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Unwavering faith

Vietnamese refugee has never stopped cherishing blessings despite many trials

Sitting in the calm comfort of the home of The Van Nguyen (pronounced Tay Van Win) in a quiet, secluded Salt Lake City neighborhood, it is hard to imagine the terror and turmoil of his life 30 years earlier.

Now a high councilor in the South Salt Lake Stake, Brother Nguyen was the president of the Church's Saigon Branch in Vietnam at the time the city fell, following years of war, to the North Vietnamese on April 30, 1975.

Putting others before himself, he managed to arrange evacuation for many members of his branch, including his wife and children. However, he ended up in a concentration camp for three years before escaping and making his way to the United States.

Those harrowing times, chronicled in the book When Faith Endures, which he co-wrote with David Lynn Hughes, are but a memory to Brother Nguyen whose faith continues to endure.

Orphaned as a child, he scraped out an existence in Saigon with his sister, Ba. Through a meeting as a young man with a serviceman, he was introduced to the Church and embraced it. He also learned English, which has been a blessing to him. When he arrived in the U.S., his first job was translating literature into Vietnamese for the Church. He is employed now as a linguist for the federal government.

Thinking back on the dark days of the fall of Saigon, Brother Nguyen remembers his suffering in the concentration camp. But he says his wife, Lien, suffered more after arriving in the United States. President Spencer W. Kimball visited refugees, including Sister Nguyen and her children, staying at the Camp Pendleton Marine base in Southern California.

Later, according to Brother Nguyen, President Kimball sent Sister Nguyen a message encouraging her to remain faithful and promising her that someday she would be reunited with her husband.

Sister Nguyen clung to that promise as she shunned government handouts and struggled with as many as three jobs to support her family, her husband said.

President Kimball's promise was fulfilled early in 1978, when the couple were reunited in Provo, Utah, where Sister Nguyen had settled with the help of friends in the Church.

He was willing to work hard, but struggled to find career stability. After his translation project with the Church ended after three years, he had jobs with an exercise equipment company, a construction company, as an insurance agent and in his own gift shop.

"We were not rich," Brother Nguyen said, but they managed to support themselves. He was pleased to announce that his three children — sons Vu and Huy, and daughter Linh — learned to work and contribute to their family. All graduated from BYU and served missions. Brother Nguyen said the sons served English and Vietnamese-speaking missions in San Jose, Calif., and Washington, D.C., then laughed that his daughter was called to serve a Spanish-speaking mission in New York City.

Through everything, Brother Nguyen's faith endured. One trial came shortly after he arrived in Provo and was called to serve as Scoutmaster in his ward. "I wasn't looking forward to it. I didn't like the outdoors," said the slight man who has to stretch to reach a height of 60 inches. "But I couldn't say no."

Quick to acknowledge the blessings of the Lord, Brother Nguyen said one of those blessings came at that time. Before he could be sustained as Scoutmaster, he was called by the stake president to be on the high council. He served in that position until he was called in late 1979 as president of a newly organized Vietnamese branch in Provo.

He has continued to serve in the Church where called since moving to Salt Lake City in 1997 to be closer to his employment.

Through trials and good times, Brother Nguyen said he never forgets the blessing of living free.

Without being harsh, but in a matter-of-fact way, he said, "I feel like a lot of Americans — not everyone, but a lot — take things like freedom for granted. It's like air. It's just there, so you don't appreciate it.

"I think the Lord let me be in the concentration camp in order for me to go through trials and appreciate what we have here — even things like salt and sugar. In the concentration camp, a little bit of salt or sugar was precious."

And through his trials, he said his testimony of the Lord and His gospel has never faltered, but has become stronger. He said as he looks back on the bad times of his life, some of the challenges have seemed like he was moving to the edge of a cliff, dropping into complete despair. "I see that the Lord grabbed me when I reached the edge of the cliff and pulled me out."

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