You might say that Marisha Truong and her mother Christine Tupaz have finally arrived home after the bumpy, international, decades-long journey they’ve taken together.
Christine, born a citizen of the Philippines, was living in Manila with her Thai husband Surachai Chareonvooti when they decided in 1986 that, although she was nine-months pregnant, Christine would fly to Chicago for a family event and give birth there, so that her daughter Marisha would be a natural born citizen.
Marisha was born in the U.S. The mother and daughter stayed with in-laws until Marisha reached seven-months old and her father Surachai brought them to Pattaya, Thailand. They then spent the next 17 years there, with Marisha growing up with the Thai language and learning English from her mother who, as all Filipino children did in those days, learned to speak English in school.
In 2004, her parents broke up. Marisha remembers it as a very dark time in her life, with her and her mother Christine eventually deciding to move to America to start a new life together. The two packed two suitcases full of clothing, and travelled to their new home with very little money. Marisha’s brothers and sisters responded to her request for help by pitching in to support the pair in their transition.
“Coming to Chicago was a big culture shock,” she said. “I had to leave everyone I had ever loved. I was at the lowest point in my life.”
Compounding the stress is that Christine was going through a deep depression. Ginger, her 30-year-old daughter from a previous marriage and who was living in the U.S., brought her to an Asian social services agency where a psychiatrist was able to provide medical care.
But that episode brought back painful memories of a hospitalization in the Philippines when, not only did no one visit her during her stay but, when she was able to go home, her husband brought his mistress there. “I was mentally tortured,” Christine said as she looked back on those days.
Christine’s depression rubbed off on her daughter.
“I blamed myself a lot for not being able to take care of her, for not being a good daughter,” she said, adding with tears in her eyes. “I was really lost. I guess I was just hoping for a home.”
The two supported one another through the painful time. Then, in 2014 Marisha met Pastor Pongsak Limthongviratn and Matha Janthapaiboon at a club in Lombard, where they played badminton together. Pastor Pongsak and Matha invited her to come by St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church in Forest Park where they play badminton after dinner on Sunday evenings.
Marisha accepted the invitation because she loved playing badminton. But what kept Marisha coming back to the white stucco church on Dixon St. was not the talk about religion. She explained, “The Thai people didn’t talk about religion at all. I started to feel very comfortable at the church. I had never met people who seemed so sincere, so loving. I remember wanting to be part of it. It felt almost like home.”
Eventually Marisha started coming to the worship services before dinner and the badminton games.
One of the people she formed a close relationship with was Sirinya Bunchusanong, or Pup. The two formed a sister-like bond, and Pup would always try to cheer up Marisha when she was feeling depressed.
“She would never push religion on me but would tell me Bible stories which I enjoyed,” she said. “We would play Christian songs on the guitar together. One night while we were in Denver on a ski trip she asked me if I wanted to receive Christ, and I said, ‘Yes, if you will help me.'”
Marisha converted to Christianity. She also, of course, invited her mother to join her on Sunday afternoons at the Thai church. “Every time I attend worship here,” said Christine, “I feel compassion and the teaching of the Bible so deeply in my heart.”
The way Marisha and Christine articulate the change they’ve experienced is to say that they have converted from being Catholic to being Christian, and so, even though they were baptized as infants, they were both baptized again as adults, mother and daughter together, at St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church in 2015.
All has not been perfect for Christine and Marisha since that day. Christine has spent some time back in the hospital, but her daughter declared, “I don’t have depression any more. I’m healed. I’ve been restored by the blood of Christ.”
Eventually, Marisha joined a band as the lead singer. One evening, she met Giau Minh Truong, a refugee from Vietnam and photographer who was taking pictures of the band. The two were married in 2016. Last year, they had their first son, who was eventually baptized at the church. They plan to teach him Tagalog, Thai, English and Vietnamese languages, and raise him at St. Paul’s.
“The feeling I get at St. Paul Thai,” said Christine, “changed my life and the life of my daughter. We keep on coming because of everybody and especially the Lord.”