An Ordinary Woman

There were 100 little babies laying three and four to a cardboard box, strapped in the belly of a gutted cargo jet. It was 1975, Saigon was falling to the Communists, and I was accidentally caught up in the Vietnam Orphan Airlift. I'm living proof that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

When explaining how one gets accidentally caught up airlifting orphans, I have to begin when I was a little girl. I have fond memories of clothing drives at church and trick-or-treating for UNICEF. When I learned that two-cents could buy a carton of milk and save a child's life, I started to believe, even at eight-years-old, that we are called to be our brothers keeper. I had another revelation at that age - - I was going to adopt a child someday.

It was probably all of these things that led me to stop at a mall bake sale booth in the early ė70s. When I gazed into the eyes of another starving poster child, I stopped to buy a dozen cupcakes. Thatís all I ever intended to go to help the orphans of the world - - but God had a bigger plan.

Not only did I join the sponsoring organization, I became the president and my basement became the state headquarters!  Within a year the big question came - -would I travel to Vietnam and escort six adopted babies back to their assigned families?

Leaving my husband and two toddler daughters was to be the toughest decision I would ever make. I considered there had been no increase in the war in many months. Calls to the State Department confirmed that battles were far from Saigon and not predicted to escalate. Mostly I considered that my husband Mark and I had started to make our dream come true - - we had applied for adoption of a son, expected in a year or two. I thought it might mean something someday for him to know his Mom had been to his homeland. So after much thought and prayer, I agreed to go. Then my worst fears were realized - - the TV news showed the war raging within three miles of Saigon.

I knelt in church on Easter Sunday, crying, begging God for a sign I did not have to go. Remembering the scripture readings earlier, I pleaded, Please let this cup pass me by. Suddenly a strong, courageous, powerful Spirit filled me and my tears subsided. I knew God was not only sending me, but that He would protect me there.  

Filled with complete faith and confidence, the next morning I kissed my precious girls good-bye, walked out of Markís arms, boarded a 747 and headed for Saigon.

Saigonís international airport proved overwhelming.  Camouflage painted airplanes lined the runways. Decaying buildings dotted the horizon.  General neglect and filth couldnít be missed. Menacing stares, from non-English speaking soldiers waved guns at me, chilling my blood.  But I knew I was on a mission and was determined to succeed.   

The minute I arrived my FCVN's contact greeted me with, ďHave you heard the news?Ē President Ford has okayed Operation Babylift.  You wonít be taking out just six babies.  Itíll be 300!  

Instantly, I knew why God had chosen me for this trip. Iíd be part of rescuing babies for so many more waiting adoption families. What better way to serve others, I thought.

Amidst the chaos that ensued during this mission in Vietnam I was given the opportunity to choose a baby for our family. How could I pick one, from so many?

Then doing what I knew was the best way to handle the situation, I prayed for Godís intervention.  I knew my faith would prevail.  

One day while caring for the children, a baby boy literally crawled into my arms, into my heart and into my family; I found my son.

Gunfire, bombs, explosions and government delays stalled the fruition of Operation Babylift.  But soon hundreds of babies laying three and four to a cardboard box, strapped in the belly of a gutted cargo jet finally soared to safety and freedom.

Twenty years later I wrote a book about this amazing adventure, entitled This Must Be My Brother. When a portion of the story was published in Chicken Soup for the Motherís Soul, I began writing other peopleĎs stories to be included in eight more Chicken Soup books. That, and my devotion to thirty years of nursing, qualified me to co-author Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul released August 2001. My devotion to God and my life-long practice of my Christian faith, sealed my co-authorship of Chicken Soup for the Christian Woman's Soul, released September 2002. My amazing Airlift story has been featured in Newsweek Magazineís Voices of the Century issue and on PAX-TVís Itís A Miracle show.  Yet, the best was yet to come. On the 25th anniversary of Operation Babylift, I attended two reunions and met hundreds of adoptees, many whom I had helped bring out. That same summer, former President Gerald Ford asked to meet me. What a privilege it was to present him with a copy of my book, a photo of the kids at the reunion, and finally a picture of our son.

All these blessings from buying a dozen cupcakes!

Today, as a professional speaker, I share life-changing lessons learned from my Airlift experience. Believing we all have individual war zones, I inspire audiences to balance their lives physically, mentally, and spiritually; truly live their priorities; and make a difference in the world. With health care as my niche, Iím honored to nurture nurses, who are often so busy caring for others that they forget to care for themselves.

As Iím collecting stories for my third Chicken Soup book, Chicken Soup for the Caregiverís Soul, Iím convinced that all these amazing turns of events in my life are proof that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Thatís evidenced over and over again in Chicken Soup for the Nurseís Soul and in Chicken Soup or the Christian Womanís Soul. Since the beginning of time, and throughout Biblical history, women have inspired and upheld one another by sharing their stories. We still do that today.

These stories affirm my conviction that, just as God lead me to Vietnam, He leads us all when we trust in His guidance.  All we have to do is buy the dozen cupcakes and sit back and wait for a miracle to happen.

LeAnn Thieman
Motivational Speaker/ Author
Fort Collins, CO 80526
free 1-877-THIEMAN

Co-author Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul,
and Chicken Soup for the Christian Woman's Soul



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