Religion & Liberty recently interviewed former German war correspondent Uwe Siemon-Netto. He’s also the author of Triumph of the Absurd, a book chronicling his time covering the war in Vietnam. One of Siemon-Netto’s recurring themes is the still propped up line in the West that North Vietnam’s aggression was a “people’s revolution” or an act of liberation. A people’s revolution doesn’t execute soldiers who have laid down their arms or force large segments of the population in South Vietnam into reeducation camps. After the fall of Saigon, hundreds of thousands of boat people died or drowned at sea trying to flee their communist tormentors.
One of those young boys at the time was Vinh Chung, whose family was rescued by a World Vision aid ship in 1979. His Vietnamese and American story is chronicled in the new book Where the Wind Leads. In Parade magazine, Chung talks about his return visit to Vietnam and the importance of Christian sacrifice, stewardship, and what it means to be an American:
When I was a student in medical school in 2002, I returned to Vietnam for the first time, to visit my relatives who are still there. I was shocked by the poverty. Their houses were shacks, the walls plastered over with newspapers; bare light bulbs hung from the ceiling on electrical cords. My cousins slept on the floor. Visiting them was like walking into a parallel universe—the life that would have been mine had the wind blown our boat in a different direction.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (12:48 NLT). I used to wonder who Jesus meant, because I sure didn’t think it was my family. The way I saw it, we had been given nothing, entrusted with nothing. I hoped that rich and powerful people would read Jesus’s words and take them to heart.
But when I went to Vietnam, I finally understood: He meant me. I was the one plucked from the South China Sea. I was the one granted asylum in a nation where education is available to everyone, and prosperity is attainable for anyone. I worked hard to get to where I am today, but the humbling truth is that my hard work was possible because of a blessing I did nothing to deserve. And that blessing is something I must pass on, in any way I can.
My story is true for all of us, whether you arrived in this country by boat or by birth: Much has been given to us—and much is required. That, I believe, is what it means to be an American.
Sacrifice is increasingly a virtue we are losing in our contemporary American society. We’ve got the entitlement part down but our solely lacking in the requirement of being citizens department. That fact is attested to by just glancing at our bloated federal debt, our culture of entitlement, and the rise of the grievance industry. In the epilogue of Triumph of the Absurd, Siemon-Netto makes a prescient observation, “When a self-indulgent throwaway culture grows tired of sacrifice it becomes capable of discarding everything like a half-eaten doughnut.”