Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Our Christmas with Cambodian Refugees

Many years ago (1981) we shared a most unusual Christmas with a family of Cambodian refugees. It began when a woman in our stake, who had just returned from serving in a refugee camp in Laos, explained that the camps were too crowded and the government was going to begin shooting the Cambodian refugees. She plied with stake members (our small town) to sponsor some of the families so their lives could be saved. Though we had no idea how we were going to manage it, we volunteered. We, and two other families, simply felt prompted that it was what we should do and had faith that the Lord would help us to be able to do it.

Fall passed as we nervously expected the Cambodian family to arrive. Finally, shortly before Christmas, word came that they would be flying into Salt Lake in three days. That is when we began to realize that we were not alone. Our stake president loaned us his large van so we would have room to transport the family of seven. He also gave us permission to use the showers at the stake center so lice wouldn’t be brought into our home. Clean clothes were provided from the small “store” of donated clothes that was set up in a members basement. Beds, blankets, and dishes were given to this family. On Christmas Eve each person was given a gift of a new coat. A doctor, dentist, and eye doctor all donated their services to give the family needed health care. Suggestions were given on possible jobs for the parents, and when they were unable to find an apartment they could afford, a generous man in our stake financed the purchase of a trailer for them to live in.

Besides being impressed with the kindness of the people in our small town of Mapleton, Utah, we also began to have new appreciation for our blessings. We had not had to flee our home. We were free to do what we wanted. Our life was so safe. Tears still fill my eyes when I remember the father showing us a picture of his first wife and telling us how the Vietnamese solders had killed her and their baby girl when she had refused to divulge his hiding place.

We felt new appreciation as we began to see our lives through their eyes. The Cambodians were amazed that my husband and I had a college education.  Our home, which we considered very modest, was huge to them. We had two old cars. They explained to us that cars were rare in their country, and stressed that women do not drive them. Quickly, I came to appreciate that I had far more opportunities and respect than many women in the world are ever given.

I began to realize that there were so many little things I had taken for granted. When we took them to a large grocery store, the family was astounded at all the food which was available. I felt like I was presenting wonders when I showed them my washing machine and dryer. The mother was truly amazed when I opened the refrigerator and freezer. She proclaimed, “It is good! You do not have to shop every day.”

Yes, we had never before appreciated the comforts of our life as much, but as we watched this family, we also realized that they were happy with only the clothes on their backs. Being together as a family was all that really mattered. We felt more grateful than ever before for our Savior and the hope of being together forever.

As our family became lost in serving this family of Cambodians, we found  greater joy in Christmas and greater peace in our family. Each of us became absorbed in helping them adjust to a strange, new place. Our children became their friends. We shared snow with them, and their enthusiasm as they tried sledding for the first time. We carefully showed them how to make a snowman, then stood back in amazement while they turned our crude efforts into a beautifully sculpted snow Buddha.

This Christmas will always be remembered for the spirit we felt in our home. It came not from fancy decorations, food, or presents. In fact, we were so busy that there was little in the way of frills. What I will never forget, though, is the people we served and the spirit of love this brought into our home that Christmas of the Snow Buddha.

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