Before Sam was born, his family had to leave everything behind in their hometown of Battambang, Cambodia during the turmoil of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). Sam was born in a family of 12 children. of which only 10 survived.
The Ban’s were forced to travel light – only taking what they could carry on foot. Hungry and thirsty, they walked village to village searching for a new home. Surviving the wild jungles of Cambodia and Thailand was a feat of willpower.
Sam’s family found safety in a Thailand refugee camp, where they lived for 10 years. Sam was born in 1985, and his family made the journey to America a year later. They landed in Salt Lake City, Utah. After 2 years there, they moved to Fresno. California was far from the “sunshine” state to Sam, his family, and his neighborhood.
Sam was just 11 years old when he joined a gang. School was not a priority, and he skipped classes to run the streets. In junior high, when most teenagers are worried about sports and grades, Sam was dodging bullets.
His life came to an abrupt stop when he was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The time served at the California Youth Authority only made Sam a “smarter” criminal.
Sam was released in 2002, and found his way to Hope Now. He was looking for a job to satisfy his parole requirements, and to provide as a soon-to-be father. After completing Hope Now’s program, he was placed in his first job at McDonalds. Sam used his first paycheck to buy and sell drugs on the streets. This is common with new Hope Now guys, “You can take the guy out of the hood, but you can’t always take the hood out of the guy.” Sam never returned to McDonalds, and slid right back into the gang life.
Sam remembers feeling empty – aching to better his family and his own life. Sam’s efforts to succeed on his own left him tired and frustrated. Depression set in and he was at a loss for where to go next.
In 2009, Sam gave his heart to Jesus. He realized money, friends, and drugs could never fill the void. Sam returned to Hope Now looking for a job, and a fresh start. Sam was drawn to the staff members’ hope, strength, and wisdom. This time everything clicked. Sam started making good decisions. He married Sai, the mother of his children, in 2011. He excelled in every job Hope Now placed him in: City of Fresno, Bussetto Foods, and Peoples Church.
Sam‘s hard work, dedication to family, and devotion to God was recognized – Hope Now awarded him “Youth Of The Year” in 2015. Sam’s transformation was just beginning… He helped start Peoples Church Southeast Fresno in 2017 working with the youth, and earned his Youth Pastor Certificate from the Assembly of God denomination.
Today, Sam is Hope Now’s Southeast Fresno Outreach Coordinator, bringing hope to the same neighborhoods he used to terrorize with guns, drugs and violence. Sam, with Hope Now and Peoples Church, is showing people how the power of Jesus Christ and a job can rebuild home.