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Deacon Bill Richardson

There are some people in our lives with whom we seem to connect easily from the very beginning. For me. An Vu has been one of those individuals.

I have met few people whose background and life experiences have been more dissimilar than his and mine, and yet, at some deep level, I've sensed a closeness, a kinship of spirit since we first met in Portland in the Fall of 1998.

 An is Vietnamese, an artist of considerable talent and renown in his own native country as well as here in the United States, and also a gifted public speaker. We met through a Catholic Church program organized for men who are interested in serving the Church as deacons.

From early on, I was impressed by An's graciousness and kindness, qualities that emanate from deep inside of: his soul. There is a joy and serenity of spirit reflected in his countenance whose source can only be God Himself. It is the product of much suffering, but a suffering that is not displayed outwardly, or readily visible; rather, I suspect, it is one that has been transformed by the profound action and power of divine grace over the course of many years.

       What do we truly know about others -even friends we've known for years? Often not a great deal, unless and until they reveal themselves and allow us to see something of their inner world.

    As an artist and song writer, An Vu expresses himself and the awesome action of- God in his life most eloquently through his music. He knows the emptiness, sadness, and desolation of an existence that is limited to the pursuit of pleasure and the adulation that fame brings. So too is he well acquainted with the brutal pain and suffering that human beings can inflict upon one another, justified as "political re-education " or "building a better and more just society" (he was confined to a Vietnamese prison camp for 10 years shortly after the fall of Saigon in 1975 ).

   There are many who grow hardened or cynical after such an experience. By the grace of God, An has taken a different path. It was precisely in the midst of the most awful abandonment and suffering that the transforming power of Jesus Christ in his life began to be manifested, starting, at the invitation of a friend, with the quiet recitation of the "Hail Mary" prayer, and eventually culminating in his request for baptism at the hands of one of his Catholic prison-mates in March of 1981.

The horrible fear and intimidation that were a constant threat from prison authorities, not only as he was contemplating this life-changing commitment to Christ and the Catholic Church, but also afterwards as he began to live out the implications of his newfound faith, became not an obstacle or barrier to his commitment, but rather the crucible of purification, strengthening and fortifying him to the point where he would soon, in turn, be able to help and encourage many others along this same path.

 And that is what God has been doing with An Vu in the ensuing years: his quiet courage and deep inner peace continue to be a source of inspiration to people who know something of his background, as well as those who meet him for the first time. Beyond that, his God-given talent for music has allowed God to touch the hearts of many more people with the Christian message of hope and new life in Christ.

My friend and fellow-minister An Vu is a vivid reminder of the wonderful power for good that Christ makes available to us if we are willing to surrender our lives to him in total trust, even {and perhaps especially) in the midst of very trying circumstances that life brings our way.

Deacon Bill Richardson, Monroe, Oregon