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Child Refugee Escapes Vietnam, Now Church Leader

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When Thai Do was 14-years-old, his mother asked him to leave Vietnam with his youngest sister.

“They warned me that it would be a risky journey and I might die,” he said.

“Or if I was caught, I would face jail or be executed.”

The year was 1976 and the Vietnam War had just ended. Thai and his family were living in extreme conditions.

“Many public executions took place and as a young child I witnessed two of those executions,” Thai said.

“If you had two meals in one day, that was luxury living. My parents felt there was no future for us in Vietnam, so I would escape with my younger sister. They only had enough gold to pay the boat fare for two people.”

Thai accepted he might never see his parents and siblings again.

“But I remember having no fear in my heart,” Thai said.

“I was prepared to go, and I was hopeful. At that time, I didn’t understand where that hope came from.”

In what Thai describes as a miracle, the government changed its law in 1978. Anyone could leave the country- but at a cost.

“As long as you paid a large sum amount of gold you could leave,” he said.

“That amount of gold could feed my family for a year.”

Six months later, another miracle occurred. An old friend of Thai’s father helped the family with the cost. That meant Thai could escape with his whole family.

On 27 February 1979, Thai and his family left the shores of Vietnam on a boat. Three boats that left at the same time.

The smallest boat sank due to stormy weather and 300 people lost their lives. The biggest of the three boats carrying 750 people were robbed by sea pirates.

The boat Thai’s family were on took a different route. After three days, they arrived at a deserted island in Malaysia.

But there was no food on that island, Thai said.

“With 384 people stranded, we quickly ate all that we have bought with us within a week.

“I still remember very clearly that I was paralysed for a whole day due to eating poisonous wild vegetation,” he said.

Two months later, they were rescued by the Red Cross and bought to an island in Malaysia housing 50,000 refugees.

Five months later, Thai and his family finally landed in Australia.

Thai’s parents worked 16 hours a day, “because they wanted us to obtain a degree and education,” he said.

Although it was difficult, Thai majored in statistics and applied maths at Monash University in Melbourne.

He met his wife Shirley at university and they married in August 1993. A year later, their son Anthony was born.

However, life soon changed dramatically for the Do family.

In 2002, the IT Telecommunication sector collapsed, and Thai lost his job. He spent months searching for employment but had no success.

“I’m a man of dignity and pride but I couldn’t even provide a meal for my son,” he said.

“I was devastated. It was like 1976 repeating itself.”

Around the same time, Shirley met missionaries and was baptised into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I told her she is free to do what she wants as long as she doesn’t drag me into it,” he said.

“But when I lost my job my wife told me, ‘if you need help, all you need to do is to ask God with faith and your prayers will be answered’.”

“I was at the lowest point of my life, so I thought, it won’t hurt if I tried.”

Thai locked himself in his bedroom, got on his knees and cried to the Lord for help.

Two days later, he watched a Church video with Shirley and seven-year-old Anthony.

“I thanked God silently in my heart for my family… after expressing my appreciation, I felt tremendous joy, peace and warmth. As I looked towards the picture of Jesus Christ, the same picture I prayed in front of, I saw a glow.

“I looked at my son and my wife. Both were watching television, unaware of what was transpiring at that time. I walked out of the room and as I stopped at the door, I looked at the picture again. The intense glow was still there.

“Suddenly, my wife asked me. “So, when are you ready to see the missionaries? “Without hesitation I said,” I’m ready.”

Thai was baptised in 2002 four months after his wife Shirley joined the Church. But it was not an easy journey, he said.

Thai had been smoking for more than 20 years.

“The elders advised me that there were two options available to giving up my addiction,” he said.

“I could seek professional help, but this would cost a lot of money. Or they can give me a priesthood blessing, and that would cost no money. I took the free option.”

The blessing helped Thai completely rid of his addiction. He has not touched a cigarette since his baptism.

And the blessings kept coming. Soon after Thai was baptized, his ex-manager called and offered him a job. Two of his clients also called, wanting to do business with him.

Thai found full time employment and is still working for this company now as a team leader.

Since Thai joined the Church, he has been involved in many leadership callings.

In March this year he was called to be the branch president of the Melbourne 3rd Branch, the first Vietnamese branch created in Australia. Its boundary covers all seven Stakes in Victoria and currently has 204 members.

“The Lords hand was always I my life, I just didn’t realize at the time,” Thai said.

“He brought me from the lowest points in my life and lifted me up. Escaping Vietnam wasn’t luck- because of the hard times I went though it strengthened me as a character and moulded me as a person. And now I’m a changed man.”