His Life

Vinh Ngoc Le counts his blessings.

The sun was beginning its descent behind the mountains when Vinh Ngoc Le stepped out into the backyard of his Aurora home. He inhaled the crisp, clean air, then let it go like a prayer.

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.

"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.

Although he was an army medical officer, Le was allowed to have a private practice. He bought a clinic for about $30,000, a great sum of money in Vietnam. But as the war in Vietnam escalated, Le spent less and less time at the clinic and increasingly found himself coping with traumas caused by mines and bombs and bullets.

His country and his people were being battered. And as the peace talks in Geneva progressed, the South Vietnamese became increasingly concerned. "People discussed whether the USA would forsake South Vietnam," Le wrote. "Que sera, sera." In 1973 their fears were realized when the U.S. withdrew its forces.

In February 1975 the last convention of the National Vietnamese Evangelical Churches was held in Da Nang, where Le was now the commander of a large blood bank and working as a pediatric surgeon at a children's hospital established by a Christian missionary group. "I had the privilege of leading the choir in singing the Hallelujah Chorus by Handel," Le remembered.

But such peaceful moments were rare. The fighting was growing closer to Da Nang. Refugees flooded the streets as the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong overran other cities. Rumors circulated about the horrors being perpetuated by the victorious armies. Le began to prepare for the inevitable.

On March 27, 1975, with the Communist forces approaching the outskirts of Da Nang, Le put his wife and four youngest daughters on a plane to Saigon. "For me, as a commanding officer, I thought I should not leave my post without receiving an order from my commander."

That order never came. Two days after his wife left, the Communists entered the city and raised their flag. "Only at that moment did I try to escape from Da Nang with my two remaining children on a small ship," Le wrote. "But God did not let me go away."

The overcrowded ship, carrying seventy refugees, got out of port but soon lost power. "Many other refugee boats passed by," he remembered, "but nobody paid attention to us, even though we begged many to help us by SOS signals."

When darkness fell, they were still adrift. A storm blew in and huge waves crashed across the deck, tossing the ship like a toy. Le prayed, entrusting his life and the two children still with him to God. "My thought was that life and death were His. If He wants me to live, I will live for Him, and if He wants me to face death, I will be with Him right then. So either way was good for me."

When another Christian refugee fearfully asked, "Don't you think we'll all surely die?" Le replied by reciting Psalm 118:17-18: "We shall not die, but live and tell of the works of the Lord. The Lord has disciplined us severely, but has not given us over to death."

On the third day the storm abated, and the morning dawned with a dazzling display of light reflecting off the now-calm sea. It was Easter Sunday.

A fishing boat passed by, and the refugees beseeched its crew for help. The boat returned to shore. A short time later, a large motor boat flying a Communist flag and carrying soldiers came roaring toward the refugee ship. "As it was approaching our boat, a soldier of the former army, who was standing right behind me with his back leaning on mine, pulled out the pin of a grenade to commit suicide. There was a big explosion, and many people were killed," Le remembered.

"I saw here a hand, there a leg, over there intestines...Oh, what a terrible scene!"

But the worst was yet to come. Hearing the detonation, the soldiers in the Communist boat thought they were being fired upon and raked the refugee ship with automatic weapons. By the time they stopped shooting, only twenty people still lived--including Le and his two children.

The Communists ordered Le back to his job at the blood bank. A few weeks later, though, all of the medical officers were called together and "invited" to attend a special education camp to learn about their new government. They were told it would last a week, after which they would return to work "in a new spirit of understanding."

Le's wife and four of their children were still trapped in Saigon. He left his other two children with friends when he boarded the bus for camp. He had no idea when, or if, he would ever see any of them again. He could only hope and pray.

At the camp, Le and his colleagues found themselves joining a thousand former officers of the army of South Vietnam. The new arrivals were greeted with the news that the others had been at the camp for two weeks already and there had been no education programs, only daily demands to write down what they had done for their former government. "So everyone was sad and worried about his future," Le remembered.

As the days passed, the men were given nothing to study, just more forms and more lectures saying that they had not written enough. If they wanted to return to their jobs and families, they were told, they had to write more.

While at the camp, Le learned that his wife and four children had made it back to Da Nang. He was also introduced to the camp's director who, it turned out, was the nephew of a pastor friend of Le's who had since fled overseas.

As they talked about mutual friends, the camp director mentioned that he was in serious need of antimalarial and antidysenteric medications. Le offered a deal: If he could go home for the weekend, he would stop by his clinic and pick up the medicine. The director was pleased to accept, and this became the first of several weekend passes Le used to visit his family.

Two months after they'd arrived at the camp, however, the men were transferred to another, and Le's visits home ended. One night, as he was returning from a prayer meeting, Le stepped in a hole and broke his foot. He could not get up and had to be carried to the camp clinic, where he was outfitted with a cast and crutches.

A few days later the prisoners were told to get ready to move again. "A wretched atmosphere covered the camp. All my roommates were sad." Most of his comrades used the time to write letters, but Le prayed. He didn't want to leave his family even further behind, and he feared what this next camp would be like.

The day before the move, a Communist official came to see Le and asked about his foot. "He looked at me a while, then spoke softly, 'Mr. Le, we have decided to allow you to go back home because of your broken foot and because our investigation shows that you do not have any bloody debt with the people.'" Le was told to stay in his room when the others moved out.

Le has always believed that God intervened that black night when he stepped in the hole. If he had not broken his foot, he would have been moved with the others to a camp far away, a camp where many of his friends died of starvation and disease.

Back in Da Nang, Le prayed over what he should do next. A doctor friend who'd owned a clinic had tried to keep it for himself when the Communists took over the city; the clinic had been seized and the doctor jailed. Le had paid a lot of money for his own clinic. But after praying, he knew what he had to do.

Le went down to the new public-health offices and offered his clinic to the Communist government. Officials were pleased with his cooperation and gave him a job at a Da Nang hospital; they even gave him permission to see patients at his old clinic. Le accepted the hospital post on two conditions: that he be allowed to attend church on Sunday and that he not have to perform abortions.

In other parts of Vietnam, churches had been closed, pastors imprisoned and Christians persecuted. But in part through the gentle efforts of men like Le, the Vietnamese Christians in Da Nang were allowed to continue worshiping as they had before. "Why did they spare us?" Le wrote in My Life. "We have only one answer: 'As God opens a door for His Church to proclaim His word, no earthly power could shut it.'"

Still, his children were ridiculed for their beliefs by peers and harassed by Communist teachers. And when Le's son, Van, graduated from high school, the family was told he could not attend college because his father had worked for the former government. Le knew he had to take action if his children were to have a future.

His prayers were again answered one day in July 1981 when a patient asked if he could speak with Le privately. The patient said he was organizing an escape; the cost was $1,500 per person.

Le wanted at least his four oldest children, plus one adopted boy, to get out of the country. He had only $4,500, but the man was willing to make a deal: five for $7,000. Le had no idea where he would raise the additional money, but then God provided: A friend offered another $2,500.

Early one morning, an escape organizer came for the children. There was hardly enough time for tears, a last hug, and the admonition to trust in God and be good--and then they were gone. "We also put in His hands our lives and our two remaining daughters," Le wrote. There was no telling what the Communist officials would do when they learned of the children's escape. It was likely that his house would be confiscated and that Le might end up in jail.

For a month the Le family worried as they waited for word. Then a telegram arrived. The children were safe in Hong Kong and living in a refugee camp. The news that followed was equally good: The children had been taken out of the camp by Christian missionaries who knew their father. On January 23, 1982, they arrived in Colorado.

But back in Vietnam, the situation was bleak. The Communists were angry over the escape and told Le they planned to put him in a concentration camp. If he wanted to avoid punishment, he had to make incriminating statements about evangelical chaplains he knew. But Le refused to label his fellow Christians as traitors. "I boldly told them that we true Christians are to bring love, peace and help to others only. After many threats that did not frighten me, they finally gave up."

This time, God had help. After giving his clinic to the Communists, Le had begun treating many high-ranking officials and their wives. These patients now interceded on Le's behalf, and he was allowed to return to his family and work.

But by June 1982, Le had another escape plan going. He arranged to be transferred to Saigon, where he would be out from under the watchful eyes of Da Nang officials. Then, forging false travel papers, he went to North Vietnam and hid in the home of Christian friends for a month while he waited for his wife to join him.

She never arrived. Finally, a friend from Da Nang tracked Le down and gave him a letter from his wife. The Communists had intercepted his telegram asking her to join him; now the police would not allow her to leave the house. Le could not return to Da Nang without facing arrest. She urged him to go on without her and find their other children.

"On July 10th, 1982, the boat was ready to sail," Le recalled in My Life. "I was deeply sad as my wife and my two children could not join me. How great was my anguish then, but I could not give up the trip and turn back home any more."

Thirty-nine adults and children had paid $500 each to escape on a Chinese junk, an old ship that was barely seaworthy. Before the boat had even reached the open ocean, some of the refugees talked about turning back.

"It was Sunday," Le remembered. "Oh, what a beautiful day it was! We took a deep free breath. Tung [a Christian friend] and I sang gospel songs, then shared with the people our faith in God. Some listened to us but some seemed to deride us, saying, 'How can you guys sing in a situation like this?'"

A mile offshore that night, the boat struck a rock and water began pouring in. The refugees cried out in terror, and "everybody prayed to their own gods."

Sure that the boat was sinking, Tung jumped in the water, prepared to swim for it. Suddenly he began to laugh, and when the others looked over, they laughed as well. The water was only up to his chest. Le climbed over the side and urged the other men to join him so that they could push the boat to shore.

They landed on a Chinese beach where residents of a nearby village, as well as Chinese police, helped pull the boat to shore. The villagers wondered how they had made it that far in the decrepit vessel.

Later that night, a fierce storm hit and the boat was smashed to pieces. The refugees had no doubt that had they still been at sea, they would have drowned. Remembered Le: "Every deed God had done for us was quite marvelous."

The refugees were given work in a local fish-drying factory to earn their keep. The manager of the factory was particularly friendly. "He prepared room for all of us, helping us to have all our needs met. People from our group said to each other, 'Who is this man? Why is he so nice to us?'"

One night Le got the chance to talk to the manager and thank him on behalf of the refugees. The Vietnamese doctor mentioned to the Chinese factory manager that he was a Christian. Le was delighted and surprised when the manager said that he was, too.

Because the manager worked for the Communist government, he could not openly practice his faith. But there were 300 Christian families in the village, the manager told Le. He and the few other Christian refugees could attend services that Sunday if they got permission from the police.

Permission was granted. "I saw some very ancient Chinese Bibles that the owners had had to bury underground during the darkest times of the Communist revolution," Le wrote.

The refugees had been in the village twenty days when two more boats that had escaped Vietnam stopped to buy provisions. The boats were not full, and the Chinese police persuaded their crews to take on the other refugees. "We gave thanks to the police for their wholehearted help," Le recalled. "We also gave them all the watches and jewels we had."

From there, the trip to Hong Kong took twelve days. The refugees arrived on August 14, 1982. Within the week, Le and his fellow Christians had arranged a thanksgiving service that had officials shaking their heads. What did people with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the prospect of long months in a refugee camp have to be thankful for?

At the camp, Le busied himself organizing an evangelical mission. With the aid of the Salvation Army, he and fellow Christians ministered to the camp's 2,000 inmates, attending to their physical needs, organizing activities for children and offering English language lessons. For those seeking spiritual guidance, Le had a simple reply: God had brought them through war and danger; God would continue to look out for those who put their faith in Him.

It was a powerful message for those facing such an uncertain future. When Le arrived, there were eight Christians in the camp. When he left, there were more than 200.

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."

In the beginning, though, it looked like Le's children might be right. On the family's first day in Five Points, thieves removed the snow tires from Le's old car. The second day they took the battery. "Do not panic, kids, I comforted them. I put a sign on my car...'Friends, God loves you, and we love you, too.' After that, nobody disturbed us."

At the time, the Vietnamese Evangelical Church was holding its afternoon services in Aurora. But Le also liked to have a neighborhood house of worship. With no Baptist church nearby, Le and his family joined the Agape Christian Church at the corner of 25th and California streets ("Sanctuary," August 15) so that they would have a place to worship on Sunday morning.

At Agape, Le met the Reverend Robert Woolfolk, a leader of the black community. "As his music director had just left," Le remembers, "he asked me to take this position and my daughters to play the piano and organ."

One day Le told Woolfolk that he dreamed of studying theology. The reverend gave it some thought, then called the Denver Seminary and arranged a meeting between Le and the dean of students. "You need a full scholarship, don't you?" the dean asked Le. "So you will have to pray hard, because you have to get approval of all seven members of the leadership board."

Le did as he was told. Two weeks later a letter arrived notifying him that he had been accepted with a full scholarship to study for his master's of divinity. If he had not been willing to move to Five Points and trust in God's protection, Le would tell his listeners, he never would have met Robert Woolfolk, his friend and benefactor.

By 1988 Le's far-flung congregation had grown to the point where he decided he needed to hold services in two locations: Denver and Aurora, where he had bought a home.

That house was finally filled the next year, after the government of Vietnam allowed Le's wife and two youngest daughters to join him. When at last they were able to put their arms around each other again, Le knew exactly how long it had been: "Seven years, one month and seven days."

It was a good year all around. In August 1989 Le received his master's degree and was ordained. In September he opened two more Vietnamese missions--one in Boulder and one in Westminster, which would later move to Northglenn. Those were followed by a Colorado Springs outpost in June 1990.

Out of nothing had sprung five Vietnamese churches. And these churches did more than attend to the community's spiritual needs. They offered programs designed to aid Vietnamese refugees in their adjustment, including English instruction and classes to help them understand their new country. Church projects provided newcomers with places to live and job opportunities, as well as clothing, furniture and other household goods. There was even a program to help bring Amerasians to this country. Most of them children of U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese mothers, they were not accepted in Vietnam. The Vietnamese Evangelical Baptist Churches in Colorado--as Le's organization was now known--brought these children over and even tried to locate their fathers. Sometimes the men already had wives and families and didn't want to meet their Vietnamese offspring. But others were happy to be reunited with children who now often were grown, with families of their own.

With Le running five churches and assorted programs, his friends and family wondered if he was spreading himself too thin. "My answer was, 'This is the Lord's business, not mine. I am just a tool, ready for his use.'"

Two years after he finished writing My Life, publishing it himself in a modest booklet, Vinh Le keeps adding new chapters. The ranks of his Vietnamese missions have grown by two more churches--one in Denver and another in Englewood--with a total congregation of about 500. Le no longer ministers to them alone; he's been joined by four other Vietnamese pastors and is solely responsible only for the Aurora and Englewood congregations.

Le is finishing up his doctorate through Golden Gate Baptist Seminar in San Francisco. All six of his children have attended or are attending college; they are an American success story. Two daughters have married and moved to Atlanta, but Van leads the choirs at his father's churches, and the rest of the children sing or play the organ there.

Le is a happy man. Even when he describes the darkest moments of his past, he can hardly speak a sentence without laughing. The dragons have been vanquished. There are no obstacles that cannot be conquered by faith.

The next mountain he wants to move is back in Vietnam, where two of his sisters still live and where he hopes to establish a college of theology. Named after an Old Testament king who returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem, the project is currently mired in bureaucracy; the Communist government is quick to ask for money but slow to live up to promises.

"But Lord willing," Le says, "someday we will return--not to stay, but to leave others to spread the gospel."

In this country, Le's seven churches still meet in borrowed spaces at other churches or in civic buildings. But even that will end soon. With the aid of fellow Baptists at Anglo churches, Le's congregation plans to raise a new church building of its own on two acres of land already purchased in Montbello.

And when Vietnamese Christians from across the Front Range gather at the Denver mission for this year's Thanksgiving feast, they will find more reason than ever to give thanks.

"Oh, yes!" Le says. "Praise the Lord!"

Visit www.westword.com to read Steve Jackson's "Sanctuary.

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