When I was a boy if you were to ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would have said, “I want to be a monk, a Buddhist monk.” I was born in Vietnam. My family was Buddhist, for as long as I could remember. My parents were Buddhists. My grand-parents and their parents were Buddhists. Everyone I knew at the time, as far as I knew were also Buddhists.
I did not know anything about Christianity growing up in Vietnam. The only memory I had of Christianity as a little boy was when a family friend took me to see a manger scene at a Catholic Church one Christmas season. That was the extent of my exposure to Christianity.
In 1979, my father took our family onto a little fishing boat with about 90 other people and we headed out to sea. About a week later, we landed on the shores of Malaysia where we were taken to a refugee camp in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. There are nine of us in my family, so we were assigned a living space of approximately 6 feet by 12 feet in one of the many barracks in the camp. We joined thousands of other refugees waiting for an opportunity to immigrate to a new country to begin a new life.
It was there, in that insignificant tiny 82 square feet piece of real estate that my life changed forever. It was there that someone came and placed a Vietnamese NT Bible for my parents to read. Neither my father nor my mother knew who it was who left that Bible there for us. But that did not matter.
It did not take long before my mother picked it up and started reading. She could not put it down. For the first time in her life she had found a book that was able to answer many of the questions she had had about life, death, and spiritual things. It did not take long before tears rolled down her face because of what she read.
Mom later told me that every spiritual question she ever had was answered by the Bible. So for the next few months that we remained in the refugee camp, she read the NT many times over. As mom read, she also shared what she was reading with me and my six siblings. I was mesmerized by what Jesus taught and did.
A few months later with the help of my aunts and uncles in the U.S., we were sponsored to come to America by a Lutheran church in Minnesota. So, in February, 1980, we boarded a plane in Kuala Lumpur and headed to Minneapolis to begin a new life that we had been longing for.
When we arrived we were given a three-bedroom house to live in, lots of clothes to wear, and a refrigerator filled with food. But most importantly, the church also fed us spiritual food – the gospel. Every week a lady from the church came over and taught the kids English, along with a Bible lesson. Then on Sundays a couple from the church came and took us to church where we continued to learn about Jesus Christ and his gospel.
We did not stay in Minnesota that long, but the seed had been sown and watered faithfully, both by my mother and this church. The fruit of all that faithful labor came to fruition one night in Portland, Oregon when I was watching a Jesus movie on T.V. For the very first time in my life I understood that Jesus died for me. The stories that I had been told and fascinated by became real to me that night. I understood that Jesus did all that he did and went to the cross for me. I understood for the first time that he took the punishment that I deserved.
That night I went to my room and thanked Jesus for all that he had done for me. And, for the next few months whenever there was an altar call at church I responded to it. I repented of my sins and asked Jesus to forgive me over and over again. I think it was after about four responses to an altar call that someone explained to me that I did not need to do it anymore. From that moment on, Jesus was everything to me. My love for him was second to none. All I wanted to do was to live for him and his glory. I was about thirteen or fourteen at the time.
Today, by God’s grace both my parents, all of my six siblings, and I are born-again. My parents retired early to focus all of their time and energy on spreading the gospel in Vietnam. I started taking classes at Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN) in 1992 and began serving the church vocationally since 1997. So, if you were to ask me today, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my answer is, “I want to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)