His Life

Vinh Ngoc Le counts his blessings.

From Hong Kong Le went to the Philippines, where he awaited permission to enter the U.S. With Christian friends in America, Le could have settled in a number of places. California, Florida and Texas were attracting large numbers of Vietnamese because of their warm weather and job opportunities. But most of his children were already in Colorado, and when Le learned that there were 10,000 Vietnamese living in a state with no Vietnamese Christian church, his mind was made up.

"My heart turned to this snowy state," he wrote in My Life, "and I felt something encouraging my soul, saying, 'Come to Denver. God is preparing a work for you there.'"

Le arrived in Denver on July 14, 1983. He was met at the airport by the children who had escaped Vietnam two long years before. Their tears and laughter lasted long after the other passengers had left the concourse.

Vinh Le was reunited with his children, but he was still a stranger in a strange land, with poor English skills, no job, no place to stay and few possessions. At first Le thought about continuing his work as a medical doctor in the U.S. and even took several of the required tests. But then he realized he had a more important calling.

When Le talked to other Vietnamese refugees who had been in this country longer than he had, he was surprised to learn they were unhappy. Parents who were floundering to learn a new language and working hard to earn a living found it difficult to maintain traditional family values. Some of their children were joining gangs, doing drugs, getting in trouble with the law.

The refugees had been yanked out of their ancient culture and set down in one where materialism was the key to fitting in. The Vietnamese who'd arrived before him seemed to have so much--cars, apartments, televisions--but their spirits were down.

Le wrestled with his choices. As a doctor, he would be successful, respected by those outside the Vietnamese community as well as by those within. "But God wanted me to do something new," he wrote. "An Anglo pastor told me, 'If you are not the person to bring the gospel to your people, who else will do it?' My heart was deeply touched by this counsel."

Le began searching out other Vietnamese Christians. "I found one family of six and some singles who became believers when they were in refugee camps." But Le didn't know what he could do for them other than offer moral support as a fellow believer, and he prayed for guidance.

It came in the form of a minister at Denver's Judson Memorial Baptist Church who met Le through a mutual friend. The minister had noticed that a large community of Vietnamese refugees had settled in the area around his church, but he didn't know how to reach out to them. He asked if Le would agree to lead the Vietnamese ministry at Judson.

Le had only been in this country a month. "I was amazed about this prompt answer from God. I accepted the invitation unconditionally, considering it a blessing for me."

On October 15, 1983, Le established what he believes was the first Vietnamese-language church in Colorado, the Vietnamese Evangelical Church, at Judson Memorial Baptist Church with Le as its lay minister. Soon its congregation numbered two dozen adults and children.

The next month, a large turkey arrived at the apartment where Le lived with his children. Sent by a member of the Judson congregation, the turkey was accompanied by a letter explaining the American tradition of Thanksgiving. A people seeking religious freedom had come to this land, where the natives had succored them in their hour of need.

It was a story Le could relate to.
As Le settled into his new life, he had two major objectives. One was to get his wife and two daughters out of Vietnam, a tangle of red tape that tried even his faith. The other was to establish independent Vietnamese missions.

At different times, several Anglo churches had taken in his congregation. But as at Judson, it always seemed that sooner or later, the Vietnamese congregation would be urged to integrate with the main body. Le felt a need for his people to hear the gospel in their own language. They had already been asked to give up so much.

Le wanted to let his people know that the message of Christianity--a message of love and hope--was for all people, not just those in the West. His faith in God had seen him through terrible times in Vietnam; he believed that faith in God could get these new Americans through rough times as they adjusted to their new home.

When a recent arrival from Vietnam would complain about some trouble, Le liked to tell a story about his early days here. In 1985 he had rented a two-bedroom apartment in Five Points. His children cried; they didn't want to move to an area with a reputation for gangs and killings. "But I encouraged them by reminding them of God's promises concerning His protection and care," Le says. "At last they all agreed to accept that shelter."

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