N.C. Baptists help Vietnamese hill people settle in U.S.
August 29 2002 by Derek Hodges , BR Intern

N.C. Baptists help Vietnamese hill people settle in U.S. | Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

Thursday, Aug. 29, 2002

N.C. Baptists help Vietnamese hill people settle in U.S.

By Derek Hodges BR Intern

Forty-one years ago the Montagnards of Vietnam were fighting alongside American troops in the War in Vietnam. Now they are being persecuted in their native land, and, with the help of organizations such as Lutheran Family Services (LFS) and several Baptist churches, they are seeking a new life in the United States.

First Baptist Church in Durham is one of several Baptist churches sponsoring Montagnard refugees. Church member Tom Hunter has coordinated efforts to assist a group of eight refugees that arrived in America in late June 2002. Hunter says that the "Spiritual need (of the refugees) is obviously most important to us, but their other needs are important, too."

When it comes to providing for the spiritual needs of the refugees, the church members remember to keep it simple. Sermons are exchanged for one-on-one interactions. Prayers consist of simple phrases like "Thank you for Jesus."

The church has worked with LFS to provide apartments, food and training to the refugees they have sponsored. Refugees are put through a series of classes that teach them about American culture in their language, as well as providing them with training to begin speaking English.

The refugees express overwhelming gratitude at the opportunity to have a better life in America. Speaking through an LFS translator, Ymon Envol, a Montagnard and new American citizen, said that he is very grateful to be living in the United States.

"Thanks to God for bringing us here, thanks to our American friends," Envol said. "America is great, exciting, everything is new. Everything is overwhelming."

While Envol said that he worries about how his fellow Montagnards who are still in Vietnam and Cambodia are being treated, he also said that he thanks God that he had the opportunity to be living in America. "If I don't have faith, I can't survive up to now. I pray everyday and I know that God has answered my prayers. My sponsors are great, they are very good people, I see them as parents, they have unconditional love. God is great, blessings to all you Americans!"

The Montagnards, also known as "hill people" or Dega, are tribal people who live in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Many of the Montagnards were converted to Christianity by visiting missionaries. While the fertile soil of the highlands had given the Montagnards good land for farming, the hills they lived in had also formed them into a group that is culturally distinct from other Vietnamese people.

Montagnards are primarily from the Jarai, Pnong, and Rhade ethnic groups. They are strong opponents of communism. This opposition to communism led them to join the Freedom Fighters in the War. They fought alongside American troops in the jungles of Vietnam, attempting to stop Ho Chi Menh and his communist Viet Cong.

Since the war the Montagnards have joined other minority peoples in Vietnam in protesting abuses by the government. Those peaceful demonstrations included protests of encroachment by the government on tribal lands, economic discrimination, and religious restrictions. Rather than ending the persecution the Montagnards faced from the Vietnam government because of their Christianity, the protests only escalated the suffering the Montagnards were forced to endure.

After protests in February 2001 the hill people faced more threats from the government than ever. They began, in large numbers, to move to United Nations refugee camps just across the border in Cambodia. When the provincial governments of Cambodia began forcing the Montagnards to return to Vietnam in the custody of Vietnamese police, international organizations like Human Rights Watch became involved in trying to improve the living conditions of the Montagnards.

When these organizations realized that the persecuted peoples could neither return to Vietnam, nor make a new home in Cambodia, they decided to bring the refugees to the United States where they could be assured of adequate living conditions. With the help of organizations like the U.S. State Department, which ensures safe travel for the refugees, and LFS, the Montagnards began arriving in the United States and settling in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

Already more than 3,000 refugees have settled in cities like Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and High Point, with 907 more expected before the end of the summer. As soon as the Montagnards arrive in the U.S. they are started in classes that will help them assimilate to a new culture. These classes teach the Montagnards everything from English skills, to how to handle money. They are given social security numbers and all appropriate paperwork by the U.S. government to start their new lives.

The Montagnards find jobs as soon as they can, and begin paying taxes immediately. They keep a strong bond with their fellow Montagnards, while still longing to help their family members back in Vietnam.

They soon realize that things in America are very different from things in Vietnam. Stores are bigger here, and rather than purchasing items one-at-a-time as in Vietnam, the Montagnards are excited to be able to fill up a shopping cart with everything they will need. Filling up that cart soon becomes a problem, as the Montagnards learn one of their first "hard lessons" of the U.S. - things are much more expensive here. To them the $400 they are given by LFS to open a checking account is a large amount of money. They soon realize, however, that money does not go as far here as it does in Vietnam.

Physical health concerns are addressed from the start of the immigration process. Before they ever leave Cambodia the Montagnards are checked and treated for communicable diseases. After arriving in the U.S. they are taken to doctors for a thorough check-up for any other ailments.

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8/29/2002 12:00:00 AM by Derek Hodges , BR Intern | with 0 comments
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