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Inside Story
2012 photo provided by Hung V. Le

From Vietnam to Kenya, two boys’ lives touched by God

How an 11-year-old came to donate ‘the biggest gift’ ever received by a California church.

MALIBU, Calif. — A little boy from Vietnam.

A little boy from Kenya.

This is the story of how one of those boys — all grown up — paid forward his blessings from God.

The recipient of that boy’s extreme gratitude? The other boy.

At age 11 in 1975, Hung V. Le escaped Vietnam on a military transport plane, but he was forced to leave his family behind. Just a few weeks later, Saigon fell to the communists.

For the next several years, Le lived with foster parents in the Seattle area. When he finished high school, a guidance counselor urged him to consider Pepperdine University. That’s how he ended up at the Southern California university, which is associated with Churches of Christ, in the fall of 1983.

Hung V. Le, Pepperdine University's associate vice president and university registrar, with his wife, Corinne, at Pepperdine's faculty house in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Hung V. Le, Pepperdine University’s associate vice president and university registrar, with his wife, Corinne, at Pepperdine’s faculty house in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

At Pepperdine, Le — who had grown up in a devout Roman Catholic household and contemplated becoming a priest — studied the Bible and felt he truly understood it for the first time. The campus minister, Tom Reynolds, baptized Le, and he met his future wife, Corinne, a fellow student, through the University Church of Christ.

“God just gave me so much more than I could ever imagine,” said Le, who earned a degree in business administration and worked on Wall Street for a few years before returning to serve on Pepperdine’s staff in 1990. “I expected a school, and I found a family.”

Not only did Pepperdine nurture Le’s faith, but the university community also rallied to reunite him with his family.

“God just gave me so much more than I could ever imagine.”

“When people heard about our story, they organized letter-writing campaigns to bring them to the U.S. — students, faculty members, board members. Everyone,” he said in a testimonial on Pepperdine’s website.

That dream was fulfilled in 1991 when Le’s father, mother and siblings were allowed to move to California.

Fast-forward to present day: Le serves as Pepperdine’s associate vice president and university registrar. He and Corinne have four sons: Zachary, 23, a Pepperdine graduate; Benjamin, 20, a Pepperdine junior; Jaime, 19, a Pepperdine sophomore; and Garrett, 17, a Malibu High School senior.

In 2012, the entire family traveled with the University church on a mission trip to Kenya. They helped with Made in the Streets, a Christian nonprofit that has a mission of loving and serving street kids in Nairobi, the capital.

While there, Le met a little boy named Victor Ngatia, then 5.

“He had the most beautiful smile, and there was something about him,” Le told me in an interview in his Pepperdine office.

Deer near the cross tower at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

Deer near the cross tower at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

“I probably took 10,000 pictures the first time I went to Kenya,” the registrar added. “But my favorite picture was one day in the children’s center. I see Victor in the corner by himself, writing something on the board.”

The message?

“I am Victor,” the boy wrote. “I love Jesus.”

Right there, the little boy won Le’s heart.

Only later did Le learn that Victor suffered from a serious birth defect. The boy could not control his bladder. Without surgery, he would not be allowed to attend school.

Back home in California, Le got to work and overcame a myriad of financial and bureaucratic obstacles to bring Victor to the U.S. for a life-changing operation sponsored by Mending Kids International. (Just a side note: One of the major donors to make this happen was a man named Gene Simmons, whom some might recognize as a singer for the rock band KISS.)

To put it in a nutshell, the little boy from Vietnam assured a better life for the little boy from Kenya.

“He’s the most amazing child,” Le said. “He’s been here three times for different medical procedures.”

Victor Ngatia is now 11 years old.

Victor Ngatia is now 11 years old.

Victor’s last U.S. visit was just a few months ago when he came for a checkup. While at Pepperdine, the boy celebrated his 11th birthday.

To recognize those years, an American friend gave Victor $11.

But — and you might want to grab a tissue — he didn’t keep the money for himself.

“That’s a lot of money for a Kenyan, especially for a little boy,” Le said. “But that night, he handed me the money and said, ‘Hung, can you give this to the church?’ I looked at him and said, ‘Why? This is yours, Victor.’ And he said, ‘The church has given me so much. I want to do something.’”

On a 2017 visit to Kamulu, Kenya, the Le family poses with Victor Ngatia and his mother, Nancy Nduta. Pictured, from left, are Garrett Le, Victor, Nduta, Corinne Le, Hung Le, Jaime Le and Ben Le.

On a 2017 visit to Kamulu, Kenya, the Le family poses with Victor Ngatia and his mother, Nancy Nduta. Pictured, from left, are Garrett Le, Victor, Nduta, Corinne Le, Hung Le, Jaime Le and Ben Le.

Hey, remember the biblical story of the widow’s mite?

This is a modern-day version.

Hey, remember the biblical story of the widow’s mite? This is a modern-day version.

“You see the spirit of God living in him,” Le said of his young friend. “I would say that’s probably the biggest gift our church has received. I don’t think anyone has ever given everything they had to the church, except for Victor.”

A little boy from Vietnam.

A little boy from Kenya.

Really, it’s not their story. It’s God’s.

Bobby Ross Jr. is Chief Correspondent for The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Inside Story Kenya Made in the Streets National Pepperdine University Top Stories Vietnam

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