Feature

First Hotel

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“. . . if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:9b–10).

It is now called Saigon Tourist First Hotel. But on April 25, 1975, it was the remainder of a U.S. military base, and it was where I spent my last three days as a Vietnamese citizen known as Nguyen Quac Binh.

I was born in Saigon in 1967 to Nguyen Thi Ngoc, who was already the mother of two— but I was the only one who was half American. My sister Mai and my brother Hai shared the same father (a captain in the South Vietnamese army who had allied with the Americans). Unfortunately (and like many other soldiers), Mai and Hai’s father never made it home alive.

Things were tough, but my mother met another man, an American soldier named Bob. Based on my mother’s accounts, Bob was kind and offered many promises. He moved into my mother’s home, and she became pregnant with me. Again (and like many other soldiers), Bob was eventually shipped home. “I will be back in six months to get you and our baby,” he promised. Bob was never heard from again.

Six months after my birth, my mother became committed to an Australian named Peter Crane. Peter loved my mother, he loved Mai and Hai, and he loved me. For the next seven years, I called Peter “Dad,” and he treated me as his own son. “Everywhere Peter traveled, he took you with him,” my mother told me later. I was cared for by a father, who for a season, adopted me as his own.

God Is My Protector

Unfortunately, our happiness would not last. In 1973, as the American government began to withdraw from Vietnam, more and more battles occurred in Saigon. Bombs, machine gun fire and soldiers fighting in the streets became common. Then, in early 1975, the Vietcong came to my mother’s home with one simple message: “Get rid of your white husband and the American boy.” Distressed, Peter and my mother contemplated what they should do. However, before plans could be made, the same soldiers returned and threatened my mother: “Get rid of the American boy or we will cut off his crocodile face. Then we will kill you.” On April 25, 1975, my mother and Peter took me to the U.S. base that is now known as the Saigon Tourist First Hotel.

What happened during the next few days is a blur, but on April 28, I, along with hundreds of other mixed-race children, was rushed to the Saigon airport. The atmosphere was chaotic, and there were men with guns everywhere. I recall running across the tarmac and then being directed up a ramp on the back of an airplane. People were tripping over the square cordage that was spread over the floor. Crying, screaming and shouting seemed to be all around me as the ramp closed. Soon the plane began to move, and things got quiet.

A soldier took my arm, brought me to the cockpit where I could sit next to a window and gave me an orange. The only other things I really recall after departing Saigon are the countless vaccinations I received and how I would stare at my sandals as I was moved from place to place. Eventually, I was placed in foster care in Tigard, Oregon, with a wonderful couple, Bill and Vi Chase, whom I am still in contact. On June 10, 1975, I moved to Chaska, Minnesota, where Duane and Donna Lane adopted me. I became an American citizen.

God Is Ever Present

I learned to fish, hunt and play sports—a fairly normal Minnesotan childhood. I grew up going to church, and at the age of 13, I gave my life to Christ at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp. Then, on my eighteenth birthday, my adoptive parents surprised me by giving me a large manila folder. In it were photos of my Vietnamese family and letters from Peter Crane warning any future caregivers of my allergies. In addition, there were 10 years’ worth of letters from the mother I left behind to the mother I have now and letters from my adoptive mother to my mom in Vietnam. All of them carried a similar message: Thank you for giving up your son . . . Thank you for raising my son as your own . . .

I soon contacted with my mother in Vietnam. I also found Peter Crane in Australia, and we began to communicate through the mail and by phone. I knew I had to go back to Vietnam; I didn’t know how and I didn’t share these feelings with anyone, but I knew I needed to return.

Not long after coming to this realization I was awakened by a call from Australia informing me that Peter had died unexpectedly. Now in my twenties, I was devastated. After all the years of not knowing about the first eight years of my life or who my father was, God suddenly closed that door. In turn, I wrongly broke off all communications with my Vietnamese roots.

Throughout my twenties and thirties, God was present in my life as I wrestled through where I fit in this world. Finally, in 2002 I found myself in a puddle of tears, realizing I had lost control over every aspect of my life. My wife, Stacy, introduced me to a loving pastor who walked me through what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus and what it meant to be a Christian. I was broken and finally realized that my life was not my own. I asked Christ to forgive me and to take complete control. After this recommitment, I experienced a hunger for the Word like I never had before. My faith moved from my head to my heart.

I had worked in secular corporations for more than 10 years, but God quickly opened the door for me to complete my bachelor’s degree at Crown College (St. Bonifacius, Minn.). After applying for the computer science program, I felt God calling me to change my major to Christian ministry. He had spared my life when I was young, and now I finally began to live with His purposes in mind.

God Is My Provider

Several years ago, through the questions of my oldest daughter, Samantha, God began to stir my heart about returning to Vietnam. God provided the way as many from Creekside Community Church, our men’s Bible study group and the community blessed me with a significant portion of the funds. Also, God provided a treasured travel companion in my first American friend, Troy Dahlke. But most importantly, God provided a heart that was finally ready to meet and embrace my Vietnamese family.

On August 3, 2011, at 11:00 p.m., I landed in Saigon (the airport still had the same name as in 1975) and was greeted by my birth mother, older brother and sister and many other family members. I had been nervous about how I would be received, but it didn’t take long to realize that my birth family was welcoming home their long lost son and brother. I was overwhelmed to learn how family, friends and neighbors had all wondered what had happened to me.

I had not anticipated what a “homecoming” this trip would be. I had come looking for answers to my questions and links to my broken memories. God not only provided me these things—details about my childhood and the events that led my mother to give me up for adoption—but also He provided me with a new chapter in my life that includes my birth family. Most importantly, God’s guiding hand calmed all of my fears; He comforted and directed me every step of my journey.

It seems plain now, but what I thought was a quest for closure became an opportunity for new beginnings. And for that I will be forever grateful. Thus, when people ask me: How was your trip? I confidently say: God provides and He will again. God unites His people and He will continue to do so. Lastly, God guides every step of the way, and I can’t wait to see what He will do through me with these open doors.

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