During When Strangers Become Neighbors, the immigration conference on April 6, Rev. Bob Strickert called up one of his friends to speak about his experience as a refugee in the United States. In case you were not at the conference, here are some of the details of his journey.
Along with his wife and eight children, Siongkoua Vachiasong arrived in the U.S. in 1976 from a refugee camp in Thailand, where he had been living since leaving Laos, his home country. Meanwhile, Rivercliff Lutheran Church and its pastor, Bob Strickert, contacted LIRS that same year about helping a refugee family settle into life in Georgia. Rivercliff was matched with Siongkoua and his family, and assisted them as they moved into a new home and looked for work. So began the relationship between the family from Laos and the congregation from Rivercliff, one that has lasted for the past 37 years.
Soon after they arrived and were living in Roswell, Siongkoua and his wife had a ninth child. They wanted to name the child “Roswell” after the town in which they were living, but some of the folks at Rivercliff gently encouraged them to consider other names that were more “feminine.” After some discussion, they settled on the name “Rosalie” and chose “Chua” as a middle name. When Pastor Strickert asked them what “Chua” meant, they told him that it meant “windy,” since it was a windy and stormy day when she was born in Atlanta.
Although he started out working as a dishwasher at the Marriot when he first came to Georgia, Siongkoua has been running an Asian pear farm near Jefferson for a number of years, which his sons now operate. If you find yourself driving up I-85 and are craving an Asian pear for lunch or a snack, you might just want to stop by their farm to pick up a few for the road!