The text of this biography is originally from the program folder for Rev. An Binh Thai's ordination as a pastor in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in November 2002. The text was updated on August 14, 2008.
After graduating from high school in 1961, he married his wife, Rose. Both of them attended the Theological Bible Institute in Nhatrang in 1962. Because of financial issues, in 1963 the Thais returned to their home in Saigon, former capital of South Vietnam.
Passing an entrance examination, An Thai studied History and Geography at the four-year Pedagogical College in Saigon. Graduating in summer 1967, he was assigned to serve as a governmental secondary high school teacher in Banmethout, Darlac province, in the central highland of Vietnam. Two years later, he was assigned to teach pedagogy (instruction and teaching methods) at Banmethuot Teachers School, a new boarding school which had just been built and inaugurated with the aid of Southern Illinois University (SIU). The beautiful school is seated on 12 acres of land. Over 200 students from seven or eight minority ethnicities in Vietnam attended the two-year training program to become teachers for kindergarten through eighth grade.
From this time on, the Lord gave the Thais a precious opportunity to serve Him. Living right in the school among the tribesmen, An and Rose started a Bible class in his 10 ft X 22 ft living room for six to eight students. Time passed, more students came and believed in Jesus. The Thais left the school in the summer of 1973. There were over 60 Christian students among 200 students of the school. Among these students, there were two Cham Muslim converts and six of the Thais' ethnic people. After graduation, these Christians became teachers in their own towns and villages. Many of them continued the works of An Thai by preaching Jesus' Gospel to their students and neighbors. According to information received from a pastor who just came from Vietnam prior to An's ordination in 2002, they continue to evangelize. Many Vietnamese ethnic minorities have been saved by the grace of the Lord.
Escaping the Communists At this time, An Thai was nominated to be Deputy Chief of Education for Curriculum and Examination of Darlac Education Department. Then the Vietnam War was nearing its end. Banmethuit - capital city of Darlac province - was first attacked and fell into the hands of the Communists. On March 13, 1975, An Thai led his wife and five daughters - the youngest being only five months old - through Truong Son's jungle, heading east to the coastal city of Nhatrang.
After 17 days and nights passing around 150 kilometers, An Thai and his family were exhausted. Their physical appearance was worse than a beggar on the street was. Passing through corpses, smoldering houses, trucks, scattered military clothes, boots, along with hundreds and thousands of people who had escaped by land from the northern provinces which had just been occupied by the Communists, the Thais streamed in Nhatrang city. Again, they found a temporary place to stay, the Theological Bible Institute, where he and his wife had attended 13 years ago. The Lord, through the school, sustained their lives. He also saved Rose's life from deadly malaria.
Then they went back to Saigon on May 2, 1975 to live with Rose's father. Because of his occupation as a history teacher, he couldn't be recruited as a teacher under the new regime without being "re-educated" about Vietnam history (in accordance with Communist ideology). An Thai became a peddler selling watercress, then he was a barber, and then a driver. A daily meal for the whole family of eight (An, Rose, her mother and five daughters) usually consisted of a big bowl of two hard- boiled duck's eggs mixed with fish sauce and a dish of boiled watercress.
As Refugees in Thailand From 1979-81, An Thai tried to escape from Vietnam to find freedom, but he and his family were captured and jailed three times. The fourth time, he succeeded with only one of his daughters. The small riverboat (21 feet) they boarded contained 51 people. After five days and six nights on the high sea, being confronted twice by pirates, they came to Thailand and were detained in a camp called Sikhiu Dentention Camp. The camp rejected all foreign delegations that came from Third World countries to interview the refugees. People lived in hopeless situations. Rumors said that they would be sent back to Vietnam. In late afternoon, the policemen's families smuggled liquor through barbed wire fences for the refugees, then at midnight, the policemen arrested drunk people, gave each of them 40 strokes of rattan canes on their bare back; exposed them under the sun all day then put them into a jail (inside the detention camp). Every day each refugee received only 20 liters of water for the entire day. Bloody fights for water occurred. Each refugee also received two dried fish (two-finger sized) which usually were rotten. Everyone had a surface of 3 ft X 6 ft to live on. Bloody aborted human fetuses wrapped in old newspapers were hidden in the bushes. One woman hung herself on the branch of a tree.
An Thai, who was recruited as principal of a 1,200-student refugee school in the camp from kindergarten to 9th grade, recognized this was a good time for people to hear the gospel of Jesus, so he gathered four other preachers to form an evangelism team to preach the gospel for Vietnamese refugees. On Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, people crowded in the newly built wooden-thin roofed chapel. More people stood outside to hear the Lord's Word. Many came up to the front of the chapel and believed in Jesus. When An Thai left the camp, over 300 people had converted to Christianity. The work of evangelism continued when An Thai and his daughter came to the Phillipines refugee camp in Bataan. Many more people believed in Jesus. Some of these people are now pastors here in the United States. Others whom An Thai met still stand firm in their belief. An Thai was in the refugee camps for more than three years (March 20, 1982 through 1985).
Ministry in America and a Family Reunion In the summer of 1998, after being confirmed at Lutheran church with his wife, An Thai received a scholarship to study at Concordia University, Irvine. On Thanksgiving Day 2000, An Thai - through Pastor Fred Page III and Immanuel First Lutheran Church - was installed to be the missionary for the Vietnamese people in the San Gabriel Valley area. In the summer of 2002, he graduated with an M.A. in Theology and has been ordained through the call from Immanuel's congregants. The Lord has blessed the new Vietnamese congregation, which is about 40 to 50 people strong.
A Vietnamese language class has been formed. The teacher is Mrs. Mimosa Nguyen, An Thai's daughter who escaped with him from Vietnam. She has an M.S. in teaching. Rose, An Thai's wife, and their youngest daughter reunited with him on October 5, 1996 after 14 years of separation. His last two daughters' families from Vietnam reunited with him in 2004 after being separated from him for more than 21 years.
In 2007, identifying the need to share the Good News in a culturally relevant way to the next generation of Vietnamese Americans, An Thai and the church established a youth-led worship band, The Forgiven, which performed modern praise and worship songs at Immanuel First and at other local churches.
To date, An Thai's ministry in the LCMS has included an ongoing translation of Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation and training documents for Friendship Evangelism into Vietnamese, working with the Vietnamese ministry of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and taking part in special bilingual services in our local LCMS church circuit. In these services An Thai has read sections of the Augsburg Confession in Vietnamese and his daughter Mimosa gave "on-the-fly" translations of Pastor Carl Nelson's sermon at Immanuel First's 50th Anniversary Celebration Service in 2004.
With his family reunited in America, and sharing the Good News of Christ with the large Vietnamese community in the Los Angeles area and now across the country, An Binh Thai is a tried and true servant of God whom we are privileged to partner with.