The Worst of Times and the Best of Times

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Imagine that you live in New Jersey, have a loving family, a beautiful home, and a comfortable income. You own a highly successful software business and the government is your biggest customer. Things go well for you until there is a violent revolution, and soldiers come to drive you from your home. You lose your company and all your possessions. Within a week your grown children leave for another country.

You learn your brother-in-law has been shot. So, to escape a similar fate, you and your spouse emigrate to Thailand, though you know little about the language or the people. A distant cousin who settled there owns several noodle shops and offers you a chance to work in one. Of course, you have to learn to make and bake noodles and to speak enough of the Thai language to sell them.

24/7 in the Noodle Shop

You and your spouse are cut off from the States, cannot speak the language, and feel culturally alien. Nevertheless, the two of you work diligently serving customers all day and at night sleep in the back room, living mostly on noodles and a few vegetables. You are in the shop 24-hours-a-day. But you do well, and within three months the two of you are managing the shop by yourselves. You have no car or other expenses and save all but a tiny amount of what you make.

By the end of a year, you have saved enough money for a down payment on the noodle shop, and you purchase it from your cousin. You also are able to rent a small apartment. In five years, you sell the shop for a tidy profit and buy your own business. In ten years, your business has done very well, and you are once again financially comfortable. You can afford to bring the rest of your family, scattered in the revolution, over to Thailand.

A True Story of Success After Hardship

I heard this story a few years ago, but have changed some of the details. The real story was about a formerly well-to-do Asian couple who came to America in the wake of the Vietnam War. I have never forgotten it, though many of the true details have slipped from me. Whether the couple was Vietnamese, Cambodian, or Laotian, I couldn’t say now, but that doesn’t matter. Their story is basically the same as the above.

I think I recall their family name, Lee, and that in southeast Asia, Dr. Lee was a biochemist and his wife ran a school. After immigrating to the U.S., the shop they managed for their cousin was a doughnut bakery in a mall, not a noodle shop. They lived in it 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week for a year. After that year they could afford a small apartment and in five years sold the shop and bought another business. After ten years, they were again comfortably well off and able to bring the rest of their family to the States.

Thriving in Hard Times

As a story of how two people survive, and thrive, in adversity, the worst of hard times—this strikes me as one of the best. I know few details about the couple, but can guess several things. First of all, they had a strong work ethic and knew how to apply it in a new situation. Second, they had great powers of concentration and self-discipline, living on next to nothing to save money that first year. Third, and most important, I’m convinced they had strong faith. They obviously trusted themselves, and each other. But they must have had more than human trust. I’m convinced that underlying that human faith was a strong religious faith that carried them through the dark times when they were tempted to despair.

Even with that faith, what they did was remarkable. I doubt that I could have done it. These two were made of heroic stuff. Not the sort of heroism that gets one’s name in the newspaper, but the quiet, persistent heroism that struggles every day. It’s the sort that one finds in those wounded veterans who return from the Middle East, missing a leg, and work at recovery until they are running a race, perhaps even a Marathon, on an artificial one. Or even in our local church, where a young daughter gave her aging mother one of her kidneys.

These examples both inspire and humble me, for I don’t feel like I have that kind of quiet heroism which persists steadily day after day. But I take comfort and hope in their example and in the promise of my faith. As Paul expresses it: “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Still, I pray that I and my family will never have to face what the older couple from Southeast Asia faced. Meanwhile, their story inspires us and helps us keep perspective in our own lives when we have lost something great or small and are forced to start over.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • Read Philippians 4:4-13. Have you learned to be content whatever the circumstances?
  • Think about the areas of your life where you feel discontent—at home, at work, at church. What might be some sources of your discontentment?
  • The story of the Lee family ends with success, but the world is not always so fair. What would it take to be content no matter what the circumstances or the outcome of your story?
  • What is the connection between your sense of contentment and your purpose of work? What is the purpose of your work?
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