She is old, weak with malaria, and terribly worried. Her hair disheveled, eyes glazed with fever, she exerts tremendous energy simply to remain erect. We urge her to lie down, but she refuses. She clings to an agenda that supersedes her own suffering.
The light of her life, her grandson, Duoc, perches on the bed at her side. What will happen to Duoc when she and her 82 year old blind husband die? She knows all too well the experience of an orphan. Her parents died when she was only four years old, and she grew up in the care of Catholic nuns. She is determined to accomplish her mission for this day, to ensure provision for her grandson.
She tells us the story of how she met Jesus. When she married Grandpa, he subscribed to the indigenous Vietnamese religion of Cao Dai. “Adherents engage in ethical practices such as prayer, veneration of ancestors, nonviolence, and vegetarianism with the minimum goal of rejoining God the Father in Heaven and the ultimate goal of freedom from the cycle of birth and death. Estimates of the number of Cao Đài adherents in Vietnam vary, but most sources report 2 to 3 million.” (Source: Wikipedia, on-line encyclopedia.)
Grandpa followed his wife to the Catholic Church for a few years, but then forbid his wife to attend. Six years ago, Grandma suffered a stroke. They had no money for treatment. Terrified that she would die, their son urged her to speak with a visiting Christian evangelist. Both Grandma and her son placed their faith in Christ. Grandpa refused to have anything to do with their newfound beliefs, until another pastor visited several weeks later to share the Gospel. This time, Grandpa also gave his life to Christ and removed objects of ancestor worship from their home. Within days, his wife experienced miraculous healing from her stroke!
The couple’s faith grew stronger as the local Christian church rallied to help care for their grandsons, contributing food for the family every week. When the boys were very young, their daughter abandoned Douc and his older brother Dat completely to their care. She returned only once, four years ago, to sign divorce papers from the boys’ father, an alcoholic who physically abused his family. Grandma peddled food at a nearby school to raise money for her grandsons’ school fees, earning about a dollar a day. But, last year, she became too weak; and the family lost even this meager source of income.
Their pastor shared with them about a new home opening for orphans. There was only room for one of the boys. Grandma and Grandpa especially feared for Dat. At age eight, with high energy levels, their oldest grandson was running wild in the streets. Although they knew they would miss him terribly, they gratefully entrusted Dat to the Hope’s Promise Home of Hope #2 family in 2010.
The youngest grandson, Duoc, remains in their care. Every night, Douc prays for Dat and his new family. He tends to his grandparents, going to market for them and helping with house-hold chores. Although Grandma and Grandpa never learned to write, Duoc is an avid student and wants to be a doctor when he grows up. Proudly, the family shares Douc’s recent school papers. He is acing every subject.
In Vietnam, children are an economic asset. Two boys were re-claimed from another Hope’s Promise home by their mother so they could work in the fields with her, even though it meant they would have to leave school and struggle for basic sustenance. In this particular family, how will the grandparents survive if their grandson leaves?
And yet, at last approaching the point in the conversation that she is determined to reach, Grandma asks if Hope’s Promise will take Duoc. She can’t bear the thought of the quiet and empty house if he leaves, but she is worried that he will go hungry and have to drop out of school. She is even more terrified about what will happen when she and Grandpa die. She wants more than anything for Douc to have a hope and a future.
Two years after this encounter, now that Duoc is safely home with the HoH #2 family, I cherish the memory of this impoverished village woman of Vietnam. I cannot forget the weight of life’s sorrows heavy over her feverish, care-worn body; and yet I vividly recall the light of Christ as she joyfully laid down her life for her grandson.