With more than 800,000 refugees seeking homes during the Vietnam War, Jeanne Jacoby Smith, now a resident of McPherson, is among the few who could offer them safety.

With more than 800,000 refugees seeking homes during the Vietnam War, Jeanne Jacoby Smith, now a resident of McPherson, is among the few who could offer them safety.

While living in Bryan, Ohio, Smith and her husband worked with their church congregation to assist a family of four Vietnamese refugees acclimate to the U.S.

“Refugees were fleeing Vietnam by the thousands in two waves; first all the intellectuals and professionals left, then as the Viet Cong moved down, then the ordinary population began leaving. Over 400,000 or so left on little fishing boats into the sea, and many drowned. We had been following it in the news for so long, and it was so awful to see what was going on so we wanted to help,” Smith explained. “I was part of a professional writer’s group at that time over the five years we were there, so every time our group met, I was journaling and writing more about their story than anything else.”

Smith, professor emerita of English and Teacher Education at McPherson College, turned these experiences into a book published this year, “Refugees! A Family’s Search for Freedom and a Church That Helped Them Find It.”

While the original text was written years ago, Smith explained that this manuscript took a refugee’s journey of its own.

“I sent the manuscript in to a publisher, but the interesting thing was that the editor in New York lost it,” Smith said. “I had my carbon copy, but we moved several times from Ohio to Pennsylvania and then to Kansas, but I hadn’t heard back from the editor, so I left it alone since those things take time. I planned on just waiting it out, but then three years later I started writing and teaching at McPherson College, but I didn’t forget the manuscript and had my copy. A few years ago, I retired so I thought ‘Now, I can retype it.’ I picked up the manuscript and to my dismay, it was stored in a sunny room so the top page was completely blank from the sunlight. The old carbon had just deteriorated in the light and the letters slid off the page like sand to the floor. Some pages were fine, but others were bleached out. It was just impossible to reconstruct the story and I threw it away. Lo and behold, some 30 years later, I received the original manuscript in the mail without a return address from the editor.”

Even though more than 30 years had passed, the refugee resettlement crisis continued — this time in the Middle East, Africa and nearly any part of the world in wartime.

“The largest and greatest number of refugees — 60 million people — are looking for homes at this time. Those refugees are people who can never come home, those seeking asylum perhaps still in the country, or the internally displaced and who are living in other regions during wartime like in Nigeria,” Smith explained. “I added quite a bit to the book so it could serve as a reference for those looking to resettle refugees today. The last half of the book is information for all church service organizations for individuals who would like to check out the possibility of resettling a family with their church, and an extensive list of items a family needs from things in their house to enrolling children in English courses.”

The other half of Smith’s book details the challenges and the joys of guiding refugees to successful lives in a new home. Smith describes the culture shock, both for the family and the congregation, as they learn to trust each other and communicate.

“We felt [culture shock] also, simply because we don’t perceive the world the way they did. Even on the first night, they crawled into bed fully clothed in case they’d have to get up and run again, which they’d been doing for months. They really had to learn that they could relax here and start a new life. We set them up gradually, taught English, and after about a year, they were reunified with other relatives,” Smith explained. “The father had learned enough English in a few months, so we got him a job at Ohio Art, a toy factory that makes globes you see in school rooms around the country. We through it was so interesting that this father was literally molding the world back together every day, in more ways than one.”

For Smith, taking in a family of refugees isn’t so much a risk, as it is responding to the call to assist those in need.

“My greatest hope is that instead of seeing refugees as people just coming in taking resources, others would see them as people looking for a safe place,” Smith explained. “What many [Americans] are more afraid of than anything is safety. The barricades for refugees to get into the country are much stronger now than they were in the Vietnam era, so refugees are vetted for over a year by the United Nations before they can actually go somewhere to be resettled. People are rightly fearful and we need to be careful, but I think we need to trust that vetting process. If it takes that long, then these refugees coming into the country are among the lucky, very few who can.”

Smith’s book “Refugees! A Family’s Search for Freedom and a Church That Helped Them Find It” is available on Amazon.