(Feb. 6, 2007) — A faith expedition organized by the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, in conjunction with Church World Service (CWS), completed a successful and uplifting trip to Vietnam in the first two weeks of January. The office is a ministry of the Church of the Brethren General Board.
Church World Service currently works in eight provinces in Vietnam: five in the north and three in the south. The first week of the trip was spent in and around Hanoi in the northern part of Vietnam, visiting numerous CWS project sites and learning about the work they do. CWS benefits from a relationship with the government of Vietnam that dates back to the Vietnam War, when it did not discriminate in its aid. Currently, CWS focuses on funding and coordinating with the government on water and sanitation issues, known as “WATSAN.” CWS works with schools in poorer areas, and often with many of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minority groups. Working with government officials on all levels, CWS conducts assessments to determine areas and schools most in need of facilities.
The Brethren delegation spent time in the Thai Nguyen and Ha Tay province, visiting seven schools to which CWS currently or in the past provided support. The school projects were at different stages of progress. CWS provides training and funding for the projects to happen, and then puts the projects in the hands of the community, helping to ensure the projects meets the needs of the communities. The projects visited by the Brethren group varied from a three-classroom project with bathroom facilities, to a boarding school at which CWS has provided funding for numerous handwashing stations and bathrooms, to a computer lab, library, and greenhouse.
At one stop, the Brethren were able to view a site that is still in the planning stage, and to see the situation before the work of CWS had begun. The work CWS is doing is really improving the quality of education–and thus the quality of life–for children who are amongst the poorest in Vietnam.
The second week of the trip was spent experiencing the history and culture of Vietnam, which included the personal stories of two of the people who traveled with the group: Dennis and Van Metzger. Dennis Metzger worked for Vietnam Christian Service in Tam Ky during the Vietnam War, bringing a more efficient way for the people to harvest the rice crop. During his time in Vietnam, he met and married Van. This was the couple’s first trip back to Vietnam in more than 30 years.
As the delegation traveled through the central and southern parts of the country, time was spent learning about the last dynasty of Vietnam and visiting tombs of emperors and the citadel, or the old imperial city, one of the main battle fronts of the Tet offensive during the Vietnam War. Time also was spent in worship with the Evangelical Church of Vietnam. The group learned as well about the Cham people, another original group to Vietnam and the only Hindu group, as well as the CaoDai, a newer religion whose headquarters and holy city is located in Vietnam. All of this gave a rich representation of the history and culture of the people of Vietnam.
The delegation attempted to visit the Di Linh province, where Brethren martyr Ted Studebaker had lived and worked for Vietnam Christian Service until he was killed, but the group was denied permission by the Vietnamese government. However, the Brethren could not be stopped from holding up Ted Studebaker’s memory: a brief memorial service was held in the hotel in Ho Chi Mihn City to remember the life of a man who truly put into practice “another way of living.”
The trip included a visit with the Mennonite Church of Vietnam, where the group heard about the persecution through which they have come since the war. This followed an emotional trip to the War Memorial Museum in Ho Chi Mihn.
The experiences of the trip were vast and rich on a multitude of levels, allowing us to see the work of faith in action, and the hope of a people recovering from the worst kind of pain humanity can create for itself.
–Jordan Blevins is a legislative intern at the Brethren Witness/Washington Office of the Church of the Brethren General Board.