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A Borderless Ministry

Three years ago I met the kind of person who can ignite a fire under even the most jaded individual. And that's exactly what she did to me. Not by what she had to say, although that was stirring enough, but by what she has done.

I met Binh Nguyen Rybacki at a Christmas party where people huddled around her to hear the stories of her children. As I listened I was appalled that any child in America endured the dire conditions she described. And then I learned that her children live a world away-and that she has 2,000 of them. This is the story of my journey into her world.

As an 18-year-old girl, Binh fled Vietnam a few days before the city of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. Binh came to this country to build a new life, and she now has a family and works as an information technology specialist at Agilent Technologies in Fort Collins, Colorado.

It was easy for Binh to try to forget the life she had left behind. Yet, deep inside, and especially after the loss of her own young child, Binh knew that God was calling her to something greater than the "American dream."

After a visit to Vietnam in 1993, Binh's true mission in life became clear to her. She had returned to her homeland to make peace with her past and contact her extended family. What she saw, though, exacted a lifetime toll for her to ever truly experience the peace she sought.

Staggering poverty as she had never seen before and children abandoned to the polluted streets made her reel in disgust. Binh saw children who were beggars, street peddlers, and prostitutes. In Vietnamese society these children are known as children of the dust, having no value whatsoever. Binh came back to America and never forgot what she had seen.

That same year, she founded Children of Peace International (COPI). It began as one orphanage with 27 Vietnamese children. Her own salary fed, clothed, and educated the children. Now her nonprofit Christian organization depends upon donations to support 2,000 children in five orphanages in Vietnam. In addition to the orphanages, COPI helps provide medical equipment to children's hospitals, funds English classes, and supports Operation Bootstrap for small business development in Vietnam.

At least twice a year, Binh travels to Vietnam to check in on the orphans she loves so deeply. Her trips are packed full of meetings and delivering donated supplies and gifts for the children. On her most recent trip, I was fortunate to tag along to capture the images that would tell the story of one small woman who is making a huge difference in a forgotten corner of the world. We traveled with a team of doctors and dentists who worked with not only kids in the orphanage but also with the village children who had probably never seen a doctor or dentist before.

There's a very old saying that says, "Be careful what you wish for; you may just get it." I'm thinking of that as I ride behind a Vietnamese interpreter known as Uncle No Problem. We're heading to a roadside stand to buy bread in a driving rainstorm that makes it seem like our ancient moped is traveling 100 miles per hour. For the past two hours, I've been photographing a team of doctors and dentists from the United States as they work on the townspeople and children of a small village in the middle of Vietnam. What I don't know as I hang on to Uncle No Problem is that when we finally arrive back at this makeshift clinic, armed Vietnamese police will arrive and force us to pack up and leave. You see, in a communist country, you don't do things when you feel like it; you do them when the government tells you to.

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