Mark and Laura Ambrose (back) with some of the church youth

Redeeming Evil for Good: MTW’s Cambodia Team Addresses the Problem of Human Trafficking

By Chelsea Rollman, Apr 23, 2024

Editor’s Note: This article contains explicit content as it highlights a ministry working with girls who have been sexually exploited and trafficked. We have tried to communicate as sensitively and honestly as possible.

When Sreynich* was 8 years old, her mother sold her to a wealthy Cambodian family in order to pay off a gambling debt. Sreynich worked as the family’s house slave doing all the housework—cooking, scrubbing the floors, washing the clothes. Her owners often beat her, sometimes whipping her with electrical cords.

About four years later, unable to bear her harsh servitude any longer, she ran away and got connected to one of Mission to the World’s partner NGOs in Cambodia. She spent five years recovering from her trauma at the NGO’s rehabilitation facility, after which they sent her to live at MTW’s Dahlia Dorm. There she received love and care from MTW missionaries Mark and Laura Ambrose, connected with other girls her age who had been rescued from human trafficking, and, most importantly, she met Jesus.

God Calls MTW Cambodia to Freedom Ministries and the Dahlia Dorm

The Ambroses joined MTW’s team in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, seven years ago to start a medical clinic in conjunction with the team’s church-planting efforts. They opened the clinic in partnership with several NGOs that specialize in human trafficking rescue and rehabilitation, and many of the patients at the MTW medical clinic were victims the NGOs had rescued.

Mark and Laura noticed that, though the NGOs they partnered with were doing important work, none were associated with the local church. They began praying for ways to connect churches to the girls and young women coming out of human trafficking. It didn’t take long for God to answer their prayers.

One of MTW’s local church plants has a college dorm facility on their property. In 2019, the Mission to the World team started Freedom Ministries to provide scholarships and free housing at these dorms for college-aged girls graduating out of an NGO rehab program. But God had more in mind for Freedom Ministries.

“We were getting contacted by our NGOs that we worked with asking if we could take younger girls,” says Laura. “And I just couldn’t because the dorms are designed for college students.”

They weren’t sure how to bridge the gap. The NGOs had teenage girls who had finished their rehabilitation and were ready to reintegrate into society but had nowhere to go. If they returned to their villages, they would likely be trafficked again by either their original perpetrators or their own families. The Ambroses began to pray and dream about opening a girls dorm.

In 2021, the Ambroses were on home ministry assignment in Chicago and started sharing their plans. During one of these conversations a donor pledged $100,000 toward purchasing a building so that they could open a dorm. With this major donation and other funds they raised on HMA, the Ambroses were able to purchase two conjoined homes (similar to a duplex) upon returning to Cambodia, renovated the space, and girls moved into the fully renovated Dahlia Dorm (part of Freedom Ministries) in June 2023.


Twelve girls and young women now live at Dahlia Dorm ranging in age from 12 to 20. They spend their days going to school, playing sports, and participating in devotions. On weekends they attend a sports ministry led by a local pastor and, of course, attend church.

Mark and Laura have taken on the role of parents for each of these young girls. “It is a great honor and a great responsibility that we take seriously,” said Laura.

The Ambroses go to all parent school meetings or appointments; they cheer the girls on at their sporting events and extracurricular activities; they take them shopping and to see movies; they actively and personally disciple each of them. For many of the Dahlia Dorm girls, Mark and Laura are the only parents that they know.

Konthea’s Road to Healing Because of the Local Church’s Embrace

According to Laura, training the local church to embrace and love the girls who live in Dahlia Dorm and the college dorms has been a focus of Freedom Ministries. In Cambodian culture, girls who have been sexually exploited—whether they have been raped, trafficked, or sexually assaulted—have little value in society’s eyes.

“You are less than a dog,” says Laura. “So now your role is a prostitute or you’re nothing. You are just used to being sexually exploited.”

Because of this cultural perspective, churches were hesitant to be involved in this taboo ministry. That started to change when the Ambroses welcomed the first college-age girl, Konthea,* into Freedom Ministries.

When Konthea was 11 years old, her next-door neighbor raped her. He did it for years until she finally came forward but her entire community, including this man’s wife, blamed her for what happened. They turned a blind eye while allowing her abuse to continue. She essentially became the village prostitute and the man’s friends gang raped her several times. During one of these nightmare occurrences, she thought she was going to die. She had remembered that her mother, who is a Christian, believed in God and prayed, “God, if you really are true like my mom says, please save me.”

He did. She survived that night and, shortly after, one of MTW’s partner organizations rescued her. After recovery and rehab, she became the first girl to receive a scholarship from MTW’s Freedom Ministries. Konthea’s arrival at the college dorm was a learning experience for both her and the church. She was not used to being welcomed and received, and the church didn’t yet know how to welcome and receive her. She ran away to live on her own for a full year, but Laura patiently loved her and regularly met her for coffee. Eventually she moved back to the dorm.

After watching the Ambroses treat Konthea with compassion and dignity, the church began to embrace her as well, and Konthea began to blossom. For the first time, she was enfolded into a community that didn’t abuse her or reject her as an irredeemable social outcast. She finally understood that what had happened to her wasn’t her fault and that Jesus had the power to heal her. As the Holy Spirit transformed her heart and the church empowered her as an integral member of their community, Konthea reoriented her life. She signed up to be a leader at the church’s youth conferences, she graduated from college with a degree in social work, and she developed a deep relationship with Jesus.

Konthea now works at Dahlia Dorm as the girls’ social worker—a job that entails wearing many hats. She does everything from signing the girls’ report cards, to making sure their state affairs are in order, to teaching them Bible classes, to comforting the girl who comes home in tears because someone at school was making fun of her.

“God has used this young woman. She has been challenged, she has been broken, she has been encouraged because she identifies with them—she knows and understands from her own story and her own experience. I’m just so proud of her. She’s serving these girls really well and they’ve really come to trust her, and I trust her. She is like this picture of the whole cycle,” says Laura.


Christ’s Family Provides Hope and Healing

Konthea is not the only girl at Freedom Ministries who has experienced the redemptive power of the gospel. Recently Sreynich told Laura, “You know it was good that my mother sold me because if she didn’t, I would have never known Jesus.”

Sreynich is now 20 and has lived at Dahlia Dorm since it opened. Because she did not attend school during the years she worked as a house slave, she is finishing high school. Her and Konthea’s stories are powerful examples to the rest of the girls of the way Jesus can redeem the greatest of evils and use it for good.

Not all of the girls at Dahlia Dorm have come to know Jesus as their Savior yet, but Laura says all of them display an understanding and interest in the gospel. The path to healing is messy. They all experience repercussions from their trauma, including paralyzing nightmares and physical aches and ailments. Many of them have been completely rejected by their families and never see or talk to them. And twelve girls living under one roof is a sure proof recipe for conflict.

But every day they get a taste of Jesus’ mercy and justice from the MTW missionaries and the local church members who have committed to caring for and discipling them. These girls who were vulnerable, marginalized, exploited, and abandoned have been welcomed, valued, and protected by the family of Christ. The Ambroses’ hope and prayer is that the Holy Spirit is using Dahlia Dorm to lead all the girls to the only place they can find ultimate hope and healing—in the loving arms of Jesus.

*Names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Chelsea Rollman

Chelsea Rollman is a marketing specialist and staff writer at MTW. She formerly served as the girls’ discipleship coordinator at Village Seven in Colorado Springs, and as a marketing assistant at The White Horse Inn. Chelsea graduated from Covenant College in 2016 with her B.A. in English. She and her husband, Hudson, live in Jacksonville, Florida, and attend Christ Church Presbyterian where Hudson serves as the youth director.

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Jimmy, a native Cambodian, is now leading other college students in MTW's dorm ministry. Pray for Jimmy and other student leaders to be strong in their faith and to fall increasingly in love with Christ.


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