I was born into a world of fear and superstition in Mesa, Arizona. My mother and five older siblings had escaped the Japanese military in China, and had joined our father in the dusty little town in the desert. Back then in the late 30s, they were among the very few Asian pioneers in Arizona. I was born in 1940.
After Pearl Harbor, my family had to wear special buttons identifying ourselves as Chinese and not Japanese. Bigotry and hostility were directed at us on a regular basis. Rocks through our grocery store window. Once, someone tried to burn down our house.
Mother in particular was a very superstitious and frightened individual. She was uneducated, and was fearful of so many things, which were passed on to her children. When I was born with a “harelip,” for example, Mother was sure it was because she used scissors to sew while sitting pregnant on her bed. That’s what she thought caused her little boy’s deformity!
I grew up fearing life and resenting my parents – they were constant reminders of my Chinese heritage, and all I wanted was to be American – to fit in with the other kids in school. I hated being different, because it was so painful to be teased and bullied all the time. I spent most of my young life denying my roots and culture. My self esteem was very, very low.
Dad died when I was 13, and I had to assume many new responsibilities to help Mother. This did not please me, but I buried myself in school work and several jobs, while feeling more and more trapped by my Mother’s illiteracy and old Chinese customs. What I dreaded most was the ancestor worship!
After college, I served as a photojournalist in the U.S. Navy. This was during the early years of the Vietnam War. Serving with the Commander of the 7th Fleet (based in the Philippines), I had many opportunities to travel to Japan and Hong Kong and Taiwan, and I began to appreciate the Asian side of my life.
Back at home, now in Los Angeles, I began to pursue a career in advertising and marketing. Although Mom lived part time with me and the rest of the time with her other children, I felt more alienated from her than ever, and I’m sure she must have felt it. The more I grew successful financially and professionally, the more I wanted to be away from my illiterate Chinese mother. She remained a total embarrassment to me. Soon I added a new career as an actor in my quest for a fulfilling life.
To the people around me, I appeared joyful and successful, a man who loved his work and was full of life and potential. Only a few knew the dark side of my life – a life of reckless drug usage and dealing. After a few years, my life was spiraling downward as I degenerated into a world of sin and evil…all the time working hard, enjoying great success, sporting a fancy wardrobe, and fooling everyone except myself.
When a drug dealer tried to kill me, I sank into incredible despair, hating myself for wasting the time of my life. That was the second attempt on my life by a fellow drug dealer! I was so ashamed to realize that my poor parents had sacrificed so much and worked so hard…in order to make a better life for their children. I had become a horrible person, a pathetic waste of a human being. And so I tried to do what those drug dealers didn’t – I tried to kill myself.
God had other plans. I actually felt Him pull me from the pit of death. When I awoke, I felt lucky. I got help. Someone took me to meet a Christian pastor, who embraced me and invited me to church. My transformation was in its first phase.
Oddly, I did not stop my drug use, even after all that. But one afternoon up at my cabin in Big Bear, God saw to that too. I was in a quiet meadow when I surrendered. I was praying for forgiveness and for guidance when I seemed to lose consciousness. I felt God’s warmth take me by the shoulders and lift me to my feet.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the cool stillness of my cabin, in front of my typewriter. There was a sheet of paper in the carriage already, and I had somehow typed two words: CHAPTER ONE. I knew God wanted me to go back to Step One…to honor my parents. That is, of course, God’s first commandment with a promise.
I invited Mom to spend more time with me. She was shocked and very happy. As our reconciliation began, I started five years of interviewing that dear woman, recording her stories of hardship and courage…of leaving her family in China to raise her own family in America…to make a life of education and opportunities for her sons and daughters…like me.
At this time, I also embraced God’s Word and teachings. Besides my drug dependency, He also freed me of my superstitions and fears, and emboldened me with one particular Scripture: (MARK 16:15-18 – “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”)
I began working with a pastor at a little mission church in Venice. We helped gang kids and their families. Our flock consisted of single parents and homeless families, drug addicts and alcoholics whose souls were crying out for help…like mine had been for so many years. Soon I began studying to be a minister with the Missionary Church. I became a minister in 1980.
That was a long time ago. My mom has since gone to heaven, but I had the blessing of baptizing her and caring for her in my home till the day she died.
God has graciously guided my work – as an activist for Asian American equality in Hollywood and as Executive Director of
The Dr. Haing S. Ngor Foundation, a human rights and educational organization which I founded with the Academy Award-winning actor from “The Killing Fields”.
I continue working as an advertising consultant and writer. I am still an actor. And God keeps putting me in the right place at the right time to do His will in the most unexpected places! He is my favorite “boss”!
There are two special passages from God’s Word that I want to share with you today. I have adopted these as my life verses.
1 Peter 4:10 -- “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”
Please take stock of the gifts God has given you – and use them while you can.
Philippians 4:13 -- “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
The key word here is “can”. I “can” do! All of us can. But how many actually do? It is a choice to take advantage of our opportunities to do God’s will, to fulfill His purpose in our lives.
I want to encourage all of us to consider again what God has given us…and how we respond to His call!