Love Speaks Every Language
July 1984

“Love Speaks Every Language,” Ensign, July 1984, 37

Love Speaks Every Language

On Saturday, 8 September 1979, six Vietnamese refugees arrived at my home, hungry, homeless, and exhausted. After months of bare survival in a refugee camp in Bangkok, Thailand, they had traveled first to Japan, then to San Francisco, Albuquerque, and finally Farmington, New Mexico. Their one piece of luggage had been lost en route.

And so it was that I found myself sitting in my living room early the next morning wondering what to dress two little girls from Vietnam in. All I had for them was a couple of my husband’s T-shirts. At that point a knock sounded on my door, and a woman stood there with a large cardboard box in her arms.

“I read the article in the morning paper about the arrival of the refugees,” she said. “I gathered these clothes in hopes you could use them.”

When I opened the box, there were dresses, underclothes, sweaters, stockings—and everything sized to fit the girls. It was a proper extension of the miracles that had brought them alive to our home.

Weeks earlier, as I watched the “boat people” day after day on TV, I vowed to help a family. The words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty came to my mind with full force: “Give me your tired, your poor—your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Here were such a people. By thousands they had turned to the open sea in tiny fishing boats.

Two weeks after volunteering to sponsor a family, I was notified that a family was on its way. I spent a day cleaning the bedrooms they would occupy in my home. At the close of the day I knelt in the room I had finished cleaning and thanked my Heavenly Father for this great privilege. I prayed for the strength I needed, for patience, understanding, long-suffering, and above all else—charity. I received an immediate assurance that the Spirit was pleased.

I was told by the sponsoring organization that the Luu family was uneducated. I said, “That is okay, send them and we will teach them.” But when they arrived, I found they were a family of dentists. In Vietnam they had hidden their identity to escape death when the communists decided to purge the country of its educated population.

The family consisted of “Nite-Nite,” or grandmother, the young mother, My Linh (pronounced May Lynn), My Linh’s two little girls, and two boys ages nine and twelve, Nite-Nite’s grandsons from another daughter thought to be lost with her husband at sea.

What a pleasure it was to fill their bowls time after time as they hungrily held them up for more rice. The three-year-old girl, Than yen (her American name is Tanya), was the thinnest and weakest of the group. The skin seemed drawn tautly over her bones. Her mother told me only a short time ago how very ill she had been at the camp in Thailand, how she lay on the ground day after day with only a sheet of plastic held up by sticks to protect her from the sun and rain. She became weaker and weaker.

I learned also how Nite-Nite left Shanghai, China, forty-five years ago. As a young bride, she fled with her family to Vietnam when the communists took over Mainland China in 1936. Now she is happy to be where at last she can be “free.” But she didn’t escape entirely, and while in South Vietnam saw her husband brutally slain by the communists in their home in Saigon.

Many people have united to help. As a result the Luu family are living in a warm home, they have warm clothing to wear, and they are not hungry any more. The children attend school.

Since they arrived, we have tried to gather their huge family together again. We located two of Nite-Nite’s daughters in refugee camps in southeast Asia, and they will arrive soon with their families. The young boys recently received a short note from their parents. Last seen in March 1979 when their boat began sinking, they had survived and returned to Saigon.

People constantly ask, “How do you communicate?” My answer is simple: “Love speaks every language.”

  • Wanda Lee Burrell, mother of seven, works in the Spanish name extraction program in her Farmington, New Mexico, stake.