It’s a buzzword that hushes crowds, stirs hearts, and motivates missionaries to go to the far corners of the earth. Its utterance carries a certain gravitas and mystique that immediately assumes importance and priority.
But perhaps a lesser-known cohort is the “unwanted”—those who are deemed undesirable by society. The reason this group of people hasn’t heard the gospel isn’t due to remote location or governmental interference or ethnically-rooted Christian malevolence, but is simply a result of who they are.
Rob Cady understood the “unwanted” better than most. He and his wife Kristi had been serving faithfully as church planters with ABWE in Cambodia since 1997. Rob’s fierce physique, which resembled that of a gym-trainer-turned-motorcycle-enthusiast, belied the sensitive and caring nature that enveloped his heart—one that broke for his “homies.”
These were men from America who were stripped from their families and sent packing to Cambodia. They had come from refugee families who originally fled to the U.S. upon the collapse of revolutionary Pol Pot’s communist regime, which had left millions dead in its wake. In 2002 the U.S. and Cambodia signed a treaty, leaving Cambodian refugees vulnerable to deportation back to their “home country.” The first to go were the troublemakers, former criminals in the U.S. who had paid their time. With no knowledge of the Cambodian language or culture, these men found themselves as outcasts in a foreign land that was supposedly their home.
In 2007 the Lord directed Rob to seek out these former convicts. He shared his life with them, opening up his home for meals and Bible studies and welcoming them into the community of the church. One could even spot him cruising with his homies on a motorcycle.
“Rob had an overwhelming passion for these men,” Kristi said. “At times he was so distraught about how nobody understood them that it brought him to the point of tears.”
By all accounts, Rob’s bearlike demeanor and straightforward manner of speech won the approval of the exiles, but it was his genuine concern for their eternal wellbeing that captured their hearts.
“There are some people who believe these guys are beyond redemption,” Rob said once. “But they don’t know the God I know.”
Rob began having medical issues after an injury in November of 2019, which eventually lead to a syndrome that caused him to go into cardiac arrest and organ failure. Rob was transferred to a hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had been receiving care until his passing.
At his funeral service, those same tattooed, jail-hardened homies cried and mourned over the death of the beloved man who had transformed their lives by introducing them to the hope in Christ. He had surpassed the role of friend or mentor over the years. To put it simply, he was the father many never had.
“Rob went out a winner,” wrote Steve Mayo, Regional Director of South Asia and longtime friend of Rob’s. “He was a committed follower of Jesus Christ, and he confronted and stirred others to follow suit.”
“Rob was one of ABWE’s most creative and innovative missionaries,” said Paul Davis, ABWE President. “His life and ministry focused on a people group that few would see as significant, and not only did he reach out and love this people group, but he developed and implemented an effective strategy to meet them where they were at in order to win them for Christ. We will dearly miss our colleague who lived the very essence of the gospel.”
Kristi said of her husband’s passing, “We want to express how much we appreciate all the support and kindness that has been shown to us. It is astounding to us how God continues to care for us in big and small ways…It is such a devastating experience, which is why we feel it is so important to remember and focus on all the things Christ has done throughout this time in order to encourage ourselves and share that encouragement with everyone who knows and loves Rob.”
The ABWE family rejoices that Rob served our Father so faithfully and set such a Christlike example to the Cambodian “returnees,” who came to the country with criminal backgrounds and harmful addictions.
And although Rob is gone, his legacy thrives in the seeds planted within his adopted sons. By God’s grace, they will follow in Rob’s footsteps and continue his unlikely ministry that initially met raised eyebrows and incredulous reactions—but was upheld by a God who often showcases his power through men and women, like Rob, who swim against the cultural flow.