Happy Year of the Dragon!
I’m currently in California promoting our Refugee Alumni Network at a series of Vietnamese New Year celebrations, called Tet Festivals. This past weekend, I celebrated Tet in San Jose and now I’m headed south to the country’s largest Tet celebration in Garden Grove.
At the festival in San Jose, I was blessed again and again with the stories of former refugees. The words, “you resettled me” or “a Lutheran church sponsored my family” have really meant a lot to me. One man said to me, “my caseworker’s name was Inez, can you help me find her?”
A former refugee ran up to me and introduced himself as Hung Le, and said that he and his brothers, Cuong and Tuan, had been resettled by LIRS in 1975 and sponsored by Our Savior Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Hung said he arrived on a Saturday, went to church on Sunday, and on the following Monday he and his brothers were camp workers at Lutheran Wilderness Canoe Base in the Boundary Water Canoe Area, 300 miles north of Minneapolis. His eyes lit up with delight as he recalled working at the camp and learning to love the wilderness of Minnesota. A few years later, Hung and Tuan became camp staff as guide counselors.
Hung and his brothers had been raised scouts, and their father had been a scout commissioner in Vietnam before the war. During the war, the scouts played an important role in keeping order in the refugee camps. As a scout, one of Hung’s duties was to remove the deceased from the war zone areas. Once they were safely in Minnesota, in their early 20s, they had made their father proud by building the first Vietnamese Boy Scout troop in the state. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, they moved to Silicon Valley to begin their careers, meanwhile continuing to dedicate their lives to scouting. Today, Tuan oversees the largest Vietnamese-American scout groups in the country, with a total of 40 Boy and Girl Scout troops and more than 1,700 boys, girls, and adult leaders. In 2011, Hung and his brothers took their troop for a camping trip to northern Minnesota, to share with them those great memories they had made so many years earlier.
Hung invited me to spend New Year’s day with his family and his two brothers, Cuong and Tuan. We went to the Buddhist temple where he celebrates each year, and then out to lunch where he introduced me to fried rice noodles with seafood on top. I sat at a table with three generations of his family, who now number almost 40 in the United States, and was in complete awe of what Hung has managed to do in 37 years. He brought over his parents and his siblings, who now all have families of their own. He’s built a successful career and sits in a management position at a major tech company. He has spent every free waking hour ensuring that the new generation of Vietnamese-Americans can earn their scout badges.
I asked Hung’s 94 year old father what is his secret to a long life. His mom kept chiming in that she does Tai Chi and that she eats lots of fresh vegetables. Finally, his dad spoke up. “Scouting” was his answer. As an outsider, I can only imagine that the love and support of his family has also contributed to his long and joyful life. The family lives in close proximity and all eat dinner together twice per month. Once separated by war, never knowing if they’d see one another again, they now can sit at the same table to break bread. It reminds me of why LIRS believes so strongly in reuniting families.
When I was standing in the Buddhist temple next to Hung, as he was praying to his ancestors, I kept having the same thought cycle through my prayers: Whether it’s in the form of Buddhist karma or Christian grace, when you show love to others you receive it back ten fold. Hung welcomed me into his family because LIRS had welcomed him into ours.
Lauren Rymer has dedicated her career to serving immigrants and refugees on behalf of the church. She began her career with Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida and has been with LIRS for the past 8 years. She attends Breath of God Lutheran Church in Baltimore, MD.
Read more about Hung’s story from perspective of his Lutheran sister: [TuscaroraNews]