The story of how BYU-Hawaii brought a Vietnamese student and her family to the church

Written by: 
Emmalee Smith

Half-way across the world from her family, Nguyen was faced with an ultimatum when she could no longer afford the college she was attending. She was accepted to BYU-Hawaii as part of the less than 1 percent population of non members at the school, only to find out it would not only benefit her but her family as well.

Linh Nguyen, a freshman studying accounting from Vietnam, started her journey in the states in South Carolina, where she was accepted to Columbia College on a scholarship that helped her afford an education overseas.

Nguyen said, “From the moment I got on a plane to America, it was already a miracle. For Vietnamese people, studying abroad requires a lot of money. My family is just a normal family. We don’t have that much funding.”

Nguyen said the president of Columbia College loved international students and provided a lot of opportunities for them. When the presidency changed, the policies changed as well. Nguyen’s scholarship was no longer offered to her.

Nguyen said it was a big problem for her because she depended on the scholarship to go there. She explained, “I only had two options: Either go back to Vietnam or find another school.” But, Nguyen didn’t think it was her time to go back to Vietnam just yet, “I still have to continue my journey here.”

Nguyen’s family suggested she move to Honolulu where her aunt and uncle live so she could stay with them while going to school. Nguyen said, “Every day for two weeks, I searched online trying to find a school and then I found BYUH.”

According to Maurice Mo’o, BYUH admissions officer who was in contact with Nguyen during the application process, it took from when she first applied in January all the way to August – just a month before she came – for her to get accepted to BYU-Hawaii. He explained it was because they had “to make sure it was a good fit for her as a non member.”

After Nguyen got accepted to BYUH, her father decided to do some research about the church and found out the chapel was only 5-to-10-minutes away from where they lived.

Her father and brother went to church and met a missionary named Elder Kai Phung, who happened to have ties to BYUH.

Ban Phung, an associate professor at BYU-Hawaii, said his son was called to the Hanoi Vietnam Mission that just opened up a year and a half ago. Dr. Phung said, “He was up in the North the whole time for a year and then got transferred to a branch in the South; the exact same week Linh got accepted to BYUH.”

Dr. Phung, originally from Vietnam, said, “It’s kind of an awesome story because it’s almost like missionary work in two different parts of the world to unite a family. The Lord is in the details of that. There’s no coincidence.”

Linh’s dad and brother walked into the church where my son just got transferred into the branch and introduced themselves. Linh’s dad said, “My daughter is at BYUH. We’re not members, but we’d like to learn more.”

Kai said, “Wow, I’m from that community. I went to BYUH before I came here and my dad teaches there.”

Nguyen said, “When I think back, I thought of how could all of this happen? And when I asked this to Brother Phung, he said, ‘Well you know, it’s all planned.’ He took me to the visitor’s center and I realized there’s always someone looking after me. I haven’t been fighting alone this whole time.”

Dr. Phung said, “Heavenly Father is really in the detail of our lives … it’s no coincidence that Heavenly Father placed one of his missionaries who has that kind of connection to BYUH and the community at that exact same time.”

With a smile on her face, Nguyen said, “My mom told me my brother just loved being involved in all the church activities. He felt really peaceful when he went with my father to a lesson and to church every Sunday. And it actually changed him. When I was in Vietnam, I always yelled at him and said stuff like, ‘Stop playing video games’ and ‘focus on school.’ But after joining the church, he’s focusing more on school and I see a lot of improvement in him. I’m just so proud.”

Nguyen’s father and her 17-year-old brother were baptized in November 2017, just a few months after they started investigating about the church in August.

Nguyen said, “I see my family has received many blessings from the moment we knew about the church. My family in Vietnam is very happy. Nguyen, herself started investigating the church in October with the help of Brothers Phung, Mo’o, and the sister missionaries.

My mother said that no matter what religion I follow, she hoped I always had goodness and peace in my heart,” Nguyen added.

Mo’o said, “I was so impressed. The gospel just seemed like it made sense to her, and she understood it easily. Her explanations and questions were excellent ... I think she’s a good fit for the university and she ended up really enjoying it here.”

After taking lessons from the sister missionaries, Nguyen decided to get baptized, Mo’o explained. She picked Christmas Day to get baptized. Mo’o said, “The sisters wanted her to get baptized sooner but she said, ‘No, I want to get baptized on a special day I’ll never forget it,’” explained Mo’o.

Nguyen described it as the “best Christmas present ever.”

After graduation, Nguyen wants to start a business to raise money for children and students to provide them with better opportunities. She said the children are “very smart and very talented. They just don’t have the perfect environment.

“Other students should also experience what I have experienced here. Because we’re still a developing country, the more people go out and bring back their skills, the better,” Nguyen said.

Date Published: 
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Last Edited: 
Tuesday, February 13, 2018