National Day of Prayer Breakfast
Given by Secretary Elaine Chao on May 5, 2005 at the Prayer Breakfast Alexandria, Virginia
Thank you. What a pleasure to be with you all on this special day of prayer.
It is quite remarkable to think that today, all across America, people of faith are taking time to pray for our country, our leaders and for our men and women in uniform. Prayer is such a very special gift.
We’ve all seen personal examples of faith and prayer at work in our lives. It is our belief in God, in a higher power, that sustains and comforts us, that helps us meet the challenges of everyday life.
I can attest to this from my own life’s experience.
As you can see, I’m an American of Asian descent. My parents grew up in war torn China in the first half of the 20th century. Back then China was plagued by poverty, famines, floods in some regions and droughts in other regions. That was in addition to the war, strife and foreign invasions.
My mother was sent to a boarding school run by missionaries, where she dedicated her life to the Lord. She met my father fleeing on the refugee trail. Her strong faith converted him and they looked to the Lord for stability in an otherwise chaotic and seemingly senseless world.
They voted with their feet to go to Taiwan after the Communists took over China. My parents were young and scared. But they drew comfort again and again, from their faith in the Lord.
My father knew that life could be better so he made the courageous decision to come to America even though he didn’t know anyone here. He could only afford passage for one, so he went first. It took him three long years before he saved enough money to bring my mother and my two sisters and me to America.
Through the long years of separation, their only communication was through long letters. Yet they never lost faith in one another or in the Lord. Then—and now—they had an unshakable conviction that God would see them through whatever obstacles we would encounter. And there were many. I don’t need to tell you that.
Our initial days in America were not easy. My parents had left everything familiar behind: family, friends, their customs and traditions and even language. Those were lonely and terribly frightening days.
Initially, our family of five lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens. Money was very tight and my family couldn’t afford to give us the things that other children took for granted. I remember vividly the bells of the ice cream truck that used to come through our neighborhood every day. My parents would save our money and, once a month, they would buy one ice cream cone for my sisters and me to share. To this day, it’s still the best ice cream I have ever tasted.
Fortunately for us, one of the first things my parents did upon arriving in America was to find a church. Because we didn’t speak English, we attended a Chinese language church. The church anchored us. It was our community. The church was our support system. My father volunteered as a deacon and the church became our lifeline to the outside world.
The church community was a source of basic information that was so critical for newcomers like us: how to use the NYC subway, where to go shopping for groceries, where to buy clothes, school supplies. It taught us how to use library system, how to register for public school, and the importance of PTAs and meetings with teachers at school, etc. In essence, our world revolved around the church.
Because my parents trusted in God’s goodness, there were little miracles everywhere in our lives. After my father came to America, he wanted to further his education. But after 1949 and the Communist takeover, China was shut off from the rest of the world. He could not produce his university transcript. As a consequence, a number of well-known American universities refused to admit him.
In desperation, he sought the help of a local priest, though my father was not a Catholic. The priest listened to my father’s story, believed in him, and arranged an interview with St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York, a faith-based university. The University accepted him—without a transcript. My father worked very hard and went on to earn a graduate degree. He is now a Trustee of the University and an active alumnus.
A Catholic university gave my father a new start on life because faith gave its leaders the ability to see beyond the immediate and to trust. That philosophy allowed them to go far beyond the leaders of secular institutions—which like the Doubting Thomas—need proof before they will take a chance and believe.
My family and I will always be grateful in ways that words alone cannot express. Our church community and the power of faith and prayer encouraged us and gave us hope, every step along our journey to mainstream America.
As I do my job these days, I am honored to serve a man of faith, a principled leader who appreciates and asks openly for the prayers of others. President George W. Bush has often said that he is strengthened and humbled to think that others take time to pray for him.
I’ve noted throughout my career that the best leaders—the great leaders—have a strong foundation of principles. If a leader doesn’t know what he or she stands for, they will be buffeted by all sides. As the Scriptures say, they will be “tossed by the waves and carried by the wind”. They will never be able to accomplish real change or make a real difference for other people.
Having a strong set of principles doesn’t mean ignoring what others have to say. I learn lots of things every day from others. In the process of learning new things, however, I never forget the basic principles that guide this President and this Administration. And they are rooted in the belief that liberty is a gift from God that must be shared with everyone.
Let me close by saying how strengthening and humbling it is to know that others are praying for you. The Scriptures say that, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:16).” We’ve all seen the wonders those prayers produce every day in our lives. For me, that includes the kindness of strangers, a treat shared among sisters and the welcome embrace of a free country. God’s miracles are everywhere to sustain and guide all those who trust in his goodness.
So, thank you for inviting me here today. And thank you especially for your prayers for our country’s leaders. God bless you and God bless America.