From Rags to true Riches
by Quynh Nga Nguyen
At age 15 I sang my first solo, and at 18, I was a famous singer. This was not because of my great voice, but because God used the songs I sang to touch the hearts of others. After I sang, people would tell me, “When you sing, God touches my heart and I know that I don’t love Him enough.” Then they would hug me and cry. After a concert in a large theater in Da Nang (Vietnam), an old man came up to a pastor and said, “When the singer sang the song ‘I Am the Reason,’ I didn’t know the reason Jesus died. But now I know—I am the reason for Him to die.”
As a young person, these responses, small as they were, encouraged me when I faced challenges. Today I am older, and God is still using my voice to touch the hearts of others. I have a peace and security that is totally different from the difficulties I and my family faced as I grew up.
Under the Banyan Tree
Four months after my birth, my parents were forced to move from their home. My father’s older siblings were afraid that my father, the youngest child in the family, would get the majority of the family inheritance once my grandfather passed away. So my parents left home, empty handed. When they arrived in Dong Nai City, they began swiddening (slash and burn agriculture done on sloped lands). My father worked as a rickshaw driver, a motorbike driver, and an agricultural worker. My mother nurtured me while at the same time carried certain foods to the market to sell. They had such difficult and strenuous lives and not even a home to go to at the end of the day. Our only shelter was under the banyan tree near the field where my parents worked, and that was where we slept each night. When I was old enough to be left alone, my parents would begin their work in the morning and place me under the banyan tree with maybe a loaf of bread or a handful of rice so I would not cry. There I stayed until they returned later in the day.
As time passed, it became more and more difficult to leave me alone as my parents went off to work, so my mother started to carry me along to glean wheat, corn, and other grains in the fields. One day my father said, “How about we sell her to a wealthy family so that she may have a better life and we can have some extra money for living?” My mother couldn’t bear the thought at first, but she finally agreed. They met up with a certain affluent family who wanted to pay $1.9 million in Vietnamese money for me. Both my parents said it would have to be $2 million for them to sell me. When the family refused, my father asked them to add in another $50.00. But by that time my mother could not follow through with the plan, so I was not sold.
My mother took me with her to beg for food and do other tasks until I was three years old. By this time my baby brother was already in the picture. All day long we accompanied our parents up the mountains, to the fields, to go gleaning, to go begging, etc. Having young children on the job was very inconvenient, so my parents decided to entrust us to the care of monks at a Buddhist pagoda. My parents’ belief was that at the pagoda we would be treated kindly and mercifully. Every day my brother and I stayed at the pagoda and were taught and nurtured by the monks and teachers there. We burned incensed and followed the worship practices daily like miniature monks!
However, one day the monks called my parents and told them to come pick us up. They were not willing to house us anymore because during their meditation times they needed peace and quiet—and we often cried and made noise. So once again, under the shade of the banyan tree, we established our home. Rain or shine, cold or hot, we found shelter there with tattered clothing and ragged blankets.
Feeling Ugly and Alone
After a few years of hard, non-stop labor, my parents were able to save up enough money to buy a small piece of land in the countryside and settle down. Finally, we had a real place to call home. I was able to start kindergarten at six years of age. The clothing I wore to school was sewn from bits of rags my mother was able to find and collect. I never knew the feeling of having and wearing new clothes. I sometimes cried because other children teased me, and my parents would comfort me by saying, “It’s because we are poor. You work hard and do well in school and nobody will make fun of you anymore.”
Though I tried my best in school I still could not do well. I didn’t have access to the new school books like the other children, and, after school, I had to tend the buffalos. To get to school I had to walk three kilometers, and three kilometers back. I walked alone because no one wanted to be my friend. They said I was ugly and poor. I always felt sad and was very self-conscious.
The Sound of Music
One day as I was walking home from school, I heard some merry music and the sound of children’s laughter. I ran to the sound and leaned against the fence of a church to watch. I saw children my age receiving gifts, candies, and other goodies. Everyone seemed very happy and at peace, and I told myself, “They are from rich families; that’s why they are so happy.” At that moment, I don’t know why, but I looked up in the sky and cried out, as if to God, “They are human, but I’m also human! Why is it that they can be so happy and I cannot? Why can they smile but I cannot?”
As I started to leave, I saw a lady from my village inside the church. I was excited! If she could go inside, shouldn’t I be able to also? I ran home hoping to see her later that evening and ask her how to be admitted into the church. When I knocked on her door, she was not very friendly. I begged her over and over to tell me how to get into the church. She gave me a quick response of “Sunday morning” before slamming the door on me. That was all I knew. Sunday morning. I didn’t know what time, but I figured as long as it was still morning, I would be able to get inside.
When I went there that Sunday, I learned what they called the Bible, though I didn’t understand anything. I was so happy. I ran home and told my little brother about it. I told him that everything was free—free English lessons, free food, free gifts. It was everything that he and I never got! From that day on, we started attending church. The board of directors at the church took notice of us and started to witness to us. They came to our house to witness to our parents. We were taught and invited to Bible studies. And after some time my mother and father accepted Christ.
Abused and Abusing
My family began to become more affluent and we were content and at peace for a while. Then one day I discovered something distressing. My father had started to socialize with the wrong crowd and got into gambling and prostitution. Whatever money we had, he wasted. He began selling items in the house until there was almost nothing left, money or otherwise. My family started to become conflicted. There was a lot of arguing and fighting — verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse— almost every night. My father saw himself as the only authority figure in the household and often beat my mother and us kids. If I got home past 9:00 pm, he would be waiting at the crosswalk, wooden stick in hand. The beatings hurt, but I never cried. I never once cried out loud when he beat me; I only cried when I was alone.
My family situation caused me to lose motivation to live. I felt my life was different from everyone else’s. I lost the will to laugh and found myself crying all the time. Then I found I could no longer cry. All my emotions were gone. Even when my mother took pills in a suicide attempt, I felt no emotions. I only thought, “If death is a possible option, then take it.” I hated life, and I thought of killing myself. Then I thought of my little brother. What would happen to him? I needed to live to take care of him.
When I was ten years old, my parents parted ways. Every day I worked in the marketplace, selling vegetables and other items to have enough money to put my brother through school. I was not a good student so I did everything I could to ensure that he would be a good one. When he upset me, I would spank him. One time I made him bleed, and I was so hurt inside that I ran to the back of the house and cried. Inside of me existed two people—one person was very strong and hardened, but the other was a small, frightened girl who needed love, attention, and protection. I was afraid of what lay ahead. I was afraid of being alone. I was lonely, and no one understood me.
My Invisible Friend
In the midst of all this turmoil, I found a true friend. I spoke with him daily. It was Jesus! At first he seemed so far away, but he was really working hard in my life. The story I had heard at church, of Jesus Christ who died for my sins, slowly sounded less like a folk story and more like the truth. He was always by my side. Whenever I was belittled or criticized, Jesus was with me. Whenever I was sad, I felt He was also sad. When I worked out in the fields, under the scalding sun, and drenched in sweat, I felt at peace when I looked into the sky and conversed with God. I knew God was looking down at me. He was watching and caring for his little girl at every moment. No matter how strenuous my life was, I did not lose hope. One day I looked toward heaven and cried, “My God! I want to become a great and mighty female for your kingdom! Please help me!”
Day after day, I began to experience God in new and awesome ways. I started to love Him more deeply. I engaged in prayers, meditations, and Scripture readings. He taught me to love my enemies and to bless those who prosecuted me. I started to pray for my family, and, miraculously, my parents reunited. Our family life became somewhat normal again, although I felt in my heart a huge wound that had not healed. I felt there needed to be something more, something different.
Doors that Opened
So when I was 18 years old I left home and moved to the city of Da Nang. The changes that took place there were beyond my imagination! God was really holding me to my word of wanting to become a great and mighty worker for his kingdom. He had a new life for me and He guided the way and opened the doors. I had to work hard to earn money for myself. Nobody supported me to go to school, so I worked in places such as an English Center, fashion shop, and charity organizations. I rented a room for students. And my faith was growing as I studied the Bible with other Christians.
At church I witnessed the brothers and sisters in Christ standing and praising God with their voices. If only I could stand up and sing like them, I thought, I could express my love for God in such a wonderful way. I cried out to God, “Father, I accept that my voice is not great. But please let me just praise you in a heartfelt way. Allow me to sing with my heart. I only want to glorify you!”
When I asked one of my sister friends if she would help introduce me to sing in someone’s church, her response was, No! NO! This made me a little sad, but I had learned when people put you down, that is the time God will lift you up! He opened the door, and I began to be invited to sing in many churches, many groups—every night! I was so busy praising God.
To this day, I still do not understand how this happened. I have never studied music nor do I posses any special musical skills or abilities. Whenever I sing, I just ask God to sing in my heart. The content of the song portrays an image that reflects upon my heart and mind, and my mouth opens—but I contribute nothing. Once a sister in Christ told me, “When I hear a well-known singer, I just want to sit and enjoy, but when I hear you sing, I want to stand up and sing with you!”
God opened the way for me to go overseas—to Korea, the Philippines, the USA—to sing in conferences, to touch people’s heart for God. I don’t consider myself a great singer, but I have asked God to make my songs touch people’s hearts. Heart to heart! That is the key.
God also blessed me with a way to attend the College of Foreign Languages where I studied Korean. I began working with a number of international charity organizations, traveling to mountainous regions and distributing scholarships and clothing to needy children. Through these experiences and many more, I had opportunities to help those less fortunate and witness to them about the love of Jesus Christ. I was even able to establish my own organization, The International Service Group, that assisted foreign individuals who needed guidance in knowing how to function in the Vietnamese society.
My Family United in Christ
Many times I knelt down and prayed for my family, begging and pleading with God until He answered. Now, during prayers or conversations whenever we speak of the past, my parents always cry. Whenever I travel overseas or away from home, they call to check on me and tell me they miss me. My family eventually bought a house in Da Nang and today faithfully serves in the church. My little brother joined the choir and has decided to serve God in music ministry.
God is real and he can change the lives of those who belong to him. His special and miraculous plan has been revealed in my life. He has changed a homeless, unattractive, untalented girl into the person he wants, with a heart for Him and to please Him. As his daughter, I am free to become all he wants me to be.