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Vietnamese boy becomes a believer

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (BP)–“God, please let my brother be waiting in the bay when we pass by.”

Though not a Christian, 12-year-old David* offered up this prayer the day he and Tom*, his 16-year-old brother, were trying to escape Vietnam.

It was 1980 and hundreds of Vietnamese refugees — known as “boat people” — were fleeing the country in search of a better life. David’s mother used her life savings and sold her wedding ring to make the journey possible for her two sons.

The brothers left their small town in South Vietnam to board a boat bound for Thailand. As the crowd jostled to get onboard, the boys got separated. When David realized Tom was not on the boat, he begged the captain to wait.

Awhile later the captain told David, “I have to pull out. I’ll circle the bay one time, and if he’s waiting when we pass, I’ll pick him up. Otherwise, we have to go.”

God answered David’s prayer — Tom was waiting in a small boat in the bay.

David prayed again when the first of three pirate ships attacked the small boat of refugees. The pirates stole money and jewelry. David told God, “If You will bring us safely to land, my life will be Yours.”

God once again answered David’s prayer.

“The Lord sent a huge merchant ship,” David said. “It appeared out of nowhere and headed straight for us,” scaring the pirates away.

A second band of pirates attacked — stealing food and water, and damaging the engine beyond repair — but no lives were lost. When a third gang of pirates came onboard, they took pity on the refugees and pointed them toward shore. United Nations personnel spotted the group, picked them up and took them to a transit center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

When they arrived unharmed, Tom reminded David, “You need to pray. You need to thank God for keeping us safe.”

The brothers soon were transferred to a U.N. Refugee Processing Center in Bataan, Philippines, where they lived for seven months before they were allowed to immigrate to the United States. Baptist missionaries working at the center provided vocational training.

While he was living at the refugee center, David found the God to whom he’d been praying.

“Even though I’d been through so much, I still felt empty and alone,” David said. “I had no joy. Then I prayed to receive Christ, and that was the beginning of a change in my life.”

He was baptized in a stream at the refugee camp with 100 others.

Sometime after moving to the United States, David set two goals for himself. The first was to go back to Vietnam to share the Gospel with his paternal grandfather. The second was to return to the Philippines as a missionary at the refugee camp.

Ten years later, after graduating from high school and college, David’s second goal was realized. He was appointed as a missionary working at the Refugee Processing Center in Bataan.

But his dream of witnessing to his grandfather still weighed heavily on his mind. Without telling anyone, David took a vacation to Vietnam to find his grandfather. It was his first trip home since age 12. When he arrived, he learned his grandfather had died two years earlier.

“I was devastated,” David said. “I had come all this way to share the Gospel with my grandfather, and he was dead. I had a lot of questions for God about that.”

But God spoke to David through his pain.

“I felt God say to me, ‘Whether or not your granddaddy heard the Gospel is for me to know. But the rest of your relatives don’t know, and that is why you’re here.'”

David began making frequent visits to see his family and share the Gospel.

“After three or four trips to Vietnam, I began to see some fruit among my relatives,” he said.

Now David serves as a Christian worker among the Vietnamese living in floating villages near Siem Reap, Cambodia. In 2006, David baptized the first believer in the village of Chong Khneas. Another man came to faith in a neighboring village in March 2008.

David continues to build relationships with the villagers so he can share the hope he found in Jesus Christ.
*Names changed. Tess Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board.

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  • Tess Rivers