Although the Vietnam War ended almost five decades ago, wounds are yet to be healed. My most fearful memory about the Vietnam War was on April 30, 1975, the day when South Vietnam fell to the Communists. I remember that day six soldiers were killed in front of my house. These soldiers were in a tank, and anti-tank rockets hit their tank. Although the tank was immobilized from the first blow, it did not catch on fire and explode until the second hit. The sound of soldiers screaming and the smell of human flesh burning have haunted me for years. The end of the war led to over a million Vietnamese fleeing the country. The first groups of dissidents were lucky enough to be able to leave Vietnam on airplanes and merchant ships, while later groups had to use small fishing boats to make their flight to freedom. These groups have come to be known as “boat people,” and I was one of them.

I left Vietnam at the end of 1980, on a small boat with other thirty-three people, to begin an unknown adventure to search for freedom. The first night, Vietnamese coast guards fired at us; we got caught, but they let us go after they took away some money. On the second day, we finally reached the international shipping lanes. We felt safe; however, this feeling did not last long, as I remember a pirate ship was approaching us. Fortunately, the pirates only took away jewelry and money that they found. All the women were so afraid, because they knew frequently women who crossed the South China Sea into Thailand between 1978 and 1980 were raped and killed by pirates. In numerous cases, pirate also took women and girls away. Many of these women were found later throughout Thailand as prostitutes; the pirates were selling them to pimps.

The following day, due to lack of good storage containers, food and water supplies were contaminated with salt and became useless. The weather was extremely hot, and the bright tropical sun hung motionless above our heads. As the temperature rose, we lost more water from our bodies; our throats were dry, parched, and sticky with salty spittle. On the fifth day, a strong wind shook our boat violently; the high dark blue wave tilted the boat from side to side, back and then forward. I remember people began to call upon to their gods to save them; this was not help. Whether or not we lived or died, the sea did not care. Thirty-three more human souls in her watery grave was such a small contribution when she already had hundreds of thousands. I do not remember how long the storm was. I was completely exhausted with fatigue and hunger, and my vision became blurry. The next thing I remembered, when I opened my eyes, I saw many strange faces. A Christian fishing boat owner rescued us.

I arrived at Songkla’s refugee camp in Thailand on the second day of the Lunar New Year 1981. Five days later, I was reunited with my childhood friend. She told me the horrible things that happened to her on the ocean. Pirates repeatedly raped girls and women on her boat. Sitting on the beach at Songkla’s refugee camp on a quiet evening, my best friend and I reflected silently on our trips across the South China Sea. I did not know what to say to comfort her, but I was deeply sympathetic. I do not remember how long we were sitting there. However, I remember clearly that night was the first time I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthews 11:28). That voice came to us from a mission church behind where we sat. These words led me to come to the church service the following Sunday and came to know Christ as my personal Savior.

Four months after my salvation experience, I was transferred to Bataan Refugee Camp in the Philippines, while my friend left for California. Ten months later, I was allowed to resettle in Dallas, Texas. Immediately after arriving in the United States, I encountered many challenges such as culture, language differences, and prejudice. Having come into this country as a foreigner, I was able to contemplate this society somewhat as an outsider, but perhaps, I remained as an outsider longer than I wanted. I felt humiliated whenever I said something that people could not understand, and when kids in high school made fun of my accent and my looks. I felt insulted when people asked me to repeat what I said. The inability to express myself impinged upon my social life and also, my academic life.

In 1988, both my parents passed away in Vietnam on the same day due to illness. This was a major loss, because I lost two of the most significant people in my life. In spite of the difficult and sometimes unfair treatment, I have genuinely enjoyed being in the United States. In spite of the difficult and sometimes unfair treatment, I was able to endure and to manage finishing college from Oral Roberts University in 1989 and received a master’s degree 1993 from Dartmouth College.

Everyone has at least one special memory about the past; some are memorable; however, my past was not pleasant one. Sometimes I do not understand why thing happened to me the way they were. However, I still believe that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

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