Vietnam. Somehow, stepping onto the soil of this beautifully exotic and foreign country brings me a feeling of nostalgic familiarity that is difficult to explain. Looking around, I find signs with familiar letters strung together into unrecognizable words, I see people who resemble myself but whose tongues make sounds that are incomprehensible to my ears, and I feel comfortable yet lost in a wave of chaotic arrangement.
Vietnam is beautiful. A country rich with history, culture and experiences, all for the consumption of the many visitors that choose to travel here for vacation. But vacation is far from my mind as I venture into the streets of the bustle Ho Chi Minh City. For consumption in here, is more than just delicious bowls of hot pho, or sweet and juicy rambutan. No, what is available for men to acquire is more sinister than exotic food.
Underneath the allure of delicious food, fragrant coffee and beautiful landscapes is poverty, corruption and widespread abuse of women and children. We learned about the difficulties of Vietnam’s poverty on their people and how contrary to the customs of the west, there is no protection for the vulnerable. Despite the widespread Roman Catholic influence in this country, regard for human life is second next to the survival of oneself. This world is Satan’s world and he reigns over it with a curtain of darkness. Yet in all of this darkness, one can still find hope, as darkness cannot consume a room if even just a single spark is made.
One Body Village is more than just a spark in Vietnam, it has become a bright light within a country enveloped in darkness. It is made up of many dedicated and loving people, who are fighting for what is right. Father Martino, Sister Ngoc, Jacqueline, Thuy, Duy, Ha and all of the other staff and volunteers of OBV have all shown me and those who know them, that God’s light and God’s love cannot be snuffed out. Their hard work and dedication to the girls and to the community is an inspiration and unparalleled by anyone I’ve ever met. It continually amazes me how each one of these people do not treat what they do as a job, but rather a lifelong commitment. They have each unselfishly taken on the calling to work for OBV and laid down their own lives in the process. This is exactly what the gospel life is, a life transformed by the love of Christ, so much so that they would lay down their own in order to follow in Christ’s footsteps to care for the least of us. The work of the OBV staff has inspired me to be more convicted than ever to live out my life in service of the oppressed, to give freedom to those enslaved and to give hope to the hopeless.
I came to Vietnam in search of hope. Who knew that hope is the name of every girl living at OBV’s home. I was unsure of what to expect and how to interact with the girls. Being a therapist, my strength comes from my ability to listen and speak, yet here, those abilities were taken from me. I was humbled and I was no longer allowed to take pride in the thing I treasured most about myself. I was forced to focus not on myself and what I could offer the girls, but instead my focus turned onto the girls and what they could show me. These girls showed me a whole new world, a world that I did not know existed. They showed me that their histories did not define them, that their scars did not deface them. They showed me that joy comes from playing the same game a million times, that love comes from little folded pieces of paper and that excitement comes from the recovery from power-outages or even power-outages themselves. I realized that my words have no merit here. Instead, my time and my presence meant more to these girls than anything else I could ever offer them. Every second that I spent with these girls, I felt my perspective change. These girls showed me what it meant to be strong, to be courageous and to thrive. I searched for a long time for God’s unconditional love, for gospel hope and for the Lord’s promise of Sabbath rest and of all the places that I could find it, it was in the chaotic and corrupt country of Vietnam.
As we left Vietnam, I left with a sense of peace and with a full heart. Despite the darkness that envelops this country, there are many bright lights that battle tirelessly against the darkness to ensure that good will prevail. In my interactions with the girls and realizing that they are happy, healthy and thriving, I realized the significance and importance of OBV’s work. I have a gladness in my heart that the girls at this home were so… “normal” and as a result, have so much hope and potential. It is my hope that OBV will be able to continue to do this important work and I know that this requires the love and support of the international community. I know that it was a privilege to have met and encountered these girls and as a result, I cannot just walk away without bringing their stories and their lives with me. I know that I cannot stay silent. I must continue to fight with these girls.