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Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family's Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue, and Redemption

Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family's Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue, and Redemption

4.7 15
by Vinh Chung, Tim Downs (With)

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Back Cover:

“The account of Dr. Chung and hisfamily will inspire you to believe in second chances and miracles and the Godwho gives them both.”

-Max Lucado, New York Times best-selling author

My name is Vinh Chung.

This is a story that spans twocontinents, ten decades, and eleven thousand miles.

When I was three and a


Back Cover:

“The account of Dr. Chung and hisfamily will inspire you to believe in second chances and miracles and the Godwho gives them both.”

-Max Lucado, New York Times best-selling author

My name is Vinh Chung.

This is a story that spans twocontinents, ten decades, and eleven thousand miles.

When I was three and a half yearsold, my family was forced to flee Vietnam in June 1979, a place we had neverheard of somewhere in the heartland of America.

Several weeks later my family layhalf-dead from dehydration in a derelict fishing boat jammed with ninety-threerefugees lost in the middle of the South China Sea. We arrived in the UnitedStates with nothing but the clothes on our backs and unable to speak a singleword of English.

Today my family holds twenty-oneuniversity degrees.

How wegot from there to here is quite a story.

Wherethe Wind Leads is the remarkable account of Vinh Chung and his refugeefamily’s daring escape from communist oppression for the chance of a betterlife in America. It’s a story of personal sacrifice, redemption, enduranceagainst almost insurmountable odds, and what it truly means to be American.

All author royalties from the saleof this book will go to benefit World Vision.

Flap Copy:

Vinh Chung was born in SouthVietnam, just eight months after it fell to the communists in 1975. His familywas wealthy, controlling a rice-milling empire worth millions; but withinmonths of the communist takeover, the Chungs lost everything and were reducedto abject poverty.

Knowing that their children wouldhave no future under the new government, the Chungs decided to flee thecountry. In 1979, they joined the legendary “boat people” and sailed into theSouth China Sea, despite knowing that an estimated two hundred thousand oftheir countrymen had already perished at the hands of brutal pirates andviolent seas.

Wherethe Wind Leads follows Vinh Chung and his family on their desperate journeyfrom pre-war Vietnam, through pirate attacks on a lawless sea, to a miraculous rescue and a new homein the unlikely town of Fort Smith, Arkansas. There Vinh struggled againstpoverty, discrimination, and a bewildering language barrier—yet still managedto graduate from Harvard Medical School.

Wherethe Wind Leads is Vinh’s tribute to the courage and sacrifice of hisparents, a testimony to his family’s faith, and a reminder to people everywherethat the American dream, while still possible, carries with it a greaterresponsibility.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Memories of Communist Vietnam are often limited to the American side of the tension, and particularly the harrowing experiences that soldiers faced during the war. Chung, a dermatologist, offers a tripartite portrait: his family’s everyday life under the Communist regime, agonizing escape as refugees, and assimilation and integration into American society. Readers are given a glimpse into the dynamics that define the Chinese-Vietnamese family and how these intricate relationships and their elements, such as elder authority, influence interactions more broadly, within the community and, ultimately, American society. After his family’s near-death encounters in Vietnam and the South China Sea, Chung is given a life his parents could not have. He offers a conversational, unpretentious narrative of the young immigrant/refugee experience, with its unconscious social faux pas; growing awareness of American class, race, and gender relations; and ambition to not only attain the American Dream but to take back what was taken away from his parents’ generation: opportunity. This may remind those with immigrant/refugee experiences of their own lives; for others, Chung provides a humble story about coping with uprootedness, adversity, and assimilation into new social landscapes. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
With assistance from Downs (Wonders Never Cease, 2010, etc.), dermatologist Chung chronicles his family's flight from communist rule in Vietnam to their subsequent life in America. The author describes his experiences beginning in 1978, when he was 3 and arrived in Arkansas, one of eight children in a destitute refugee family that "went to sleep in one world and woke up in another." In Vietnam, his father managed his family's merchant empire in the Mekong Delta. As ethnic Chinese, they maintained traditional Asian values. His parents, whose marriage had been arranged, lived with their extended family in a compound, and his widowed grandmother controlled the money with an iron fist. Despite their great wealth, his mother was consigned to a life little better than that of a servant, while his father maintained a mistress. After the revolution, Chung's parents and their children were part of the legendary exodus of the boat people. The author provides a harrowing account of their desperate escape and rescue at sea. Left adrift on the ocean by Malaysians who refused them refuge, the nearly 100 people on board were at the point of death by dehydration. Miraculously, they survived against the odds and were picked up by a boat on the lookout for boat people needing assistance. With the help of The World Vision National Leadership Council, the family received asylum in America. Chung tells of his father's uncomplaining struggle to support his family by working on a factory assembly line while raising his children in a culture whose ways and language were foreign to him. Like many children of immigrants, the author faced racism and discrimination, yet he achieved academic success at Harvard, pursued a distinguished career and "became more American than many who were born here." A worthy addition to the immigrant bookshelf. Though targeted at the Christian market, the book should have wider appeal.

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Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
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Read an Excerpt


A Refugee Family's Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue, and Redemption

By VINH CHUNG, Tim Downs

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2014 Vinh Chung
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8499-2295-4



This is a story too big for one person to tell.

It's a story that spans two continents, ten decades, and eleven thousand miles. It's the story of a fortune lost and a treasure found, the story of two lost men and three extraordinary women who changed their lives.

My name is Vinh Chung. I was born in a country that no longer exists and grew up in a country I never knew existed.

I was born in South Vietnam just eight months after its fall to the communists in April 1975. But this is not a story about the Vietnam War—this is the story of what happened next, to more than a million people, including my family. For most Americans the final image of the Vietnam War was a grainy black-and-white photograph of an overloaded helicopter lifting off from the rooftop of the United States Embassy in Saigon. When that helicopter departed, my story began.

When I was three and a half years old, my family was forced to leave Vietnam and flee to a place we had never heard of, somewhere in the heartland of America, called Arkansas.

I am a refugee.

My family went to sleep in one world and woke up in another, and more than anyone in my family I was trapped between those worlds. I was born in Vietnam, but I was not Vietnamese; I was raised in America, but I was not an American. I grew up Asian in character but American in culture, a citizen but always a refugee. I had no lessons from the past to guide me, no right way to do things in the present, and no path to follow into the future.

Since I was so young when I left Vietnam, I never really had the chance to understand Asian culture or master the Vietnamese language. I grew up in America, where there was a new culture and a new language to learn, but there was no one to help me because no one in my family had been there before me. We were all lost and had to find our own way in America, and it was hard for each of us in a different way.

We are Chinese by ancestry, born in Vietnam, and raised in the jungles of America. We arrived in this country with nothing but the clothes on our backs and unable to speak a single word of English; my family now holds twenty-one university degrees, including five master's and five doctorates from institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, George Mason, Michigan, and Arkansas.

But in July 1979, my family lay half-dead from dehydration in a derelict fishing boat jammed with ninety-three refugees lost in the middle of the South China Sea.

How we got from there to here is quite a story.



Within ten years of my father's birth, fifty million human beings died. He was born at a moment in history when the entire world was about to erupt in a frenzy of violence that left no one untouched.

My father's name is Thanh Chung; he was born in 1937 in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. When my father was born, an emperor still ruled Vietnam, the nation was still a French colony, and communism was mostly an obscure political theory discussed by radical students in Paris.

It was a world that would soon cease to exist.

In 1937, Japan was already at war with China, Adolf Hitler was about to invade Poland, Britain and France were about to declare war on Germany, and the United States was desperately trying to maintain a fragile neutrality that was destined to fail. The earth's great powers were shifting like tectonic plates, and entire nations were about to be thrown off their feet by the resulting quake. Ancient loyalties were realigning; longtime friends became foes, and former enemies were forced to unite to survive. Chancellors and prime ministers spoke of thousand-year empires and mustered massive armies in pursuit of their dreams. Rapidly industrializing countries lusted for raw materials like oil and iron and rubber and overran neighboring nations to obtain them. All over the world soldiers and civilians alike began to perish in unimaginable numbers, and only a few fortunate nations managed to escape the violence and devastation.

Vietnam was not one of them.

One day, when my father was four years old, he heard the drone of an engine high above him and looked up into the sky to see a formation of cross-shaped silhouettes drifting overhead. They were the first airplanes he had ever seen, but these were no ordinary airplanes. They were Japanese long-range bombers being redeployed from China to air bases in southern Indochina, where they would be within easy striking distance of Malaya, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies. When America saw that Japan was extending its ambitions deeper into Southeast Asia, it immediately imposed an embargo that cut off Japan's supply of iron and oil—two resources vital to any industrialized nation. Japan was left with only two options: either withdraw its armies from Southeast Asia or eliminate America's ability to enforce its embargo. Japan chose the latter option by launching a sneak attack against a little-known American naval base, known as Pearl Harbor.

My father was witnessing the beginning of the Second World War.

The next forty years of his life would be a time of unceasing conflict as violently opposing powers battled to decide who would own Vietnam. The Japanese wanted to conquer it, the French wanted to keep it, and the communists wanted to overthrow it.

My father just wanted peace.

The Mekong Delta is a fifteen-thousand-square-mile river delta formed by the nine tributaries of the Mekong River, known to the Vietnamese as the "Nine Dragons." To Asians the dragon is a symbol of prosperity and good fortune, and the Mekong Delta has the very good fortune to possess nine of them. For thousands of years the waters of the Mekong have regularly flooded to deposit layer after layer of mineral-rich silt from as far away as the Tibetan plateau, creating some of the richest soil on earth. The fertile soil and tropical savanna climate make the region perfectly suited for agriculture, which, unfortunately for the region's inhabitants, has also made the Mekong Delta an object of desire for nations all over the world.

My father lived with his older brother and four sisters in the countryside near the provincial capital of Bac Lieu. His father—my grandfather—had two brothers, who also lived in Bac Lieu, and together the three Chung brothers ran a lucrative business. My grandfather was a seller of medicinal herbs and traditional Chinese remedies, while my grandmother sold fabrics imported from Saigon a hundred miles to the north. Business was good for my family in Bac Lieu; and for a family of merchants, when business is good, life is good.

By temperament my father was a kind and gentle boy who adored his father and mother and wanted nothing more than to live his life peacefully in the pastoral beauty of the delta. Unfortunately the peace he longed for was something he rarely experienced.

When he was five, he looked up from his chores one day to see a band of unfamiliar men walking toward him through the center of his village. The men were muttering to one another in voices too low to hear, and when one of them raised his arm to point to one of the houses, my father saw that the man was holding a long, silver-gray machete. The blade was stained red.

No—it was dripping red.

These were the men his mother and father called Khmer—the dark-skinned men who came from unknown villages somewhere to the northwest. My father had heard grown-ups whisper stories about the Khmer, but whenever he asked about them, he was told that he was too young to hear. But late at night his older brother used to tell him stories—stories about the vicious, dark-skinned men who hated the Vietnamese so much that they would use their machetes to hack off their arms and sever their heads and burn whole villages to the ground. My father had always thought his brother was lying, just making up ghost stories to watch his little brother's eyes widen with fear—but now he knew the men were real.

And they were looking directly at him.

He wanted to run, but his legs would not obey him. The men had the eyes of tigers—that mythical, paralyzing stare said to be able to hold a boy frozen in place until the beast devoured him. He couldn't move; there was nothing he could do but stand and wait to be torn apart.

The men gathered around my father and stared down at him. One of the men took a step closer and said something, but my father could not understand the man's words and said nothing in reply. The man cocked his head to one side and studied him for a moment, then raised his machete and pointed to my father's head. My father held his breath and wondered what it was going to feel like to have his head chopped off. Will I still be able to see? he wondered. Will I feel it when my head drops to the ground like a coconut?

The man made a comment to one of his companions, then pointed his machete at my father's left arm and drew an imaginary line from his shoulder to his hand. Is he going to hack off my arm instead? Would it be better to lose my arm or my head? Which one hurts more? He squeezed his eyes tight and waited for the stinging blow.

Then he heard the door to his house squeak open behind him, and when he turned, he saw his father hurry from the house and call out to the men in a frightened voice that didn't sound like his father at all. Then, to my father's amazement, my grandfather stepped aside and pointed to the door.

The men nodded and entered the house one by one, and as each one entered, he bent down and leaned his bloodstained machete against the wall.

My father entered last of all and watched as the men seated themselves around the small room. His older brother and sisters pressed themselves against the far wall and stared, wide-eyed, as my grandmother nervously ladled out bowls of rice and pho and passed them to her husband to distribute to the hungry men.

Half an hour later the meal was finished, and the men departed. As they left, each man retrieved his machete from the side of the house—except for one. One machete was left leaning against the wall, with its bloodstained tip glowing like a torch. My father was fascinated by the machete and reached down to pick it up, but when he did, my grandfather grabbed his arm and jerked him back.

"Never touch that machete," my grandfather said sternly. "Never touch the blade and never, ever move it from that spot."

My grandfather's solemn tone told my father that this was not a command to be questioned. As always, he obeyed, and the blood-tipped machete remained against the wall exactly where it had been left.

My father was too young to understand that his family had just served a sort of Passover meal. The Cambodian angels of death who dined at our house that day had just finished slaughtering a group of communist sympathizers and were passing through my family's village, searching for any others they might have missed.

For more than a thousand years, the Mekong Delta was ruled by the Chinese. For the previous hundred years the French had been in charge, laying claim to Vietnam as an official "colony of economic interests" and growing rich off the sale of its rice, rubber, coffee, and tea. When Japan invaded Vietnam at the beginning of the Second World War, communist leader Ho Chi Minh founded the League for the Independence of Vietnam, commonly known as the Viet Minh. Their initial purpose was to repel the Japanese, but their ultimate goal was to free Vietnam from all foreign oppressors, which led them to hate the French almost as much as they did the Japanese.

The Cambodians who dined at my father's house that day supported the colonialist French and despised the communist Viet Minh. My father's family had been spared a violent death because they were Chinese, and the Chinese were considered a neutral party to the conflict. Neutrality was a blessing, but it was also a difficult and dangerous balance to maintain. By feeding the Cambodians, my grandfather had won their favor—but an act of kindness to the Cambodians would have been viewed as an act of betrayal to the Viet Minh. The blood-tipped machete left leaning against their wall told other Cambodians that the family should be spared, but the Viet Minh would not have felt the same way. No matter what course of action my family took, someone could have been offended, and that meant their lives were in constant danger.

Random violence was a constant danger in Bac Lieu, and after my family's house had been burned to the ground twice, my grandmother decided she had had enough. After all, she was raising six children, and the rural delta was just too dangerous. She began to press her husband to relocate the family near the city of Soc Trang in Soc Trang province, about thirty miles north. They would be safer near a city, she insisted, and there would also be better education for the children there. My grandfather was reluctant to leave Bac Lieu because his business had prospered there, but eventually he relented and moved his family while his two brothers remained behind to protect the family property.

But the violence soon followed them.

After victory over the Japanese, nationalist sentiment was strong in Vietnam, and the communist Viet Minh were hurrying to attack the French before they had time to reconsolidate power. In Soc Trang the French were everywhere; there were French soldiers, French gendarmes, and French bureaucrats, and that made the region a target for Viet Minh attacks. Looting and assault became so common in Soc Trang that my grandfather found it almost impossible to conduct business there.

In the months that followed, things grew even worse for my family. Business slowed to a standstill, and the money they had saved from Bac Lieu was gone. Now the only way they could survive was by selling off their possessions, and the Viet Minh had already stolen the best of them.

Then on top of it all, my grandfather received the tragic news from Bac Lieu that one of his brothers had been killed in the recent uprising. His other brother had vanished without a trace and was presumed dead. This was the final straw in a lifetime of difficulties.

My grandfather fell into a deep depression fueled by alcohol. At times his gloom was so dark and overpowering that he became suicidal. In moments of deepest despondency he would sometimes race up to the rooftop to throw himself off, and my father and uncle would have to hold him back to keep him from jumping and ending his life. My grandfather's depression slowly descended into utter despair, and over the next three years the family could only watch as my grandfather withered like a drying leaf until he finally crumbled and died.

My father was only twelve when it happened.

At forty-one, my grandmother had been left to raise six children all by herself. Her children were poor and hungry, and all that had been left to her was the burned-out shell of a French colonial house. She had no money, no job, little education, and no one to help her. A forty-one-year-old woman with six children had virtually no prospect of remarriage; the only two options for a woman in her situation were servitude or prostitution, and she was too proud to do either. She faced an almost impossible challenge, the kind of Herculean task that would crush most men.

So Grandmother Chung rolled up her sleeves and went to work.


Excerpted from WHERE THE WIND LEADS by VINH CHUNG, Tim Downs. Copyright © 2014 Vinh Chung. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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.

Meet the Author

Vinh Chung graduated Harvard magna cum laude with a BA in biology and attended Harvard Medical School for his MD. Dr. Chung also studied at the University of Sydney as a Fulbright Scholar and completed a masters of pharmaceutical sciences. He completed his dermatology residency at Emory University, where he served as chief resident. He currently serves on World Vision's National Leadership Council. Dr. Chung and his wife Leisle have three children and run a successful private practice.

Tim Downs is the author of nine novels including the Christy Award-winning PlagueMaker and the highly acclaimed series of Bug Man novels. Tim lives in North Carolina with his wife Joy. They have three grown children.

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Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family's Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue, and Redemption 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is one that you will want to devour!  It is filled with compelling stories of adventure, trials, deep family ties and overcoming unthinkable obstacles!  The Chung family is as tenacious as they come and will bless you with this honest and revealing memoir of their past pain and ability to overcome the devastating trials of war, poverty and loss.  What a thrill to see the success that comes along through  their determination, hard work and inspiring faith!  Oh the power of a well written and beautifully sincere story!  Great job Chungs!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I Feel compelled to start by saying that I know Dr. Chung personally as I was one of the people that helped to train him in the field of Dermatology and Mohs Surgery. I have known Vinh for about 10 years now and I can state from personal experience that this book is an extreme understatement as to the amazing individual that is Dr. Chung. He is truly one of my favorite people, and an excellent physician. I mention these facts only in the context to say that I never knew this story until I read it in this book! This is an amazing account of the trials and tribulations of an entire family, and the pure grace and determination with which they faced these obstacles in life. It is an uplifting story told in a way that is a real taste of Dr. Chung's personality. You will find yourself wanting to read the next chapter! As I said, I have known Dr. Chung many years and with this book he has once again inspired me to strive to be a better person! This book is a "must read" for all of us.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this story compelling, intriguing and uplifting. I grew up during the Vietnam War, and was acquainted with a Vietnamese family who owned a nail salon in recent years. This could have been their story, yet they never talked about their hardships and would only talk about their escape from Vietnam if questioned. This book gave me real insight into their plight and thousands more like them. Those of us born in this country take for granted our freedom. Reading this story reminds of how fortunate we all are!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A timely sharing of the Chung's family story and the compassion extended to them by strangers from when they were 'boat refugees' to becoming citizens of the USA. I can't help but think of the new wave of refugees happening today in the Middle East. I hope someone(s) are there for them too. (Mr. Chung now serves on the board of World Vision.)
Anonymous 3 months ago
This was a wonderful memoir,exquisitely written. I fell in love with the families - all of them. My sense of hope was renewed. Thank you.
Anonymous 4 months ago
What this family went through is a reminder of why we need to help refugees and immigrants. So glad they came to America. Highly recommend.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Anonymous 5 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is amazing and it exceeded my expectations. We picked this to read for our book club and it's one of my favorite books we've ever read
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    T his book is magnificent – a treasure of history, man’s inhumanity to man, survival, wisdom, humor,  and a family’s strength, triumph and compassion.  Dr. Chung has told it well.  It will be one of my  guarded possessions.    Of all Dr. Chung's many great accomplishments,  it moves me most that he recognize God’s  love  in those who helped along your way and choose to pay it forward for others.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a truly inspiring story! This is a family's amazing journey to freedom and a better life for their kids! I had no idea this kid and his family had to endure this! Congratulations Vinh! I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Where the Wind Leads is one of the first books I've read in years, and with good purpose. Although the theme of God's grace is apparent throughout the book, it is not something that is hammered into the story to make this beautiful tale distasteful to non believers. I don't want to get into the content/plot line of the book, but can say despite this story being unique to the Chung family, it is also a common story among the Vietnamese diaspora during the Vietnam War. As a viet kieu coming from short winded parents, the details of their immigration story were hardly ever described, despite my curiosity. These stories are extremely vital and important in understanding who we are as a people and where we come from. Most importantly, this book describes our vast potential and in a way, our purpose. Highly recommended, especially for those who come from any immigrant background. Get your karma points as all proceeds go to charity!
Anonymous 8 months ago
I think it is an awesome story but I do not know how it end because we are reading it in my classroom at my school. And BTW pleass do not tell me how it ends.