It wasn’t a sprint . . . it was a full throttle marathon race across the heartland of Vietnam. This race took me from government meetings with the People’s Party leaders in Hanoi, south to Da Nang, further south to Quang Nam Province, then to meeting Ministry of Health officials, hospital directors and Vietnam Charity Directors. I was assessing scores of Vietnam hospitals where surgery rooms were dangerously inadequate, hospital laboratories devoid of either lab equipment or supplies and discouraged doctors literally begging for medical goods.
When I reached Qn Du Province, the conversations were periodically punctuated with the name “Colonel Thuong Tuong Vi.” I presumed the person to be a Vietnamese military man until I heard someone say “Madame Vi.” Madame Vi was a respected icon and at the same time a mystery woman. When we reached the city of Tam Ky I was informed that we had been extended a special invitation to meet Colonel Thuong Tuong Vi at the “Mercy Center for Performing Arts.”
Thuong Tuong Vi was a full Colonel in the Vietnamese Army, a past member of the Central Committee of the People’s Party and a high profile citizen of the Hanoi cultural society. But, additionally, she was one of Vietnam’s most renowned artistic performers. She was a professional singer and dancer, and had received countless awards for her talents, especially for her entertaining of the military and the People’s Party members.
Madame Vi, however, had become a devout Christian. The change in her life intrigued the Communist Party elite as her comrades watched her go out and collect disadvantaged children from the streets and bring them into her “Mercy Centers for Performing Arts. “I no longer wanted fame and attention,” she told me. “I only had a burning desire to help other people, especially young, disadvantaged children.” Her Center in Tam Ky housed 72 children, in Da Nang she was housing and training 120, and in Hanoi 180 orphans were being housed and trained in the performing arts.
Anna Marie and I were met at the door of the Tam Ky Center by Madame Vi. She was elegant, dignified and graceful. She ushered us into a well-appointed conference room. While we were getting acquainted, Madame Vi shared with us that it was her dream to have Project C.U.R.E. establish and equip a small clinic for the children in each of her Centers. “I want to provide the best for my children, because one day they will be our new leaders. I want them to see and feel what is possible.”
Madame Vi then escorted us upstairs to a small performing theater. When seated, she leaned over and whispered, “God showed me that one day I would no longer have my talents and my beautiful voice, and that I should take those talents now and transfer them into orphans, homeless children, and crippled children who otherwise would have no hope of a good future.” A handsome young Vietnamese boy stepped forward on the stage and welcomed us in flawless English.
The first songs were traditional Vietnamese folk songs, performed beautifully with graceful choreography and hand signing. The mini-concert continued with the words, “In a moment like this, I think of a song, I think of a song about Jesus.” I looked around in amazement. The sound, quality and harmonies were overwhelming. Each word was phonetically sung in perfect English. There was not a smidgeon of doubt that the famed performer had poured her life and talents into the previous urchins. The meticulously trained young singers communicated with warm smiles, direct and sparkling eye contact, vibrant body language and stage presence. They ended the presentation with two familiar Christmas carols and the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands!” I took my eyes off the kids and looked around again. Everyone in the room was crying! It was a performance I shall never forget.
When the performance was over we were once again directed to the conference room where they had prepared lovely dishes of hot Vietnamese snack foods and tea for us. There, I promised Madame Vi that I would help her get her clinics for the Centers. I also asked her about what her People’s Party friends thought about her selection of songs.
“I teach diversity of culture,” she said. “I teach the underprivileged children perfect English. The officials love it. I first teach the children to sing the songs phonetically. While learning the lyrics they begin to ask questions about what the song writer was saying. I just simply answer all their questions so that they can sing the songs with understanding and feeling. Strangely, they all fall in love.”
“You see,” Colonel Thuong Tuong Vi confided to me, “I can’t go back and start a new beginning, but I can start today and make a new ending!”