My refugee story

I’ve never really told anyone our family’s story – about how we got accepted to the US, about how were were given the opportunity to better our lives. It has been so long that the circumstances half-myths.

It’s a razor’s edge between my life now versus the alternatives — all much worse. I count my blessings. I am reminded of how my life could have been every time I travel overseas and see how good we have it here. This is a land of plenty, a place of obscene wealth.

My family fled Communist Vietnam in 1984, 5 years after suffering through economic collapse, war, detention camps, hunger and the forced uncertainties of living in a country that didn’t belong to us any longer. We fled on a makeshift fishing boat, heading out to the China Sea in hope of hitting land. We fled for freedom, but mostly for “anywhere but back there.”

After a week on the open water, after a terrible storm, after 20 ft waves, after the engine died, after pirates, after the provisions emptied, after deaths, after memories I’ve lost but my parents will hold forever, we were saved by Grace above and by people who saw us as worth saving. 

Our boat was dead in the water. But we saw an island in the horizon. No – a helicopter pad? An oil rig.

On June 12, 1984 this letter was sent from aboard an oil tanker in the South China Sea:

To Whom This Letter May Concern:

I have had few tasks in life that have held more pleasure than enclosing the small piece of paper in this letter and I am sure you will share an even greater happiness knowing that your relative or friend is now safe.

On the 11th June at approximately 18.00hrs a small boat of about 28 feet in length carrying an incredible human cargo of 74 people (41 men, 17 women and 16 children) had navigated for 7 days in the South China Seas before, by chance arriving at this offshore installation where it was possible to transfer them to the supply vessel ‘Yukon Ranger’ and equip them with food, some clothing and bedding.

Their present safety compared to their perilous voyage must to them now be indescribable. The Yukon Ranger left the offshore Duyong Field Installation on 11.6.84 at 1140hrs for the isalnd of ‘Pulau Bidong’ off the east coast of Malaysia where all will be landed under the care of the Malaysian government on 12.6.84.

If it is possible I am sure you will do everything within your possession to assist them.

A number of addresses were given to me by those on board and I trust this letter will arrive at its chosen destination.

As for myself I can but wish them God’s protection and would be delighted if at any time you could spare a moment to inform me of their future safety and progress.


Ted Roberts, Geoff Taylor and Jim Fortescue

This year, I am thankful for this story, and for the kindness of people who act because it was the right thing to do.

My brother, mom, dad and I with other church kids in a refugee camp, Philippines 1984.

Leave a Reply