I had travelled home from my surreal expatriate life in 1992-era Eastern Europe for Thanksgiving holiday week to see my close-knit family and friends. On this particular evening, I was with my sister Tanya Marie (aka Pham Thi Than Nga), whom my parents of five children had adopted when she and I were eight years old. When she joined the family I went from being the youngest of five kids to being the youngest of 6 (by 2 months!). The story of her journey from war-torn Vietnam as a young child is an amazing story about God’s Hand being revealed through the unselfish and risky actions of many people across numerous time zones and cultures…but I digress.
On this night in particular, we were in Tanya Marie’s apartment, watching a video that she and her husband had taken during a trip to see her biological family in Vietnam, with whom she had made successful contact many years prior. She and her Vietnamese siblings had planned this trip carefully. It was her first trip home since being taken away at the age of five with a group of 80 school children whose administrators thought were going to be killed for learning about Jesus. They thought this was their only chance to stay alive, and Tanya Marie was charged with the responsibility of keeping her two younger (!) siblings together and safe. Although these many years later her parents knew that she was alive and well as a 26 year-old American, they had no idea that she was coming to see them.
The video frame bounced along in the van, showing the dirt road for one minute, the silk worm farm landscape the next, followed by my sister’s anxious and excited face — close up with hand rapidly waving saying something like “Hi honey!”. (Reality TV before that cultural movement was born!) A small shack appeared on the left horizon and eventually the van slowed to a halt in front of it. Tanya Marie got out and knocked on the home’s door. What followed brings me to tears every single time I contemplate it.
Her mother, so many years after having her 3 youngest children sent away to avoid the certain death all feared was ahead of them, opened the door and stood there, hands over her face and screaming. It was a piercing guttural moan, really, that seemed that it would never stop. She was expressing what? Joy? Pain? Guilt? Shock? As a mother who cannot for a second imagine my own children being torn from me and raised on the other side of the world by complete strangers, I’m sure that at least one of the things she was expressing was deep and abiding love for this beloved child of hers.
I sat, glued to the home-made video sobbing, aching, and rejoicing with my brave and resilient sister. I was struck by so much about this scene: her mother’s joy, her father’s hugs, her siblings’ proud chatter about what they had successfully orchestrated, the kitchen wall plastered with every picture, drawing, and letter Marie had mailed to them over the years…all amidst the rustic beauty of the silk worm farm.
But I was most deeply struck by the raw expression of love in this miracle I had just witnessed on video: the tender reunification of a mother and her daughter, long separated by the sin and hate of war.
There are moments when my intellect challenges my heart to doubt God’s capacity to love each and every one of us as his precious child. And then I remember my sister’s journey and this video scene that is so deeply burned into my memory. To me it is one of the times that God has revealed His hand in a way that none of us could miss. And it is a key reminder that God wants to hold us – His unique and special creations – safely in His arms every day. All we have to do is knock on that simple door.