Hezekiah Chhan, 28, rarely talks about two brushes with death.
His Marine unit was establishing a patrol base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when they were attacked. He was lying behind a berm returning fire, when an inner voice told him to get up and run. It made no sense to leave cover, but the moment Chhan moved, the berm and everything around it blew up.
He told fellow Marines that the “universe” saved his life.
His life was spared a second time while dodging sniper fire. Chhan heard a voice tell him to jump. He did an almost superhuman arc headfirst into a river. That move saved his life.
During Chhan’s tour of duty in Afghanistan, he was under a constant threat of death. He buried buddies. He knew his life could be ended any moment by an improvised explosive device or sniper fire. All Marines lived in a constant state of readiness with weapons in hand.
Chhan now knows the “universe” didn’t save his life. God did. Long before Chhan knew God as Savior, God had a plan for his life. That plan continues to unfold.
Chhan’s family settled in Kentucky after leaving their village in Cambodia. He was only 3-years-old and has no memory of early years in Cambodia, but he knows his family struggled to find good jobs and earn enough to live on.
As a kid, Chhan went to church with his family, who converted from Buddhism after a Christian helped them find a place to live and work. But as a young adult, Chhan decided he didn’t “need God to tie him down.”
When he left the Marines, Chhan felt empty. It was hard to find purpose and direction. On a whim, he logged onto www.southeastchristian.org and clicked on Next Step. His request to know more about faith was directed to Southeast staff member Brad Ricca. The two began meeting to talk about faith.
“I began to see that a relationship with God was what I’d been looking for all my life,” Chhan said. “After we met for a while, I decided to follow Jesus and was baptized in 2016. That was the beginning of a whole new life.”
Chhan became a U.S. citizen March 22, along with about 100 others who repeated the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance before getting citizenship papers.
It was a big day, but Chhan had always felt American and loved his country.
Friends from Southeast Christian Church, where Chhan is active in the College-Age Ministry, attended the ceremony.
The same day Chhan became a new citizen, he changed his first name from Sovan to Hezekiah, the 13th king of Judah. Friends have already shortened it to “Hez” or “Hezzy.”
He put a lot of thought into his new name. Hezekiah was the Old Testament character who brought revival to Jerusalem, ended idol worship and defeated the Syrian army.
“He was all about revival,” Chhan said. “God answered his prayer to live 15 more years. I’ve learned that one prayer can win numerous victories in our lives.”
CAM Pastor Justin Weece has watched Hezekiah’s faith grow and mature.
“I appreciate most his genuineness and his depth,” Weece said. “He presses forward despite mountains of obstacles and challenges my faith. He is not a quitter. He is a warrior through and through. His battles and techniques have changed over the years, but he continues to fight on. Hezekiah is a walking, breathing testament of how much God can do if we surrender to Him.”
“Justin Weece always challenges us to think outside our own limits,” Chhan said. “For me, that teaches me how to be vulnerable, how to be still and talk to the people God brings across my path.”
Sometimes that person is a fellow Marine, a student or someone on his route as a carpet cleaner.
Chhan volunteers in the NextGen Ministry with middle and high school students because he believes mentors can make a difference.
“Middle and high school kids are amazing,” Chhan said. “They want God more and more. The more I pour out to them, the more they pour into me. It challenges me to learn more about Jesus.”
Chhan no longer owns a gun. He does own a Scripture coloring book—a huge surprise that he has a creative side. He loves to mix colors to illustrate the verse on the page.
Now that he is a U.S. citizen, Chhan can get a passport and go on a mission trip. His dream is to take the Gospel to his father’s village in Cambodia.