Thursday, June 28, 2012

Running for My Life

“We were so hungry” Gee told me as he recounted his story as a refugee hiding in the forests of the central highlands of Vietnam trying to escape capture by the police for being a pastor. Gee is a Montagnard, a French word meaning “People from the mountain”, and refers to an indigenous people from the central highlands of Vietnam.

The 1960s saw increased contact between the hill peoples and the U.S. military. As American involvement in the Vietnam War escalated the Central Highlands emerged as a strategic area to interrupt the Communist Army’s supply line known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As many as 40,000 indigenous peoples fought along side U.S. forces throughout the war and after the war thousands fled to Cambodia fearing that the new government would launch reprisals against them.

Gee became a believer in the early 1980s. After learning about God he began to visit other villages talking about Jesus and making disciples. Soon local authorities found out. This angered the new government and Gee was soon arrested and jailed for three months. Upon his release he began again to evangelize, disciple and start new groups. He was arrested four more times, each including beatings, starvation, and threats. With tears in his eyes he recounted one episode where he had to bury a fellow pastor due to the effects of their treatment in jail. 

Gee picks up the story; “I was on my way to a village to perform a marriage. Some how the police new I was going there. My four-year-old son wanted to go so I took him with me. Once in the village police rushed in and arrested me. I was taken into a hut where I was held like Jesus… in the position like I was being crucified. As I was beaten repeatedly my son cried so loudly the police decided to move me to their headquarters.

With police in front of me and behind me I rode my bicycle with my son on it until we came to a fork in the road. At that place there was a path leading into the forest. I made a quick turn down that path and the police couldn’t catch me. I took my son to a friend’s house kissing him goodbye I ran into the forest. 

I met other’s hiding in the forest. We lived only on things we could catch and find. I knew I couldn’t go home and so I hid for more than a year. We were so hungry. One of the men I met in the forest ate something by accident that was poisonous and he died in our arms. From time to time I would sneak into villages visiting believers to encourage them. I often found that police had also visited and destroyed any meetinghouses, literature and Bibles. I knew I would only bring the hatred and anger from the police on villages so I decided to leave and try to get to Cambodia.

I didn’t know which way to go. I had no maps or compass so one night God told me to follow the wind. So each day I would wander trying to follow the wind and survive as best as I could in the forest. Months later I was able to get into Cambodia and finally to Phnom Penh. I registered as a refugee and after nearly a year was placed on a plane for the United States. The year was 2006. 

Once established in North Carolina I was able to get my family to leave Vietnam and come to me. I hardly recognized them when they came… they grew so much but I saw myself in them. As I settled in Charlotte I began to discover other Montagnards and began again to make disciples and have meetings. As a pastor I love God and want others to find God too.”

Over the last few months I have been working with a local church in Charlotte to help Gee reach other Montagnard people and establish a place where they can meet for church and other group celebrations and events. With more than 2000 Montagnards in Charlotte there are many to reach. Our work is not just limited to far away around the word but God is bringing the world to the U.S. and we get the privilege to reach them here.

He broke down as he heard Pastor Mike Miller's desire to help reach the Montagnards near Matthews North Carolina. He said, nobody has cared for them or really helped them. He was so encouraged. Now I'm working to understand the needs between the first generation Montagnards and the second generation (those born in the US or those who came at a very young age). I have found that they are targets for Asian gangs and many second generation find their way to alcohol due to being misfits of the culture.

To ready more about the Montagnard People here is a story around the time that Gee was in and out of prison from the BBC: Here are two additional stories from a few months ago… some things never change:;

This is your investment. This is your joy.

Mark Szymanski

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