This morning I had the privilege of hearing Mr Hieu Van Le AO, Lt. Gov. of South Australia and Chairman of the South Australian Multicultural & Ethnic Affairs Commission, speak at the Onkaparinga Mayor's Prayer Breakfast. Mr Le was among the first 'boat people' who came to Australia from war torn Vietnam in the mid 70's. He spoke of the horrors of war he had escaped, the dangerous trip in an unsafe and overcrowded boat, being turned away at Malaysia by violent coast guards and the uncertainty of whether they would be welcomed in Australia. His story confronted us with the reality of sadness and fear, yet with a vision of courage and hope, as they faced overwhelming odds in pursuit of a better life in a new country.
During his moving story, Mr Le shared with us a statement that captured the hearts of everyone in the room:
"We arrived with nothing more than an invisible suitcase full of hopes and dreams."
The issue of 'boat people', asylum seekers and refugees is still a hot topic debated among social networks and within the political arena today. It is a discussion that raises strong emotions that are often driven by fear and usually incomplete and inaccurate information. A story like what we heard this morning personalises an otherwise abstract view of justice and humanity, enabling us to engage in a more meaningful discussion about human beings who are driven by desperation to take extraordinary risks in the pursuit of a better life or to escape unimaginable fear and danger.
Author and pastor, John Ortberg, says hope is “The conviction that our effort makes a difference and that we are not victims of circumstance is what keeps us persisting in the face of setbacks. It saves us from apathy, hopelessness, and despair." It is this sort of conviction that led Mr Le to embark on a dangerous journey into the unknown, refusing to remain a victim of his circumstances, because he clung to an invisible suitcase full of hopes and dreams.
We were inspired and challenged by the courage displayed in the face of fear, the determination that overcame a feeling of despair and the hope that dared to believe for a better tomorrow.