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Missionary’s years in Vietnam made him a ‘Servant on the Edge’

GARLAND, Texas (BP)–As Americans pulled out of South Vietnam in the face of advancing communist troops in 1975, Korean war veteran-turned-Baptist missionary Sam James faced a gut-wrenching decision: whether to stay with the Vietnamese people he loved or exit with other Americans fleeing the country.

To stay meant confronting the triumphant communists and possibly death or prison. To leave meant abandoning the churches and people in whom he had invested 13 years of life.

James wavered until the last days of South Vietnam. He faced uncertainty, death and injustice all around him as he tried to prepare Christians under his care for the violent and uncertain days ahead.

When he left on one of the last flights out of Vietnam, James didn’t know until he returned 14 years later what happened to those he had mentored in faith.

James details his years in Vietnam and his return to the country in “Servant on the Edge of History: Risking All for the Gospel in War-Ravaged Vietnam,” a new release from Hannibal Books. “Experiencing God” author Henry Blackaby wrote the foreword to James’ book.

James recounts harrowing tales from Vietnam, such as when a bomb destroyed a beauty parlor where his wife had been 10 minutes earlier and his miraculous protection during a brutal roadside Viet Cong raid.

And he tells how an ex-Viet Cong fighter and a notoriously embittered man victimized by the Viet Cong let go of their hate for each other and eventually attended church services side by side.

“A genuine acceptance of Christ made the difference,” James recalls about the day when the two former enemies first met in a Saigon church pew. “This little church in downtown Saigon at a brief moment in history was a microcosm of what could happen among the people of the world if the Gospel only could touch them. What the greatest military machine of the world could not do, the Gospel accomplished. This is the essence of the Christian faith lived out before our very eyes.”

As American troops fought to forestall the advancing communist troops, James found that he had to draw boundaries with his own country’s military leaders who wanted to use him for espionage, which he refused to do.

“To become a missionary and go overseas does not mean that one loves his own country less,” James writes. However, James notes that he, an ex-Navy man, “had given up my weapons of war to bring the Prince of Peace to the peoples of the world.” Declining to be involved in espionage for the U.S., he writes, enabled him to be “exactly who I said I was — a missionary under the Great Commission of our Lord.”

After returning to Vietnam in 1989 and in subsequent repeat trips, James reports, “The astounding thing was that I, the teacher, the model, the discipler, had been led into the very presence of the Lord by my students, who now were modeling for me the very presence of Christ.”

James, who retired from the International Mission Board after 43 years in various posts, lives in Midlothian, Va., and continues to work on special missions assignments in high-risk areas. He encourages those interested in ministry work to examine their motives and be aware of the challenges. At the close of each chapter, he poses thought-provoking, open-ended questions which Bible studies, missions groups and persons in individual study can use.

James notes that his purpose was not to write an autobiography but instead to show, through recounting his life in a war-permeated environment, how one person “gained new insight into who God is and what life means when lived in the reality of His presence.”
Sam James’ “Servant on the Edge of History: Risking All for the Gospel in War-Ravaged Vietnam” is available at Christian and secular bookstores throughout the country, as well as online through www.hannibalbooks.com or by phone order at 1-800-747-0738.

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