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Devotional with Dr. Ban Phung shares story of escape from Vietnam, offers a message of redemption

Dr. Ban Phung, wearing a lei, speaks at the podium in the Cannon Activities Center.

Dr. Ban Phung, an associate professor in the Faculty of Arts & Letters, highlighted a theme of redemption through stories of his and his mother’s escape from Vietnam, his experience of growing up in America, and his acceptance of the gospel during his devotional on March 18 in the Cannon Activities Center.

He commented, “My whole life story can be summarized in this simple sentence: God has redeemed me, He has redeemed others, and He will, if you turn to Him, redeem you.”

Phung shared the experience of him and his mother escaping Vietnam by boat when he was 6 years old. He said, “We lived in former Saigon, currently Ho Chi Minh City, which is in South Vietnam. When Saigon actually fell to communist rule, the whole city turned upside down.”

While much of the country tried to escape by what means they had, he commented, “Those of us who were left behind were not so lucky, for we had to escape by boat.”

Phung said after the war, his mother needed to make decision to either escape and risk their lives or live under communist rule. When his mother was asked if she felt nervous to travel across the sea to another country on a small boat, Phung said, “She replied, ‘Truly, I was not afraid because freedom is more valuable in my life, so I would rather live free.’”

Noellette Cookson, a sophomore from New Zealand majoring in psychology, commented on how Phung’s story impacted her. She shared, “It shows despite the trials you may go through, Heavenly Father is mindful of you and has a bigger and greater path for you. I feel like what people fear in this world is the unknown. But when we rely on Heavenly Father and we try our best to do good in our own lives, that is when we can really feel redemption.”

After two attempted escapes, Phung and his mother made it to Indonesia, eventually making it to California sponsored by his uncle.

It was after getting to California, Phung shared how his life was heading in a negative direction. Through this time, he had his first religious experience. He said, “One very cold night, I found myself kneeling in prayer for the very first time in my life and asking if somebody could help me. This was my first ever uttered prayer.” He received the answer to get a job, and he did.

Valentine Suwanto, an alumna from Indonesia who received her degree in hospitality and tourism management, shared ways she has recognized themes of redemption in her own life. She commented, “There are times in my life when I regret not having done what I should've done to serve others or be a better person. I've lost too many opportunities to look out for others, and the feeling of guilt and regret can be overwhelming at times.

“However, I've personally learned through Christ's redemption, we can all have a second chance to serve others, to be a better person. We can be free of guilt knowing we can always improve ourselves because Christ has given us the opportunity to do so.”

After obtaining a job, Phung said a family felt prompted to take him in because he was homeless at the time. It was through this he was able to come to the knowledge of the gospel and get baptized to end up where he is today.

While reflecting on his story, he posed the question, “What would have happened if my mother had not made that decision to leave Vietnam despite such great risk?”

Marty Santy, a junior from the Philippines majoring in business management with an emphasis in marketing, added how he related Phung’s experience to his own life. He said, “Just like how God found a way to save Dr. Phung from the circumstances he had experienced, the same help from heaven and redemption happened to me.”

Santy shared his experience of giving his first humble prayer after his family became less active in the Church for several years. He asked for the forgiveness of his sins and for the ability to come back to church.

“To my surprise, the next morning two sister missionaries knocked on my door.” He later prayed for his family to have the desire to come back to church while serving his mission, and that prayer was answered as well.

He said, “Through this story of mine, I can see how God shows his mercy and love for those who humble themselves before Him and ask for help. I will never experience the thing I'm experiencing right now if I didn’t follow the prompting of the Spirit speaking in my heart to find the truth and real joy that affects my entire life.”