Thi Nguyen was in her early 60s when she returned home from work to find her house locked up, and her husband and son nowhere to be found.
Eventually finding them at the casino, she asked her husband what was happening.
Sobbing, Thi tells me, “He said the bank took over everything. He said he lost all our money on the sharemarket. He said the bank reclaimed everything to pay for it, but they couldn’t, so they had evicted us.”
Eight years earlier, Thi’s now ex-husband had decided to give up being an architect and become a stockbroker. He set up a home office and, as Thi describes it, “he managed everything. I made the money. I didn’t know anything he did with the shares.”
“I made the money. I didn’t know anything he did with the shares.” –Thi Nguyen
As it turned out, her husband had whittled away all their money on the sharemarket. When the bank came knocking, they lost their five investment properties along with their family house, and Thi was left with well over half a million dollars of credit card debt.
To add insult to injury, her son – then in his 20s and working full time – blamed her.
“I saw [my son] and he was crying and he said, ‘your fault, your fault, you’re never home, he just does whatever he wants. You don’t check on him, you only work, and work and money are your main things,’” Thi says through tears.
With every credit card declined, and nowhere to go, Thi slept in her car.
Even though she was homeless, Thi continued to go to work. In the evening she would go to the gym, wait for it to close at 11pm, and then drive her car into the undercover parking nearby and sleep.
“I slept in the car for 14 months,” says Thi.
Unable to keep up the façade, Thi resigned from her job.
“I never had time for my family; I kept thinking money was the most important thing.” –Thi Nguyen
With dwindling finances and rising debt, Thi approached Centrelink, who forwarded her to homeless services. After a month of living in women’s refuges across the city, she was helped to rent a unit in inner Sydney by the Centre for Affordable Housing.
After Thi moved into her new apartment, Centrelink realised she was spending a lot of money on food, and so pointed her in the direction of the Anglicare Mobile Pantry held every fortnight at St Mark’s Anglican Church in Malabar, in Sydney’s east.
On her third visit to the Mobile Pantry, Thi met Alison Roberts, the wife of the church minister.
“[Alison] was sitting with me, talking about Jesus. She explained it to me, and I did the Christian explorer course.
“Then I understood. She gave me also a Bible. I go home, I read, and I saw the difference, and that’s how I became a Christian,” says Thi.
Since becoming a Christian, Thi now volunteers at St Mark’s two days each week.
“I have something to do, I come here, and I feel happy. I made a lot of friends here. And Alison supports me a lot, mentally. I talk to Alison, she calms me down, she prays for me.
“I’m really glad to have become a Christian. I can see my life getting better and better because I had bad thoughts to commit suicide all the time. Each time I didn’t want to live any more, and I never thought I’d end up like this.”
“Her joy and willingness to help at church has been a great witness to everyone.” – Alison Roberts
Thi admits that she was heavily focused on money and status before she lost everything.
“Now I realise that money comes and goes, but your family is very important. I never had time for my family; I kept thinking money was the most important thing in my life before, but I was wrong. I was so wrong.
“Only one thing helps me now: I come to God and ask God to forgive my sin and realise that money isn’t everything any more.”
Alison says that St Mark’s has been running the Mobile Pantry for less than a year, but already it is encouraging to see how it has helped church regulars be more proactive in chatting to people and talking about their faith.
“Now I am able to spread God’s word, to become like a missionary.” – Thi Nguyen
“It’s been very encouraging seeing Thi and her openness to Christianity and Jesus, and to see her growth has been amazing. Her joy and willingness to help at church has been a great witness to everyone,” says Alison.
And her help doesn’t stop at the church gate. When Thi collects her groceries from the Mobile Pantry, she keeps what she can use, and takes the rest to homeless people in the city.
“I strongly believe [God] wants for me a mission. Now I am able to spread God’s word, to become like a missionary to help people. That’s what he wants me to do. I’m quite happy to do that.
“I know what it’s like to be homeless. I went from rich to poor, from poor to homeless, and from homeless to sleeping in the car.
“But God has picked me up these seven or eight months. Each time I come here [church] I feel good.
“I’m very glad that I became a Christian. Since I found God I feel a peace in my heart.”
The Anglicare Mobile Community Pantry provides grocery items at very low cost. For just $10, holders of Pension cards, Health Care cards and Immigration cards can fill a bag with groceries of their choice from the stock available. It runs fortnightly at churches across the Sydney region. A full list of dates and locations can be found here: https://www.anglicare.org.au/mobile-community-pantry.