My dad lived in Northern Laos, controlled by the Communists. School only went up to the 4th grade, and when my dad met that capacity, he was sent to the only school left: Military school. Essentially, he was taught to be a reserve for the Vietcong.
My dad does not know his biological parents. All he knows is that his parents gave him up to my grandparents. His brother, my uncle, is “adopted” as well.
My dad lived in the jungles of Northern Laos as a teen. Everyday they would move deeper into the jungle because they needed more wood for their fires. Everyday he lived with death holding a threat to his throat: A mine, an IED, an accident, a mistake. He navigated grounds littered with inches that, if perturbed, would have eliminated any chance of my birth.
My dad had a friend at the military school who invited him to have a sweet potato, a delicacy in that environment. Unwantingly, my dad declined in lieu of his duty to fetch water for the day. While he was filling his pail, he heard a thud in the distance, a morbid indication of an explosive device. His friend died, and had my father been with him, so would have he.
My dad did not have an easy life in the jungle. He severed leeches off of his leg with his knife, and he has scars that leave a reminder of his time in the jungles. He stresses to me that I — we — have life well off in the United States. He doesn’t want me to take this life, opportunity, and gift for granted.
My dad fooled the Communist government. He, and my grandpa, led the Communists to believe that they supported Communism, so that they were allowed to stay in Laos — and perhaps allowed to live. They did not plan to stay in Laos.
My dad escaped to Thailand early in the morning. My dad crossed the Mekong river with my grandparents, uncle, and cousins. They hid in the jungle the day before their escape, and paid off their river transporters with gold because money was worthless. The escape carried the risk of kidnap, and death from either the transport or the government. They arrived on Thai soil at dawn, turned themselves in, sat in jail for a day, were sent to a camp, and then were free; this was the normal protocol for escapees.
My dad became a Christian because of Catholic missionaries that supported him and his family. He was an atheist in Laos, but he grew to know the Lord because of the missionaries’ dedication to the Lord’s commission.
My dad is not alive because he navigated life skillfully or luckily. Of skill, quite the contrary. Of luck, there is no luck, but there is purpose. My dad believes, and I do too, that he survived the jungles of Northern Laos, the void of never knowing his parents, the military school, the explosive infested grounds, the Mekong river, the Communist government, and corrupt transporters because the Lord has a purpose for my dad outside of Southeast Asia.
My dad raised me with Christian values as a single parent. He instilled discipline, love, and time. I inherited those values, but did not seriously consider or value them until my sophomore year in high school.
I exist — the Nathan that you know and read — because my dad lived in Northern Laos. Why do you exist?
Honor your father and mother, and fathers do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Exodus 20:12, Colossians 3:21)
Epilogue: Regardless of your belief in God, God has a plan for your life. Whatever you are experiencing right now is purposeful. The Lord will finish the good work he has started in you, but you can refuse that completion. You can choose to finish your own work instead of God’s; I pray that you don’t.
Learn about your family history. Always remember where you came from. Leave your legacy with your children. That is the most important thing you can leave in this world when you leave.