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Blessed to Be a Blessing!

The year 1994 was an exciting time in our lives. After 20 years of separation from my family in Vietnam, my husband and I were planning what was to be a life-changing trip to be reunited with them. During the Vietnam War, I had been separated from my family and grew up in an orphanage in Vietnam and then in a children’s home in the U.S. By 1994, I had finished college and gotten married. Jonathan and I were both in graduate school, and I was also working full-time as a medical technologist at a hospital. I put my graduate studies on hold and quit my job to accompany Jonathan to the Philippines, where he conducted a research project for his Ph.D. During our year in the Philippines, God provided unexpected connections with visiting scholars from Vietnam who helped us arrange a trip so we could reconnect with my mother and older brother and his family!

The year 1994 was also an exciting time to be in Vietnam! Held back and oppressed by wars, the hardworking Vietnamese people were ready to let go of the past so they could make progress and improve their economic situation for their children’s futures. We were in Vietnam when the U.S. officially lifted the trade embargo against Vietnam. Coca Cola was ready and immediately unveiled big signs on billboards saying: “Rất vui mừng gặp lại bạn!” “So happy to see you again, friend!”

The words “eager anticipation” are not strong enough to describe the way I felt about my first trip back to Vietnam. Thoughts of the day our father was taken away by the North Vietnamese and our home was reduced to ruins by gunfire and shrapnel came to mind. My father was a Christian, and through his pastor's involvement in humanitarian work with the U.S. military, we were flown to Saigon, away from the fighting front. I still remember the scary ride on a military helicopter with double propellers (a twin-engine Boeing CH-47 Chinook). Forced to scatter and seek refuge in safer places, my younger brother and I were sent to live at an orphanage that had recently been established by the men and women of the Protestant Chapel at the U.S. Airbase at Cam Ranh. I was five and my little brother, Binh, was just two years old. My older sister took us to the orphanage and stayed with us for a few days. Then she left us one day without letting us know of her plan. I was devastated, especially when I later learned that she had died sometime after she went back to her job in Saigon. I forever regret that I didn’t have the chance to know my older sister. And during all the years since the day of our family’s separation, I had longed to see my mother—to learn more about my parents and my family background.

Our long-awaited reunion was an indescribable experience! We invested in a video camera (which was very expensive at the time) to record everything for us and for my younger brother who couldn’t join us. We found my mother and older brother, Anh Lang, and his family living in very difficult conditions in the countryside. Not being accustomed to sleeping on a hard board, my tailbone began to hurt. So, we bought a simple cushioned mattress to help alleviate my pain. Mother appreciated the small gifts we brought, as well as the mattress, which we left behind for her to enjoy.

While we were there, Anh Lang shared the idea that we might buy some fruit-producing land to help provide them with a livelihood. We were eager to bless the family to the best of our ability because, as American citizens, God had abundantly blessed us over the years. However, my brother’s request seemed like an impossible feat since we were graduate students with “negative income” at that time. Consequently, we went back to the Philippines without promising him anything.

Then, after we got back to the Philippines, on a bus ride to Manila, our expensive video camera was stolen, along with the tapes containing all the priceless, precious memories of our first trip back to Vietnam, the land of my birth. The videos of our long-awaited reunion were gone, along with special messages for my younger brother that he would never get to see! Having all the recorded memories taken from us felt like having the connection with my mother cruelly snatched away from me...again!

For days I was inconsolable, and it often felt like our trip back and my reconnection with my mother was just a dream. I felt that the only way I could move forward was to go to Vietnam again. I needed to make sure the connection with my family was real. Jonathan never allowed me to travel alone, but this time he yielded. I was afraid of traveling alone, especially traveling to a very poor, control-intensive country that, at that time, had many censorship procedures and restrictions in place. But the yearning to see my mother again provided the strength and courage to push me forward with the plan. At the same time, God also provided a way for us to get a large portion of our meager savings from the States so I could take the money with me to Vietnam to use for whatever God would guide us to do.

While I was there on the second visit, I used the money to purchase the use of one hectare (2.5 acres) of land, which came with a rudimentary shack for shelter and fully grown fruit trees (rambutan) for my family to use for their livelihood. The payment transactions were quite interesting: first, we had to convert the USD into Vietnamese Dong (VND) and then use the VND to buy rings of gold to use for buying the use of the land (land cannot be owned individually in a communist country). There were losses in the transactions, but fortunately, the dollar was highly valued then. The family was so grateful to have their own shelter and a means to improve their livelihood. Besides the fruit trees, my brother’s family was able to raise pigs and chickens and make homemade noodles to sell for additional income. I was overjoyed that we could contribute to my mother’s care and bless Anh Lang and his family this way. God instructed His chosen people in Deuteronomy 5:16 to “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” God’s instructions remain relevant for us today. We love and honor our parents by looking after them while they are alive and not by setting up fancy altars to worship them, as is done in ancestor worship. Only the One true God who created the universe and everything in it is worthy of our worship.

Over the years, the thatched roof and mud shack on the land gave way to a better structure of cement siding and a tin roof. A large living room area with a beautifully tiled floor was added and used as a registered place of worship for the Christian community in the area. In 2016, along with some gifts from gracious friends and family members, we renovated the structure and added a large, covered veranda which provided better shelter for those who came to worship, protecting them and their motorcycles from the heavy monsoon rains. In recent years, my niece and nephews also built homes for themselves and their families on the property. Then, this past May 2023, in just around 40 days, a beautiful little church was constructed on the land—a building dedicated to the worship of our Lord.

From our initial visit to Vietnam to the present, God has done amazing things to transform and bless my family and grow their faith in Him. Through the little church, God has provided access to spiritual food for the people in a rural town—a place that has seen continuous improvement in living standards and has received favor with the communist town officials who have been supportive of Christian activities, acknowledging that a place to worship God is far more beneficial for a community than a bar.

Over the years, Vietnamese brothers and sisters and a few close friends and family members from the U.S. have contributed to the upkeep of God’s sanctuary and God’s work of reaching the community there. We recognize that God blesses us with gifts and resources to be used not only for our own needs but to bless others as well. We praise God and thank Him for allowing us to be a part of His work in blessing my family and the small Christian community in Vietnam.

Looking back over the last 30 years, we realize this whole process has been a testimony to the fact that God uses everything for His glory. If our video camera and the tapes of our precious memories hadn’t been stolen, I probably would not have returned to Vietnam. We would not have bought the piece of land, and we would have missed the opportunity to witness the wonderful way God has taken care of my mother and Anh Lang and his family through all these years, and the way God continues to bless His people and bring glory to Himself through the little church located on the land we bought in 1994 during my second, unplanned, painfully-prompted trip to Vietnam.

“All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).

LoiBeth King and her husband have served with an established mission organization in East Asia for 26 years. From their student days in the Philippines, their focus has been to share the Good News of Christ with others so they too could be redeemed by God and transformed for the better. For them, serving God overseas has been an amazing adventure!

Article Link: http://ccmusa.org/read/read.aspx?id=chg20240203
To reuse online, please credit Challenger, Apr-Jun 2024. CCMUSA.