A US pastor has revealed how he survived two decades of being forgotten in the jungle, preaching there and fighting communist forces during the Vietnam war.
Y Hin Nie (pictured above), aged 75, now preaches to a congregation of hundreds at the United Montagnard Christian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina in the US.
But his background is very different. On the run and cut off from the world, Hin Nie and his unit of insurgents foraged for food and hunted for tiger skins to pay the Khmer Rouge. His “forgotten army” did not give up arms until 1992, after Hin Nie negotiated their freedom, he told the BBC.
His problems began after adopted “godmother” Carolyn was killed in a massive Vietcong rocket barrage in 1968, after Hin Nie dug her out of the rubble. But he survived, hiding in a bunker as many others were captured and killed.
“My godmother died with suffering,” he says. “God saved my life.”
He joined a Bible school and worked at a church, but was forced to flee when more bombs dropped.
He was approached by fighters of the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races (Fulro), armed insurgents that advocated autonomy for ethnic minorities called Montagnards who were persecuted in Vietnam for reasons including their Christian faith.
A shared faith meant he was drawn to join them. “I had no choice; it touched my heart.”
In 1975, he fled into the jungle with them but, by 1979, Vietnamese troops increased their searches for Fulro, and they fled to Cambodia.
Fulro needed permission from the notorious Khmer Rouge – who killed 1.7 million people in Cambodia under the reign of Pol Pot – which was only granted if they paid monthly ‘taxes’ of large amounts of tiger and python skin, and deer horn.
About that time, he married his wife, H Biuh, who was part of the group, and they had three children in the jungle, but one died.
The first thing Hin Nie would do when they arrived at a new jungle spot was put up a cross, before he held sermons for the soldiers, women and children.
Apart from a few local Khmer Rouge and Cambodian soldiers, hardly anyone knew the Fulro fighters were still in the jungle. But, in 1992, Hin Nie started negotiations with UN officials who had arrived in the wake of the genocide to administer the Cambodian national election as part of a peacekeeping mission.
From there, a US journalist reported on the Fulro group, revealing they were still waiting for instructions from their leader who, unknown to them, had been executed by the Khmer Rouge 17 years earlier. On the shortwave radios that were the group’s only contact with the outside world in the jungle, the news of their leader’s death had been missed.
The Fulro fighters immediately sought asylum in the US and were fast-tracked through the normal refugee channels. They landed in the US in November 1992 and Hin Nie was greeted by a banner welcoming the “forgotten army”.
Just as he had survived the barrage of bombs that killed his godmother 24 years earlier, God had again saved his life, this time to lead a congregation in a new country.