May 13, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

Donned in cap and gown and maroon and gold honors cords, Ming Ho beems from ear-to-ear. At age 45, he has fulfilled a lifelong dream.

“When I was growing up, I always knew I’d go to college,” said Ho.

Interested and gifted in math and science, Ho entered the 11th grade of high school planning to go to the University of Michigan to become an engineer.

Shattered dreams

But, then, in 1994, he made a fatal mistake—one that took a life away, and with it, seemingly any dreams he had.

The weight of that disappointment and shame fell on more than just Ho.

His mom, born and raised in Vietnam, only made it to the fifth grade before her mother pulled her out of school to help with the household and to take care of her younger siblings.

“Despite only having a fifth-grade education, my mother was both the breadwinner and backbone of my family,” said Ho. “As her firstborn child, I was the one she had first placed her hopes, her dreams, her aspirations in.”

But when Ho committed the crimes that landed him in prison, he broke his mom’s heart. “I brought immense shame and dishonor on my family.”

A new day

Fast forward nearly three decades and Ho and his mom are seated next to each other inside Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Michigan for his graduation ceremony from the Calvin Prison Initiative.

“I remember when I was growing up my mother told me on a number of occasions that I was her right arm—meaning that I was her strength. Remember that?” said Ho looking into his mom’s eyes.

“Yep,” she said nodding her head.

“I cannot undo what I did back then on that fateful day in 1994, but today is a new day,” said Ho.

A new future

Ho’s mom, who flew 2,000 miles from California to witness Ho’s graduation from Calvin University, watched as her son sang in the Handlon Tabernacle choir, walked across the front of the room to receive his diploma, and interacted with professors and peers.

“What he did, his mind wasn’t mature enough at the time,” said Phan. “He’s getting good in here. I’m really happy to see him graduate!” she said.

“When I failed her and my family it tore me up,” said Ho. “Today marks a new future. It confirms the potential I always had. Today, I’m happy that I can bring happiness and joy into her heart, to overcome the shame and dishonor.”

Sharing a special moment

Ho hopes this moment, this grand achievement, becoming the first in his immediate family to graduate from college, will restore honor to his family where he once caused dishonor. In summer 2022, Ho was re-sentenced and is slated to leave prison as early as February 2032. Upon release, he will be deported to his country of birth, Vietnam, meaning this moment may mark the last time he ever sees his mom in-person.

And it’s fitting, since he considers this achievement—a shared one. “My strong work ethic comes from her. I’m proud of my mother,” said Ho.

And he is reminded that regardless of what the next leg of their journeys look like, their God is steadfast.

“In my readings of the Bible, I came across the motif of the “right arm.” It’s the right arm or right hand of God,” said Ho, referencing Exodus 15:6, Psalms 139:10, Isaiah 41:10, and Psalms 98:1. “So, even though I may fail as someone’s right arm, God does not. God has brought us this far. God is with us, and God is going before us, preparing the next leg of our journey. I’m eager and excited to see what God has next in store for my life.”

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