Faith Put to the Test

Faith in the Journey: Julius Michael and Nguyet Pham

First Recorded

November 1, 2019


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Julius Michael and Nguyet Pham—refugees from Sudan and Vietnam, respectively—have settled in the United States after being driven from their homelands by war. In this conversation, the co-workers discuss how they have kept their faith during their personal journeys and consider how religion shapes their outlooks on life.

This story was produced by David Dault at Sandburg Media, LLC.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

Julius Michael and Nguyet Pham

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Julius Michael: Now the country's known as South Sudan. Back then when I was born, it was just Sudan. And going back to the 1950s, they had been going through a civil war.

Nguyet Pham: What memories do you have about the refugee camps?

Julius Michael: Ours was very crowded. And obviously with it being in East Africa, especially during the dry season, it was very hot. I remember there was a lot of death in the community and in the camps. And then you live there, it can be a month, it can be a week. You never know. So you're always prepared to just move. So that was finally when we packed up and went to Uganda. From Uganda, we lived in a couple of different refugee camps. One of the camps got attacked overnight, and I ended up helping another family escape and lost contact with my biological parents. And eventually that family kind of took me in and ended up bringing me to Houston with them.

Nguyet Pham: Well, I too have experienced war. I was born into the Vietnam War and a life-changing event for me happened on April 29, 1975, after the North Vietnamese communists attacked the South Vietnamese government. My father was a commander in the South Vietnamese Navy, so he realized the urgency and so initiated an evacuation of the family. When we got to the Philippines, the Filipino government would not let us enter because South Vietnam was no longer recognized as a country. Basically we didn't have a country to which we could return. So fortunately, we were able to get onto a U.S. merchant ship and we were taken to Guam, and stay in the refugee camps there for a couple months before we went on to California.

Julius Michael: How has your experience changed your idea of what faith is and just your approach to life in general?

Nguyet Pham: I think if you were to talk with my colleagues, for the most part, I remain calm and positive. So unless I know for sure something is bad, I will give people the benefit of the doubt and look at situations as it will be better and everything is temporary and just focus on what we can do to make this situation better. And also look for what is good in people. Once a while when my husband and I travel internationally, then we are reminded of what a wonderful country America is and how much America has to offer. And so I would say it makes me very positive, very appreciative, and I don't get upset over lots of things, because I just don't. How about for you

Julius Michael: For me I think it's similar. The biggest thing was that I've learned when look back is control. Like knowing that I have control, I mean, I have control over nothing. There's only so much that I can control. So it's more of just living by faith and looking for the positives in life and knowing that sometime there's no need to worry about stuff because you can only do so much.

Nguyet Pham: Well, even with all of the challenges that my family and I have faced, particularly through the journey to America, I don't remember, I guess, a moment where I lost faith, because I think at least for me, faith is so big. I don't have a label for faith. Whether it’s a person or a concept or anything, and I just believe that things will be better. And so that's okay. Keep, keep, keep on going. Yeah. So, I feel very fortunate for that.

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