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The amazing story of Hien Pham

Editor’s Note: Hien Pham was the speaker at the Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast on May 6. 

In Vietnam in 1971, an interpreter, Hien Pham, was raised as a devout Buddhist. One day he was given a Bible by an American soldier, and he was interested and had questions, so he found a Christian church that could explain about Jesus Christ and His great love for him.

Hien believed and accepted that Jesus died for him, and he became an energetic, devoted Christian. He worked closely as a translator with the American military forces, purely as a civilian. He knew English so well that he was able to be of immense help to them. By virtue of that same strength, he also worked with the missionaries. But within four years, Vietnam fell to the Communists, and Hien was arrested.

Accused of aiding and abetting the Americans, he was in and out of prison for several years. During one long jail term, the sole purpose of his jailers was to indoctrinate him against the West, and especially against democratic ideals and the Christian faith. He was cut off from reading anything in English and restricted to Communist propaganda in French or Vietnamese.

Hien began to buckle under the onslaught. Maybe, he thought, I have been lied to. Maybe God does not exist. Finally, he made up his mind. He determined that when he awakened the next day, he would not pray anymore or ever think of his Christian faith again.

The next morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines of the prison. As he cleaned out a tin can filled with toilet paper, his eye caught what he thought was English printed on one piece of paper. He hurriedly washed it off and slipped it into his hip pocket, planning to read it at night. Under the mosquito net that night, he pulled out a small flashlight and read at the top corner, “Romans Chapter 8.” He began to read:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?…

….Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:28, 31, 32, 35, 37-39)

Hien wept. He knew there was not a more relevant passage of conviction and strength for one on the verge of surrendering to the threat of evil. He cried out to God, asking for forgiveness, for this was to have been the first day in years that he had determined not to pray.

The next day, Hien asked the camp commander if he could clean the latrine again. He continued with this chore on a regular basis, because he had discovered that some official in the camp was using a Bible as toilet paper. Each day, Hien picked up a portion of Scripture and cleaned it off, and added it to his nightly devotional reading. In this way, he retrieved a significant portion of the Bible.

The day came when Hien was released, and he began to make plans to escape from Vietnam. After several unsuccessful attempts, he began again to build a boat in secret. About 53 other people planned to escape with him.

All was going according to plan until a short while before the date of their departure, when four Viet Cong knocked on Hien’s door. They accosted him and said they had heard he was trying to escape. “Is it true?” they demanded.

Hien immediately denied it and distracted them with a concocted story to explain his activities. Apparently convinced, they left.

Hien was relieved but disappointed with himself. He prayed that if the Viet Cong were to come back again, he would tell them the truth.

Only a few hours before they were to set sail, the four men stood at his door once more. “We have our sources, and we know you are trying to escape. Is it true?”

Hien resignedly gave the answer, “Yes, I am with 53 others. Are you going to imprison me again?” They leaned forward and whispered, “No. We want to escape with you!”

Soon, all 58 of them found themselves on the high seas, suddenly engulfed by a violent storm. As Hien concluded his story, he said, “Those four Viet Cong were all fishermen who were quite skilled sailors at handling a boat, and if it were not for the sailing ability of those four Viet Cong, we would have not made it.”

They arrived safely in Thailand, and years later Hien arrived in the United States, where today he is an American citizen and a successful businessman, having graduated magna cum laude from the University of California at Berkeley and with business degrees from Harvard and Stanford — forever grateful to God and thankful for America, praying that she would again open her heart as a nation to Christ and always be One Nation under God, embracing her motto, “In God we trust.”