I was three years old when South Vietnam fell to Communist rule—the year was 1975. Looking back, there were many like me, born in a developing country and needing help in so many ways. We had dreams and hopes, yet our voices could not be heard among so many.
My mother had no choice but to separate her children into three groups in hopes of escaping to the United States. There were eight of us and my mother was pregnant with another child. My father, by this time, had been killed during the fall of Saigon.
My group, which consisted of my eldest sister Mai, her husband, another older sister, Xuan Mai (Amanda) and my younger sister Diem (Diana), escaped on a tiny boat with many other families. We sailed for 3 nights and 4 days in the middle of the ocean, not knowing whether we would see land again. Resources were scarce, especially food and fresh water. The owner and workers on the boat wanted to toss me overboard to save room and resources for others. As a boy I was very frail, often susceptible to long bouts of illness, so being at sea for so long did not fare well for my health. My eldest sister, Mai, held me tightly as the workers attempted to pry me from her arms. They struck and kicked her in attempts to force her to release me, but she would not, despite the fact that she was six months pregnant at the time. She yelled and screamed, holding me tightly until they relented. They ultimately allowed me to have some rice soup and fresh water, but informed her that if I didn’t revive, they would come back, take me and toss me overboard. Miraculously, I revived and recovered fully. Certainly, without my sister to cry out for me, my voice would not have been heard.
Once we made it to the refugee camp in Malaysia, although we didn’t have the comforts of home, it was fairly enjoyable for me as a young boy. Of course we ate the same meal every day—rice and sardines in tomato sauce. We were able to catch other fish and small animals that were available on the island at the time. Hundreds of other families had the same idea as well, so resources became quite scarce. We lived in makeshift huts made from fallen trees and banana leaves. It was a very simple life, and we made do with what was available.
In July of 1979, we finally arrived in the greatest nation in the world. I was so excited to see things so clean; the buildings and roads seemed so incredibly large, and the food smelled and looked so good. I can’t imagine how odd my sisters and I must have looked to our sponsors who help us get to Racine, Wisconsin. We were definitely FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) refugees from a third world country. Our language, culture, and mannerisms must have seemed so odd and strange to them. They had children my age as well and two others who were a few years older. I had never seen a person with golden hair before, not to mention blue eyes. I’m sure they thought the same about me, having straight black hair without a curl in sight, brown eyes and olive skin. We must have been a sight to behold. I often wondered why the two families, the Olsens and Pedersens, along with their church, would want to take on a family that they had never met. They were all educators with children of their own, a busy lifestyle and likely limited finances.
Now I think I know why they chose to be a voice for us. They wanted to stand up and make their voices heard on our behalf—children with dreams and hopes like them. I know my sister, the Olsens, Pedersens and many others have raised their voices in my life when my voice was not loud enough. It is because of love, the love of Christ, that endures to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
I would like to serve as a voice for those with hopes and dreams that go unheard. I also want them to know that the voice of God—the voice of love—cries out on behalf of the nations. We can all do our part. By our efforts, each of us can stand up for someone and be their voice when needed, serving as an advocate for hope and opportunity—one person at a time.