Sudden Family, Sudden Hope

Sudden Family, by Debi and Steve Standiford, Nhi and Hy Phan (Word, 1986, 163 pp.; $9.95, cloth). Reviewed by Roger P. Winter, director, United States Committee for Refugees.

Years ago, while at Wheaton College, I had the dream many young people have: saving the world from its ills. As I grew in experience, I learned the value and satisfaction of helping individuals. This is one of the lessons of Sudden Family.

Authors Debi and Steve Standiford volunteered to spend a month with other church friends teaching English to Vietnamese refugees arriving in Thailand, as part of the great “boat people” drama of 1979–80. As busy, young, up-and-coming lawyers they were not planning on instant parenthood. However, as their volunteer service came to a close, they offered themselves as mother and father to two teenage refugee brothers, Nhi and Hy Phan, one of whom was permanently disabled.

This family’s story, told separately through the eyes of each of the four participants, combines many dramatic elements: the struggle of young boys reaching for manhood; the adjustment of two sets of strangers to a secure cross-cultural family relationship; and the hope of finally overcoming physical infirmity. It is a story worth reading just for these elements alone. However, this story carries a special message—not to be mesmerized by “the problem” but to reach out to the individual victim.

The Standiford Solution

Nhi and Hy were refugees, having fled an intolerable situation in their homeland. The journey was inherently risky, made worse by repeated pirate attacks. Having found asylum in Thailand, their prospects were for an interminable stay in a refugee camp, offering little hope for ...

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