When the Americans came I saw a lot of people die; at night we would get under the bed as the helicopter gunships raged above us, I saw many dead bodies every day. When I was a young man I did not know much about politics or really understand the war. I felt very sad that many innocent people died and we did not understand why the war was happening in our country.
When I was growing up, the church meant everything to us. People came to the parish for sanctuary, for help, for prayer and safety. The local priests made a great impression they were very caring men whom the people loved. After the communists took over, I could not study any longer, so I went to work in a labour camp. If you had no job and were a Catholic you were forced to work. We dug canals 8 hours a day I worked at this hard labour for 2 years. The food was poor and there was no medical care, but it was the same for all of us you had to work for them-you had nowhere to run.
I left Vietnam in 1980, everybody wanted to get out. My escape was organised secretly and cost $2000 for a place on the boat. When I first saw the boat, I thought it was too small, not the right sort of boat for the sea, it was more of a river boat. I asked the man in charge how many it could take and he said 30, but in fact there were 77 of us on board. I will never forget the words of my mother as I said goodbye to her for the last time. She said Here take this rosary and pray. You dont have much money but trust in God We set sail from Cantho, South Vietnam, in the dead of night.
After 3 days the engine broke down and we just drifted in the south China sea. We had no maps, no compass, nothing at all. The man who organized our escape had given scant attention to food or water for us and before long we were hungry, thirsty and very tired. We steered the ship in the opposite direction to the sun. We thought a foreign ship would see us and have pity. Some got so thirsty that they drank their own urine or squeezed rain water out of blankets they left out overnight. People looked after each other. We knew we were going to die and wanted to die with dignity and respect. We drifted for 17 days without food or water. We prayed all the time. The children kept asking for food. There was a lot of weeping and crying. I kept my hope alive by praying, in the morning, afternoon and evening and even more when the sea turned violent as it often did. I thanked God for my 22 years of life, for my family and asked for the forgiveness of my sins.
There was a young married woman on board who gave birth to her baby (I helped deliver the baby) and I pray to the Lord, Lord, I dont want the baby to die on the first day of his life. I promise you if we survive, I will be a good man Two hours later a British cargo ship, came out of nowhere and rescued us. I knew then that God answers prayers !
(Eventually arriving in England, Michael Ho, became a priest, currently based in Coventry, UK)