This book is partly a history book and also a personal diary. As these two parts weave together, one will see the divine presence and the secrets of life that have helped Viet survive throughout his life. He had to rely on the protection of his ancestors and the help of the Guardian Angels – the kind and generous people – that God would send him along the way. Most importantly, he has had to look up to his loving God and a higher purpose to stay alive and move forward each day. Hence, his Memoir has taken the title “Living for a Higher Purpose.” The book will guide its readers through many stories of Viet’s life and eventually help them figure out what that higher purpose is. It also discusses many popular, current issues such as war and its victims, refugees and their life challenges, life under a Communist regime, core curriculum, how the world views America, the relationship between Catholicism (Christianity) and Buddhism, and much more.
Viet will help his readers come to the same conclusion with him about the following secret of a fulfilling and joyful life. That is, a person should use his or her life to serve Jesus and other people. By sticking to that way of living, a person will find meaning and unending joy even in the dark night of his or her soul. This person will always trust in God’s love on the Cross of Jesus to guide, protect, strengthen, and encourage him or her throughout his or her life.
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Searching for Life and Salvation on the Days of Apocalypse
"One, two, three," a boy facing a wall with his eyes closed keeps counting. His friends scatter looking for a place to hide in the neighborhood where they grew up together and knew everyone so well. There are occasional giggles and whisperings as this group of kids tries to keep themselves well hidden from the counting boy, who seems oblivious to all the fun his friends are enjoying. His voice seems to pick up with a faster pace as he says, "... seventeen, eighteen, nineteen." A few slackers speed up with their search for the best hiding places, but change their minds at the last minute and decide to go home to hide instead. That is probably the best hiding place of all. Even the most seasoned detective cannot find them there.
After several minutes of counting that seem to go on forever and commotion from kids looking for the best hiding places, the whole neighborhood is reduced to silence. The boy who counted a moment ago stops abruptly at thirty and calls out at the top of his lungs, "Ready or not, here I come!" When he closed his eyes a moment ago, he could sense all the familiar sounds and smells of the neighborhood. He could tell where all the yelling and screaming was coming from. A couple of his neighbors often talk with their household members at the top of their lungs, as if they were deaf. Street vendors also frequent the neighborhood and call out their selling slogans, letting everyone know what is best about their products. His whole neighborhood is always full of sounds that intertwine with one another to create a magical concert for its residents and visitors. The intoxicating smells of the tropical flowers and fruits make the whole neighborhood feel like the Garden of Eden, where everyone can feel safe and have anything they want.
The counting boy slowly opens his eyes to an eerie silence of a neighborhood that he once thought he knew quite well. All his friends had gone into hiding and he now must look for them. He wonders where he can begin his search. Maybe he can find a couple of kids behind the gate of the neighborhood coffee shop. Or perhaps some of them are hiding in the courtyard of the huge palace at the end of the main street leading to the neighborhood. As he walks down the street searching for his friends, he calls out their names and makes all kinds of weird noises, such as shaking the front gates of each house and dragging a stick along the fence to rattle up the fainthearted. He had to get them to come out of their hiding holes! He learned this tactic from watching some Western movies in which the cowboys would herd their cattle by whistling and hollering.
His tactic works as he finds his first victim giggling behind a big coconut tree. After several minutes, he finds and gathers half of his group of friends who play the game with him. He also learns from those he's found that some of the hiders went home. It would certainly be difficult for him to find those friends! He calls them the "MIA or Missing in Action" buds, who often do not complete the game because their parents call them home or they must go take care of something else. After chatting with one another for a little while, the group decides to call it a day. What everyone does not realize is that a couple of kids are still hiding in a secret place within their beloved neighborhood. And yet everyone goes home that day full of contentment, as if they had just completed an amazing project. They are totally oblivious to the couple of their buddies left behind in some hiding hole.
That is the neighborhood where a young boy named Viet grew up. It is a place where everyone knows each other well and the kids play on the streets without a care in the world. Viet used to play soccer, badminton, volleyball, hopscotch, rope jumping, marbles, and other fun games with his neighborhood friends. They all go to Catholic Church and Buddhist Temple together without any concern or question. One of the common activities they enjoy doing together annually is going to midnight Christmas Mass and hanging out late afterward. Unlike Christmas in many Western countries, Christmas in Viet Nam is not a national holiday and all children went to school the next day. In fact, students had to attend school all day the day before and the day of Christmas. The only holidays that students were excused from school were the couple of days for Lunar New Year. They also had to go to school six days a week and were only allowed Sunday off. Although Viet and his friends must work hard in school, they seem to enjoy the normal life of a kid.
What they do not know is that a horrible war is going on not too far from their seemingly safe neighborhood. That war has been raging for a couple of decades, but most children in Saigon City have not been told much about it. Among the thousands of lives that have been lost, many of them are children. Hundreds of children have been recruited to fight for the northern Communists, while many have been displaced or lost their families and homes.
The safe bubble that Viet and his neighborhood friends have played under for years comes crashing down during several historical days in April. Their whole neighborhood was shelled mercilessly and turned into a war zone. That is the day their beloved city of Saigon falls into the hands of the Communists.
Viet and his friends grew up in a middleclass neighborhood near Saigon city that is about a ten-minute bicycle ride to the main airport in South Viet Nam called Tan Son Nhut. They all live such a sheltered life that they are caught by surprise when Saigon falls and the horrible bombing and shooting takes place around their neighbor- hood. They have never seen any news about the Viet Nam War. All they do is go to school, play on their neighborhood streets, stop by a church or temple for some prayers, and come home to eat and sleep. They do not watch much television except some traditional shows and occasional Western movies. In fact, most of them do not have their own televisions and usually huddle together in a living room of a wealthy family in their neighborhood to watch their favorite shows. The collapse of Saigon and the invasion of the northern Communists come as a total surprise for Viet and his friends. They thought it was the end of the world.
Viet, who was raised in a Catholic family and listened to the Sunday readings in church from the Book of Revelation, cannot believe that he would experience the same vision right there in person. As an avid Bible reader and a regular churchgoer, Viet recalls one of the big topics in that Sacred Book was the last day of the world or the Apocalypse. That is the day that God will bring judgment on our sinful world, wipe it all out, and create a new world. The scene of that historical day is quite chaotic and scary. Wars and famine will break out. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, drought, and so on will occur worldwide. The sun will darken, and the moon and the stars will fall out of the sky. The Sacred Book describes pain and a dark, bleak, and horrifying picture of the last day. In addition, hunger, bloodshed, killing, fighting, and death come in abundance on the last day.
Viet wonders if all the prophecies in the Book of Revelation have finally come true and the last day is finally here. As he looks up to the sky, he sees it filled with military jets and helicopters taking off from the nearby airport. He has never seen that many airplanes on the sky before. Suddenly, some of them are shot down or fly into each other. The accident leaves a trail of black smoke and a buzzing sound of a descending object that meets the horizon with a loud crash.
After watching this scene play out in the sky for several hours, Viet is utterly speechless, but decides to check out one of the main roads leading to downtown Saigon. He wants to see what has happened. The scene is not any better than near his home. He sees tanks, military vehicles, and soldiers running every which way on the road. Some of the soldiers wear complete uniforms and helmets, while others throw away their uniforms and run around only in their undershirts and shorts. None of them carried a gun or weapon. Viet later learned that the soldiers striped away their uniforms because they did not want to get shot. In many cases, they simply walked around with a white flag or their hands up to show the Communists that they surrendered. That busy road to downtown Saigon was also littered with dead corpses, fresh blood, and all sorts of abandoned weapons. He had never seen anything like that on the road before.
Full of horror and complete sadness, Viet turns his eyes to the safe neighborhood where he and his friends played just a couple of days ago. But the neighborhood playground — his cocoon — is now completely deserted. He finds no familiar person wandering around his beloved neighborhood. Like the game of hide and seek that they played recently, most of his neighbors and friends have gone into hiding, trying to keep themselves safe in the most secure places of their homes. Viet begins to wonder why he is still standing out in the open and risking being hit by a stray bullet or bomb. Suddenly, he hears buzzing sounds above his head and some loud explosions near his home. He realizes it is not safe to be in the open, and now it is time for him to seek shelter with his family. His home has no basement or bomb shelter. His family must create a makeshift bunker of large, thick planks of oak wood. Sadly, they later reused those planks to make caskets for Viet's grandparents and great-grandparents.
The bunker is dark, hot, uncomfortable, and ill-ventilated. They must squat and sit knee-to-knee next to each other in the bunker. They also take a break every few hours and go out to stretch and breathe some fresh air. Their electricity and water has been cut off and the entire neighborhood is in darkness. All the local food stores and outdoor markets are closed. Viet's family must ration their stored- up foods and dash to a local well to bring back water. They try to cook some meals over coal, woods, sticks, straws, papers, books, and even paper currency.
Viet remembers these difficult days quite well as he tries to help his family in every way he can. He goes out to his family garden in the back of the house a couple of times a day to pick some vegetables such as squash, pea, herbs, and several oriental plants for food. He also gives his parents a hand in butchering chicken, ducks, and rabbits that they raise in the back yard to survive through the last days of the Viet Nam War. Unfortunately, the shelling of the nearby airport and the martial law that restricts all movements in the city of Saigon continued for more than a week. Viet can see their food ration beginning to dwindle. Their little garden is picked out to almost nothing. Their poultry is butchered right down to just a couple of chickens. Their bags of rice have mostly been used up, with only one small bag left. He does not know where they will get their food in the coming weeks. However, Viet has always had a strong faith in God and recalls how God came to the rescue of God's people in their difficult moments in the Old Testament. He remembers how God performed a miracle for the widow of Zarephath and her son and never let her bag of flour and jar of oil go empty. Viet's faith is gradually strengthened and renewed as he spends time in prayer with his family during this challenging period. They help him learn to put on the armor of faith when time gets tough and teach him valuable life lessons about survival. In the beginning, he thought he would never be able to make it through the aftermath of a long war like the Viet Nam War. The whole social structure was turned upside down, and there was a lot of destruction. The survivors have very little to live on, but they will have to press on despite the challenges and uncertainty of the time.
During this Apocalypse-like period in Saigon, two incidents stood out distinctly for Viet. They impacted his life and left an indelible mark on his memory about this difficult time. The first incident happened when his family's food ration was about to run dry. They had butchered all their poultry, picked their whole garden, and had nothing left except their family pets. Viet remembers his family had a few dogs and cats, and he knew them quite well. He helped raise and take care of them, such as feeding them, bathing them, and playing with them. He had grown close to one of the family dogs and played with it almost every day. Suddenly, on this particular day, his family had no food left. His family told him to help butcher his beloved dog. "Viet," his grandpa calls. "Would you please give me a hand? Take the dog, Spotty, to the backyard and wait for me there." This dog was called Spotty because he had dark spots all over his white fur coat.
"What are we going to do with Spotty, grandpa?" asks Viet. "Are we going to give him a nice shampoo bath?"
"No, we're not going to give it any shampoo bath. He looks just fine. But, we'll have to butcher it!" answers his grandpa.
"We're going to do what?" startles Viet. "We can't do that, grandpa." He pauses to process the shocking news. He then pleads, "Can't we butcher something else, grandpa? Spotty has been our family pet for a long time. We can't hurt him like that!" Tears start rolling down his cheeks, and he sobs.
"I know, grandson." His grandpa tries to calm him, but he explains, "It is very tough for me to do that to Spotty too. But, we have no other choice. If we don't butcher him, we'll have nothing to eat and we'll all die of starvation. Do you understand that?" He then gently pulled Viet close to him and gave him a kiss on his head. Viet reluctantly nodded his head as his eyes welled up with tears. Still, his heart was torn between his loyalty to his family and his love for Spotty. He did not know what to do, and he certainly did not want to disobey his grandpa.
Although he refused to kill his pet, his family insisted that he had to carry it out and help save his family. He had never seen his family or heard of anyone ever eating a dog before. But, he had no choice. He had to butcher his beloved pet to save his family. He led his favorite dog to the backyard of his home where his grandpa was waiting for them. He saw the dog's tail wag feverishly as if it thought something great was about to happen. Perhaps Spotty remembered the times they had taken him back here to feed him or when Viet played catch with him on this same ground. It did not know what was about to happen.
Viet couldn't help but recall the classic bible story about Abraham dragging his beloved son to a mountain to sacrifice him and show his loyalty to God. Fortunately, God could see Abraham's faithfulness and decided to spare his son by giving him a ram for sacrifice instead. But, this time there was no ram or anything else to take Spotty's place.
Viet held down tight on Spotty's four legs while his grandpa butchered it. His hands were trembling and tears rolled down like a flowing river on his cheeks. He prayed and hoped that this nightmare would end soon, but he did not know when that would be. He did not like what happened to his favorite pet and yet he thanked God for the opportunity to be around his grandpa and get to know him a little better.
Viet came to respect his grandpa for the wisdom and guidance and his family in the darkest and most difficult time of their lives. He appreciated the life lessons that his grandpa taught him that day about life survival and tough choices. In real life, we will be presented with many tough choices and difficult decisions. These choices and decisions will make a person cry and tear out his or her heart. But, a wise and decent person will always pick his or her family and its survival before anything else, even if one must sacrifice his or her favorite pet. A person will surely put the interests of the whole, such as his or her family, before his or her own. Since that unforgettable day, Viet looked up to his grandpa and came to him whenever he needed guidance or wanted to know what he had to do in his daily life. Indeed, he found a wonderful source of guidance and survival in his grandpa.
Although the experience in the backyard was sad and terrifying for Viet, he learned many valuable lessons about life survival and sacrifices. In life, sometimes Viet has had to make personal sacrifices, like killing his favorite pet, to achieve something great, such as helping his family survive.
Along with that personal sacrifice, Viet learned about the importance of obedience and taking orders. If he did not listen to his grandpa and do what he was asked to do, things in his home would have never gotten done, and his family might have died from starvation. Worse yet, there would have been a big fight and chaos in his family. The greatest life lesson Viet learned is the importance of putting his family or the common good before himself and his interests. After all, without his family, his life would not be worth living. Perhaps that is why our Lord Jesus came down to earth and sacrificed His life on the Cross to keep His family together and bring them life and salvation.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Living for a Higher Purpose"
Copyright © 2018 Reverend Peter G. Vu.
Excerpted by permission of Book-Art Press Solutions.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Searching for Life and Salvation on the Days of Apocalypse, 17,
2. Searching for Reasons to Live in the Land of the Dead, 31,
3. Searching for God in the Land of Desolate, 61,
4. Searching for Humanity in the Pile of the Outcast, 71,
5. Searching for Identity and Life Mission in the Wasteland, 87,
6. Searching for Freedom Beyond the Borders, 103,
7. The Great Escape at Sea, 129,
8. The Miraculous Rescue, 155,
9. Camp Freedom in a Foreign Land, 175,
10. The Promised Land: Dream and Reality, 195,
11. Searching for a New Identity and Life Mission in the New World, 207,
12. Searching for God in the Land of Plenty, 223,
13. Searching for Discipline and Routines in the Free Land, 231,
14. Searching for Human Care in the Church, the World, and Daily Life, 257,
15. Finding the Highest Purpose of Living in the Love of God in Christ Jesus, 277,