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A miraculous journey of faith

By John W. Kennedy

Waterlily Tung is a petite, soft-spoken woman whose broad smile and expressive voice hide a childhood of pain. She grew up in Cu Xa and Cam Ranh Bay, site of a U.S. Army-Air Force base during the Vietnam War. After communists took over South Vietnam in 1975, her father, who had been working in a pharmacy, was reassigned to cultivate a collective plot of land.

Soon Waterlily’s parents determined that their daughter needed to flee the country to have a better future. In 1980, they allowed their 11-year-old girl to escape with Waterlily’s aunt and grandmother.

After hefty payoffs and months of waiting, a smuggler agreed to transport Waterlily safely out of the country. Along with 30 other stowaways packed like sardines, Waterlily scrunched in the cramped hold of a fishing boat in a compartment designed to haul fish.

But en route to Malaysia the boat suddenly stopped as a ship pulled up alongside. These weren’t Vietnamese officials coming to reclaim escapees. That would have been merciful. It turned out to be a pirate ship from Thailand.

As if in a nightmare, knife-wielding marauders searched the ship and uncovered the hidden human cargo. They confiscated the jewelry and bars of gold passengers had carried on as their only valued goods. The raiders tossed any other possessions the refugees had into the Gulf of Thailand.

After the traumatic experience, the escapees thought danger had passed. However, the next day, four more menacing pirate ships simultaneously commandeered the fishing vessel.

Although she had lived through war as a child, Waterlily had never seen such violence perpetrated against other people. And she never had experienced such unbelievable brutality at close range.

Pirates shot the captain and began pushing crewmen from the fishing boat into the water, with the expectation they would drown. One young man refused to budge, and a bandit struck him in the forehead with an anchor, gouging out one of his eyes.

“I could see the thrill these men received from the intense wickedness they inflicted,” a tearful Waterlily remembers.

A pirate, while laughing, began stabbing a crewman two feet in front of Waterlily, splattering blood over her. A few feet away, Waterlily saw and heard women being raped.

As the melee continued, Waterlily sat motionless, expecting to be the next torture or assault victim. But by the end of the siege, neither Waterlily, her aunt nor her grandmother had been touched.

“This forever changed my life,” Waterlily says, struggling to recount the wrenching events. “God used that experience to establish my faith in Him. I didn’t even know God at the time. Yet He was merciful to me. He rescued me physically, and later spiritually.”

Their immediate situation was bleak. The pirates yanked out the fishing boat’s engine. An emotionally exhausted Waterlily had only the clothes on her back, no prospect of food, no means of maneuvering the vessel and shark-infested waters surrounding her.

Thirty grains of rice and a lemon discovered in the hole where the engine had been removed were divided 26 ways for those still surviving on board.

For four days, Waterlily waited to die, blistered by the hot sun during the day and chilled by cold winds at night.

Then a heavily fortified ship came alongside the schooner. When the crew demanded that the ragtag inhabitants board their vessel, Waterlily felt like a sheep going to slaughter.

But then an odd thing happened. The crew provided meals to the refugees. Waterlily suspected the sustenance served merely to provide strength before torment. But she received fresh fish every day for a week.

“They were pirates, too, but they took pity on us,” Waterlily recalls. “God moved upon their hearts.”

Waterlily finally arrived in Thailand where she stayed in refugee camps behind barbed wire fences for nearly a year.

When she reached the United States she lived with her Buddhist aunt as guardian. At 13, Waterlily learned about Jesus through a family friend. In high school, a substitute teacher further explained the Savior. At the College of William and Mary, Waterlily made a commitment to seek God after being evangelized by a Campus Crusade for Christ staff member.

A decade ago, Waterlily married Brian Tung, who was serving as an active duty U.S. Army Aviation lieutenant. Brian, a 1994 U.S. Military Academy graduate with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering, served in Camp Eagle, South Korea; Fort Campbell, Ky; and Indianapolis.

Brian, a third-generation Chinese-American, became an active Christian late in his aviation career. While he was serving as a brigade communications officer, the Lord confirmed Brian’s full-time call to ministry with an experience similar to the apostle Peter’s. Brian had been meditating on John 21 for a month.

“God asked Peter three times if he loved Him, and God asked me three times if I would become an Army chaplain,” Brian recalls. “Three times, God clearly spoke to me, and I knew He was calling me into the chaplaincy.”

By faith, Brian moved his family to Springfield, Mo., and enrolled in Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. For two years in seminary, Brian gained essential experience in volunteer ministry. With little money remaining, Brian figured God wanted him to find a high-paying civilian job for a few years to save enough to finish seminary.

But just as the Lord rescued Waterlily in Vietnam, He provided for the Tung family at AGTS.

Peter Adams, a New York public school eighth grade math teacher, heard about the Tungs’ plight via Scott McChrystal, a prayer partner from church and the Military/VA representative for Assemblies of God Chaplaincy. Adams sensed the Lord telling him to donate $2,000 a month to the Tungs for 10 consecutive months so Brian could graduate. Adams did so, even though he had never met the Tungs and he received no tax deduction for his gift.

“You can’t take it with you,” says Adams, 54. “I’d rather do the Lord’s work on earth.”

Adams, a teacher for 31 years, says he benefited from the experience as well.

“I learned a lot about the differences between needs and wants,” Adams says. “I learned a lot about being more disciplined and depending on the Lord.”

Brian graduated last May with a master of divinity degree from AGTS. In September, he began an assignment as a U.S. Army squadron chaplain in a Stryker Brigade at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Meanwhile, Waterlily, in addition to raising three children, is preparing for whatever the Lord has in store for her in Alaska. She believes studying Greek at AGTS will help her to speak the Word of God into the lives of young wives at the base.

“God has given me this boldness, courage and desire to share with anybody this testimony God has given me,” Waterlily says. “God has brought me through. After 28 years, I can rejoice when I face trials, just like the Word of God says, because I know God is working this all through for my own good, for my own character.”


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at jkennedy.agblogger.org.

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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