Little Princess (Part 2) Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: April, 1998: “Please,” she sobbed, “don’t leave me here with him. You must take me away with you.” 

The driver at last had to peel her from his leg and tell her, “Princess, you wait here.” 

The screams and sobs filled his confused head as he drove away. 

The entire emotional episode of Princess being removed from the orphanage had taken place while Binh was in Colorado. When she returned on this present trip she patiently worked with me and with those who had come to help her with the orphanage. But her obsession and driving goal was to seek and find Princess and learn of her condition. 

At breakfast one morning, I overheard Binh talking to Mr. Minh and another man. Binh was determined to find the worker who had returned Princess to her house. He was the only one who had any knowledge of where she had been taken.

“I have failed in my duty to protect the best interests of that child,” said Binh. “I will go to any lengths to find her and check on her.” 

The driver was located and indicated that he thought he could once again find his way through the rice paddies to the house where he had left Princess. Mr. Minh, Binh, Louise Bryer, and the driver headed out that same hour in search of Princess. 

“We drove to the end of the world and then walked to hell,” Binh told me, recalling the search. 

Later Mr. Minh confided that he would not have approved of the trip had he known the perils and dangers of getting there. “One of the bamboo and wood bridges should not have carried the weight of the car. We had to chase off the bridge a herd of water buffalo because their additional weight along with the car would have surely collapsed the structure.” 

The “road” was simply the top of the earthen dike that separated the soggy rice fields. There would be no way to turn the car around to drive out. When the earthen dike became impassable, they parked the car and walked a long distance to a small cluster of Vietnamese rural houses. The driver was confident he would be able to remember the correct house. How could he ever forget? The scene was still burned into his mind. He could still hear the uncontrollable, pleading sobs ringing in his ears. 

When they approached the house, none of the four was ready for what they found. There was a seven-year-old girl, a five-year-old girl, and a five-month-old baby lying on the filth-littered floor. An old, scrawny Vietnamese village grandmother was outside. No mother, and the father hadn’t been there for some time. The ages of the children would indicate that they had found the right house. But the children were not the right children. The middle girl was emaciated, and layers of putrid filth covered her body. The pigs, chickens, and other animals had free run of the premises, and no one cared to clean either the house or the dirt-encrusted children. 

Binh stooped down to get a closer look at the five-year-old girl as she lay curled up on the floor—not a sound, not a response. She scooped up the child, grabbed a filthy cloth, and headed out to the hand pump to wet the rag stiffened with dried muck. 

“Oh, God,” pleaded Binh, “don’t let this be Princess. Let me clean the terrible accumulation of grime from this child’s face, and let me discover that the driver was horribly mistaken. Surely he has brought us to the wrong house. We must go to another house and find my Princess. This child must not be her!” 

But it was Princess! Once her face was cleaned of the layers of dirt, the fine features of her face could be recognized. 

As Binh looked into the child’s lifeless eyes, there was no response, no recognition. 

“I have lost my baby. She is gone again. What have I done to this child? God entrusted her to me, and I have let her die again! God will certainly hold me accountable. I have failed both the Princess and God.” Binh laid the weak child back down on the floor and went out of the house and vomited. 

Later the stepmother rode up to the house on a bicycle. Binh pointed out to the scrawny, old grandmother that Princess was now smaller in size than when she left the orphanage. 

“Yes,” was the reply. “The child has been sick for the past three days.” 

Binh asked to please be allowed to take Princess back to the orphanage where she could be fed and attended to medically. The two village women flatly refused. 

“Look,” said Louise, “the dress Princess is wearing is the one we bought for her. But it is so filthy you can hardly recognize it at all. There are no washing facilities here. It is most likely that she hasn’t had that dress off since she was returned to this house.”

The father was not expected to return to the house, so the option of appealing to him to once again return Princess to the orphanage was impossible. Soon some curious, old village women began to gather at the home and peer in through the doorway. Mr. Minh sternly insisted that Binh and Louise leave right away. There had been no response from Princess up to that moment. The visitors concluded that it was no longer possible for Princess to respond intellectually or emotionally. But just as Binh and the other three were about to go, Princess made an effort to stop the driver from leaving. He had left her there once before to be consumed by her nightmare. He had told her to wait there. He had returned once again. Was it not to take her with him? Surely he would not have come just to leave her there—not again! 

Princess broke into a wail. Certainly they would not leave without taking her with them, she thought. The stepmother began yelling at Princess and telling her to shut up. If she did not, she would be punished. More curious old village women began to appear. Everything was in total emotional confusion. Mr. Minh now harshly insisted they quickly leave. 

Their walk back to the car along the tops of the rice-paddy dikes seemed much longer than their walk in. But the wail of Princess in the hearts and heads of the four visitors did not quiet or diminish even though they moved farther away from the house.

By the time Binh and Louise returned to our hotel in Viet Tri, they were emotional basket cases. The story of Princess has not yet ended well. All the people involved in the plot did not simply ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.

But the story has come to me with crushing impact. It has forced me to grapple spiritually, emotionally, ethically, and behaviorally with the sobering realization that there are millions of Princesses in the world I travel who have no advocate, no help, no hope. Certainly we will not cure all the ills and save all the children. But “as ye have done it unto the least of these orphans and widows, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40, paraphrase). 

Project C.U.R.E. is now, and always will be as long as I have an ounce of influence on it, a holy structure of humanitarian outreach dedicated to easing pain and building up the least of these in the name of Christ. We have the power of attorney to work the works and accomplish the desires that would have driven him during his earthly ministry. I believe his all-encompassing ministry includes working out his heart’s desire through my human hands and feet, ears and eyes. My personal life and the life of Project C.U.R.E. must be the manifestation of the eternal life and heart of Jesus Christ. That very real manifestation must be worked out in Evergreen, in Denver, in Nashville, in Los Angeles, in Vietnam, in the Ukraine, in Mongolia, in North Korea, and in all the additional locations that will be added to the present list of sixty-one countries around the world. 

Binh Rybacki’s love for the orphaned and the leprous children of Vietnam has both encouraged and challenged my heart and mind. Thank God for the faithful ministry partners of Project C.U.R.E. As I travel, I find myself praying for her; for De, the blind musician in the orphanage; and for little Princess, wherever she might be.


© Dr. James W. Jackson   

Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House

Little Princess (Part 1) Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: April, 1998: My flight from Vietnam to Denver seemed unusually long. The flight segment from Bangkok to Los Angeles was almost eighteen flying hours. I am eager to get back to my own home along Upper Bear Creek, where I can be with my wonderful wife and family. It will be a short stay of three days at home and then back on an airplane to Paris, France, and south to the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Benin, West Africa. 

As I rested my head against the coach seat, I reflected on a situation I had observed in Viet Tri over the past few days. Many elements of the episode, such as hardship, love, perseverance, rejection, dashed hopes, and deep emotion, I had seen at work in my own life under different circumstances. But the emotionally packed principles involved allowed me to vicariously revisit some of these elements once again in the following saga of the “little princess.”

Binh Rybacki had poured her heart and their family money into the orphanages she had established in Vietnam. Her living now in Colorado, and endeavoring to manage the orphanages in Vietnam, required her to make the tiresome trip many times a year, But it was almost as if she were driven on the inside to make a difference in the lives of the abandoned children. Had she not been able to escape to America there was a big possibility that she too, would have lived the fate of an orphan. 

When rice harvest is finished in a local Vietnamese village, the workers will sometimes walk to another village where the harvest is just beginning and work for wages in the neighboring community. Once the harvest there is complete, they will return to their local village or sometimes choose to continue on northward following the maturing harvest. 

An attractive, young Vietnamese mother left her two children with her husband and traveled with some of her close friends to work at a neighboring harvest. The family was having financial problems, and it was decided the wage labor could ease some of the pressure. Later it was revealed that the problems at home may have included more than just financial troubles. 

When the pretty mother from the village failed to return home, the community gossip machine flared with fury. Some of the older women swore they knew the girl had simply decided not to go back to the stress but, rather, had decided to take up residence in a mountainous area far away. But some said she had been lured away into crossing the border into China. Others declared they had read of kidnappers who had captured her and sold her into slavery and prostitution in China because of her beauty. 

One thing was known for certain: She never returned. No one had heard from her or of her since the day she departed. Her husband was left with two small children—the oldest was age five, and the youngest, eighteen months. The father was overwhelmed. An old relative took the older child but wanted nothing to do with the baby, who was still nursing. Malnourished and dirty, the baby was brought to Binh Rybacki’s orphanage and abandoned by the father, who wanted nothing more to do with the child. 

Binh and her workers took the baby and began cleaning and caring for her. She began to gain weight and function physically, but emotionally something was wrong. As a result of trauma or unknown abuse, the baby would only sit and stare. She would not focus, nor would she respond. Soon she was affectionately dubbed “Stone Face” in Vietnamese vernacular. The only word that passed her lips was “more” when they stopped feeding her before she was satisfied. 

Everyone who came to the orphanage was immediately attracted to Stone Face. She had inherited the fine features of her beautiful mother. She was the most beautiful baby to ever be brought to the orphanage. But what was going on behind the blank eyes of Stone Face? She would neither play with the other children nor reach out for an adult. 

Binh’s two sons, Preston and Craig, went to the orphanage in Viet Tri to work after school was out in Loveland, Colorado. Stone Face was now three and a half years old. Another teen, Joel, went with Preston and Craig, and when they set foot inside the orphanage compound, they were attracted to Stone Face as if she were a magnet. They were taken with her rare beauty but puzzled by her unresponsive and empty stares. “She’s spooky,” they said as they increased their efforts over the following days to try to get Stone Face to smile or speak. But there was no response.

The boys decided to take on the challenge to awaken Stone Face. Binh told them they would each be presented a ten-dollar bill if they could succeed in awakening her. The contest was on. The boys’ clowning and goofy antics fully deserved an Oscar award. Love and attention flowed to Stone Face like a river on a rampage. From morning to night, the boys packed her around on their backs, on their hips, or on their shoulders. They laughed, coaxed, stood on their heads. They were determined to awaken the inner beauty of this little princess. They just knew they could help her respond. Little by little the abuse of the past was replaced by confidence in her new friends. Little by little she began to anticipate when they would be coming for her and would turn and look for them. She then began reaching for them to pack her around. A light began to slowly—ever so slowly—be rekindled behind her blank eyes and her stone face began to soften. Little Princess was coming to life. 

Before the summer was over, the boys earned their ten bucks each. Princess was not only smiling; she was walking and singing and eating on her own. She was tagging along everywhere her new teenage friends went and even began making friends with another little orphan girl named Peanut. Princess was like a beautiful butterfly that had been freed from the long nightmare of the cocoon. The metamorphosis had been stimulated by nothing but love and affection. The young boys went shopping and brought Princess a complete new wardrobe and pretty new shoes. 

Princess was now nearly five, and the flow of love and affection was soon to be shut off. Binh was back in the United States with her family when she received a most disconcerting call from Mr. Minh, the orphanage director: “They have come to take Princess away from us. Her father has remarried, and he is trying to save face with his new wife by denying that he abandoned his children. He cares not one whit for the child, only for what he wants this new woman to think.” 

“Over my dead body” was Binh’s reply. “The cruelty of that child’s abuse and trauma will not be repeated again in her little life. We shall protect her and fight to preserve our successful efforts on her behalf. She was for all purposes dead when we received her. She is now alive. I will not allow her spirit to be killed again by abuse, rejection, and cruel neglect.” 

But the determined father appealed to the court, and permission was granted for him to take Princess back to his home. When the day came for Princess to leave the orphanage, the workers packed all her pretty new dresses in a box, along with her new pairs of shoes. But Princess refused to leave. She perceived very well what was happening. At the sight of her father, she became uncontrollable. Eventually it was necessary for an orphanage worker to load Princess and her box of belongings into a car and take her to her former rural village miles away. 

For the entire trip, Princess clung to the neck of the driver, sobbing and begging him to take her back to the orphanage and her friends. Once inside the house, she spotted the father and grabbed hold of the car driver’s leg and would not let go. 

Next Week: Little Princess (Part 2)


© Dr. James W. Jackson   

Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House

Miracle of the Water Deal: Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: April, 1998: The ride to and from the temple mountain gave me a rare opportunity to get better acquainted with Mr. Nguyen Van Vinh of the planning and investment department of the People’s Committee. I found that he is a walking source of names and contacts. I explained to him about our goals for Hanoi and also about Project C.U.R.E.’s relationship with North Korea. I asked if he could help me arrange meetings with the important people I needed to see. Mr. Vinh was flattered and eagerly agreed to help me. After all, if Project C.U.R.E. can be encouraged to participate in his regional capital, then Mr. Vinh will gain a tremendous amount of job security.

After our delegation returned to the hotel in Viet Tri at 5:00 p.m., I was informed that a meeting was scheduled with Mr. Vinh’s boss, Mr. Hong. He had been keeping close tabs on the possibility of Mr. Jackson coming to his region and helping with the hospital. At the meeting we talked of many things that are taking place in his region. Then he said something that really made me blink: “Mr. Jackson, in addition to the medical supplies that our seven-region area needs, we also desperately need help with our water-purification problems.”

I was listening very closely to Binh Rybacki’s translation of Mr. Hong’s request. His mention of a water project made me blink because of the timeliness of the subject. The day before I left Denver for Vietnam, I had a meeting on that very subject.

During an evening dinner party at Daniel Yohannes’s home in Denver, he introduced me to Mr. Dick Campbell, a prominent corporate attorney in the Denver area. Daniel is president of the large U.S. Bank conglomerate. Mr. Campbell and his wife were very taken with the work of Project C.U.R.E. Subsequently, Dick Campbell, Daniel Yohannes, my son Doug, and I had several lunch meetings regarding Project C.U.R.E. On one occasion Dick asked if I knew Mr. Sam Perry. I inquired if he was the same Sam Perry of the large real-estate company in Denver, Perry and Butler. Dick confirmed my guess. I told him that twenty-five years ago, when I was still very active in the real-estate industry, Sam Perry and I had put some deals together between our companies.

Dick informed me that he and Sam had grown up together, and both of them are devoted Catholics who had been on some spiritual retreats together. He also mentioned that Sam had gotten quite serious about spiritual matters and was looking to get involved in some humanitarian efforts. Dick gave me Sam’s personal phone numbers and almost insisted I call Sam.

When I reached Sam, he was very eager to get together and asked if I would mind if he brought with him to our meeting three of his close friends and business partners. He said he had been reading and hearing so much about the work of Project C.U.R.E. from Daniel and Dick and others that he was hoping he would get to meet me.

At our first lunch meeting, Sam and I were joined by John Peterson, whose brother is the head of the prestigious Blackstone investment group of New York City and whose sister sits on the board of directors of Johnson and Johnson medical group. Greg Bohannon also joined us. He is the president and CEO of a new venture called Aqua-Asia, a firm devoted to producing water-purification systems, especially in developing countries. They have created a new purification process that utilizes electronic collectors to remove harmful pollutants from the water. The system doesn’t require traditional electric sources of power or generators, because photocells are employed to power the facility.

A lot of the discussion at the lunch centered around what God had been doing in our lives and about values and priorities. I challenged them to consider joining Project C.U.R.E. and setting up some of their purification units on a donation basis in some of the most desperate areas of the world. By the time lunch was over, they had agreed to join efforts with Project C.U.R.E.

Our next meeting additionally included my son Doug, who is now president and CEO of Project C.U.R.E., as well as Mickey Fouts, who has large real-estate holdings in Denver. Mickey had just returned from Hanoi, Vietnam. Sam and Mickey told me about Tobin Lent, a young investment banker they had mentored. At the time he was in Vietnam establishing a base for Aqua-Asia. They told me how very keen a young man Tobin is and gave me his phone number in Hanoi. They said they would inform Tobin about me and the work of Project C.U.R.E. “Perhaps the two of you working together in Vietnam can locate a suitable project for us to do our first pro-bono venture,” they told me.

Around the office in Denver, the staff and volunteers continually say they can’t stand being away from the office because they are afraid they will miss out on one of the regularly occurring miracles. I, too, am continually amazed at how God proceeds ahead of all our domestic and foreign scrambling and prearranges the pieces of the mosaic to bring about a product that is pleasing and desirable to him.

With that in mind, you can only imagine the tingle that went up my spine today when Mr. Hong said, “In addition to the medical supplies our seven-region area needs, we desperately need help with our water-purification problems.” Could it be happening again?

My evening with Tobin was one of the highlights of the trip. The young man is sharp. He is focused. He is from Littleton, Colorado, and his parents now live in Beijing, China. He has been an investment banker and a mortgage broker. I sensed he has a tender heart beneath his driven surface. I think Tobin and Doug will hit it off very well. Tobin is not only fascinated with what has happened in my life, but just from the things the guys from Denver have told him, he is already in love with Project C.U.R.E. 

He took me to a small restaurant located in an old French home. It was very classy, in addition to serving delicious Vietnamese food. While visiting with Tobin, I explained all the things that had taken place leading up to tonight. I also explained to him about the town called Phu-Tho (pronounced “Fu Ta”), which Project C.U.R.E. and the Denver guys are proposing as the target town for the first water-purification venture. It is a smaller town with a lot of residual French influence. It presently is home for a well-respected, smaller university. I expressed how I think the town is small enough to be able to collect accurate data on the before-and-after effects of the purification plant. Also, its setting in the mountains will make a perfect show-and-tell location for Aqua-Asia’s product. Tobin really got excited about the possibilities. 

After thinking about all the apparent miracles that are taking place and about my meeting last night with Tobin Lent, I felt an urgency not to lose any momentum on the water project. At breakfast I asked Binh to contact Mr. Vinh and Mr. Minh in Viet Tri and have them bring their boss to Hanoi for a meeting with Tobin either this evening or early tomorrow morning. Our time is running out before I return to Colorado. I need to be at the Hanoi airport by 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. I know that we are pushing our luck on getting the bigwigs to come to Hanoi from Viet Tri on such short notice. But the next step in the deal is to get Tobin introduced to them personally so they can all move forward together on the project with the Needs Assessment Study and projections. Another miracle is taking place right before my eyes.


© Dr. James W. Jackson   

Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House

Song of the Blind Orphan

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: April, 1998: In my previous journal entries about Vietnam, I mentioned Binh Rybacki, a native of Vietnam who was one of the last to be plucked off the roof of the American embassy in Saigon in a spectacular rescue effort as the Americans were retreating from the city in 1975. There isn’t even the slightest shadow of a doubt that had she not been on that helicopter chopping its way to safety out of South Vietnam, the Communists would have killed her, along with all the other American sympathizers who were left as we withdrew in shame and frustration. 

But Binh is still in love with her mother country and its people, even though her permanent residence is with her immediate family in Colorado. Over the years Binh has done a heroic job of reentering Vietnam and taking on the responsibility of caring for thousands of orphaned and disabled Vietnamese children. Binh’s organization is called Children of Peace, and she has orphanage facilities under her direction in the Ho Chi Minh City area in the south, as well as the Hanoi area in the north. She remains a computer engineer at the Hewlett-Packard enclave north of Boulder, Colorado, and lives in Loveland with her own adopted American Vietnamese kids and her husband, who also works for Hewlett-Packard. Between the two of them, they spend over seventy thousand dollars of their personal income from Hewlett-Packard to support the work of Children of Peace in Vietnam. Binh confided in me that all of her salary goes to pay the costs of the orphanages, and she and her husband even pay out of their own pockets the salaries of the staff at the local Vietnamese government pediatric hospital. 

 Binh shared with me about her Children of Peace project in 1996 and asked if Project C.U.R.E. would ever be willing to work with her and her orphanages. In January of this year, she called me from her home in Loveland and asked if I would accompany her and a group of her supporters when they return to Hanoi in April. I agreed. We immediately began making the plans for the trip. 

My welcome at Hanoi airport was a warm one. The people there met me with a beautiful bouquet of yellow and red roses. The temperature when I walked off the plane in Vietnam was 104 degrees, and the humidity was very high. 

I looked around for a telephone so I could call back to Colorado and let everyone know I had arrived safely. I had promised to keep closer touch with the office and Anna Marie after the bazaar twist of events during my recent trip to Thailand in which the Denver office was notified that I was missing in action. 

I couldn’t see a phone anywhere, so I opted to wait to make my call home until I got checked into my hotel in Hanoi. However, my hosts threw all my bags into a van, and we headed not to Hanoi but north and west for another forty miles to the city of Viet Tri, the capital of Phu Tho Province. Viet Tri is located in the mountainous areas north of Hanoi and serves as the provincial center for about 1.5 million people. But when I got checked into the hotel, I discovered that the one thing they don’t have in the city is a reliable telephone system. It could take days to get ahold of an international operator who can connect me to Colorado. That part of North Vietnam reminds me a whole lot of North Korea. 

Thang Nguyen is a young Vietnamese man from Saigon. He is a nephew of Binh’s but was unable to escape Vietnam in 1975. His father spent fourteen years in a Communist prison in solitary confinement for being an enemy of the Communists. There was no light in his small, wet dungeon cell, and when he came out of prison after fourteen years in the dark, he was totally blind. Binh, on a previous trip, had encouraged Thang to complete his college education. During the years following 1975, Thang had grown up on the streets of Saigon totally by himself. All his family escaped or ended up in prison. 

Mr. Nguyen Van Vinh is the country representative for Binh Rybacki’s Children of Peace organization in Vietnam. He is very sharp and has done an excellent job as director in the past. Mr. Vinh speaks four or five languages and now has a top government job. 

At 8:15 the van arrived to take our entourage to the Children of Peace home for the disabled and orphaned. I would be able to see Binh Rybacki’s work firsthand. Two years ago, the city of Viet Tri had offered to give her an abandoned middle school that had fallen into severe disrepair. The Communist Party of Vietnam told her that if she wanted to take the challenge to clean and repair the property, she could use it for her orphanage. Binh has done wonders! 

As we drove in through the green iron gates, 120 jumping, smiling, chattering kids welcomed us. As is the case with orphanages I visit around the world, all the kids wanted to be talked to and touched and held … all at once. And like the kids in the African orphanages, it didn’t take long for them to discover that I am not only a different skin color, but I also grow hair on my arms. Their curiosity inevitably led them to start pulling on the hairs to see if they were attached. But the serious pulling and tugging was on my heart. If you don’t want to be totally spent emotionally, then don’t run the risk of visiting an orphanage in a developing country. 

Perhaps the experience that was most wrenching and exhilarating at the same time was watching three young, blind musicians perform for us. Two young boys and a young girl sang and played their hearts out.

The instruments they played included an old, beat-up set of drums with bent cymbals and ripped drum heads; an ancient, one-string, horizontal, guitar-type tube; and a small electronic keyboard donated to the orphanage by some mission group headed back to America. 

  The one sixteen-year-old boy, De (with the vowel pronounced like “debt” or “death”), also played a bamboo flute. He is good enough, in my opinion, to grace the stage of the Colorado Symphony any day. He also wrote some of the songs he sang for us. Of course, they were in Vietnamese, but Binh interpreted the words into English as he sang.

The words of his first song said, “If I could see my mother—if I had a mother—her hair would be long, and her voice would sound to me like the singing of the birds.” As he continued, it came crashing into my conscious mind like an eighteen-wheeler semitruck bashing its way into a supersilent, sound-controlled recording studio. This boy had never, never, ever known his mother. He was orphaned at birth, and he was blind at birth. He was singing about the mother he had never known, if he even had a mother! His hope was in the idea of a mother and a father! Instead of listening with my ears, I started listening with my heart as he sang his next original song:

I have never seen sunlight
Nor have I seen darkness
All I have known
Is my mother’s sweet voice
And my father’s warm embrace
Mother guides me with her gentle heart
And Father lends me his strong hands on my shoulders
I may never see sunlight
Nor will I know darkness, for … 
My mother is my sunlight
And Father will guide me
Through darkness.[1]

By the time De finished, Binh was crying and I was crying. God may not have given De sight, but he withheld absolutely nothing from De from the great storehouse of insight. 

1 Written by Nguyen Van De, 1995, Viet Tri Center for Handicapped Children and Orphans. Used by permission

Nest Week: Miracle of the Water Deal

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

Permissions granted by Winston-Crown Publishing House

Invincibility: Vietnam

Note: In 1998, I made fourteen major trips that included 30 countries. In that year I made three separate trips to Vietnam. In the next four blogs I want to lift out and share four short incidences that took place on just one of those Vietnam trips: April 22-30, 1998.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: April 1998: My first needs-assessment trip to Vietnam took place in October of 1996. Project C.U.R.E.’s involvement in Vietnam actually began two years prior to that date through our contact with Dr. Randy Robinson; his wife, Ginger; and their organization Face the Challenge. My October 1996 journal entries chronicle our partnership with Face the Challenge. We jointly went to Ho Chi Minh City (Old Saigon) and were part of the effort that resulted in over sixty surgeries being performed on kids and young residents of the Ho Chi Minh City area.

In many ways that trip greatly affected my life. Witnessing the talented surgical team using Project C.U.R.E.’s donated medical goods in the operating and recovery rooms indelibly underscored in my heart and mind the undeniable value of our mission to take medical supplies into developing countries around the world. The lives of the children and parents, who were so radically changed during that trip alone, merited all the combined efforts of Project C.U.R.E. over the past eleven years.

I was glad I had actually gone into the operating rooms and closely observed the restructuring of the little faces and bodies of the children. I was glad I had been present to see the tears and looks on the faces of the parents when their children were returned to them in the recovery rooms. The children, who had been so disfigured from birth, were handed back to anxious moms and dads, who were more often than not in shock when they saw the kids and realized for certain that their own flesh and blood had been given beauty and a second chance at living normal lives.

While thinking back on the 1996 trip, and at the same time anticipating my upcoming trip to Vietnam, I was struck by another startling realization. Life is precious. Life is short. The length of life is totally unpredictable. Our tendency is to begin to think about ourselves and our friends in terms of invincibility. We will always be here. Our friends will always be here. Drastic change is neither thinkable nor acceptable, especially while we are involved in doing “God’s work.” We will always be protected from harm, and our families are somehow guaranteed to never be subjected to grief or pain or loss resulting from our endeavors. That possibility just doesn’t occur to us, or if it does, it is instantly rejected by a good inoculation of denial. We simply get another shot of invincibility like the yellow fever or cholera shots we get before going into the African jungles.

But that ideal of invincibility is not always the way real life works. Bill LeTourneau worked closely with Face the Challenge and Dr. Randy Robinson. He was also my front man making all the necessary arrangements for the surgical trip in October of 1996. 

Putting all the details in place necessitated that Bill travel to Vietnam many times before my departure for Ho Chi Minh City. Bill, who at the time was forty-one years old, had a natural talent for diplomacy and negotiating. In fact, it was Bill who helped me tag the right contacts in Ho Chi Minh City, which eventually produced meetings at the Vietnamese ministry of trade, where I proposed a working relationship between North Korea and Vietnam, with Project C.U.R.E. orchestrating the international countertrade of Vietnamese rice for North Korean iron ore to help keep the people of North Korea from starving to death. Bill sat in on those meetings with me in 1996.

Two weeks ago, Dr. Robinson’s group, Face the Challenge, returned to the hospitals of Old Saigon to once again perform cranio-maxillofacial surgeries on little kids. They are once again using Project C.U.R.E.’s medical supplies, which our staff sent to Ho Chi Minh City a few weeks ago.

Once again, Bill LeTourneau was in on the advance detail assignment to prepare for the surgeons and nurses, who would arrive later. Everything was properly set up with the local doctors, the hospitals, the hotels, and the shuttle buses. The parents of the children who would receive the reconstruction surgeries had been notified of the scheduled day the team would arrive. Because of my scheduled trip to Hanoi, I opted not to return to Ho Chi Minh City with the medical team.

During the days and often into the nights, the medical team performed their life-changing surgeries. But one morning Bill didn’t show for breakfast. At the age of forty-three, he had died alone in his room of a massive heart attack. Bill not only left his wife, Julie, and his two kids, Joseph and Jackie, but he also left a lot of us with hurting hearts and another opportunity to revisit our stubborn beliefs that our lives and endeavors on this earth are somehow invincible.

My prayer is that God will bring healing to our hearts and be especially near Julie and the children as they try to sort through the emotions and trauma of such an unexpected tragedy. I know today that heaven is richer because Bill is there, but I also know that we all feel a little pillaged today, and a whale of a lot more vulnerable.


© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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