EDITORS’ NOTE: Nearly 24 years had passed since Le Ann Jackson fled her native Vietnam before returning there on a Hawaii-Pacific Baptist medical missions trip earlier this year as the volunteer team’s translator. This article relays various excerpts from a journal she kept about her impressions and experiences. Jackson is a preschool worker and member of Dong Tam Baptist Church, Honolulu.
BACH DANG, Vietnam (BP)–Introduction. Every time I hear the word Vietnam, I think of a horrible war which caused a lot of meaningless deaths, including those of my loved ones. I will never forget the picture of my dead brother, his body lying near his headquarters room. Or my cousin who died in a helicopter explosion. Or my friends who died in many different ways during the war.
I don’t remember how long it took for me to begin forgetting the horrible memories of the day I left my country on April 30, 1975.
Holding my 7-year old daughter in my arms, I told her to close her eyes and let me carry her through those dead bodies. My ears ached from the explosions and my eyes streamed with tears of horror. All my senses felt nothing but fear and hatred. I vowed to myself that as long as I lived, I would not forgive the people who caused me so much pain.
It has been 23 years and eight months since I made that vow, but 10 years ago I found God. It took me 10 years to become a strong Christian and be able to forgive and to love.
— Jan. 18, Bach Dang town. I have never seen so many poor and sick people in my life. I did not know such a place existed when I lived in Vietnam.
Now that I am here, touching and talking to people, I wonder who is responsible for all this misery. I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter who is responsible for all this sickness and poverty. We are here to ease the pain, and what we do we do for the love of God.
Still I found one individual to blame for my anger: A Vietnamese doctor named “G” was assigned to our team by Binh Duong General Hospital. When we were busy working on our patients, this doctor kept his eyes on us. He asked us one question after another. Then he decided that it was not enough. He wanted us to give him a list of all the medications we had brought with us.
— Jan. 19, Phuoc Hoa town. Even working under Dr. G’s pressure, we were still able to see 350 patients. The conditions at the work place give me a mild headache. And of course none of us were eating very well. We had banana and water for lunch almost every day. We learned that before we could eat the bread, we needed to break the loaf in half, knock it against the side of a table and chase the ants out from the inside. So we all agreed to skip the bread in our lunch.
— Jan. 21, Chanh Phu town. Dr. G. walked into our pediatric room and decided to stay. Dr. Al told me, “If he’s in, I’m out of here to get some air.” I understood how Dr. Al felt about Dr. G’s presence because I not only felt suffocated, I also was getting irritated by his screaming and yelling at our patients.
I told Dr. G. that all of us were volunteering our own time and money to be here helping these people. He seemed very surprised to hear that.
He asked me why we would do such a thing. I told him because we were Christians, we believe in God and God loves everybody. He looked at me in a very strange way and quietly left our room.
— Jan. 22, Thanh An village. Dr. G. looked at me and said, “Tell me about your volunteer work.” I said, “What more do you want to know? You’ve been here with us every day. You know everything we do.” He answered, “I want to know why you volunteer to help these people. Don’t you have your own family to take care of?”
I said, “I do have my own family to take care of, and I am also a Christian. Because I am a Christian, I do what God wants me to do.”
Dr. G. looked at me and smiled. I continued my work as usual and remained being myself. Dr. G. popped his head into our room now and then to smile at us. Other than that, no one knew what was on his mind.
— Jan. 23. Dr. G. came to us at breakfast time. This time he sat with us at our table. Usually he sat with his three friends at a separate table in the corner. Every day, before having our breakfast, we said our prayers and then, after breakfast, we would sing our mission theme, “Make me a Servant,” prior to our departure. Today God touched Dr. G.’s heart. He not only sat with us, he also participated in our prayers. He asked for the songs so he could sing with us. Everybody was so touched by the wonderful change God had made in Dr. G.’s mind.
Epilogue. We went back to Hotel Binh Duong to pack and head for Saigon. Everybody was touched when we saw Dr. G. waiting for us at the hotel. He gave each one of us a goodbye gift.
He said, “Even though the gifts were small, they were bought by me, and were carefully wrapped by my family.”
I fell silently into my thoughts on the bus back to Saigon City.