Nancy Nguyen, Founder & President of Agape Fish Fund, shares the true story of her uncle. This personal experience led to her family developing a heart for homeless ministry. Agape Fish Fund partners with local churches and volunteers to provide meals, supplies, and Christian support for the homeless in San Jose, California.
In 1990, my family members were refugees after the Vietnam War and were part of the U.S. Orderly Departure Program (ODP). Gratefully, my father’s older brother, who was already living in the U.S., helped us with all the paperwork and signed to take responsibility for our immigration and transition to the United States. He was a handsome, well-to-do engineer. If it weren’t for my uncle, my family wouldn’t have been able to come to America.
This uncle was in the process of doing the extensive paperwork for our family and had to travel to Vietnam. Sadly, before the paperwork was finalized, his wife who was in the States took his multiple businesses and house assets and then divorced him. As if that wasn’t enough, my uncle later had the same experience happen in succession with two more wives. It was easy for him to find beautiful women to marry due to his good looks. But then they ended up taking everything of his and divorcing him. This tragic pattern deeply affected my uncle mentally and he went missing for many years.
FROM RICHES TO RAGS
Three years later, my father was walking along a park in Westminster, California. He noticed an unkempt homeless man with dreadlocks on the streets. The man seemed to have some kind of mental disorder, but there was something strangely familiar about him. To my father’s shock, he recognized that homeless man. It was his brother—my uncle who had sponsored us to come to America.
And that began my family’s journey to reach out to my homeless uncle. Although my uncle was unwilling, my father still took him for a haircut and tried to help in practical ways. In answer to our prayers, God was also at work in my uncle’s heart. Two years later he agreed to come to church, where he became saved! Over time, he eventually started to turn around and become more like his normal self. During the restoration time, I remember my mom would drive him to do errands, but he was still unstable, and I was concerned about what might happen if he suddenly turned. I also remember how fond he was of animals, like many homeless people are. He was really attached to numerous birds and cats.
The journey, however, is a long one, requiring much time and patience. In the past couple of years my uncle has had a relapse. But we’ve learned from experience that only the Lord can transform the impossible and that His transforming love is available for all who call upon Him.
FAMILY HEART FOR HOMELESS MINISTRY
This personal experience with my uncle has given my family a deeper heart and understanding for our neighbors on the streets. My father has been working with the homeless in Westminster for over ten years. They all know who he is now. “Here comes Pastor Bao!” they say. Every week he drives six of them in his van to church. For him, it’s worth it, even though they make his van filthy and smelly. They’re like his disciples at church, following him around and helping pick up left-behind bulletins and such. My father helps them with food and finding housing, based on each one’s personal needs.
Just like my dad, I’ve also developed a heart to serve the homeless. Although some people think that providing supplies for homeless people just keeps them on the streets instead of helping them transition back into society, I’ve learned that not all homeless people are ready for that step. And no matter what season of life people are going through, Jesus has called us to love them where they’re at. We can’t just wait until they’re ready to transition back into society. Ministering to them on the streets shows that we care about their well-being at that time, even if they’re not ready to leave that kind of life.
PARTNERING WITH SAN JOSE CHURCHES
In the Bay Area, there are many organizations, Christian and non-Christian, that reach out to the homeless. At Agape Fish Fund we choose to partner with Christian ministries that are committed to transparency disciplines. We are partnering with a homeless ministry led by local churches in North San Jose. A church in Milpitas, Christian Worship Center, has been serving the homeless for over six years. The homeless are encamped within walking distance of another church called South Bay Church, which I attend. South Bay Church has also joined the efforts, and the two churches work together every other week. Their hope is to take turns serving the homeless every week.
Heading up the South Bay part of the ministry is Andy Pham. At 28-years-old, Andy has a testimony that has prepared him well to serve the homeless. Andy was in prison for a couple of years. While he was there, he became a Christian. In prison he learned how to be patient and accepting of flaws with people while crammed in close quarters. And that experience transferred well to serving homeless people. Andy wants to build relationships with the homeless, and to do that he needs a consistent group who he hopes will build deep relationships and community among each other while serving the homeless. He asks volunteers from South Bay to be consistent so that the homeless will be able to see familiar faces week to week.
BRAVING THE RISKS AND DISCERNING THE NEED
The volunteers understand the risks of interacting with the homeless. Beyond tolerating the unpleasantness of things like body odor, there are more serious risks—like potentially catching TB and Hepatitis A, especially if you’re not vaccinated. But that doesn’t stop the group from sitting with the homeless to talk, get to know them, and pray.
Goyo is an example of someone who is deeply committed to serving the homeless. For him, it’s a lifestyle. During the week he drives around with supplies in his car. He’s been doing this every day for 10 years. He explained how the Christian community is helping to build relationships with the homeless and sharing the gospel with them.
It can be challenging to interact with homeless people who are psychologically unstable. Oftentimes, they don’t even know what they need themselves. They might put their pets’ needs in front of their own. For example, we talked with a lady named Debbie who was very concerned about her cat. She almost lost her cat because he jumped over a fence and almost got killed. When we asked her what she needed the most, she said cat food.
EARTHLY SUPPLIES FOR ETERNAL IMPACT
Someone as well-seasoned as Goyo helps us learn what supplies are most necessary for the homeless. Since they encamp near a creek, they need sleeping bags and bug repellant. They also need shirts, socks, and water. The supplies are donated by various people or are bought and distributed. Goyo values stewardship and transparency just like we do, and he makes sure a person has a legitimate need before giving them supplies.
Agape Fish Fund is donating $500 to the homeless ministry to help purchase these supplies:
These supplies will be portioned out for distribution as needed and will show our care for the homeless people in practical ways.
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