NORMAN, Okla. (BP) — Tri Phan and his wife MyDung knew little about Christianity when he began his Ph.D. studies in 2004 in environmental engineering at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
They had just arrived from Vietnam, and only Tri spoke English.
After living in Norman for nearly a year, MyDung told her husband she wanted to find a class where she and their daughter Annie could learn English. A few days later, a postcard arrived from Bethel Baptist Church announcing an open house for its new children’s building.
“When I received the postcard, I decided to see if this church had any programs that would help my wife and daughter learn English,” Tri said. “I was making friends at the university but I was also anxious for my wife and daughter to make some English-speaking friends.”
Tri took his wife and daughter to Bethel’s open house. “Everyone was very friendly,” he said, “and even though my wife couldn’t understand the words they spoke, she liked the way they treated our daughter, so we decided to come back the next Sunday.”
That Sunday, after dropping Annie in the preschool department, Tri and MyDung were taken to a Bible study class for young adults that was studying the book of Daniel in the Old Testament.
“This was the first time my wife and I had ever been in a church,” Tri said, “and I’ll always remember my very first lesson from the Bible was an explanation of Daniel’s vision of the four beasts.”
Although the lesson from Daniel 7 might have been a difficult introduction to the Bible and could have discouraged some people from ever attending church again, Tri said the verses made him even more curious about Christianity, and he and his family began attending Bible study and worship services at Bethel.
The Bible study on Daniel ended within a few weeks; after that, the teacher began a series of lessons on the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament. “These PowerPoint studies on the Roman Road made the Gospel much clearer to me, but it wasn’t until much later that I really understood what faith in Christ really meant,” Tri recounted.
After he began attending church, Tri told his OU adviser, David Sabatini, about his desire to know more about Christianity. Sabatini, known on campus for his faith, began meeting with Tri every Monday in order to study the book of John together.
Two months later, encouraged by members of her Sunday School class, MyDung enrolled in an English-language class (ESL) offered by Bethel every Tuesday morning. Not only did she start learning English, she and her daughter soon began making friends.
“My ESL friends became so important to me,” MyDung said. “I wanted to be just like them because they were so kind and friendly.”
In May 2006, a year after being introduced to the Gospel for the first time, Tri gave his heart to Christ and was baptized. “I came to faith in Christ through the realization that Christ was the missing part in my life. I had always wanted to live a good life, but I was confused about how good was good enough, and I struggled to find the way to reach that goodness.
“I finally understood the Scriptures I had studied in Romans. I knew I was a sinner [Romans 3:23] and I knew I deserved to pay for my sin [Romans 6:23], but when I took the final step of asking for forgiveness and confessing my sins [Romans 10:13], that was the moment I became a believer.
“When I found Christ through the Bible studies and through the lives of Christians like Dr. Sabatini and our friends at Bethel, I came to the conclusion this is it. I’ve found what I’ve been looking for.”
Tri noted one of his favorite Bible verses: “I came to realize the truth of what Jesus said in John 14:6: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.’ Those words became real for me.”
MyDung’s journey of faith proceeded at a slower pace, especially since she found it difficult to learn English and had to leave her friends at Bethel in 2009 after Tri received his Ph.D. The family moved to Houston, where Tri went to work for Nalco Champion, an energy corporation specializing in the environment.
Soon after purchasing a home in suburban Sugar Land, Tri and his family became involved in a Vietnamese church in the area and, within a short time, Tri began teaching a Sunday School class.
Not long after the birth of their second child, MyDung also received Christ as her Savior. However, instead of being baptized in the Vietnamese church, she decided to return to Oklahoma so she could be baptized at Bethel Baptist Church. “I came to know Jesus because the first Christians I met were at this church,” she said, “and I wanted to proclaim my commitment in front of them.”
Today, Tri is the secretary of the board of directors of the Vietnamese church in Sugar Land. “We are serving and spreading the Good News to the Vietnamese American community in southwest Houston,” he said. “Looking back now, I realize the way God brought me and my family to Him is truly amazing.”