From Myanmar to Malaysia to Indianapolis, junior Nay Mi Chele-Rhengboi uses her past to help shape her future.
A junior public relations major, Rhengboi’s unique life experiences have contributed to her current passions.
Born in Matupi City, Myanmar, Rhengboi’s childhood was filled with lots of change and unknown circumstances.
The first six years of her life, Rhengboi lived in Myanmar with her mom and her older brother, Naybay. Her father’s presence was absent for those early years.
“When I was born, my dad was around, but then he had to go to Malaysia to find a job to support us. He wasn’t really in my life.” Rhengboi said.
The three of them had each other. They moved around often due to her mother’s teaching profession, and they faced the everyday challenges of living in the minority.
“We were ethnic minorities in Burma,” Rhengboi said, “It was kind of hard to be in that position because the government did not really understand us.”
When Rhengboi was six, her mom got a call from her father. With help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Rhengboi and her family were given special permission to enter Malaysia and reunite once again.
Although this was good news, it prompted a daunting journey from Myanmar to Malaysia, a journey that would be long and difficult to endure.
Rhengboi recalls some of the trials they faced. At one point, in Thailand, they were all crammed into a van, filled to the brim with other refugees who were fleeing.
“There were people stacked on top of each other,” Rhengboi said.
And their journey was not only on land. They also had to cross a body of water, in tiny boats, lying down, with tarps and fishing nets covering their bodies.
Rhengboi and her mother were together on the boat, but they were separated from Rhengboi’s brother.
“My mom was telling me everything was going to be okay and that God had everything in control,” she said. “I remember her citing Proverbs. With that, I had some peace.”
When they made it to land again, they had to wait for the other refugees to arrive. Stuck in a little house in the middle of the woods, provision was very limited.
“We barely had any food to eat. I didn’t even know I was starving because of everything I had just been through” Rhengboi said.
When the other refugees arrived, their next step was to cross a river by foot. A fellow refugee graciously offered to carry Rhengboi, while her mom took care of her brother.
“The river current was so strong we almost fell underneath,” Rhengboi said, “We were almost caught under the bridge where there were Malaysian police.”
But by the grace of God, they made it through. They safely crossed under the bridge to get to Malaysia.
During her time in Malaysia, God continued to be faithful to her and her family.
During this time, it wasn’t rare for the police to raid, looking for refugees who they could arrest. One night, while Rhengboi and her brother were sleeping, Rhengboi’s mother heard the police coming. She knew there was nowhere to hide, since their apartment was open with a simple square layout.
So, she prayed.
Repeatedly knocking on her door, Rhengboi’s mom continued to sit and pray. The police eventually knocked the door down entirely, seeing Mi Chele-Rhengboi’s mom and the two children sleeping.
“The police just closed the door and left,” Rhengboi said. “Never even said a word.”
Rhengboi finds no other way to explain it, other than God.
After two years of living in Malaysia, Mi Chele-Rhengboi and her family got accepted to come to the United States.
“Coming here was such a relief. Being in a space where we were welcome was amazing. Having that freedom was amazing” Rhengboi said.
Since she was eight, Rhengboi has resided in Indianapolis, pouring into her education, giving back to her community, becoming fluent in English and often volunteering at the nonprofit Burmese American Community Institute (BACI.)
As an Act Six recipient, Rhengboi worked hard to get to where she is. She is thankful for her opportunity to use her gifts at Taylor University.
“Being at Taylor allows me to help others understand my culture and spread diversity and also grow spiritually” Rhengboi said.
A Chin Youth Organization pageant winner and a talented singer and songwriter, Rhengboi is always striving to give back to her community.
“I want to use my talents and gifts for God’s kingdom, and for my people,” she said.
Rhengboi uses her past as a catalyst for her future. Although her journey to the U.S. was at times tumultuous, it simultaneously revealed how good God is.
“I’ve seen God do incredible, miraculous work in my life,” she said. “God has everything in control. Even though you don’t see it, even if you don’t feel it, God is always there.”