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Baptist children’s home became Vietnamese refugee’s refuge

MAGNOLIA, Ark. (BP)–Chau Stone knows how precious life is because hers was in danger most of her life — until she found an island of refuge at the Arkansas Baptist Home for Children in Monticello.
Stone, born Chau (pronounced Cho) Troung, was a resident of the home from 1991-94. A native of Vietnam, her first brush with death came just minutes after she was born.
Abandoned at birth by her parents, an elderly couple found the baby girl wrapped in a cloth under a tree and covered in fire ants. The couple raised the infant as their own for 13 years.
At age 13, her adoptive parents told her about her birth family, including four brothers and, in America, a father. She contacted her brothers, who included her in their plans to flee Vietnam in a homemade boat with five other refugees.
The 10 set out into the Pacific Ocean. After 13 days, the group became lost and ran out of food and hope, Stone said. “I was going to die because I didn’t know how to swim, the boat was sinking and sharks were eating on our boat. We had no more food left, no compass, no more clothes, no nothing.
“I decided I was going to kill myself,” she continued. “I jumped in the water to commit suicide. I was praying to my God at that time, which was Buddha. When I jumped in the water and that minute, I felt a wing scoop me up and throw me back on the boat. I laughed because my god didn’t have wings, he had a big old fat belly and long ears.”
Just minutes later, she related, the group was found by another island of refuge in Stone’s amazing life — a Panamanian oil company boat whose crewmen fed the group, fixed their small craft and directed them to safety through Malaysian government refugee camps, yet another island of refuge, where they were interred almost two years.
The five siblings contacted their father, who lived in Blytheville, Ark. He agreed to sponsor the five at a cost of $70,000. First Baptist Church in Blytheville, she said, heard of the need and helped raise the funds to sponsor the children, who made it to Blytheville in 1990.
In America, though, she found life wasn’t much better. “I lived with my daddy for seven months and went through nothing but hell and back,” she recalled. “My daddy would abuse me and there was alcohol. I lived with five men in the house and I didn’t know how to speak English. … He didn’t think I was his kid. He brought me to this country to be a maid for the family.”
Another of her islands of refuge was among members of First Baptist Church. She recalled the names of families such as Johnson, Reynolds and Bray as those who supported her and witnessed to her.
Most notable, however, among that support group was the late Jewel Lee. “She was my adopted grandmother, who had helped my biological dad and witnessed to me about Christ.”
The abuse by her father, she noted, continued during that time. “In Vietnam, it’s normal for your mom and dad to beat you when they’re ready to.
“I had tried to get some help. I had told Jewel about the incidents, but she didn’t believe me,” Stone recalled. “She didn’t accept it very well because she knew my daddy for 12 years. She told me I needed to pray about everything. I was so sick of her telling me to pray and pray.”
The prayer as well as the ministry of Lee and others at First Baptist, though, had eternal implications — they led to Stone’s acceptance of Christ and “really enraged my dad.”
Lee was forced into a decision, Stone said, when she showed Lee bruises and Lee witnessed a beating. That incident led to Stone’s relocation to the Arkansas Baptist Home for Children at age 16.
It was a life-changing move for her. “At the children’s home, I learned how to walk closer to God,” she said. “They sent me to counseling at the children’s home. At first, I didn’t like to talk and Delores Grisham [her housemother] helped me open up.
“I look back and thank God that he brought me to the children’s home. It was always a home for me,” Stone said.
It was that close tie to the home that led her to study at the University of Arkansas at Monticello after high school graduation.
There she met her husband, Wesley, who is a biologist for a Magnolia, Ark., forestry consulting firm. Stone, a beautician at Hair Fashions in Magnolia, and Wesley have a 3-year-old daughter.
The couple and their daughter have lived in Magnolia only a few months and are continuing their search for a church. They presently are members of Second Baptist Church in Amity, Ark., where they previously lived.
Though she has made a career and a home in Magnolia, she continues to see a need for giving back to the place she once called home. She said she wants to become a sponsor for children living there in the future.
In the meantime, though, she finds ways to help out. “I don’t have money, but I go back and do little things like talk to the girls or cut hair for the kids.
“I have my up and down times,” she admitted. “Just like everybody else, I’m not perfect.”
Stone’s life journey continues to unfold, but even though she has made a home with her husband and daughter, she said she still remembers a place she once called an island of refuge — the children’s home.

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  • Russell N. Dilday