’ 

Practical provision through Umoja

Beyond changing ways of thinking, one of the ways Umoja works is by empowering people to take control of their finances and avoid debt. The support groups (like the one Saren is part of) are set up through local churches and also pool their savings to start small initiatives that will generate income and benefit the whole community.

‘If someone asked me how Umoja lessons can impact a community, I would ask them to look at the transformation in our family. The changes extend to more than an outside attitude, but they come from the transformation of hearts. That is contagious in a good way.’
Saren, Umoja participant, Cambodia

Saren is a teacher. She says, ‘Being a kindergarten teacher for the church and community, I put a lot of effort into the lives of children. With God’s help, I have built up my ability and I can teach from kindergarten class to the fourth grade. 

‘I have learnt to plan for my future and have started saving for my family. I am a member of the savings group, which enables me to manage our resources well.’

Grateful to God

‘I am grateful to have God with me during my ups and downs. I have the joy of the Lord to be my strength. 

‘God used Umoja to be the tool to mould this broken vessel,’ says Saren. ‘It helps me to know God and to try to be an example of how God’s people should live. I will continue to share what I learned with all people to bring glory to him.’

Umoja: transforming the community through the church

Church and Community Transformation does exactly what it says on the tin. It is the whole community being impacted, changed, rebuilt, restored, envisioned, empowered and ultimately transformed in order for it to thrive – through (and starting with) the church.

Read more here about the incredible social value that working in this way brings

Pray for Cambodia and Umoja

    • Thank God for his love that transforms lives. Pray that more people’s lives and communities will be transformed in really practical ways through this love.
    • Lift up families facing poverty and family breakdown around the world. Ask God to bring restoration and healing so that they may flourish and thrive.
    • Pray for local churches everywhere – that they will be salt and light in their communities and the catalyst for transformation wherever it is needed.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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