Many miracles and special witnesses came to the Skanchy family both before and after their reunion with their Vietnamese relatives.
“In 1980—this was before my [birth] father passed away (he died in 1981), he gathered the children together and there were six of the siblings. He told the children, ‘Don’t move away, don’t move away. Someday your older brother will come back to look for you, and you need to be here for him when he comes back.’ A few months later, my mother also passed away, and she told the children, ‘Don’t go away, don’t move away. He will come back, he will come back to look for you.’ And 35 years later I showed up.”
Don with some of his family in North Vietnam
But that wasn’t the only miracle. Don explains that one-third of the Vietnamese population has the same last name, making family history work difficult. However, one of Don’s new uncles had decided to put together a family history, allowing Don to look back five generations and find the headstones of his grandparents.
This information proved vital for another tender mercy: temple work. “August of the year 2016, we were able to do 23 baptisms. Today we’ve done a total of 41 baptisms and [are] doing endowments for my parents and my grandparents and great-grandparents and all those who have gone before me. That was a sweet experience,” Don says. “Oh, what a joy it was for me to baptize my parents and grandparents on both sides of the family. It was a very special experience for me. And to have my children involved with the baptism as well—it was a very, very special experience.”
Perhaps the biggest tender mercy, however, happened in a small cemetery in North Vietnam. The Skanchy family had just found the graves of their grandparents and great-grandparents and the three children were standing in the cemetery with their father, crying. Don tells the rest of the story:
“Suddenly Tonya let out a little gasp. I looked up and said, ‘what’s wrong?’ She was holding my iPad. Now at that time, I had over 6,000 pictures on my iPad—pictures of family, of vacations and places we had gone to and grandchildren and all that stuff. And then it was the most incredible thing: a picture of my son Eric showed up on the iPad."
The picture of Eric that came up on the iPad
"I looked at Tonya and said, ‘were you looking at Eric’s picture?’ Tonya said ‘Dad, I didn’t even know that you had his picture on your iPad.’ There we were, standing in this circle and Eric’s picture on the iPad, and it was just like he was saying, ‘Guys, hey, I’m here! Glad to be here with you.’ So all of my children, including Eric (who has passed away), were there. We felt the Spirit so strongly, and we knew with all of our hearts that he was there with us, to enjoy, to celebrate the special occasion. . . .There were so many things that happened after [Eric] passed away to confirm that the gospel is absolutely indeed true. And when someone dies, they somehow go to another place and there they are helping to heal a heart and they help to reunite a family and also to let us know that they’re not really that far. And that’s what the gospel is about.”
Though most of Don’s experiences being reunited with his family were positive, the reunion did bring up a few painful memories, particularly ones associated with his father.
An old photo of Don's biological Vietnamese family
A small piece of paper his brother gave him finally started him on the path of reconciliation.
“In 1980 [my birth father] wrote a poem of four short verses . . . the title was, ‘The Father’s Tears,’” Don says. He then shares the poem, which he now has memorized.
“The father’s tears have all gone. I cried for the situation that we are separated. Now the father and son is no more. The little boy out there who needs help. Somebody please, help, help, Heaven help.”
Don’s first reaction to this tender poem was anger that his father never told him sooner that he loved him. But, Don shares, “Suddenly I thought of something. I just lost a son and I know how difficult it was for me to lose a son, and then I thought of my father who, too, lost a son and how difficult it must have been for him. Because of that, my heart was softened. Now, I don’t have any bad feelings for my father . . . I know that he did care for me, and he loved me.”
And that love will continue in the family today among the reunited siblings.
Don and his siblings as children and reunited adults
“When I first went over there [to Vietnam],” Don says, “I thought, if just by chance I suddenly walk into a situation where I would find my siblings, I would want to know what happened to my parents, and then we would say good bye and I would go my way and they would go their way and that would be it. . . . But the most amazing thing is that once I found my siblings, it just was like a magnet. We clung to each other, we cry, we laugh, we share memories, experiences. . . . Even though, the 50 years. I tell you, the relationship is so strong and I’m so grateful that I have six younger siblings that I care for and they love me.”
Lead image and all other images courtesy of Don and Kaylene Skanchy
Seven-year-old Chellamuthu's life is forever changed when he is kidnapped from his village in India, sold to a Christian orphanage, and then adopted by an unsuspecting couple in the United States. It takes months before the boy can speak enough English to tell his parents that he already has a family back in India. Horrified, they try their best to track down his Indian family, but all avenues lead to dead ends.
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More than a decade later, Taj meets Priya, a girl from southern India with surprising ties to his past. Is she the key to unveil the secrets of his childhood or is it too late? And if he does make it back to India, how will he find his family with so few clues?
From the best-selling author of The Rent Collector, this is a deeply moving and gripping journey of discovering one's self and the unbreakable family bonds that connect us forever.