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Le sat down in a patch of grass, took out a pad of paper and started to write. "It is a very quiet evening," he began on that October evening in 1994. "Autumn and its scenery come lightly to my soul with much calmness and restfulness. I sit here, my eyes closed, wandering my memory back to my early childhood."
Le, a small man with a face the shape of a full moon, paused to let the images play out in his mind. His grandfather preaching the gospel. His mother on her knees, praying. Then he began to write again.
"Some people say they can even remember things that happened when they were two or three years old, but for me, my mind cannot go so far. My mother told me one day, 'Everybody has one life to live. If you can feel good and smile with yourself when you look back on your past, realizing that you had done things that are beneficial and constructive, that you can share with others without shame but with delightfulness, you are to be content and give thanks to the Lord.'"
Le had tried to live his life, 56 years to that point, by his mother's benediction. First as a doctor in his native Vietnam, then as a minister to his displaced people here in Colorado. And he had much to be thankful for: the safety of his family, their new home, the five churches he had founded.
Although he'd started keeping a journal in 1983, while he was in the Philippines waiting for permission to fly to the United States to join four of his children, it wasn't until ten years later, when he began working on his doctorate in divinity, that he put his past down on paper.
Now, with the sun setting behind the mountains and the light fading, Le wrote: "I am going to write down the history of My Life."
That Vinh Ngoc Le became a Christian at all can be attributed to drugs--or an act of God, as Le would describe it in his booklet, My Life. Like most people in Vietnam, his family had been Buddhist up until the late Twenties. In fact, Le's grandfather, Khanh Van Le, was a respected Buddhist leader in their village in North Vietnam.
But in 1925 Khanh Van Le was arrested by French authorities--the colonial power ruling Vietnam--for smuggling opium. He was sentenced to three years in prison and his property was confiscated. "He realized that his religion was meaningless and could not help him in any way," Le wrote. "He decided to find the truth when he got out of jail."
Khanh Van Le was released in 1928 and "returned home in shame with a cold welcome from the people of his village," his grandson related. "Only a friend of his, Nguyen Thien Dao, recently converted to Christianity, went to see him frequently. He helped him rebuild his life and shared with him his new faith and hope in Jesus.
"Like a tree in a dry land for a long time, my grandfather felt something fresh and soothing that quenched the thirst of his anguished soul."
Khanh Van Le became a Christian, giving up alcoholic beverages, smoking, gambling and drugs. "He declared to all people that he found the truth," Le wrote. "He destroyed all his idols and burned the altar."
He began going from house to house preaching the gospel and was appointed a lay pastor at a newly formed church. But the truth, as Khanh Van Le now saw it, had a price. His wife, children and other relatives, as well as most of his friends, deserted him. Only his youngest son, Nam Le, converted to Christianity.
Several years later, a young woman named Loi Thi Tran heard Khanh Van Le preach and became a Christian. She soon married Nam Le, and together they had eight children--four girls and four boys, including Vinh Ngoc Le, born on June 15, 1938.
Shortly after Vinh's birth, his father joined the French army and left to fight the Japanese. It was a perilous time, even for those who stayed behind. "My country was under the Japanese yoke," Le wrote. "They dominated people with their swords. With those who were rebellious against them and were arrested, they did not put them in prison nor bring them to court but cut them vertically in two before people's fearful eyes. With those who committed theft or robbery, they cut off their hands and feet."
Young Vinh and his family were on their way home from church one day when they saw two Japanese soldiers grab a beggar. He turned out to be a Frenchman in disguise. As the horrified family and other passersby looked on, the man was beheaded on the spot.
No one had heard from Nam Le since he joined the army. "We thought he was killed in action," Vinh Le wrote. "My mother had to raise the children. My grandfather, even in his seventies, tried to help Mom cope with this hard situation. He went fishing every night. During the day, he planted rice, corn, vegetables and fruit trees. My brothers assisted him in watering the garden and plucking weeds. My sisters helped Mom to raise domestic animals, such as chickens and pigs.