The unknown God
A true story from a Vietnamese refugee
Despair was in my heart. We had reached the shore too late and the sampan left without us. We had left Saigon in plenty of time, but our bus was delayed. Now we had been abandoned.
I searched my mind wildly, wondering what to do. Would the sampan come back for us? Was it safe to wait?
After Communism had swept through our country in 1975, we lost our freedom, and rice paddies became battlefields. Farmers could no longer raise crops, and food shortages brought nationwide suffering. The government banned imports. Businesses collapsed and unemployment abounded. Fear was ever present.
I had made up my mind to flee Vietnam with my five-year-old boy. Perhaps I could find work in Malaysia—but now the sampan had gone.
I waited an hour. Should I go home? But what could we return to? I had spent all my money on this one hope. I had no other hope. There must be someone who would take pity on us. Silently, I called out over and over in the hour that followed. I cried for help.
Shortly after midnight, the sampan returned.
Had someone really heard me? At 5am we managed to slip out to sea, 48 of us in a 16m boat. Each of us had about two square feet of space to call our own, day and night. Would my son and the other children endure? Two days later, our motor broke down. The owner could not repair it and took the plastic curtain, our only overhead shelter and used it as a sail.
Three days later came the storm. Rain and waves poured into the boat. Most of the night I clung to my son as our craft rocked under the fierce wind. We expected the boat to break apart. Morning came and the storm was gone.
It was 10 days since we had left Vietnam. Food was gone and the water supply was almost exhausted.
We sighted a large ship. One 18-year-old boy tore off his red jacket and waved it high in the air. Others ripped off bright-coloured shirts and pants and waved them as the ship came closer, but it passed by without even acknowledging us.
Our water slowly ran out and death stared us in the face. Again I found myself calling out for help. Could someone hear me? He had answered before. That was why I laughed with joy when the rain came. He had heard. We used our plastic sail to catch the rainwater and collected enough to fill two large water cans. We could live.
In the days that followed, at least 30 ships passed by. Again we ran out of water. My baby son could not understand why he could not have a drink—he saw water everywhere.
One man did try the seawater and became sick. A tiny baby was so thirsty she cried day and night. In desperation, her mother gave her a small boy’s urine to drink. Again, I called for help. Again, the rain came in time to save our lives. Who was the One who heard my call? We had now been 20 days without food. When the skipper yelled, “Wake up—a ship!” we were so weak we could hardly move. The vessel had picked up our radio message for help. But it was a Russian warship and we groaned.
I cried as we were taken aboard. How had we survived 30 days—20 without food? I knew it was the power of that someone I had called on.
The Russian captain ordered us a big meal and suggested we return to Vietnam. We lied loudly, “We are Communists; the enemy is in Vietnam!” To our dismay, he proposed taking us to Russia with him. We begged him to land us in Hong Kong. Eventually he agreed.
We were placed in a Hong Kong refugee camp where each Thursday night a Christian missionary came and talked.
“Now you’re safe after many dangers,” the man said. “But who saved you?” He then explained about God and His Son Jesus Christ, who came to earth to take the punishment for our wrongdoing. “Christ loves you and He was caring for you,” he said. I was excited. “That’s the God I was praying to,” I suggested. “I knew He was there answering my prayers, but I didn’t know His name.”
“Listen to what God says to you,” the missionary continued, reading from his book. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45:22) I was convinced. I wanted to know more about the true God.
“Will you let Him rule in your life and save you?” the man asked.
At once, I agreed. I was given a Bible, and a Chinese pastor invited us to a house fellowship. He talked about God’s love for us, a love so great it brought His Son to earth from heaven, to fulfil God’s legal demands that wrongdoing be punished by dying on a cross. The Lord Jesus laid down His life for wrongdoers, for each of us.
“He has promised that those who believe on Him will never perish,” the pastor said. “Jesus gives everlasting life.” Such love pulled at my heart, but there were many things I didn’t understand. “How could God’s Son become a man?” I asked “And why did He have to die and shed His blood?” He patiently showed me from the book of the Genesis that God originally created a perfect, spotless man, but man rebelled against Him.
“When Adam disobeyed God, he became separated from his Creator. He died spiritually,” the counsellor told me. “Ever since, human beings have been born into the world as wrongdoers. We are all dead in our wrongdoing and need new life from God.”
Now I understood. Now I knew I was a wrongdoer. “The good news,” the man said, “is that God’s Son Jesus took the punishment for our wrongdoing. When Jesus died on the cross, He was dying in your place. When He came out of the grave alive, it was so you could partake of His life and live forever. But you must trust the Lord Jesus as your substitute if you want Him to forgive you and cleanse you. Do you understand?”
I nodded again. Now I really understood.
“Are you ready to do that?” he asked. “Oh, yes!” I shouted. I bowed my head and then whispered: “Jesus, I love you. Thank you for taking my place and my wrongdoing. Come in and have control of my life now.”
Joy filled my heart for knowing God, because He had saved me twice! But when I thought of my mother, I cried. She had continually gone to the temple and burned incense to idols. Each time, she came away empty inside. Although she tried to appease her gods, she never knew the joy of having her sins forgiven or the peace only Christ gives.
It was not too late for others in my family, however. My son accepted Jesus as Saviour soon after I did. Two of my nephews came from Vietnam and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. As we read God’s Word, we find answers to our questions. I am finally right before my once-unknown God. My burden of sin has been lifted and we are no longer strangers.This true story again illustrates the efficiency of Paul’s method of evangelizing a society which has no basic knowledge of who God is.