'Evangelistic atheist' finds identity, meaning in Christ

by Michelle Tyer, posted Tuesday, March 25, 2014 (9 months ago)

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- Students and faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, can easily recognize first-semester student Putti Sok riding her longboard, often with a flower in her hair. Some would say her passion for Jesus Christ and evangelism is even more recognizable.

But just a few years ago, she had not even heard the Gospel message.

Sok's parents are both Cambodian, but she was born in Long Beach, Calif., and grew up in Dallas. Despite being raised in the United States, the Cambodian culture still influenced her life.

"My identity as a young girl, I saw myself as a Cambodian Buddhist girl," Sok says. "Why? Because my parents told me."

Cambodia is about 95 percent Buddhist, Sok says, and her family continued to carry out the religion's traditions when they came to America. But those traditions meant little to Sok.

"As for the meaning behind what we did in the Buddhist belief, it was confusing to me," Sok says. "I didn't really understand it."

Sok considered Buddhism a ritual that came with the culture, just as she saw Christianity as a religion only for Americans.

In junior high and high school, Sok began to see religion is a decision and not inherited culturally. But instead of choosing between Buddhism and Christianity, she became an "evangelistic atheist." She would ask others what they believed about God, challenging them to try to convince her that God exists.

Beginning her college education at the University of Texas at Arlington in 2008, one of Sok's goals was to build deep relationships. She succeeded in that as she made many friends, several of them Christians and active in the Baptist Student Ministry on campus.

Despite the differing beliefs, Sok participated in Bible studies and attended church with her friends, whom she says were faithful in telling her about Christ.

"They shared the Gospel with me over and over again," Sok says.

At times, Sok would even serve others in their community alongside her Christian friends, doing chores or other projects for those they met. While her friends would tell those they served that they did it because they wanted to show Christ's love, Sok could only say that she was doing it because of her love.

"It wasn't until later that I saw everything I was doing was becoming meaningless and in vain if it didn't have eternal meaning," Sok says.

Sok began to realize during her sophomore year that if God was real, He would be able to hear her prayers. Each night, she began to pray that He would help her understand what she heard from her friends and read in the Bible because it seemed like foolishness to her.

Then one day, Sok entered a closet in the Baptist Student Ministry's (BSM) building that had been turned into a prayer room.

Inside, she found a bowl filled with pieces of paper with the names of students' lost friends. One after another, Sok looked at the slips of paper, and over and over again, she found her own name on the slips.

Witnessing the faithfulness of her friends after a full year, despite her previously telling them not to pray for her, Sok burst into tears that day in the tiny prayer room.

"I [had] told them," Sok says. "I was very adamant about it -- 'Stop praying for me. I'm never going to become a Christian; that's never going to happen.' God was softening my heart then, and I started asking God, 'God, please allow me to have this faith that I do not have.'"

The very next day, Sok went to a retreat center with the BSM where they heard from a guest speaker.

"I felt that God was asking me to respond," Sok says. "All my questions and concerns and doubts that I had, I finally laid aside, and then that night I prayed to receive Christ."

The next morning, Sok still felt unsure that her decision was enough or genuine, but in her time over the previous year with the BSM, she had heard that there would be fruit of her faith. Such fruit became evident in her life after returning from the retreat and returning to campus.

"All of a sudden, I just had a desire to go and share with people," Sok says. "God is real, and He has changed my heart."

After making that decision to follow Christ, Sok also decided to follow His leading into ministry. Upon completing her undergraduate work at the University of Texas at Arlington, Sok served as a campus missionary for a year, led the BSM's Friday evangelism group and a dorm ministry, and this year is serving as a BSM intern, discipling student leaders as well as new believers.

But Sok also believed that to continue in that ministry she should continue her education at a theological school to equip and prepare her.

"I looked at different seminaries and felt God was really leading me to Southwestern," Sok says. "I love it."

Taking just one class this semester, Sok says she looks forward to being a full-time student studying missiology in the fall and getting involved with the evangelism opportunities the seminary provides.

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Michelle Tyer is a news writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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