Refugee journeys from the jungles to gangs to Baptist children’s homes in Oklahoma

... But in Christ, though I had been in so many hurting relationships, God heals and forgives me. I’m to love people for who they are.

Lun’s journey from hiding in the jungle in a Southeast Asian country to working at the Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children is a journey of the Holy Spirit’s protection and guidance. 

Lun lost her father and brother to the civil war in her country. Her country’s recent history is a blood-spattered one. People groups have struggled and fought the ruling party for self-governance and independence for decades.  

Soldiers burned her village, and Lun and her remaining family lived in the jungle for several years. At age 10, Lun and her family were smuggled in an ice cream truck across the border to Thailand.  

Buddhist roots

As it is for many refugees, the years after leaving a turbulent country were anything but easy. She had to fight to attend school. At age 11, she enrolled in first grade. From first to sixth grade, Lun had to work both at school and after school. 

Her Buddhist roots ran deep and only strengthened in school, where she learned more about Buddhism and became a Buddhist leader. She grew up hearing negative words spoken against Christians, and she came to hate Christians. 

When she was age 12, Lun remembers, two women came to their house and spoke about God, and told her God is everywhere. Later in one of her darkest hours, she would recall their visit. 

Lun finished elementary school at age 15 but was not permitted to attend secondary school because she was not a Thai citizen. Her mother and stepfather gave her an ultimatum to wed the head construction worker where they worked. But Lun believed there was something bigger in store for her.  

Due to these disagreements with her family, she moved into an apartment in the city. She worked as a gas station attendant and worked her way toward getting a GED.  

Deep hurt

“As you can imagine, as a 15-year-old girl, I didn’t really know the world. I didn’t know people. I just tried to survive, but I got into many wrong paths and a lot of bad things happened to me,” she said. “Hurt people hurt people. I got hurt and wanted to hurt people.” 

Police hunted her, and extorted money from her to be able to stay in the country.  

She discovered she was unwittingly in a gang after motorcyclists started chasing her and a friend down alleys. Choices were forced on her, and her life was threatened by rival gangs.  

Lun secured a job as a pharmacy assistant selling medication to tourists. She pretended to be a college graduate with a pharmacy or medical-related degree. In reality, she was not yet 18 and still working on her GED. She remembers the whiplash of going from crying in anger and frustration about the circumstances of her life to putting on a customer-service face when customers came in. 

‘Wash away my sin’

“I lived in a world where I could not find my identity and didn’t know who I was,” she said. “I know that there was a strong feeling in me that I want to wash away my sin.”  

She looked to be cleansed of sin in Buddhism. She tried meditation, Buddhist breathing techniques, reciting Buddhist prayer verses and making merit, but nothing helped. 

“I couldn’t control my anger,” she said. “When I got so angry, I just drove very fast on my motorcycle and would fall and get hurt. That’s how I knew I was still alive, from the physical pain 

She considered suicide.  

“I have to live with something that will have a power greater than me that can change me, because I know I cannot do it on my own. Buddhism isn’t helping me. I tried, and it didn’t work, and so the other way is to end my life, but I don’t know where I’m going to go [after dying].” 

In Buddhism, whether your good works and bad deeds balance out determines what happens after death. She tallied her ‘good works’ score and decided she hadn’t done enough good to get her into heaven.  

‘I want this Jesus’

Lung remembered the two women who came to her family’s house and told her about God.   

She knelt in the pharmacy and said, “God, if you are real, come change me.”  

Not long after, several Americans came into the pharmacy and gave her a book called “This is My Story.” The author called Jesus a friend, and talked about how He changed their life. 

“In gang life, friends are very important for us, probably more than family,” Lun said. “When I read that Jesus was their friend and Jesus can change their life, I said to myself, ‘I want this Jesus.’” 

She learned how Jesus calls His followers to turn the other cheek when struck. She said that stood out because in gangs, if someone hurts you, you pay them back with ten times the force. 

The Americans who gave her the book returned. She’d later learn they were a Southern Baptist volunteer team from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.  

Two lifelines

“When you follow Jesus, you turn from your old ways,” the woman told her. 

“Yes, that is what I want,” Lun said.  

The Christians provided her with two lifelines — the first, knowledge of Jesus, and the second, a safe place to crash — she learned while they were visiting that gang members were waiting at her apartment.  

Before they returned to the U.S., they connected her with IMB missionaries Kim Ratliff and Brooke Ross.  

When Ratliff and Ross asked if she was ready to accept Jesus, she said she didn’t know yet. She had been a Buddhist for so long. 

Not long after, Lung dreamed of someone coming to save her, and she instinctively knew it was Jesus. She committed her life to Christ and was baptized.  

IMB missionaries Rob and Jordan Lindley discipled her, and she got involved in student outreach, discipleship training and a village ministry. Each week, the Lindleys taught her a Bible lesson that she’d teach in the village.  

Undoing years of Buddhist thought and belief was difficult, and she also harbored bitterness about how Thai people treated her. As she grew closer to the Lord, her anger slowly faded away.  

Yield and obey

“It was not me that was doing it, it was that I yielded to God. I was obeying,” Lun said.  

The Lord grew in Lun a desire to share the gospel with anyone and everyone who would listen. 

Lun’s story of moving to the U.S. was also a dramatic one — stateless and passportless, her prospects seemed grim, but God paved the way.  

Her first years in the U.S. were marked by pain, hurt and suffering.  

“I hit the bottom … Even when I was making bad choices, He let me know that ‘I’m not letting you go. I’m still holding you,’” she said.  

Lun reunited with the Lindleys in Oklahoma and now attends a Baptist church, is pursuing a degree in social work at the University of Oklahoma and works as an administrative assistant for the Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children.  

Her longterm dreams for her life journey are to start a school for children in her home country and open a non-profit to help train people in trauma healing.  

“What I used to know was hurt people hurting other people, but in Christ, though I had been in so many hurting relationships, God heals and forgives me. I’m to love people for who they are,” Lun said. 


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