Strength and Dignity

Wednesday’s Woman – Jessica


I met my friend Jessica through a Women’s Bible Study. She is a beautiful and warm woman whose smile is commanding and spirit welcoming. As I learned more about this precious girl, I was inspired by her story. It is a story that was written by the Sovereign hand of our Divine Father God, and His fingerprints are recognized all throughout. I invite you into this story. I am certain your heart will be moved, if not changed as you read.


XUAN means spring in Vietnamese. This is the name of Jessica’s mother. Xuan and Jessica’s father, Binh, were both born in Vietnam. Their families were dear friends, which eventually lead to a semi-arranged marriage for Xuan and Binh. Together, Xuan and Binh had 7 children, of which Jessica is the youngest. Her parents are devout Christians, and have instilled deep faith into their children. The children: Peter, Canh, Minh, Matthew, Chuong, David, and Jessica along with their parents, were living in Vietnam during an intense time of war and political unrest. It was the late 60’s, early 70’s and North Vietnam was rising up against South Vietnam. The United States had been on the ground with troops. You and I would recognize this time period as the Vietnam War.


During this time, Binh, Jessica’s dad, was working for the Vietnamese government in the area of intelligence. Binh was directly connected with the U.S. through his role in the intelligence department.


January 27, 1973 the Paris Peace Accords were held and a peace treaty signed that ceased direct U.S. military involvement with Vietnam in the conflict. The fighting between North and South Vietnam stopped temporarily, but time passed and peace right along with it. North Vietnam ignited the battle once again. Pressing toward their goal to take over South Vietnam; bringing the entire country under the communist regime.


Amid those days of unrest, Binh found himself away on an intelligence assignment. One night while Binh slept far from his family, he dreamt that the central city of Qui Nhoun, where Jessica, her mother, and siblings were living had fallen to the North. This dream was powerful enough that Binh sent word to have the family, along with Aunts and Uncles, moved to a more southern city, Cam Ranh Bay. When Binh’s assignment was complete, it took him several months to find his family in Cam Ranh Bay. Once Binh was reunited with his family, he made the decision to move them further south to the capital city of Saigon. Due to the fact that the Northern regime continued their advancement into South Vietnam, Binh felt more secure being in the capital with his family. In order to travel to Saigon, the family would need to travel by ship so Binh booked the passages. Soon, the day of departure arrived. Xuan along with the 4 younger children boarded the first ferry out to the ship that would carry them further south to safety. As Binh and the 3 older children began to board the next ferry across, they came under fire by the communist regime. They were unable to make it to the ship, unable to make passage with the rest of the family to Saigon.


As the days passed in Saigon, Xuan desperately sought for any information about her husband and children, but everything was in complete chaos.


April 30th, 1975 a day unlike any Vietnam had ever seen. It would go down in history as The Fall of Saigon. This time was nothing short of panicked and chaotic. Binh, because of his role in the intelligence program working with the U.S., had special clearance to evacuate his family safely. Binh had made it to Saigon with the older 4 children, yet had not located Xuan and the younger 3 children. He was resolute and would not leave Vietnam without his whole family. After several months, at last Binh was reunited with his bride and children and took them all back to Cam Rahn Bay.


Soon after the arrival in Cam Rahn Bay, the communists communicated that everyone should return to their hometowns, all being forgiven, including if you had worked for the non-communist side. With that announcement, Binh packed up his family and they returned to their hometown of Qui Nhon. Upon their return to Qui Nhon, Binh was immediately captured and taken deep into the jungle to a “reeducation camp”.


The Communist government had moved in and completely taken over.


All had been lost for Jessica’s family. Xuan now found herself with 7 children, no home, no money; stranded. Xuan’s mother was with them as well, so able to offer some support so she could find some work.


As Xuan struggled to make a living, her deep faith continued to guide her, she never waivered or questioned the circumstance they were in, she simply trusted God would provide for all their needs. God did provide, and He used the church as part of that provision. The church played a key role in caring for the needs Xuan and her children had during those years. Yes, it was not weeks, or months, but years that passed for Xuan and her children. Binh was in the “Reeducation Camp” for 6 years. Xuan was allowed a visit 1 time each year. The family did not have much hope for Binh’s release. Many ended up dying in the camps because the torture was so severe.


Xuan would travel, making and selling items to people. She even farmed. Sustaining her family was her greatest concern, and she did whatever it took. In her sales travels, Xuan would meet fisherman who owned boats, and had helped people plan escapes. Vietnamese people were risking their lives to seek liberation, and escaping to the Philippines. Upon arrival to the Philippines, refugees could be processed to enter the U.S. Xuan began to plan an escape for her own family, feeling it was her only hope to give them a better life. A route carrying them through the South China Sea began to come together. This would be safer and less monitored route than most. A full year of careful planning took place.


Xuan explained to her children that they would be leaving shortly but not to tell anyone or they would all be thrown into prison. As plans continued to fall into place, something unexpected happened, Binh returned home. Jessica, 7-years-old at the time, had not seen her father in 6 years. When she arrived home from school the day of his return, her mother had to explain to her that the unrecognizable man sitting at their kitchen table was her father. Binh would now be a part of the planning committee for the escape to the Philippines and by God’s grace, be leaving with them.


The whole family would depart from Vietnam except for the oldest son, Peter, who was in seminary at the time.


At 8 years old, in June 1982 Jessica and her family set out on a journey of hope for a better future. The escape was planned for a night of a bright moon. They would need the moonlight to guide them up over a mountain, where a boat would be waiting on the other side. Once again, the family would leave everything behind, even the beloved family dog, Sony. All they took were the clothes on their back.


That evening, by the light of a God blessed moon, 27 boarded the boat bound for freedom. Among the group was the oldest daughter, Canh and her husband. Canh was 6 months pregnant with their first child. The journey was expected to take a week.


Just a few short days into the trip, the propeller fell off the boat causing it to stall. A quick decision was made to hoist the sails in effort to start sailing. At this point they were still within the Vietnam boundary of sea and more distressing than that they were without wind. Minh, the oldest boy on the boat dove into the waters with another young man to attempt replacing the propeller. As they dove into the water with equipment in hand, wind suddenly picked up, turning the boat completely around.


Unbeknownst to them…


Many years later Peter shared this part of the story with the family:


Peter, back in Vietnam in seminary, was aware of his families’ planned escape. He was tuned in on the radio and overheard that a patrol boat was in pursuit of a vessel of passengers escaping from South Vietnam. It was reported over the airwaves that as the patrol boat approached the vessel, it quickly turned toward them, and 2 men dove out of the vessel with what appeared to be bombs and were heading to attack the patrol boat. At which point the patrol boat turned back to Vietnam.


This would be another fingerprint left by Sovereign Father God.


Now 10 days into the journey, with propeller fixed and moving closer to freedom, the food supply ran out. If you recall, the journey had been estimated to take a week. Supplies had been planned accordingly, but some of the food containers had become cross-contaminated with the fuel on board wiping out anything extra. With the food supply completely depleted yet another crisis came upon them, the engine died. At that point, with no engine, food, or water they had one last hope and set sail. Set sail they did. The boat was a drift and it’s passengers without food or water for 7 days.


As Jessica poignantly described these days on the boat, and recalled being overcome with hunger and thirst to the extent that they thought they would all perish at sea. Crawling around on the boat and finding some dry noodles, Jessica said she offered them to her mom, but she told Jessica to eat it. Jessica expressed that once again her mom, Xuan, was just being who she was, humble, serving, and looking to the interest of another before her own.


As always, even in the darkest of days, Xuan relied on God, and found her faith increased when she had a vision of the Virgin Mary. It was through that vision that God gave her reassurance that they would make it to safety. That vision gave her strength to hold on.
THEN… It rained!!! They collected the water that God had sent. They were beyond desperate for it! Through tears Jessica softly spoke, “We needed that rain.” I could hear her heart saying it was a life rescuing rain.


Shortly after the rain, fishing boats were spotted on the horizon; they assumed they were near the Philippines at this point. Raising the white flag to indicate their intent to the fisherman, the boats came out to them and pulled them to the shore. They had landed on the island of San Fernando where great crowds of people welcomed them to the island. Due to their fatigued physical state, they were all carried off the boat and taken to the hospital.


Jessica and her brother were taken to the pediatric hospital; separated from the rest of the family. Neither of them knew any English so they communicated through hand gestures and facial expressions. Even though Jessica felt like she was in a thick fog, she recalls that the nurses were incredibly gracious and kind as they cared for them.


A week passed, then she and her brother were united with their parents. God provided a Vietnamese woman who had married a man in the Philippines to interpret for them. A much needed blessing from God’s hand. This helped to bring clarity and calm to hearts that were still a bit unsettled. It wasn’t as if they had done this “escaping” and “refugeeing” thing before, or spoken with anyone who had.


Next would be a transfer to Manila, capital of the Philippines, where they stayed for a year learning English and awaiting sponsorship to the U.S. Jessica’s sister, Canh gave birth to a healthy baby boy which; they rejoiced over God’s protective hand in his development which had taken place under much duress.


About that same time, God moved in the heart of a woman in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She felt compelled to sponsor a family to the U.S. from Vietnam. Recruiting 2 more of her friends from other churches to join her in that effort; they raised the necessary funds to bring Jessica’s family to Cedar Rapids.


In August 1983, they arrived in Cedar Rapids Iowa, with their parkas on! They had been told it would be bitterly cold, so they had all been given parkas to wear. Jessica said that it was 90 degrees that hot August day in Iowa!


A house had been rented for them. It was close quarters for all of them, but it was safe and even more importantly, they were living in freedom! All of the children started school, Xuan and Binh were assisted in finding employment. Binh worked at the school/ church, and Xuan began housekeeping.


All throughout Jessica’s life her parents stressed faith and education. The focus was always on God. What was most impactful for Jessica, was seeing how her mother depended on God to be everything, even when her circumstances left her with nothing. Her parents believed that there were 3 things that they would always have: their children, the church, and God.


Jessica described her mother as a woman who lived selflessly, not out of choice, but by character. A woman who never questioned, or waivered in her faith, and also never complained about rising up to meet a need. She described her as someone who simply responded with service and humility without a thought, it is just who she is; a humble servant, denying herself and taking up the burden of others.


When I initially asked Jessica about sharing her amazing story, explaining my view of her as a woman who exemplified strength and dignity, she was adamant that it is her mother, Xuan that is the woman of strength and dignity.


I chose them BOTH as woman of Strength and Dignity!


A Tenacious Love

Tenacity   : not easily stopped or pulled apart

                 : firm or strong
: continuing for a long time

                 : very determined to do something


Nothing brings out the tenacious spirit in me like my kids. Not that my kids necessarily cause my tenacity to be directed toward them, it’s when something comes against them to bring about hurt, leave them defenseless, attacked, treated unjustly etc. I realize this is how most parents feel about their babies. I can be an extreme mama bear, claws ready to snatch at the next predator. Sometimes it shocks me.

grizzlyThis week I found myself in such a situation with my little Libi. Libi is severely and profoundly handicapped. She is 10 chronologically, but developmentally closer to age 1. The bussing system for Libi’s school district has been facing some challenges with overcrowding, unpredictable scheduling and other issues that can be incredibly unsettling to a mama heart. Up until this point of the school year, we had been unaffected by any of the challenges with the bussing system. Then, last week we landed on the receiving end of the broken down system.


After multiple attempts to have a conversation by phone, and never having a call returned, I decided that maybe I should pop into our district office for a face-to-face conversation. Surely there would be people there, and I wouldn’t have to speak to a recorded voice. So, I asked others to pray that my spirit would be tempered, and I headed to the office. My heart was pumping the whole way, the closer I got to the office the angrier I got. Now, some of you may be thinking I might need some medical help with my emotions. People, I already take Zoloft, and believe me, I popped an extra one knowing myself the way I do. Walking into the office I prayed that God would prepare the hearts of those I would speak to…(Actually I didn’t, but that sounded real good, didn’t it?)


A kind and soft-spoken receptionist greeted me. Bless her heart; she had no idea what was about to roll out of my mouth. My words started to pour from my heart to my mouth with great intensity. I explained the troubling situation I was having with the bussing system. She asked some questions. I may have sighed loudly and dropped my head onto her desk once or twice. I can’t really remember all the details, but next thing I knew she was asking me for my PHONE NUMBER! At which came my response…

“No, I’m not leaving a phone number. I want to speak with someone who can help me face-to-face. I’ve tried the phone. That doesn’t work.”


That sweet receptionist, I really should send her flowers. She began to explain that there really was no one at that particular office that could help me with my complaint, due to the fact that the transportation system of our school district is a separate company.

Surely the school superintendent would be available to talk to this wacked out mom who was about to have a breakdown at the receptionist’s desk, but that would not be. The receptionist stated she would compile the given information into an email and send it out immediately. When I asked her who the recipients would be I discovered 90% of them were located in another office across town that handled transportation. You know what’s coming don’t you? That’s right, I headed to the transportation office.


Upon my arrival at the transportation office, I had to be buzzed in by an employee. It seemed this office was meant for employees only, not visitors, but I was in the door and nothing would stop me now. I began to explain my concerns to the first person I met, asking to speak with anyone who could help me with a solution. Once again, I was asked for my phone number. As I pressed in, I was directed to a gentleman who might be able to give me some assistance. Bringing a long story to a close, this was “the great and powerful Oz” of transportation that I needed to assist me. He listened and began to put a plan into place, which has currently been successful.


You might be asking what that story is all about. Well, it reminded me of one of my favorite women of the Bible. The Wise Woman of Abel – Beth Maacah, who we read about in 2 Samuel 20:16-22


16 a wise woman called out from the city, “Listen! Listen! Please tell Joab to come here and let me speak with him.”

17 When he had come near her, the woman asked, “Are you Joab?”

“I am,” he replied.

“Listen to the words of your servant,” she said to him.

He answered, “I’m listening.”

18 She said, “In the past they used to say, ‘Seek counsel in Abel,’ and that’s how they settled disputes. 19 I am a peaceful person, one of the faithful in Israel, but you’re trying to destroy a city that is like a mother in Israel. Why would you devour the Lord’s inheritance?”

20 Joab protested: “Never! I do not want to destroy! 21 That is not my intention. There is a man named Sheba son of Bichri, from the hill country of Ephraim, who has rebelled against King David. Deliver this one man, and I will withdraw from the city.”

The woman replied to Joab, “All right. His head will be thrown over the wall to you.” 22 The woman went to all the people with her wise counsel, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri and threw it to Joab. So he blew the ram’s horn, and they dispersed from the city, each to his own tent. Joab returned to the king in Jerusalem.


Basically, there was a man, Sheba, who had rebelled and fled from King David. Sheba, his name, sought refuge within the city walls of Abel. Joab, the king’s commanding officer, arrived at the city of Abel to attack it in order to deliver consequence to Sheba. As Joab arrives he has an interaction with a tenacious woman on the city wall. She is wise with her words, and takes command of a situation that needs guidance. Gaining understanding that there is only one man that’s being pursued by the army besieging her city, she guarantees delivery of his head. Yep, she sees to it that Sheba’s head goes flying over the city wall, and in return gains peace for the people of her city.


I think that is tenacity at it’s finest. Gathering a city to cut off a man’s head and toss it over the city wall. Amazing! This tenacious woman is described as wise, peaceful and faithful. To me, the end of verse 19 indicates something else to me:


“but you’re trying to destroy a city that is like a mother in Israel. Why would you devour the Lord’s inheritance?”


Her reference and passion that accompany the association of motherhood to Israel leads me to believe she was a mother herself, and behind the walls of that city were her own children. Her view of Israel resonated with a place deep within her, and the desire to protect children at all costs. She did so with great wisdom, discernment, and boldness. The wise woman of Abel – Beth Maacah was nothing short of tenacious.


Tenacious love can make us feel as though we can move heaven and earth if necessary. The tenacious love that drove me to advocate so fiercely for Libi, and emboldened the wise woman of Abel – Beth Maacah to be a voice of mediation for the children of Israel, it’s in our DNA. This is how our Father God loves us, with an all out tenacity that is impossible to stop.


Romans 8:31-39The Message (MSG)

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.

We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.


I have a feeling some heads are gonna roll this week! Be tenacious ladies!


Woodcut by Johann Christoph Weigel, 1695, depicting the events of 2 Samuel 20. In the top of the picture, the woman is throwing Sheba’s head down to Joab. In the foreground lies Amasa, whose death is described in the first half of the chapter.