Everything is a gift from God
I was born and raised in South Vietnam in a family of ten. I was taught by religious sisters from different orders in Vietnam. The stories of the saints they shared at catechism classes inspired me. I learned choir singing and liturgical dances from them. Whenever I came to the sisters for a piano private lesson, I liked to stay and help them with little chores. I fasted and attended daily Mass right after school. Their communal life attracted me; I wanted to live like them, but it was not to be.
My family was planning to escape the North Vietnamese Communists who were taking over South Vietnam. My parents did not want their children to suffer under the harsh and unjust rule of the Communist government. They had already escaped it once, from North to South Vietnam in 1954. My parents wanted my family and relatives to be free to worship God, pursue a brighter future and have rights and responsibilities that are basic to every human being.
I was 14 when I escaped by boat with five family members to Thailand in 1979. Our escape was terrifying. We were robbed and harassed, and finally our boat was sunk by Thai pirates. Nine out of 45 on board died in the ocean. We were saved by Thai-Chinese fishermen, and lived in three different refugee camps for 11 months in Thailand. Life there was very difficult due to the fast-changing climate and the lack of necessary food, water, shelter, and security.
Growing up as a teenage refugee in the United States was challenging, but full of opportunity to grow in God’s love. My family was sponsored by a young Catholic family. They found a trailer for us after a month of living with them in their little house of four people. They contacted Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie to support our family. Four of us younger ones received a year and a half of special education from its parish school. Sisters Clare Vandecoevering and Anna Hertel, both SSMOs, were teaching there. Dad was offered a job as a custodian for the parish and school by Fr. Theodore Weber.
My 6-year-old sister and I helped Dad after school by dusting and mopping the classrooms. I also worked as Leo and Theresa Bauman’s housekeeper and babysitter whenever they needed me. Fr. Weber sold his used car to our family for a very reasonable price. St. Vincent de Paul delivered necessary household items and furniture. Ignatius and Ida Bauman graciously and generously included us as their extended family. They helped us find jobs, took us to special places, and worked with us on playing music and singing at Sunday Masses. Our relationship is still strong and close.
I went on living with my relatives, received a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. I volunteered singing, Vietnamese language, and catechism lessons to young Vietnamese-American children from different parishes.
My call to be a religious sister had been postponed a couple times. First, I had to leave Vietnam. Second, I had no English skills when Ida Bauman first took me to the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in 1980. But God’s plan for me was to return to the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in 1996 as an interpreter for a friend who was interested in religious life. Sr. Catherine Hertel invited my friend and me to come and visit the Sisters as often as we wished. The Sisters’ warm and welcoming spirit captured me. Their love and acceptance compelled me to join them and learn from them how to be a faithful and joyful servant of the Lord.
I am very grateful for the Sisters’ love and support. They are my mentors in community life, in education, and in pastoral services, but most of all in spiritual growth. They encouraged me to finish my master’s degree in education and make myself available to the community and to the parishes where I serve.
I love where I serve. I have served the Vietnamese-American communities from Southeast Asian Vicariate, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Aloha, St. Anthony in Tigard, St. Vincent’s in Salem, and St. Paul in Oregon. God is graciously merciful and full of compassion. He teaches me the values of emptying and receiving because he wants me to know that He is my all. Everything is a gift from God. All I need to do is to accept it as a gift with gratitude and responsibility.