A meal 22 years in the making

Published: November 5, 2007 | 6799th good news item since 2003

Feet away from Ban Van Phan, people talked about him. They talked about his life. They talked about his feelings.

And he had nothing to say about it.

It could be due to the fact he speaks little English. Or it could be because Ban Van Phan just left a Vietnamese prison after 22 years and was now sitting in a strange place called Rockford, eating dinner with his family.

“He doesn’t believe it,” his son, Vinh Phan, said of the 70-year-old man’s American experience.

It’s been three weeks since Ban Van Phan arrived in Chicago and was taken to Rockford to be reunited with his family. On Sunday, as a thank you to those who helped in the decades-long effort to free him, about 20 people gathered in an open house to eat with the reunited family.

From the outside looking in, the event appeared mundane. But for those like Pam Herriott, Vinh Phan’s English instructor, their insides churned with emotions.

“It’s incredible. It’s a miracle,” Herriott said. “I’m so thrilled to be a part of it.”

Since Ban Van Phan has arrived stateside, the family has thanked many of those who helped with his release. Herriott, who helped Vinh Phan pen letters to government officials for his father’s release, said that the family stopped by her house recently and gave her a pen set.

“It was just so beautiful,” Herriott of Rockford said.

Stanley Campbell, a social activist who heads Rockford Urban Ministries and a Vietnam veteran, was equally elated to see the family reunited.

“Just to see them happy together, that’s the good stuff,” Campbell said.

His son has shown Ban Van Phan CherryVale Mall, where he was wowed by seeing a glass-enclosed elevator for the first time. And he has developed an affinity for American fare — something the family hopes will plump the slender man up.

“He likes McDonald’s,” his son said.

There are still hurdles left for Ban Van Phan. His visit to America expires after one year, and the family is still working to get him granted refugee status, which would allow him to remain with them. They located to the States in 1994.

And Ban Van Phan plans on joining in the same classes that helped teach his son English. And then maybe he will express how he feels for himself, something a lot of people are waiting to hear.

Published in Reunited
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