I have written two previous posts about our church's adventure in sponsoring a Cambodian family and giving them a chance at a new life. If you haven't read about it before, you can go
HERE and HERE.
This past week-end, the entire original family, plus the wife and baby of one of the twins, flew here to reconnect with us. We started this reconnection process about six months ago. To think that they were all willing and able to work their schedules and spend the time and money to make this trip has been unbelievable to us.
When the Yims arrived from Cambodia by way of Thailand and the Philippines, on April 28, 1982, the girls were 10, 9, and 2 and the twin boys were 6 months old. To see them all as adults, very accomplished adults, was such a joy. To spend such quality time with them and learn things about their past before they came here was eye-opening. DC put it well when he wrote me an e-mail message yesterday from work.
"I've been emotional all morning for some reason. I'm sure it has to do with the "big" week-end. It was tiring but very memorable. It is a mystery how one can become so attached to folks you haven't seen for years; but, having been with the Yim family all week-end, I almost feel like they are part of our own family."
Their plane was two hours late leaving LA, so they didn't get to their motel rooms until around 1:00 am. They slept in a bit and arrived at my house around 10:30 on Saturday morning.
I have to admit, I shed a few tears when they came up my front steps and each gave me a hug. It was a dream come true, as I always envisioned them driving up into my driveway.
Shannon, who was Chana (emphasis on the second syllable) when she was here, did all of the arrangements. She had rented two cars, since a van was so cost prohibitive. When they went to pick them up, the rental agent looked at them and decided they needed a van - and gave them a brand new one for the same cost as the two cars - a $300 savings. They were crowded, but that was nothing new for them!
We only had a few minutes to visit before all of us girls headed off to church for a Mother's Day luncheon - Unfortunately, I forgot my camera at home after I took a couple of pictures here.
They brought us all gifts, as if their presence wasn't gift enough! We had a great time opening the packages. My grandgirls fell in love with Tristan, who is just a bit younger than his dad and uncle were when they left us to move to California. He looks so much like the twins did when they were babies. I had made them each a packet with copies of all the pictures I had, plus copies of the letters I had received from Chhien as we worked through the process of getting them here.
After the luncheon, we talked awhile longer, then decided it was time to take a trip down memory lane. First we headed over to the apartment complex where they lived. I reminded them of how we thought giving them a four bedroom apartment to live in would be such a blessing. We didn't realize that it was probably overwhelming and intimidating to them to have so much room. They were used to living in very close quarters in Thailand and the Philippines in the refugee camps. I soon discovered that they had moved all of their mattresses into one bedroom and were happily camping out in there - feeling more secure, I'm sure.
We were chatting on the front grass of Building 550, Apt. 1, oblivious to the fact that the people living in the apartment were probably wondering what in the world was going on out in front of their place. I finally realized I should knock on the door and let them in on what we were up to, and ask if they minded!
We got Chhien a bicycle to enable him to get to work and back and I had to laugh when he walked over to the bike rack in front of the apartment and said, "Here's where I parked my bike."
There have been a lot of improvements in this complex in the years since we've been there - the girls posed with Shannon on one of the nice benches.
Chhien rode his bike 4-5 miles one way to the job he was able to get at the Rocky Mountain Pottery Factory. I had worked there when I was between college graduation and first year teaching to put a down payment on my first car. The factory is no longer in existence, and the building is now a very large antique store. I have such a strong memory of Chhien riding his bike in the rain, wearing a poncho (must have been a spring like we're having this year). Kevin remembers going out there to see him at work, and I think it was when I couldn't stand the thought of him riding home in the rain after a hard day of work, so would go out and pick him up, putting his bike in my trunk. His kids were pretty impressed when we drove out there and they realized how far he rode twice a day, and how up hill much of the road was.
We went in and enjoyed looking at the antiques. Shannon purchased a beautiful early 1900s necklace - wow, why didn't I take a picture of it?? They had one shelf full of the pottery that used to be made there. I spent the summer in the basement of this building, putting pine scent on the bottom of the pieces that look like wood grain that you can see in this picture. Chienn spent his hours pouring the clay into the molds, he reminded me.
Then we backtracked to the school where Chana and Sokoma spent their time. The memories were really starting to return to them as we went to these places.
We spent the evening eating at our favorite Chinese restaurant. We had such a wonderful time of fellowship. We ordered about 5 different entrees and spun the Lazy Susan around, trying each one. I stayed as close to "legal" as I possibly could!
Sunday morning, they were all up and at it and to church in time for coffee and donuts at 9:30. They all looked so beautiful and handsome. We had a great Mother's Day service, then we had lunch in our church's gym - not enough room at my house! I had put ribs and chicken breasts with bbq sauce in the oven in the church kitchen. I have to admit, they turned out perfectly - 325 degrees for 3 hours. My mom brought a good pasta salad, my sister brought chips, my SIL brought a fruit slush, and a friend brought 4 yummy pies. This time I had my camera, but didn't take the time to shoot any pics. Suffice it to say, it was another great time of fellowship.
I wish I had thought early enough to call the newspaper and ask them if they'd like to do a human interest story - I think it would have made a great one. But we took some pictures that I hope to use in some way to get the story told. I don't know if they'll let me write something up and turn it in to them, or if I can do an interview to go along with the pictures.
Chhien and Noral with some of the original committee members
The whole original family (plus Tristan) with the committee members
The whole original family (plus Tristan) with the committee members
Then we headed up to Estes Park for the afternoon. It was a beautiful day (thank you, Lord!). As you may know, nice days have been at a premium this spring. We went up the "back way" to arrive at this panoramic view of Long's and Meeker Peaks.
We were all pretty sleepy and groggy by the time we got back down the hill, and we ended the day with dinner all together at Applebee's, again with more learning about each others' lives in the ensuing 27 years.
The most incredible thing to me was that we could come together like this after so many years and feel so comfortable. Their lives have been very busy in these years of growing up, going to elementary school, junior high, high school, all 5 to college, working, growing families. I believe it was providential that Shannon found that small photograph in a dictionary - what are the chances of that happening?? It had our last name on it, which Chhien had forgotten. They hadn't really spent much time thinking about the time here in Colorado until they uncovered this clue.
The two older girls had some memories - they remembered our kids' names and even the dog's name. But they didn't know any of the ins and outs of how they got here. And of course Sarah, Thomas, and Richard were too young to have any memories at all. Thomas' wife found my blog and read my original post about them. They were very moved by it. I am so glad I wrote it, never realizing that any of them would ever read it.
It was a time for them of putting a puzzle together that they didn't even know was missing some pieces. I found out things about their journey out of Cambodia and their family history that I didn't know. They are a wonderfully close and loving family. They've come through a lot, and do not take their blessings for granted.
I have used the words amazing and incredible so often in describing this past week-end. But those words are inadequate. We have been to California quite a few times in those years, not knowing where they were. We will definitely be getting together again, here and there. This is a story that is not over yet.