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God Was Their Deliverer

As a child, Juliet Liu Waite and her sisters would plead with their aunt to tell them the story of their escape from Saigon, South Vietnam. The story begins in the family home on the night of April 30, 1975. The family had just finished dinner when a loud explosion blew out the windows at the back of the house. The Fall of Saigon and the end of the 20-year-long war in Vietnam had begun.

Juliet’s grandmother had worked for 20 years as a translator for the US Department of Defense. Her American boss had assured her, “Don’t worry. We won’t leave without you. We’ll make sure you are taken care of.” But she had not heard from him in days. She did not know that he had already left the country, leaving her and her family behind without even a telephone call.

Juliet writes:

Now, with her family sprawled across the floor, their ears ringing from the blast, my grandmother decided: “It’s time to go.” Each packed a small bag of essential items. Outside the house, bombs were exploding, taking down shops, houses, and people. They ducked low, making their way from ditch to ditch, crawling toward the airport. It took them all night.

At dawn the family arrived at the airport security gates. Her grandmother showed her papers to the guards, telling them her boss’ name, saying that he had promised to get them out. The guard shook his head. “I’m sorry. Your name isn’t on this list.” The grandmother begged, “Please! I worked for the Americans. They will kill us all.” Her grandmother grabbed the gold jewelry and small items of value she had taken from the house. “Please,” she said. “Take all of this.” The guard took all of it, then let them through the gate.

Juliet writes,

My grandparents and uncles urged the girls to get on the first available chopper. “No!” my aunties and my mother cried. “We cannot separate!” But my grandfather insisted. “You cannot wait! We will be right behind you!” They finally agreed. In the chaos, my grandparents did not see which chopper they boarded, though they were pretty sure it was the one they were watching. Suddenly, the helicopter exploded as a missile tore through it. My grandparents looked on in horror, believing that they had just lost the four young women.

It would be another two weeks before they discovered they had been mistaken; the girls had boarded a different helicopter. The family waited for the following helicopters to bring their parents, but as they waited, no familiar faces appeared. Turning to strangers, they asked, “Please! We cannot find our parents!” People shook their heads. Some murmured that not all of the helicopters had made it. My mother and her sisters wept.

They boarded a ship that carried the women to Guam where one of my aunties stumbled across my grandfather. It was a miracle they found each other amid the chaotic crowds. When the whole family was reunited, they were overwhelmed at the mystery of this blessing. Eventually the family began to prosper. How had had the family’s story ended so well?

Far away, at a small Baptist church in Lafayette, Indiana, some Christians were convinced that God’s heart was for those nobody wanted. Together, they committed to sponsoring a refugee family. They raised money, found housing, and provided clothing and furniture to a strange family from a foreign land.

My mother’s family knew nothing about Jesus or the church when they lived in Vietnam. But they encountered a generosity they had never witnessed. “It wasn’t just the money and the things they provided,” my mother would say. “We saw in these people a kindness we had never seen before.”

This is also my story. I grew up knowing that I existed because a group of people believed that a merciful God was asking them to show mercy to those who needed it. I grew up knowing that this was a God worth trusting.

Editor’s Note: Juliet Liu Waite is now a co-pastor at Life on the Vine, a church in the Chicago suburbs.

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