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7 August 2021
On their wedding day Diem and Vihn, centre, enjoyed special support from John, left, and Helen, from the Salvos.
The power of community in restoring shattered lives
Words Bryce Davies
Diem was born in Vietnam and came to Australia in 2003. She soon married and had a child but stayed in a very isolated Vietnamese community in suburban Brisbane. Her English was limited, and she had very few friends to support her. The marriage broke down, and Diem found herself at The Salvation Army Glenhaven women’s refuge in Brisbane with her then two-year-old son.
She was given a safe place to stay and was supported with counselling and case management to help her deal with her challenges. Diem was also helped to find a small flat where she could live independently, not far from The Salvation Army church I was running at the time with my wife, Sue.
We found out that Diem was nearby and started to look for ways to connect with her. After a coffee with Sue’s mum, Helen, Diem started coming to the Salvos. We also started inviting her to our family meals and gatherings.
Before too long, Diem and her son became like family. We all attended her Australian citizenship ceremony and cheered her on when she became a member of the Salvos. The church community supported her through some very tough times.
Eventually, Diem met Vihn, and they fell in love. I was honoured to do the wedding and my lovely wife Sue sang. Sue’s dad, John, walked Diem down the aisle and my daughter, Georgia, was one of the bridesmaids. When a child arrived a few years later, I flew up to Brisbane to do the Salvos equivalent of a christening.
The decision to buy a house is scary enough, but when English is your second language, and you are not familiar with Australian ways, it is even more so. Diem had a good job as a dental technician and a lovely confidence in God. Vinh, whose qualifications as an electrician are not recognised in Australia, turned his hand to tiling. They worked hard and saved a housing deposit. John helped them find the right home and made sure the documentation was done properly. They were so grateful to have a trustworthy person like John in their lives and who had the time and inclination to get involved.
John and Helen needed some tiling done recently, and so Vihn was asked to do the job. The area to be tiled was significant. Vihn insisted on doing the work for free, and it was a real battle to convince him to accept some payment. He did a magnificent job, and as he laboured, John and Helen were so proud of him, his meticulous attention to detail and impressive work ethic.
When Vihn was doing the grouting the next day, Diem came along with a huge bowl of Vietnamese food to share for lunch. I played with four-year-old Brian like he was my own son. We all adore Diem, and even my kids lovingly call her ‘sister Diem’.
I asked Diem recently what her life would be like if she had not found God, come to the Salvos and connected with our families. She didn’t even want to think about it.
I asked Helen what her life would be like if she had not met Diem. “Funny,” she said, “the Vietnamese tradition is that children look after their parents and make sure they have everything they need in their old age. Diem and Vihn fully intend to uphold this tradition and devote themselves to making sure John and I have everything we need.”
Helen looked at me as if to say, “Who do you reckon is the favourite son-in-law now?
The blessing of having Diem and her family in my life has been a delight now for over 15 years. Her smile and friendship are more pure and sincere than anyone I can think of, and her story of recovery and resilience is an inspiration.
And her fried rice is to die for!
Major Bryce Davies is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in Queensland.