The value of belief
By Vu Thanh Thuy
I believe in many things.
I believe in dreams, in hopes and in people. Even in the darkest moments of my life – and there have been many – I always believe that somehow the darkness will end. When there seems nothing to believe in, I have faith in achieving what seems like the impossible. Perhaps it’s because I believe in destiny, but I know that if my time on earth is not up, anything is possible. The infinite possibilities make believing in the impossible easy for me to do.
In Vietnam, I was jailed twice as a political prisoner for violating the Communist laws. I faced starvation and death on a boat in the South China Sea while trying to escape from Vietnam, three different times. Once at sea, pirates held me captive on a deserted island in the Gulf of Thailand for three weeks of hell.
In all those horrible moments, the only thing I could believe in was overcoming the impossible and fleeing to safety. That kind of desperate, blind faith was able to keep me from giving up, knowing that that would be my only weapon to defend myself, my only means to survive, and my only way out of terrible situations. Ironically and mysteriously, my faith was reinforced again and again in many circumstances. Furthermore, I was ultimately rewarded beyond my wildest dreams.
When I was at my lowest, waiting for death from starvation and thirst in the South China Sea, we were ignored by passing ships that would not even stop to help us, much less rescue us, I vowed to myself that if I survived, I would come back on a ship that would not ignore people in need.
When I ran for my life as prey to be hunted down by the sea pirates, I swore that if I survived, I would tell the world the story of my people’s tragic history. And I kept reminding myself and repeating those promises aloud to anyone who would listen.
At first, some people laughed at me, and sometimes, I laughed at myself. Who was I to dream the impossible?
I was just a new refugee who lived off the mercy of the United Nations and who was granted a visa to the United States. I barely spoke English, had neither money nor connections, and was just a poor and helpless Vietnamese refugee. But I kept believing and joined any organization that could help make my vows possible.
Believe it or not, people not only heard me but they helped me. France’s Medecins du Monde (Physicians of the World) and Germany’s Cap Anamur were two of the first organizations that joined with the Vietnamese overseas community to send ships to rescue 3,000 boat people.
It was eight years after my ordeal that I had the opportunity to return to the South China Sea. I didn’t return on a regular ship but a French Navy helicopter carrier. We didn’t just rescue the boat people who drifted by but actively went searching for them by helicopters. This impossible dream of mine became possible and was even documented by an ABC News crew and aired in 1989 on 20/20, hosted by Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs. The impossible wasn’t just possible but so much more!
During my revitalized life, I have had a long list of mysterious “impossibles” made possible by my belief. They range from the day-to-day challenge of arguing with five teenage daughters to the unexpected success of our Houston radio station despite having no business management or marketing training. In partnership with my husband – a fellow journalist and business partner – we have weathered the work conflicts and trials of running a business. Now we continue to serve our fellow countrymen by being a voice and information source for the Vietnamese American community. Even to this day, after a dozen years of expanding into more media outlets, we still rely on our journalistic skills more than our marketing ability to keep the company running.
More than 20 years ago, we missed the opportunity to tell our story in a book and movie deal because we couldn’t meet the deadline while working two jobs and raising five young children. Now we have finished writing our own book.
If our story is meant to be shared with others, I know it will happen. If our story can help others, I hope it will.
I have that faith because I truly believe.
Vu Thanh Thuy’s piece is from a series of essays on Voices & Values of Journalism that has been created by Images & Voices of Hope with the generous support of the Fetzer Institute and the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University. Our collective intention is to make these essays widely available to journalists, aspiring journalists and anyone interested in the field as part of an emergent curriculum to explore the deep foundation of values that support the important work that journalists do.