By Felicia J. Persaud

News Americas, FORT LAUDERDALE, FL, Fri. May 10, 2024: For eight long years Iu Mien immigrant Cheng “Charlie” Saephan was in a dark valley – battling cancer and living only on a disability income at age 46. But from the darkness, light has come bursting in as a $1.3 billion dollar gift from the universe.

immigrant-powerball-winner-Cheng “Charlie” Saephan
Immigrant Powerball-winner Cheng “Charlie” Saephan with his winning check. (Oregon Lottery image)

Saephan immigrated to America in 1994 and used to work in the aerospace industry before he got ill. Last month, as the jackpot rose to a record $1.3 billion, he and his wife and their friend, Laiza Chao, bought 20 Powerball tickets in their hometown of Portland, Oregon, with dreams of winning.

Saephan did not just dream; he prayed. “I prayed to God to help me,” he said. “My kids are young, and I’m not that healthy.”

He said that after praying, he wrote out all the numbers from 1 to 69 on a sheet of paper that he put under his pillow.

“I slept with it for two weeks, and then I win it,” he said with a beaming smile at a press conference last week, as he wore a vibrant blue sash reading “Iu-Mien USA” and lifted the oversized check for $1.3 billion above his head at the Oregon Lottery headquarters.

The total amount to be received by Saephan, his wife, and friend Chao is $422,309,193.97 after taxes, per the Oregon Lottery. Saephan’s Powerball win is the state’s largest in history and was officially revealed by the Oregon Lottery on April 29th. Previously, the biggest Oregon jackpot was announced in 2005 and worth $340 million.

Saephan’s incredible luck in clinching an enormous Powerball jackpot in Oregon has not only transformed his life but also spotlighted the Iu Mien people, an ethnic group with roots in southeast Asia, particularly Laos.

“I am born in Laos, but I am not Laotian. I am Iu Mien,” he proudly declared, shedding light on his cultural identity.

During the Vietnam War, many Iu Mien individuals were recruited by the CIA and U.S. military to engage in guerrilla warfare in Laos, disrupting the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

This historical context adds depth to Saephan’s story, revealing a community with a resilient past. Today, there are about 50,000 to 70,000 Iu Mien people living in the United States.

Saephan’s own diligence and faith has now paid off when he discovered he had won the staggering jackpot from the pile of 20 Powerball tickets. The Oregon resident for 30 years, he said he was at his Portland home when he discovered he’d won the April 6th drawing.

He initially thought he’d come up empty when checking his bundle of tickets but realized he hit the jackpot when looking through the last few.

“I call Laiza as she’s driving to work. I told her you don’t have to go to work now; we won the lottery; we won the jackpot!” Saephan recalled during the press conference. Chao is to receive 25 percent of the winnings.

With the jackpot winnings, Saephan intends to provide for his family, ensuring a good life for them. His plans include purchasing a dream home and securing top-notch medical care for himself as he continues his fight against cancer.

“My life has been changed. Now I can bless my family and hire a good doctor for myself,” Saephan said.

The news of his win not only brings hope to his loved ones but also shines a light on the power of resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. Saephan’s story serves as a beacon of hope, inspiring immigrants and all people, to persevere in their own journeys, regardless of the challenges they face.

It’s a testament to the transformative power of luck, faith, and the unwavering human spirit. Congrats Charlie, God knows you deserve this breakthrough!

Felicia J. Persaud is the publisher of, a daily news outlet focusing on Black immigrant issues.

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