Farewell Saigon

By: Nguyen Xuan Tien

Nguyen Xuan Tien, originally from Vietnam and educated in our Australian seminary, had his experience in Japan. Here he bids farewell to the people of Takatsuki Parish in Osaka where he found the acceptance that meant so much to him because of his personal journey which he now shares with us...

When I was just fifteen years old, about four years after the Communist took over South Vietnam. My father tried to get the whole family to escape from the communist, but he could not. We were cheated by some of the escape organizers and we lost almost all of our money.

From then on, my father tried to save money, but this time we could only go only one by one. I had been suffering from asthma for five years my parents brought me to the different kinds of Eastern and Western doctors to no avail so my father hoped that if I could go overseas, my sickness might be cured with the medicine available there. It was my school’s summer holiday so I did not want to go. I did not want to leave my family and friends.

Caught and Life Spared
But my father said go, so I did, sure that I could make it. The escape failed. I was caught and put in prison. I was so scared and did not know why God let this happen to me. I was afraid I might be shot. As I was led by several soldiers with guns along the beach, I was even more sure I would die when I saw a dead body of man who had just been shot by the soldiers. Thank God, I was not killed.

Lonely Cell
After a few days in prison, I started to feel lonely, more frightened, sad, homesick, worried and angry with my father. I really needed someone to be with me and help me. I needed to be accepted. There were about 70 people in the 50-meter-square cell but I could not trust anyone except one person, because I heard that the guards had put spies in the cell. I never met him before although we were in the same escape group. He told me that he was a former seminarian. I trusted him then.

Comes a Friend
He accepted me, cared for me, supported me, secretly advised me when I was going to be interrogated, and led me into prayer. We used to pray quietly together every day. That helped me to keep going. Now when I look back, I ask myself, “Did God send him to me?” I believe God did. After three and half months, I was released! Later on I discovered that the asthma had disappeared. My family and I did not know why. My father’s hope was fulfilled, not overseas, but in prison, I did not go back to school. Somehow I hated the whole system and did not have the will to study anymore. I stayed home until the age of eighteen, and my father taught me how to repair musical instruments. At this time, I was forced to join the army. I did not want to join because I would be sent to Cambodia to fight and I might be killed.

‘Shipwrecked’ in Malaysia
My father did not want me to join either, so he tried to help me to escape for the second time with my three younger brothers. This time was more frightening and I worried more than I did the first time because my brothers were with me. I did not know what would happen if we all were  put into prison. After thirteen days in rough seas in a boat with 49 people, we landed safely in Malaysia. I was happy that I had made it. I was free. But that feeling did not stay long. I felt very sad as I did not know if I would be able to see my family again. That was painful. Once more, there was a yearning to be accepted, as my brothers and I were on our own in the strange land.

Nightmare Over
We spent nearly a year in a refugee camp. There was joy, happiness, worries, hopelessness, doubt, peace, support, hardship, homesickness mixed emotions! We all survived. I still remember the day when our names were called over the loudspeaker. We were to be transferred to Kuala Lumpur and from there to Australia. Could it be true? I cried in joy. God heard my pleas and granted my prayer. We were accepted by Australia. My hopes and dreams were coming true. We would meet our sister and brothers again in Australia and our future would be brighter, free and hopeful.

Great Reunion
We arrived in Australia on June 10, 1983. It was my first experience of winter and it was really cold! The cold seemed to go right through me. My T-shirt and thongs were not enough to keep me warm. I met my sister, my brother, my new brother – in law and my little nephew, Vinh. We all cried. We had been separated for three years. I told them many stories about my family the escape, the camp, etc., all night long.

After a few days of enjoying our reunion and new life in Australia, I had to go to hospital like the other refugees for a complete health check. I was examined by the doctor and everything was ok! The next day my sister got a telegram from the hospital requesting me to come back to the hospital immediately. I was a bit scared as I did not know what was wrong.

There was a mark like a burn on my right arm. I had reported it on the paper but the doctor forgot to check it out. There was no feeling in that particular spot. The doctor used a needle to check all over my arm to see if there was a loss of feeling anywhere else. It was painful! The doctor told my sister that I had leprosy. My sister was shocked. So was I! The doctor also said that I would have to stay at the hospital for further examinations.

That was it! God, You brought me to Australia and now why have You brought me to this place? At the time I knew very little English. There was no way that I could talk to anyone. I was kept in a big isolation room by myself. There was a little window near the top for circulating the air but not for viewing outside. I wondered if anyone could see me. I was very lonely. This might be the end of all my hopes and dreams in the First World country. I would be separated from my family. I was dying to see someone, to be visited, and to be accepted. I was isolated and felt hopeless. There was a yearning to be accepted once more. It was very difficult to take this situation.


Trust – Returns
But after a while I began to trust God and put everything in His hands. God created me so He will take care of my life. After a nightmare of four long days, I was allowed to go home. The doctors could not find out what I had. It is still a mystery. I was happy and joyful to become alive again, to have all my hopes and dreams back again. And the happiest thing was able to live with my family again.


From there Tien went on to join the Columban Missionaries. He did two years in Japan and now back to Australia. He hopes soon to be ordained and continue his mission career as priest.


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