Part five of five parts; click here to read part four.
84. Nout Thipphavong, Friend of Refugees
In a moving address to several hundred junior highers at a Baptist church conference in Kansas City last April, Nout Thipphavong, pastor and former refugee, shared snippets of her life's journey: She grew up in a privileged child-hood in Laos but became an impoverished political refugee in two foreign countries. She was reared in the animistic Buddhism of popular Lao religion but became a follower of Christ. And she has grown from a novice Christian to an internationally respected religious leader and pastor.
Nout (rhymes with "root") arrived in the United States in the mid-1980s when she was just slightly older than those in that teenage audience. Like millions of other Southeast Asians, her family fled their home and country due to oppression and economic hardship fostered by the political upheaval of the post-Vietnam War era.
They settled in California, where other family members had preceded them. Nout remembers the "neighbor love" of a Laotian church in San Diego: "They sent people every night to read the Bible and pray and ask us if we needed help to go to the market or government offices."
She soon re-established contact with a young man whom she had grown to love in a Thai refugee detention center, and they married in 1986. The young couple moved from California to Pennsylvania where her husband, Phokham Thipphavong, had been sponsored by a Brethren in Christ congregation. "The church took care of everything for us: a car, how to shop for groceries, and teaching us English and the Bible," she recalls. "We had nobody else. Just the people from the church."