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"We took turns reading the Bible, and Grandpa shared with us God's promises that encouraged us to trust Him more. Mom tried to keep her peaceful mood, but I could see her brokenheartedness while she spent time with the Lord in prayer."
Coming home from school one day, Vinh Le called out for his mother but got no answer. Suddenly afraid, he ran to her room and opened the door. His mother was on her knees, reciting the Lord's Prayer.
Later that evening, as she was preparing a meal, his mother explained how she was able to deal with her fears through prayer: "I don't know where your dad is now, but God stays with us, protects us and feeds us."
Fifty years later, Le could still hear her voice and see her praying, and wrote: "I realize how courageously she faced that dark time. My mother did not leave any inheritance to me, but she gave me an example which is so precious in my life. Whenever I have a problem, I remember her...and I set my mind on God and pray, letting Him take away my load."
During that same dark time, a strange thing happened. Le and his brothers were returning from school when the weather began to change. "It was thundering and lightning, and the wind began blowing harder and harder. Suddenly, we saw three very big, long animals--two black and one white--coiling and playing in the clouds."
The boys thought they looked like dragons and ran home, frightened. They told their grandfather what they had seen. Perhaps they were an omen, he replied. In the years that followed, Vinh Le sometimes thought about that. His life was so full of turmoil, though, it was difficult to select any single thing as being the possible inspiration for the dragon vision. He wondered if the clouds simply depicted the enduring struggle between good and evil.
In 1945, as the war was winding down, Vinh Le's grandfather came down with tuberculosis. His death hit the seven-year-old hard; the old man was the only father he had ever known. But he took comfort in the hundreds of people who showed up at the funeral of Khanh Van Le--a former opium smuggler once shunned by even those he loved--and in knowing that his grandfather was now with his God.
The Japanese were defeated and expelled from Vietnam, and the country was handed back to the French. But the peace was short-lived. Vietnamese patriots, many of them young men and women students, formed a revolutionary army called the Viet Minh. On December 19, 1946, they began their long struggle to wrest power from the French. The Viet Minh controlled the countryside by night; the French controlled it by day. The common people, including the Le family, were often caught in the middle.
In 1947 they learned that the father they had not heard from in nine years had survived the war and was living in Saigon. He wrote them a letter, describing his experiences in many theaters of war. At the end of the struggle he had parachuted back into Vietnam, only to be captured and jailed as a member of the French army by the Viet Minh. During one of the many truces, the Viet Minh had turned him over to the French, and he'd taken a job with a railroad company.
He'd been looking for his family, but because of poor communication between the northern and southern parts of the country, he'd been unable to get any information until an old friend had located him. But news of Nam Le's survival was tempered by his admission that he was now living with another woman.
"Sometime in 1948," Le wrote, "Mom got a letter from Dad saying that he was seriously sick and wished to see her. He also apologized to Mom and asked for forgiveness."
Nam Le sent his wife a plane ticket to Saigon. At first she did not want to go, but members of her church persuaded her to reunite with her husband. Several months later the couple sent for their children, who left North Vietnam on board a ship.
"When the ship entered Saigon harbor, my heart was palpitating," Le recalled. "I could not stop thinking about a man that I was to call Daddy." As the children descended the gangplank, a man in his forties stepped forward and called them by name. Vinh Le ran into his father's arms.
In Saigon, Nam Le and his family stayed active in the church. As a teenager, Vinh Le discovered a gift for music; he played the organ and piano, translated English-language gospel songs into Vietnamese and eventually composed more than 200 hymns.
When he finished high school in 1957, Le wanted to go to college to study agriculture, but his family was too poor to send him. So he prayed.
Soon afterward, on a whim, he took a premed exam. He did so well that he was offered a scholarship to attend college--and become a doctor.
In 1962 Le married Thu Mai Tran. They soon had a son, Van Ngoc, who would be followed by five sisters. The couple looked forward to the day when Le would be a successful physician. When he graduated from medical school in 1966, he was immediately inducted into the army in South Vietnam and the family moved to Da Nang.