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From a Leaking Boat to a New Home at Neerlandia CRC--Part 2

Trang Thi's children

(continued from “From a Leaking Boat to Neerlandia CRC--Part 1”)

Mr. & Mrs. Elgersma would arrive every Saturday morning without fail for our weekly grocery run. They would make a point of going through our refrigerator and cupboards to take inventory of what needed replenishing. Then they would walk me through each food aisle of the small Co-op Store, point to a product, name it and very patiently say, “You like? You have.” And should I nod my head, they would add the item to our grocery cart. Every week without fail we would always stop in front of the meats counter and load up on packaged wieners. This was our primary source of protein for weeks, even months!

One day, we had visitors from the Edmonton Vietnamese Alliance Church. Upon learning that the Neerlandia CRC had sponsored a Vietnamese family, they came to welcome us and offer what assistance they could give. As luck would have it they inquired after our treatment and asked if I had any challenges or concerns. I proudly showed them all the comforts that church had provided my family and I, including the well-stocked refrigerator and cupboards. We were very well cared for…the only challenges were the packages found in the freezer. My niece and I had often attempted to unwrap these frozen items. At times the packing paper was difficult to remove and we couldn’t be sure what the items were, although we guessed that most of the items looked like meats. One time we tried to chop up the whole chicken. This chipped the knife and didn’t even put a dent in the bird. So we put it back where we found it.

Wieners were the only meat that was not frozen and one that we could cook easily. So we prepared and feasted on wieners for almost every meal. At discovering this, our Vietnamese visitors laughed until they were in tears. They explained that meats were frozen to preserve quality and extend use. This is foreign to the Vietnamese culture. The only common frozen items were ice and perhaps ice-cream if you happened to be very rich. We were to plan our meals more in advance and remove the frozen package from the freezer to let it thaw before preparing and cooking. Fortunately I learned this very important lesson before committing to becoming vegan!

Other life changes included the need to communicate in English and working minimum-wage jobs. In Vietnam I owned and managed a number of successful businesses. My husband and I had a profitable construction company, construction supplies distributor, and a small jewelry shop. We also had a number of household staff: a cook, nannies and a cleaning maid. I rarely completed daily meal preparations or cleaning chores. Yet the first job I was able to get in Canada was a janitorial position in a school in Barrhead. Many a night I resorted to crying myself to sleep out of self-pity. I had no choice but to push forward and do what I must to feed my young family. My misery must have shown, as soon after our CRC sponsor was kind enough to arrange for a dishwashing job at the Lotus Hotel in Barrhead. This later progressed to becoming kitchen help, a dining room cook and at the end, one of the head cooks.

Life started in earnest under the sponsorship of Klaas and Esther Tuininga. With the Tuiningas we were made to feel like part of their extended family. My children and I were invited to all the holiday celebrations like Easter Dinner, Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Dinner, etc. We were even welcomed to Nanninga family reunions and other family events. It was through these and many other kindnesses that I was able to learn and adopt these Canadian practices. I was taught to drive and they helped me buy my first car! We remained in Neerlandia for a total of 7 years.

In 1987 I moved my family to Edmonton in hope of changing my career, increasing our interactions with other Vietnamese families and providing my children with exposure to an urban life. With my accumulated savings and through business connections made at the Vietnamese Alliance Church, I acquired 50% ownership of a refurbished appliances business. I was also able to purchase my first house! We all worked hard at building the next phase of our life. Each one of my children maintained a part- or full-time job throughout their high school years to contribute to household expenses.

We’ve just passed the 33-year milestone after our arrival to Canada. The Lord, through the grace of the CRC, has continued to bestow his blessings upon me. I am now retired and still reside in Edmonton with my husband, Hoi. My children are all grown and have started families and successful careers of their own. My humble family of 5 has now grown to 17 with all the in-laws and grandchildren.

I continue to be grateful for the many opportunities that the Neerlandia CRC and members of its congregation have given me, which have propelled me to where I am today. It is through generosity and support of the church that my family and I were able to build a strong foundation for life in Canada. I thank the Lord for always guiding me and blessing our family with love, good health, and peace.

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