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A Borderless Ministry

I found the person God wants me to be in Vietnam. He was waiting for me in a small village in the center of the country in a small three-sided house made of mud and straw; he had waited a long time. It was here that the people touched me the most. For all the things I thought I needed, these people had no knowledge of any of them. They were so happy and thankful that we were there to help; all they could do was thank us and welcome us into their homes.

Before I traveled to Vietnam, I took many things for granted, and my freedom was probably foremost on the list. As an American, I'm unrestricted in my daily activities. Sure, we have laws we must adhere to, but when I hold those up to communist rules, our laws pale in comparison. The fact that Binh can move within these boundaries and still get so much done is a miracle in itself.

The team I am with is staffed by three doctors, three dentists, and several support staff. We also have anywhere from two to four interpreters as we travel between villages. One of my biggest challenges is the incredible language barrier. In spite of my communication shortcomings, however, the people of Vietnam are patient and gracious when dealing with our team.

Our travels are filled with Binh's stories of great triumph for the many children she has helped and with stories of the war that drove her and her family from the country. All are sobering. Binh tells us that she once bought a child on the beach for $52 to save her from a life of prostitution. She gave her a home at one of the orphanages. Children have been dropped on her doorstep. All are loved; all are taken care of.

As we travel from orphanage to orphanage, I'm struck by the disparity of the orphanages and their external surroundings. Inside, an antiseptic cleanliness is bathed in warmth by loving caregivers. Outside, it's as though the clock has stopped ticking for 30 years. A building with bomb strafing on it or a blast crater serve as sulking reminders of the war once waged in this country.

Lines are longer and slower in Vietnam. The people navigate through a thick haze of heat and humidity. Each day the temperature stays in the 90s, but the humidity shoots up to 100 percent. Things are slower when it's that hot. One man tells me that Vietnam has three seasons-hot, hotter, and hottest. And when they wait, Vietnamese people wait patiently, most often in a crouched position. Waiting for their turn at the too few opportunities they have for medical or dental care.

One young mother walks many miles to bring her child to the clinic (pictured far right). Born with a condition that hindered his brain fontanels from fusing, this 3-year-old child will eventually die from complications resulting from his enlarged skull that is literally crushing his brain. The mother walked a great distance-and waited for her turn. When she is finally able to see the doctor, she has but one question: What can I do to make him comfortable? No questions about making her life easier. She simply wants to know how to make her son more comfortable in the few days he has left to live.

It's that kind of devoted love I see in Binh. Ask her how much of a dollar is actually donated directly to the children as opposed to overhead costs, and she'll tell you 110 percent. "Because," she says, "when you give a dollar, I'll add 10 cents of my own to that dollar." Binh and her family live entirely on her husband's salary and donate her salary to make the lives of her orphaned children comfortable.

At one point during a breakfast meeting, Binh says something that hits home for me. Every now and then, people ask her how she can worry about kids in another country when in America, there are starving, hopeless people. Her response is simple and to the point. She says, "I know about this problem and can do something about it." She knows she can't save the world, but she can make a difference here-for these children. This is what God has called her to do.

The task that Binh has undertaken seems enormous, but when I see the fire that burns in her, I believe she can and will change the way Vietnam treats its children. She has the vision and is gaining resources every day. The road for her is long, and I pray that she reaches the end. Even if she doesn't, the difference she has already made and the people she has impacted and changed will forever be remembered. She is not only changing the lives of the orphans she is working with but also of anyone she comes in contact with.

Small things a person does sometimes change my opinion more than the things I hear them say. Two days before we left Vietnam, Binh told me she had something for my daughter-a small tea set for her to remember my trip. My daughter and I play with it often, and every time it reminds me of a trip and a woman who took the time to care for yet another child. I'll never forget the things I saw in Vietnam, and I'll never forget the things that can be done when one person believes so strongly that things need to change. Binh can stare down a government and all the while never lose her focus on what's important in life. She inspires me to help people and to find things in this world that I believe in. To make a difference. cm

Craig DeMartino is staff photographer for Children's Ministry Magazine. He and his wife have two children.

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